In the last month I’ve read a couple of opinion pieces about the sexualization of our young girls. In “Parents, Don’t Dress Your Daughters Like Tramps,” LZ Granderson, an ESPN columnist and CNN opinion contributor, called attention to recent trends in sexualized clothing for young girls, including padded bikini tops for 5-year-olds and a push-up bra for 12-year-olds. Granderson criticizes the companies who manufacture and sell these clothing items, but ultimately locates the blame for “dressing little girls like prostitutes” with those girls’ parents:
In 2007, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls issued a report linking early sexualization with three of the most common mental-health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression. There’s nothing inherently wrong with parents wanting to appease their daughters by buying them the latest fashions. But is getting cool points today worth the harm dressing little girls like prostitutes could cause tomorrow?
For Granderson, the problem is not just that parents buy these clothes for their daughters, but that parents are trying so hard to be their kids’ friends, that they forget to be their parents and enforce standards.
In “Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?”, Jennifer Moses situates blame for sexualizing young girls similarly—with the parents, specifically mothers. However Moses gets even more specific in her assignment of blame, pointing to a couple of underlying problems: 1. the mothers’ inability to find a way to talk to their daughters’ about the importance of modesty in both dress and sexual behavior, allegedly because they are conflicted about feeling hypocritical if they tell their girls not to do what they themselves did as young women; this is complicated by the fact that the mothers want to help their daughters be attractive and socially successful and that the mothers (themselves beyond the period of physical attractiveness) enjoy living vicariously through their daughters. And 2. the primary part of #1 is essentially the fault of the feminist movement and the sexual revolution, which caused these mothers to behave unwisely as young women and now inhibits them from teaching their girls appropriate dress and sexual practices. So ultimately it’s those damn feminists’ fault that girls today dress like prostitutes and, as a result, become little better than prostitutes in their sexual behaviors.
I read these articles because they were sent to me by a family member involved in the Young Women’s program in her ward or stake. She was in planning mode for their upcoming Standards Night, at which they emphasized modesty, and had found these pieces. She was thrilled that Moses pointed to Mormons (along with orthodox Jews and evangelicals) as the only people who seem to know “how to teach [their] sons and daughters not to give away their bodies so readily.” And, of course, my family member agreed that it was terrible that we allow our daughters to dress like prostitutes and that parents shouldn’t buy those clothes for their girls. I agree. We shouldn’t dress our daughters like prostitutes. We shouldn’t buy these clothes for them.
But all parties are wrong in where they situate blame and in their suggested remedies, including the Mormon church and its emphasis on modesty in dress. Granted, Granderson is correct in encouraging parents to be parents and to set limits on behavior. And granted, Moses is correct that mothers may have a particularly important role to play in helping their daughters understand and express their sexuality appropriately. But even if we concur that part of the problem is that the mothers of today’s girls are themselves troubled about how to discuss modesty and sexual behavior, she’s wrong about the underlying cause of that problem, too. The cause of that problem is not that these mothers were granted permission as young women to sleep with as many people as they want without the traditional consequence of pregnancy and social stigma (I would argue that she’s incorrect in saying that social stigma is no longer a consequence, but this is a digression); nor is it that they now regret their previous behavior.
The problem is much more radical—radical meaning a problem of roots. The underlying, root cause of the sexualization of today’s girls is the same underlying, root problem of their mother’s alleged promiscuity and inability to talk to their daughters about appropriate dress and sexual behavior. Namely, while women in 21st century America (and other areas of the developed world) have many more freedoms and opportunities than their predecessors had, their value is still largely determined by their sexual appeal and reproductive capacity. And this is every bit as true of Mormon culture, with its overdeveloped rhetoric of physical modesty, as it is of the broader culture in which parents try to be hip friends rather than authority figures and magazines are presenting what Moses sees as “a constant stream of semi-pornography.” And since I am Mormon and this is a feminist Mormon forum, I’m focusing on the Mormon aspect of this problem: that our culture of hypermodesty contributes to the sexualization of young girls as much as a culture of absent modesty does.
It’s very easy to fixate on the extreme of young girls and young women getting all dolled up like little prostitutes and then to scream foul at irresponsible parents and the terrible media and the evil feminists, but our own emphasis on the externalities of modesty sends the same message: females are first and foremost sexual beings, meant to attract the sexual interest of men in order to reproduce, which is, after all, the divinely sanctioned role for women (if you believe the contemporary Mormon church, anyway). Both extremes (the extreme cover up and the extreme exposure) reduce girls to their bodies—their sexual bodies and the capacity of those bodies to attract the male gaze and set off a process that ultimately leads to sex and reproduction. The fact that the Mormon version ends up with sex and reproduction within marriage does not change the fact that that is how we define women. And the fact that we think sex and reproduction within marriage is a Good does not change that defining women in such a limited fashion is Not Good.
