23 August 2007

Modesty at Seventeen

First period French III was probably the most useless class since my fourth endeavor with computer keyboarding. The one redeeming quality to parlez vous francais-ing with MY class was that we had some pretty candid moments together. One in particular stands out to me that involved a tete-a-tete with the Human Growth and Development teacher and Rachel. The cognitive dissonance that resulted has never settled for me, but that ends today.

Scene: Rachel and Steven are pretending to do their work as usual, just like the rest of us. And by that, I mean blatantly not doing it at all. The teacher, a native speaker, doesn't give us much that could be called work, and we don't care enough about foreign language to do anything about it. So at the start of this scene, Rachel is sitting on Steven's lap, and I can instantly tell you it's not what it looks like. That phrase has never meant anything coming from a teenager, and even less when Mrs. Human Growth Teacher comes into the room.

She takes one look at Rachel and snaps, "Get off of that young man's lap young lady. There's no excuse for that kind of behavior. Come to my class and I'll teach you modesty." And I instantly wanted to start laughing, but we were all respectful. We waited until after Mrs. Human Growth Teacher left the room before we laughed in her face. All I could think at the time was, The Mormons are coming! Lovers of laps and miniskirts beware! And honestly, you have to know more about my hometown before you can understand why that's so funny.

Should I have laughed? Probably not. But I'd be lying to you if I said I would take it back.

I had this scene in mind as I read this editorial from the LA Times. And naturally, I have to come to Modesty's rescue.

Modesty, for me, is about being comfortable. I don't want to yank, pull, tuck, fix, cover, recover, check, double-check, and otherwise be fixated on my appearance all the time. My friends and family will tell you; I'm not full of myself enough to care that much about what I look like. For me, being modest is not only easier, but it's rewarding. I never have to worry about what I look like when I descend to/ascend from chairs. I can stretch without a hassle, and tie my shoes as many times as it takes without have to put a wall behind me to hide peek-a-boo knickers. I don't have to cross my legs if I don't want to, and guys look into my eyes when they talk to me. People see who I am, and hear what I'm saying instead of only seeing what I'm (not) wearing.

Plus, in all honesty, I think I've spent enough time compromising my virtue for one lifetime. My body stays covered these days because I've seen what happens to you when you treat your body like a visitor's center instead of a temple.

I now call your attention to this part of the editorial:
"It's not a lack of female modesty but a sense of male entitlement that leads to sexual violence. And the idea that we women can change men's behavior by changing our clothes is not only disconcerting, it has been debunked. As millions of women know all too well, no one ever avoided a rape by wearing a longer skirt."
Two logical fallacies here: 1. she's wrong and 2. there's no way she can prove her claim either. Even a brief bout with common sense will tell you that if you put a modestly dressed girl and a lover of miniskirts side-by-side, even Average Joe Mormon is going to pick the one in the mini-skirt when all other variables are equal. I do give our Young Men some credit, but the majority of them don't really deserve it, and they know it. Call me wrong if you'd like, but I've watched it happen. If you don't want to come up on a guy's radar, then dressing modestly is a great place to start. Silly you if you think that's ALL you need to do, but modesty is a start. I've faded into the background enough times to know. And if being the object of male fantasy is something that bothers you, I recommend wearing some pants with that belt you call a skirt.

I think people mistake Modesty for things that it isn't too. See here:
"And therein lies the problem with so much of the modesty movement. Scratch the surface, and what's supposed to be good for girls reveals itself to be all about the boys: dressing in a way that doesn't over-excite them, demurring so that their manhood remains intact and holding tight to our sexuality until we find a husband who is worthy of that ultimate 'prize.'

What's lost in this view of the world is the power of female desire: not just sexual and sartorial but professional and intellectual. There is something liberating about a girlhood (and womanhood) that is not lived solely in anticipation of, or in response to, a man. There's something freeing about a world in which women have the right to take risks (and to get mad)."
I remember the warnings we got before we went to Youth Conference; "Young Women, let's please dress responsibly. The Young Men will be there, and we need to be considerate." I'll agree that the fixation on the opposite sex, especially in the young LDS culture, is a bit unnecessary and distracting. I agree with Emmeline Wells, a journalist from early church history that I think every woman should know:

"All honor and reverence to good men; but they and their attentions are not the only source of happiness on the earth and need not fill up every thought of woman. And when men see that women can exist without their being constantly at hand... it will perhaps take a little of the conceit out of some of them."
My modesty isn't about appeasing other people, and it really is nice when they don't have anything to bother me about. My modesty certainly isn't about attracting the right sort of guy, although I'm sure one day it will, if it hasn't already. All of these reasons only reflect what modesty is really supposed to be about; the one thing girls wish could co-exist with miniskirts, but never has.

Safeguarding my virtue behind my clothing is about having peace of mind that only comes when vanity and sex appeal isn't at the forefront of my attention. THAT is a liberation I wish more women would pursue. There's no liberation in being the traditional feminist; standing around in revealing clothing and ranting about your rights and prerogatives as a woman.

But you know what? That kind of revelation gets you crucified in my hometown, as you've seen with Rachel. So I may settle for the silent example, but at least I'm setting one, right?

Right.

3 comments:

  1. Amen. I will share this with my sons and daughters.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just so you know, I also e-mailed it to the YW Presidency in our ward.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you! The more who hear this message, the happier I will be.

    ReplyDelete

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