Modesty, Rape Culture & the Gospel of Jesus Christ

According to my internet searching (and everything you read on the internet is true right?), the term "rape culture" was coined by feminists in the 1970s. While rape culture is multi-faceted, in this article it will be used more interchangeably with the behaviors that are often associated with it: victim blaming, sexual objectification, trivializing rape, and refusing to acknowledge the harm rape brings to it's victims. 

So why, on this happy Brooklyn blog am I writing about rape culture, modesty and the gospel of Jesus Christ? Because I think that as Christians, we have got to address some of these tougher topics. I wish I had been taught more about these tougher topics earlier in life, so instead, I'll address them now. 

Growing up, to me, modesty was keeping my chest, bum, and stomach covered. Those were the school rules, and that was what I was taught at church and in my home. Although not all my young womens leaders addressed modesty the same way, I was taught that dressing modestly made it easier for the boys to stay virtuous. My cleavage, upper thighs, butt and stomach were ticking bombs that would make it impossible for young men to think clean thoughts. Isn't that a lot of pressure to put on girls 12-18? I honestly never stopped once to ask myself, "Why is it MY job to make sure they are staying virtuous?" I just wanted to be good. So I covered up.

In college I took a walk/jog class. Basically we had 50 minutes to walk/jog around the track, get good exercise and get college credit for it. For this class I usually wore shorter shorts and either a tank top or a tee shirt. One day during class while I was walking, a guy caught up with me and we began to talk. After class he asked me out. I caught a bit of a weird vibe, but felt flattered that he was interested in me. He was tall, handsome and rugged, my kinda man. We went and got ice cream the next night and came back to my apartment and hung out with some of my roommates. He told me stories of his dad's cancer and how hard it has been to watch him degenerate. He was a Christian that was making his way back to church. He said all these things that made him seem so vulnerable and made me want to help him. We watched a movie and I remember continually moving his hands back to my knee as they slowly made their way up my thigh. It was uncomfortable to the say the least but I didn't think too much of it. (Face palm people! This is a red flag!! Why I didn't get out right then I have no idea.) 

The next day he was not in class. He texted me after and said he had slept in but wanted to know if I wanted to come over to his condo that night. I asked him if his roommates would be there and he said no. I told him that I wasn't comfortable with that and that he could come over to my apartment if he wanted to hang out. He then said, "Well... my roommates will be there if you want. But I figured you'd prefer if they weren't..." Umm... what?? I still let him come over the night. (Freshman Brooklyn needed a wake up call!) That night he was handsy again, and I was so uncomfortable. Although I didn't feel sexually assaulted I was on guard, and had to keep moving his hands to where I was comfortable. At the end of the night I walked him outside to his car and I told him I wasn't interested in him and didn't want to waste his time. He told me I had been misleading him and making him think I wanted to do more together, "You can't dress the way you do in gym class and expect me to not want to do those kinds of things to you." I was mortified. Was the way I was dressing in gym class really making it look like I was looking for sexual encounters? I started wearing sweats and baggy tee shirts to class instead so I wouldn't be a temptation for him anymore.

So where's rape culture in that? Any time you blame a woman for a man's impure thoughts or actions, you are encouraging rape culture. If your daughter was raped, would you EVER say to her, "It must be because those short shorts you were wearing or the fact that you had cleavage." I sincerely hope not. And even though my father appreciated when my sisters and I dressed modestly, I know he would never victim blame for what someone is wearing. If we victim blame, we are RELIEVING the rapist of the sin. We are letting that person "get away with it" because we think the way a woman dresses causes the rape. 

Elder Jeffery R. Holland said, “I have heard all my life that it is the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the limits of intimacy in courtship because a young man cannot. What an unacceptable response to such a serious issue! What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability, perhaps even pursue a university education and prepare to affect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of the world, but yet does not have the mental capacity or the moral will to say, ‘I will not do that thing?’ No, this sorry drugstore psychology would have us say, ‘He just can’t help himself. His glands have complete control over his life–his mind, his will, his entire future.’… I refuse to buy some young man’s feigned innocence who wants to sin and call it psychology.” (Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacrifice)

Public Service Announcement: The rapist is always responsible for his or her own actions. It does not matter what the girl was wearing. No means no. I went and saw the Intern with my husband for date night (SPOILER ALERT!) and in the movie the lead character is a hard working woman who created this amazing business. Her husband left his job to take care of their daughter and ends up cheating on her. The main character feels like it is her fault that he cheated on her because she was spending so much time working. Public Service Announcement: You don't accidentally cheat, and you can't blame someone else for that mistake either. He chose to cheat on her, she is the victim.

I believe in modesty in dress. I feel my best when I am covered up. I prefer to not worry about people seeing more than I want them to.  But besides dressing modestly because that's what makes me comfortable, why? What do we need to teach youth about modesty? First off, modesty looks different to different cultures, religions, and even individuals. What I'm comfortable in may not be comfortable for you. I'm not better than you because of the way I dress. And you're not better than me because of the way you dress. Period.