The Mormon emphasis on external, clothing-oriented modesty is just another form of sexualization. We attempt to negate the sexualization of young girls’ and women’s bodies by covering them up and locking them behind the door called Chastity. But when the female body is taboo because of its inherent sexuality (a sexuality so powerful that a woman literally turns herself into pornography for some men by dressing immodestly, according to that canard advanced by Dallin Oaks), and when women are celebrated almost exclusively because of their potential as breeders and nurturers of children, then we successfully sexualize the female body every bit as much as pushing heels, padded bras, plunging necklines, and miniskirts for pre-teens does. The invisibility of the female body, or of the attributes of the female body that stand for Sex, does not mean we have refused to grant the female body a sexualized status.
According to the APA, “sexualization occurs when:
- a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
- a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
- a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making;
- and/or sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.”
As a culture in which we begin telling our girls as toddlers that their value comes from their ability to attract and retain a mate in the interest of fulfilling their divine role “Mother” and in which we far too often pay too little attention to other characteristics of our girls; in which there are externally imposed standards of what it means to be physically attractive, which standards often conflict with the message to physically attract men; in which girls’ capacity for independent action and decision making outside the realm of their role as mother-in-training is downplayed; in such a culture I can only conclude that girls’ sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon them as a class.
I have a radical proposal: the church and Mormon parents should teach girls that they have value without connecting that value to the sexiness of their bodies, their attractiveness to men, their capacity to make babies. Rather than lessons in which girls make lists of characteristics they should look for in a worthy, Priesthood-holding husband, have them make lists of the characteristics they should foster in themselves to be loving human beings in relationship with others, successful employees, and contributing members of their larger society. Rather than teaching them how to iron their future husbands’ dress shirts, teach them appropriate grooming and behavior for success in the workplace, as civic volunteers, as adult women. In addition to YW activities during which they learn new recipes or make crafts, offer activities during which they learn less stereotypically female skills.* I guarantee that if we prepare our daughters to be successful, well-rounded individuals rather than spending so much effort to prepare them to fill a preconceived concept of “wife and mother,” then we’ll have a sure way to get away from both ends—extreme cover up and extreme exposure—of the sexualization spectrum. When we do so, we will see women and girls as human beings with enormous worth and potential, with wonderful things to offer the world rather than as sexual beings who offer primarily their ovaries, vaginas, mammary glands, and uteri. And then, when we see a girl’s bare shoulders because she’s wearing a perfectly decent tank top or an expanse of skin on her thigh because it’s hot and she’s wearing shorts, when her neckline makes it recognizable that she does indeed have breasts, we’ll be a hell of a lot less likely to see her as salacious and hypersexualized and instead register little beyond the lived reality of the female body.
For some excellent treatments of teaching modesty and appropriate sexual behavior take a look at Starfoxy’s amazing four-part series on modesty at feminist Mormon housewives and Kathryn Soper’s brilliant essay on teaching sexuality to the young women.
*All of these lessons or activities are things I experienced as a member of the YW program or have heard about from my nieces currently in the program; I realize that my suggestions do happen in some places but I still think the YW program errs in teaching gender stereotypes in preparing our girls to be wives and mothers rather than preparing our girls to be well-rounded individuals.
AMAZING!!!!!!!!! Seriously–this may just be the most intelligent, concise and (in my opinion) accurate assessment of the way women are sexualized in Mormonism that I have ever read. WOW!
“…our culture of hypermodesty contributes to the sexualization of young girls as much as a culture of absent modesty does.”
I’ve ranted at-length about the modesty lessons I was given in Young Women’s and seminary, and how apparently the goal was to keep young men (and – gross – older men) from having bad thoughts rather than any virtue I might gain from being dressed appropriately.
A bit of a tangent – I think the issue isn’t so much “modesty” as it is appropriateness. Is it appropriate for a little girl (or grown woman) to wear shorts? Sure. Is it appropriate for something trashy to be written on the bum? No. That’s where the second article goes off base – sure, every grown woman in America probably dressed immodestly at one point or another, but that’s not the point. It is not ok for a child to be wearing a push up bra, period.
Agreed, Ru. A much more sophisticated and useful approach to what Mormons attempt to teach by teaching modesty in dress would be to help young girls and women (and all of this applies to boys and men, too) understand appropriateness. And that is what Starfoxy’s series at fMh does so beautifully–flesh out the underlying principles that are what we should really be teaching rather than emphasizing black and white rules about what clothes are modest.
