On Modesty And Male Privilege
Editor’s Note: Today’s piece is less of a story and more of something I wanted desperately to share with our audience. Luke Harms was gracious enough to let us republish this, and I am grateful. Since the beginning of Good Women Project, I have received dozens upon dozens of women sharing with me their eating disorders, cutting, depression, struggling sex lives, and dropping out of church ministry or missions because they have been told that their body is a distraction and inhibition from God using them; that they are the reason the men around them fall into sin. Luke’s words are an important part of the conversation about men and women living freely in love. You can follow Luke at @LukeHarms and read his blog at livinginthetension.com – Lauren
My virtual friend Emily wrote a great piece for the “Church Leaders” website yesterday about the problems with modesty rules in Christian culture, and rightly pointed out how these rules unfairly shame women into particular behavior patterns, often resulting in lasting emotional and psychological damage.
It was an honest, personal story of one woman’s struggle with reconciling her freedom in Christ with the rigid behavioral codes often handed down to women from the pulpit or from Christian culture in general.
It was a great article.
And then there were the comments.
Sweet. Jumping. Jehoshaphat. The comments.
(The comments are the reason that I put “Church Leaders” in scare quotes in the opening sentence. Admit it, you went back and looked.)
I definitely suggest that you give the article a read, but I actually recommend you don’t read the comments. It got a little cray-cray in there for a minute or two, and it will probably just destroy your faith in humanity no matter which side of the argument that you’re on (though I’ll admit, there actually were some really bright spots of honest dialogue that I genuinely enjoyed). **But especially don’t read if you’re easily triggered by things like spiritual abuse or rape apologists.**
The basic premise that many of the commenters were defending was that women have a responsibility to dress modestly in order to keep men from sinning (by thinking lustful thoughts). Most commenters were pretty forceful in driving this point home.
But here’s the problem as I see it: If, as many of the commenters suggest, men (even or perhaps especially Christian men) are sexual predators who are incapable of looking at a woman who isn’t covered from head to toe without wanting to rape them (or at least mentally rape them), that is decidedly not a problem that women should feel *obligated* to or even *can* solve. Perhaps that bears repeating, and in simpler terms:
If men are skeezy pervs, that’s decidedly an issue for men to address.
Shifting the blame to women just passes the buck along and enables men to continue being skeezy pervs. “Oh, I’m getting all lusty because she’s wearing skinny jeans and a v-neck.” No bro, you’re getting all lusty because you have a distorted view of women as objects that you need to get under control.
Now, before we get into the heresy-hunting here, I should say that yes, I believe that modesty is a quality that *all* Christians should strive for (and yes men, that includes you), but scriptural notions of modesty go far beyond the dress codes for women they’re often reduced to in Christendom.
But to me, what this discussion exposed was a deeper underlying problem. The fundamental question that wasn’t being addressed was why this notion of modesty, and the moral obligations being derived from it, was so lopsided.
Why were we making all of these proscriptions on the behavior on women, but essentially ignoring the behavior of men?
To me, the answer is as simple as it is disturbing. Call it what you want: misogyny, patriarchy, institutionalized sexism. I call it rape culture.
It’s the same culture that teaches freshmen college girls tips for not getting raped at orientation instead of teaching freshmen college boys NOT TO RAPE FRESHMEN COLLEGE GIRLS.
It’s the same culture that blames and shames victims of sexual assault into silence, instead of bringing the perpetrators to justice.
It’s the same culture that sees women’s bodies as objects to be controlled as means to men’s ends.
In the end, it’s about control. It’s about maintaining male privilege and perpetuating patriarchy. As these (mostly) men approached this issue of modesty, there was rarely a question of the man’s responsibility in this cycle, and when it was mentioned, it was an afterthought. “Oh, sure, men should be modest too, and they’re responsible for their own actions, but women shouldn’t cause them to stumble.” [heavy sigh]
Now I just met you, and this is crazy, but I think this might, *might* be one of those speck/plank scenarios that Jesus was talking about. Maybe instead of addressing the culturally ambiguous standard of “modest dress” for women, we should worry more about our attitudes towards the objectification of women. Maybe instead of trying to place the blame on women for our own shortcomings, we should do the hard work of re-wiring our brains, removing the influences that continue to perpetuate our distorted view of women. Maybe instead of writing off rape culture in the church as “living in a fallen world”, we should focus on what it means for us as men to partner with God in bringing the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. (Pro tip: the Kingdom of God probably doesn’t include rape culture.)
To read Emily Maynard’s original piece on Modesty Rules, please click here.
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