"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On Modesty

Have I mentioned that I really liked the Rachel Held Evans book A Year of Biblical Womanhood?  Here is something she said about modesty after she'd spent some time with Amish women.  Your thoughts?

"As Janet had observed, there's no typical Amish woman. As in any culture, there are some women who wrestle with the rules, some who uncritically accept the rules, and some who thrive within the rules. There are those who flourish under the creative constraints of tradition, and those who struggle to find their voice.  There are women for whom the bonnets and aprons foster humility and women for whom the same things foster pride. 

That's because true modesty has little to do with clothing or jewelry or makeup. The virtue that is celebrated in Scripture is so elusive we struggle to find words to capture its spirit - humility, self-control, plainness, tznuit, Gelassenheit.

And so we codify. We legislate. We pull little girls to the front of the class and slap rulers against their bare legs and try to measure modesty in inches.  Then we grow so attached to our rules that they long outlive their purpose....We cling to the letter because the spirit is so much harder to master.

More often than not, this backfires, and our attempts to be different results in uniformity, our attempts to be plain draw attention to ourselves, our attempts to temper sexuality inadvertently exploit it, and our attempts to avoid offense accidentally create it.

Perhaps this is why Paul encouraged women to 'adorn themselves' with good deeds, why he instructed all Christians, 'Clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ,' and why the valorous woman of Proverbs 31 is praised because she 'clothes herself in strength and dignity.'

It's not what we wear but how we wear it.  And like clothing, modesty fits each woman a little differently."  (pg. 140)


Amber said...

My thoughts are probably not of the vein you were thinking of when you asked but this and a conversation I had with another friend of mine has made me realize that I've sort of idealized and put the Amish on a pedestal. I think of them as having these perfect, quiet lives and *of course* they're all okay with the dress code and everything because they're *Amish*. And it really shouldn't come as a surprise to me that that's not the case, but it does. :)

Apart from that, I agree with this: It's not what we wear but how we wear it. And like clothing, modesty fits each woman a little differently. to a point. Modesty is a cultural creation and so I'm not advocating for a universal standard or anything, but coming from my culture, there are some clothes that I think are harder to be modest in. How modest can you be in a bikini, for example? I don't think there's anything wrong with someone wearing a bikini if they want to, but if your goal is 'modesty' then a bikini seems counter to the purpose.

Susanne said...

I agree!

Unknown said...

My problem with modesty is that I rarely see men held to the same standards. I know this is a book about womanhood and so I wouldn't expect men to be included in this case. But even in general, there have only been a few times in my life where I've heard modesty discussed as a trait men should aim to embody. And that's a problem for me because it makes me feel like "modesty" is not so much a virtue as a way of controlling women and keeping them in their place. I think it needs to either be redefined and used more universally, or we need to examine why it is considered so important for women and whether it should be valued at all.

Susanne said...

Good thoughts. Why do you think there is such a big emphasis on controlling women? And what do you think of the reason that our modesty helps guys not to lust, rape, molest, whatever?

I personally think the latter makes guys out to be complete morons who cannot control themselves therefore women have to be placed out of sight. As insulting as the story of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish men buying glasses to make their eyes blurry so they can't see women clearly is, I applaud them for handicapping *themselves* instead of forcing women to remain out of sight. At least in this instance they are limiting themselves instead of forcing women to do it for them.

Unknown said...

And what do you think of the reason that our modesty helps guys not to lust, rape, molest, whatever?

I think it's blaming the victim and that's never the way to go. It reminds me of Golda Meir's comment when it was suggested women be put under a curfew to protect them from rape. "Men are committing the rapes. Let them be put under the curfew." But that's not how our world works in general. Victims are blamed for crimes against them, the weak are punished for being victimized because the strong are able to take control.

And I think that's basically why there is a tendency to control women. Even from a lot of guys who claim to respect women and think everyone's equal, there's a tendency to try and shut up feminist arguments.

This guy who used to be one of my best friends, I haven't even been able to talk to him in two weeks because when another friend tried to explain what rape culture means, he shot back with "you people just want to complain all the time, you make it sound like all of us are jerks and you just want everyone to feel sorry for you." He thinks he's a feminist! But he doesn't want to be made to feel bad. He feels like when it's pointed out that there are problematic things in our culture, that male privilege is a real thing and that rape and abuse of women are trivialized, that means we're saying he is perpetuating violence against women because he is a man in a culture that awards privilege to men. He doesn't mean to be hurtful, he just doesn't understand because he's never lived it. So he doesn't believe it exists, and he's motivated to keep on believing it doesn't because it makes him feel bad to acknowledge it.

Susanne said...

Thanks for sharing about your friend. I'm sorry that he feels accused when you bring up that topic. It's too bad he can't see that while HE may not be that way, plenty of others are. I wonder about this guilt by association thing.

You made a good point about his never having lived it. I suppose we can say the same about living as a minority in the US in regards to race or religion. Or at least I can. I'm not sure what you experience although I think that would be an interesting topic to read about. :)

Thanks for your comments. I always enjoy your feedback!