Our bodies are sacred because they were created by God in His image. That's why I dress modestly, to show respect for this glorious body I have been given. Our bodies have amazingly beautiful procreative powers, they can heal, they can lift, they can hug. Primarily, dressing modestly shows respect for our bodies.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I believe that, "Men shall be punished for their own sins..."(Articles of Faith #2) In my mind, this means that if my large chest makes a man think unclean thoughts and he chooses to act on it, I'm not responsible for that. I am more than my body!

I now wear temple garments. These are an outward expression of my inward commitment to follow the Savior Jesus Christ. I have been promised great blessings in a temple of God if I wear them. The top covers my shoulder much like a capsleeve top, and the bottoms come down to the knee. In college I realized I owned a lot of clothing that I would not be able to wear once I was endowed and wearing temple garments. I threw out all of it. It felt amazing to know that I was preparing for a glorious future. Dressing modestly became about ME and my outward commitment to follow the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and less about what the male gender thought of me.

I believe men are better than we are giving them credit for. I believe, that just like women, they can control their thoughts. It might not always be easy, but it can be done. I believe modesty is about my relationship with God, and not about the way others view me. I believe we spend too much time worrying about trivial things such as bikinis, tank tops, and Diet Coke and not enough time worrying about humanitarian work, getting to know our neighbors and expressing love for our families. I choose to dress modestly, and will encourage the young women I teach to do the same, but not because they are object of a man's desire and may cause him to sin. I will teach them to dress modestly, because of the way it makes them feel, act, and because the way they dress can show respect to Heavenly Father for the blessing it is to have such an amazingly beautiful body.

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Sharlee said...

I could respond to this all day, but instead I'll just say that I served in YW when I was first married and they had super strict modesty rules. If a girl wore a tankini to a water activity, she had to safety pin it together. Girls who didn't follow the rules were thenot asked to wear oversized t-shirts provided by the leaders. The main reason they gave the girls was that they were doing it for the boys. My YW leaders didn't teach modesty that way when I was a YW. We were told we were honoring our bodies not doing it so the boys wouldn't have bad thoughts. I absolutely agree that each person has his/her own agency. Now, my PERSONAL choice is that I want others to be uplifted when around me and I feel modest dress helps me attain that goal. But I was livid when I saw the way modesty and dress was addressed in my ward. It's so hard because it's so important and I think we fail to give the girls credit, too. Teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves. Instead we use an extrinsic motivation system that is not based on correct principles to encourage modest dress. It's almost as if they don't trust the girls to make the right choice for the right reasons.

Hailey Name said...

Thank you for sharing your story. It really does clearly illustrate why we as a culture need to start taking responsibility for our choices and let others be responsible for theirs. We each have God given agency.

I came forward with my rape story and made it all the way through the interviews with police and insecurities within myself but was told by the prosecutor that he could not press charges because a jury wouldn't hold my rapist accountable. I didn't have a confession on tape so they would blame me for being drugged and date raped. Now my rapist is free to hurt others because of how our society wrongly blames a victim. There is nothing I could have done to deserved that experience, no one deserves that. Rape is not aggressive sex, it is taking away the agency of another and treating them as a possession. This is Satan's work and causes horrible pain to those that experience it.

I'm trying to help others and get needed resources and information out there through my blog . Rape fills a victim with shame and makes them feel worthless. We need people to support victims and show them love and help them heal. That is how we will stop sexual assault. We can't prosecute rapists if we don't have responsible citizens who know the truth and love their neighbor.

Tayler Morrell said...

I love this post and I'm so glad that you wrote it! I think we do need to change how we teach modesty...and it's really not the just the way we's also our thoughts and our actions and the overall way we present ourselves!

The Rachael Way said...

Thank you so much for this post and for being vulnerable in sharing your own experiences. I agree with you completely-- as someone who dresses pretty modestly as well, that would frustrate me to no end if a guy said that to me. You're such an inspiration, love!

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for doing this post. My Testimony of dressing modestly was strengthened. thank you so much for letting me follow your blog. I enjoy each of your posts and appreciate being uplifted each time I read them.. Thank you for being a good example to me! You're amazing! love you lots~ Have a Great day!

Stacy said...

Love this post! Changing the sometimes damaging way we view/teach modesty is something that has bothered me for a long time. I have seen quite a few LDS posts about it in recent years and I am so glad it is getting attention. It can become a complicated conversation though, am I right? I read one article a few months ago that very nearly hit the nail on the head. However, it started down the slippery slope of "well it doesn't really matter what I wear then". I think it is rare to find someone articulate the issue well without falling down that slope. This post did just that. I couldn't agree with you more and you were able to successfully navigate that fine line between the extremes. Thanks for writing this!