TOTALLY agree on the hyper focus on modesty comment! My 10-year old daughter was perusing a Friend article a few months back that included a modesty check list (i.e. are your shoulders covered? Do your shorts/skirt reach down to at least your knees). I was so angry that, when she wasn’t looking, I tossed it in the trash. Thanks, Friend, for helping give my daughter body issues at the age of 10! I agree that “appropriate” is a better approach. I don’t let my kids dress in short shorts and bare tummies to school because it’s NOT APPROPRIATE. But their shorts do NOT hit their knees and they wear tanks in the hot summer months– and there is NOTHING WRONG OR IMMODEST WITH A SHOULDER!!!!
I think it’s terrible that the church’s publication for children is hammering on this. It’s part and parcel of the church’s efforts to get children to make their decisions now so they don’t have to make them in the future (think for instance about what President Monson said in April conference about children/youth deciding now to go to the temple someday so the decision is already made). I just find the whole approach repugnant.
What an insightful post! I agree that there is so much about what is taught regarding womanhood in the church that is objectifying.
There’s a great story in the New Testament that shows Christ’s opposition to the objectification of women. Christ was preaching a sermon, and the following exchange happened:
“And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.
But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” Luke 11:27-28
A member of the congregation reduced Mary to her reproductive capabilities, and Christ gently offered correction, pointing to righteousness as the appropriate way to consider people.
I wasn’t really familiar with that story, Keri. I like it. I would like it most if we were to take those words–“blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it”–and connected them back to a textual analysis of Mary’s Magnificat. Hmmm….maybe I’ll have to do that for some future post.
That’s great! I hadn’t thought to connect it to the Magnificat.
“Both extremes (the extreme cover up and the extreme exposure) reduce girls to their bodies.”
Thank you, Amelia. This hits the nail on the head. This speaks volumes about how far we still need to come in our view of women in the world, and hopefully each woman who reads this article reflects deeply on what you are saying. I find that lessons about what young women should learn regarding chastity and morality are too often simplified in “cover up and don’t have sex.” That’s how you are *GOOD*. And there is a lot of emphasis in this world about being good. Especially for girls. We like our girls nice and happy. We like them smiling and attractive. We like them having goals, but don’t make them too big. We like them being something, but not too much.
What would be the equivalent for a young boy in this scenario? Is there even one? No. Because boys are not the objects.
Yeah, we do a real disservice to our young women by 1. making our chastity lessons so much about their being good; and 2. by making them the gatekeepers of the boys’ goodness, too. I really love with Kathryn had to say about our chastity lessons failing girls so often because they don’t understand young women as complex individuals dealing with some very real problems. You take a slightly different approach here, but I think you’re spot on in how resistant we, as a culture, are to seeing our young girls as complex. And we certainly don’t see them fully enough as agents, rather than as reagents.
I agree with Aimee. This is the most concise and intelligent treatment of the subject I have ever read. Thank you!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: modesty is not about clothing! The same way the principle of tithing is not necessarily about money, it is to teach a whole slew of other principles. Modesty is about reverence, self-respect, consecration, and yes even obedience.
You hit the nail on the head with this, excellent analysis of the de-sexed visualization of LDS women.
*autocorrect fail. “de-sexed sexualization of LDS women.” Oops.
I like that phrase–the “de-sexed sexualization of LDS women.” perfect. That’s exactly the problem. We assume that since we seem to have covered up the sex, we’ve therefore eliminated the sexualization which just isn’t true.
I love this post Amelia. Nice job 🙂
Amen!!!!!!! I am similarly troubled by this idea that preteen girls and children can’t wear sleeveless shirts or shorts that above the knee. To me there is nothing sexual about a child’s body and to try to tell me my daughter is being immodest at age 7 is crackdown. Seriously this is the smartest commentary I’ve read on this subject
Absolutely Courtney. When we are telling our 7 year olds that they can’t wear a sleeveless shirt or shorts that don’t hit their knees, we are implicitly saying that the female body is always already sexual, even when no one in their right mind would consciously suggest that a 7 year old girl’s body could appropriately be identified as sexual.
