Modesty, Malevolently

The tip for this post comes from everyone's favorite atheist, Personal Failure (ask her about cookies).

"Revive Our Hearts" appears to be a traditional Christian program (I'm not sure if this blog is the original format, or if this is a podcast, radio show, etc.) and this particular episode is called "Partial Disclosure = Exposure."  It is part of the series "Modesty: Does God Really Care What I Wear?"  I am not these gals' target audience.  Not only am I not Christian, I post pictures of my (clothed) out-of-con-freaking-trol boobage on this blog.  I'm sure that's not what they'd consider "modest."  But I figured I'd give this a look-see anyway.

Let me be clear: I believe that a certain level of modesty is a good thing.  We can't all run around with our tits flying around like pinwheels, after all; it tears the tissues.  And clothes certainly protect us from frostbite, sunburn, snakebites (boots), etc.  Aside from biologically sound, modesty can be downright convenient, if not always foolproof.  I don't know if the women involved in "Revive Our Hearts" have ever walked around Manhattan in the spring or summer, but you could be a three days into a non-bathing stint and wearing a mumu, and still get a certain amount of unwanted male attention.  

I also believe that the wrong sort of emphasis on the female body can lead to all kinds of twisty, snarly shame (helloooo bulimia or binge eating!).  If body image is a silhouette-shaped tree, its roots are firmly planted in the family environment wherein we matured.  Our family environment informs how we view our bodies, and how we define and categorize them.  One of the most dangerous ways to define our bodies is via others' perceptions of them, since that puts us totally out of control of our own selves.   Our bodies are us.  They are the most natural, basic, original expression of who we are.  If we are taught from our formative years to define ourselves only in terms of others, then what the hell kind of sense of self are we going to be left with?  "Not much of one" is the answer.  That's what I find initially dangerous and objectionable about the material of "Partial Disclosure = Exposure."  Defining the biblical purpose of clothing as covering "the private parts of the body" is all well and good, and I'm not about to go run off to a nudist colony.  But these women are urging their female acolytes to consider everything they wear through the prism of "where do you want men looking at you as a woman?"  And that's no way to conceive of yourself: only through a man.  Define your body through a man's perception of it.  I don't think so.

In addition to being dangerous in a metaphysical, intangible way (to say nothing of the physical ramifications of eating disorders and low self-esteem), I find the suggestions in this article dangerous on an immediate and frightening level.  
"I'm just saying think about whether what you're wearing is form-fitting and could be tantalizing or seductive to men, not in an extreme way perhaps, but in a way that you would not want to be influencing men's thinking."  Is that or is that not the most boiled down argument of "she was asking for it because she was dressed like a slut" you've ever read?  Our society (and Western society on the whole) has been clawing and white-knuckling its way away from such dangerous modes of thinking for the better part of a century.  It's maddening and depressing to me that some women apparently want to bring back into full force that culture of victim blaming and shaming when it isn't even gone to begin with.

Essentially, this write-up is the Eve argument in an HTML format. And I think it's ridiculous.  Ridiculously dangerous.


  1. THat was my exact reaction to this. (a) I am not in control of what other people think or do. I could be wearing a burqa, and some guy is going to be all, "Hmmm. I wonder what's under that burqa, cause what I can see looks fine!"

    (b) I cannot live my life by what other people think or do. For one thing, it's too much effort. For another, where do I find me in all that?

    (c)When you start holding women responsible for men's thoughts, rape is no longer a crime. The fact that 80 year olds, and nuns and toddlers get raped is immaterial to these people, apparently, none of them were properly modest. Maybe they were wearing t-shirts.

    I am wearing a vneck tshirt cut to the bottom of my sternum right now. And what boobage I have is SO out of control!

  2. As long as it's acceptable to blame your own behavior on other people, people will do it.

    As far as the biblical elements, there are as many interpretations of those verses as there are religious sects... and then some. The line about a woman's hair being a glory unto her is taken variously as license to exult in one's beautiful hair because it is a gift from god, to an edict to cover it up because it is a glory that should be guarded.


  3. gah!

    As soon as I read you had out of control boobage on your blog I had to trawl thru it to find the pics.

    Only to find you T-shirted.

    On the plus side I did see a ton of excellent looking posts I'll have to go back to and re-read.

    Especially the French poetry thing. J'habite en France, tu vois? Donc ça m'interesse.

  4. Perhaps the person responsible for that show should take a look around the world where women in patriarchal societies are not so fortunate. The concept that a woman is responsible for a man's urges is widely accepted in the Middle East along with the idea that she is in control of what she wears and should therefore dress in accordance with what men see fit. In places like Egypt for example, sexual harassment is experienced by 83% of Egyptian women (according to the latest studies). There is no support for rape victims and the punishment for rape currently is 3 years in prison. Up until 1999 rape offenders were offered freedom if they married the victims.

    In addition, every year at the Eid celebrations after Ramadan, gang sexual assaults are fairly common in downtown Cairo. There's even footage on Youtube of the crime taking place.

    The primary reason sexual assault runs rampant in such places is because of that backward thinking; that women are somehow responsible for what others think. I was fortunate to escape that place. Imagine carrying a weapon on you at all times, every time you set foot outside your home, to walk down the street in fear; getting grabbed by at least one person every single day on your way to school or work. I couldn't live like that anymore.

    I can't imagine why anyone in their right mind would make a program and advocate something that would lead to this lunacy.

  5. Stew, Stew, Stew. Il faut faire attention aux détails. J'ai dit "(clothed)". C'est la faute à vous si vous n'avez pas lit plus étroitement. Vous habitez où en France? Certes, il y a plein de jeunes femmes avec des seins nues chaque fois que vous allez à la plage?

    Scarab, it is at once discouraging to recognize that there are vast swaths of our globe that operate on the end result of what these women are espousing, and also heartening to remember that there are women who have the guts to get the hell outta Dodge. I truly wonder what would happen if any of these women visited Cairo and witnessed their principles in action? Would the logical fallacy of their arguments even register?

  6. On est loin de la plage içi. En fait c'est au mileu de nul part, mi chemin entre Angoulême et Limoges. La Charente Limousine, ou soi dit "la haute Charente". Les seins nu? Dans mes rêves! Içi c'est les bottes en cautchouc avec la robe d'intérieur, et une echarpe à la tête. Et j'en suis sûr il exist du porno pour tout cela!

    Wandering Scarab - ""One of the things we've learned over the last 15 years is that you can't fight poverty effectively unless you educate, emancipate and empower women, and bring them into the formal economy." March 13, 2009, New York Times, Nicholas Kristof.

    "Women represent 51 percent of the world's population and provide 60 to 80 percent of food production in most developing countries. But they own less than 2 percent of the world's titled land, largely because few have legal rights to land."


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