Plus, to classify all sleeveless clothing or all shorts and skirts above the knee as immodest for a female of any age fails to recognize the importance of learning appropriateness. My 5-almost-6-year-old niece is just dying for a two piece bathing suit this summer. She’s a little obsessed. And I told my sister she should just buy her one. Not because she’s caving to her daughter’s demands, but because to refuse to do so and to insist that all two-piece bathing suits are Bad grants the two-piece bathing suit and showing the midriff the allure of the forbidden. And it just perpetuates the obsession. There are certainly bikinis for little girls that I find totally inappropriate in how they sexualize girls bodies. But I’ve also seen plenty of bikinis for little girls that are perfectly fine. They aren’t grossly high cut; they don’t have mini little triangles for the top; they’re just cute little briefs and cropped tops. And I think far more harm is done by drilling down on the “all two-piece bathing suits are by definition immodest” than by letting a totally innocent little girl who is not an actively sexual being and who should not be seen as such wear the kind of swimsuit she wants to wear. The whole thing would be more valuable as an opportunity to help my niece choose an appropriate version of what she wants, than to drill home some black-and-white generalized rule that reinforces the idea that the female body is always already a sexual body.
Kids that age will be like that whether over clothes or a toy they want.
When you let them start wearing a bikini, on what day do you say, “Okay, you can’t wear one anymore.” ? It won’t happen, they won’t let you take it away once they are used to it.
It’s so much easier to say no when she’s 5 or 6 and she will forget about it quicker than you think and move onto the next thing to obsess about.
I think it goes well above age 7! I just found out that people in my ward have been gossiping about how my 14 year old daughter is dressing “immodestly.” In her case (and I’m not saying this will last forever!), she is not interested in boys and most definitely is not dressing up hoping that boys will notice her. She enjoys getting gussied up for herself and hopes to get some compliments and attention from other girls and from adults at church that she admires. I resent the implication that because you can see her long legs (she’s 5’7″) in a skirt, she is somehow trying to lure boys into her . . . ??
agree! And by the way, I’m 43 years old and I still wear a bikini! Since when are bikinis bad??? Swimsuits by their very nature, are immodest if you’re walking down a street but APPROPRIATE for a beach or pool. My bikinis are more ‘modest’ than many 1-piecers I’ve seen. I will never, ever ban my daughters from wearing a bikini but I will not allow tiny bikinis. And, by the way, my daughters wear sleeveless dresses to church all the time in the summer. They are usually high necked but sleeveless and there is NOTHING immodest about them— they are totally pretty and innocent and appropriate for church. Yes, since when is a 10 year old in a sleeveless top or shorts a few inches above the knee and immodest child? Eeak!
Hope, since I don’t subscribe to the drawing-lines-on-the-body approach to appropriate dress, I wouldn’t ever have to teach my daughter that what I let her wear as a child was now not appropriate. Helping children understand “appropriateness” is a process since appropriateness constantly changes as we move through different stages of life. One of the things I absolutely can’t stand about the church is the way it ignores that different stages of life have different appropriate behaviors. The whole telling adults to abide by the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet, for instance. The dating advice in that pamphlet targets teenagers and is just not appropriate for me at 35. I’m in a very different stage of life and am trying to accomplish something very different by dating and it’s asinine and paternalistic to tell me I should abide by advice designed for teenagers. The same is true of clothing advice. I wear clothes all the time that probably wouldn’t be appropriate for a teenage girl. Because I’m a 35 year old professional, not a teenage girl. And I sure as hell wouldn’t wear clothes my 18 year old niece wears, even though there’s nothing at all inappropriate about those clothes for her. There just is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all answer.
It’s always so weird to me, too, when people say little girls can’t wear tank tops because it’s immodest.
I think it’s interesting that modesty seems to become an issue early on, I guess around three or so…once kids are most likely (I think? I haven’t really been around little kids much for a while) done with potty training. Before that, a little kid running around in just a diaper, boy or girl, seems to be no big deal.
I think it’s good to teach our kids to be modest. I don’t think we teach them “extreme cover up.” The religion that the women are only allowed to show their eyes are what I would call extreme. If we don’t teach them modesty, then the world will teach them immodesty.
I do agree with you about teaching them to be well-rounded members of society. When you do focus so much on marriage and being a mother you end up with young women who can hardly wait to be married and that is all they are, they haven’t really developed any depth, they haven’t found out who they are, what their interest are, what good they can contribute to society.
I shudder to think of who I would be today if I had gotten married younger. I was so emotionally dependent on becoming a wife and mother that my identity was wrapped up in that. I was more willing to have lower standards in who I married because the need to be married was so great.
It took me graduating from college, going on a mission, and starting a career before I felt emotionally ready for marriage. Being able to have a career gave me a lot of confidence and self worth. Now that I’m married and have kids I fall back on the strength I had developed before I gotten married. Being married and having kids is not easy. You don’t really get the opportunity to find out who you are when you are a mother (because that is all you can be–your kids will demand it)
I don’t think you necessarily have to go through all I went through to be ready. If I had had young women leaders more focused on developing me as a person instead of me as a wife and mother, I think I could have been ready sooner.
Hope, I agree that we should, as parents, teach our children modesty, though I think the modesty we should be teaching is much better described by Starfoxy’s series at fMh than it is by the church more generally. Teaching our kids modesty should be about far more than the shirts with sleeves and shorts to the knees approach so often relied upon at church. I think teaching modesty should be about teaching appropriateness and about helping our kids understand that modesty is not about certain lines we draw on our bodies (after all, I can dress very, very immodestly while hitting every line the church would draw on my body as a guide for modest clothing). I agree with you that appropriate clothing should be one area in which we proactively teach our children about modesty.
That said, I don’t think we should abdicate our responsibility to teach our children appropriate practices in dress and grooming to the church anymore than we should abdicate that responsibility to the world. Especially when the church’s approach delivers the same bad message: girls and women, you are first and foremost sexual beings.
As far as the church’s standard of dress being extreme–it’s not extreme in the abstract when compared to the burqa or even more moderate dress codes imposed by some other religions. It is, however, extreme in its absolutism when it comes to the lines that have been drawn on the body. The fact that a 7 year old can’t wear a sleeveless dress to church without someone in the congregation commenting about how it’s not appropriate (even if privately) illustrates that extremity.
Thanks for sharing your experience with needing to become a more fully developed individual. I feel so very strongly about how our YW program too often fails our girls because it treats them primarily as prospective wives and mothers rather than treating them as individual children of God. If we would do the latter better, we’d also end up preparing our young women to be wives and mothers better.
I think we had different experiences in YW, I never had anything like lines being drawn on my body. I never had a problem with what I was taught about modesty as a YW and I agreed with it, maybe it’s because I grew up in the south.
We were taught modesty in a very loving way.
No one literally drew lines on my body, either. But the lines were still very clearly demarcated. And there wasn’t anything unloving in how I was taught about modesty. That said, I don’t think the fact that such a black-and-white code is taught lovingly means it doesn’t have the negative consequences I’ve outlined.
One of my frustrations with the responses of some believing Mormons is that they assume that because Mormon feminists see problems, they must have had this radically other experience in the church that has left them bitter; and usually the implication is that feminist Mormons are mistaken about the common Mormon experience. I am hurt by the church. In a lot of ways. But my experience growing up Mormon was generally a very loving, very positive one. And as a lifelong member with a very long family history in the church, I’m very familiar with the common Mormon experience. I know that most of the church’s sexism is “benign” in that it’s not the kind of overt insulting misogyny we typically associate with sexism. I know that the lessons delivered at church are usually lovingly delivered and rarely overtly destructive. But “benign” sexism is still sexism; “loving” instruction can still have harmful consequences for individuals and our culture at large. And I don’t see why we should accept the harms of the current system (and there are demonstrable harms) simply because there are also goods.
Came across this blog post through a Mormon friend of mine. I’m Jewish and I have a lot of Orthodox Jewish friends whose wardrobes are confined to the rules of “tzinus,” or modesty. There are numerous commentaries and books and opinions (all written by men) devoted to skirt length, sleeve length, collarbone revealing, whether or not calves and ankles may be shown, sandal-wearing, etc. But I think the real essence of modesty absolutely comes down to the individual and truly a sense of personal judgment and appropriateness. I’m busty and what might look very modest on a less-endowed friend looks downright scandalous on me sometimes.
I completely agree about women owning their sexuality and their identities and using them for some other purpose than sex and reproduction. Whatever religion or belief system we choose for ourselves, I think this is a core mission of feminism. Keep up the good work.
Rebecca, you make a very important point about how different bodies look very different in the same clothing. I have a friend whose busty daughter was reprimanded for dressing immodestly while she was serving a Mormon mission when her clothing was no different than the clothing of other female missionaries in her group and fully complied with the church’s guidelines on dress for missionaries. This points to two problems: 1. Black and white prescriptions of what’s “modest” don’t usually work when we get into particular circumstances; and, more importantly, 2. Imposing such black and white prescriptions often end up leading to wrong attitudes about women’s bodies by fixing attention on how prominent certain features are rather than on whether the clothing is appropriate for the situation and the person. My friend’s daughter was wearing beautiful, appropriate suits and was made to wear lumpy frumpy sweaters instead because her suits made it visible that she was busty as a result of their being properly tailored. The sweaters obscured her breasts which, because of the black-and-white conception of “modest” (which is meant to downplay the sex appeal of women’s bodies, but actually fixates attention on it), were seen as bad when in reality they were just natural. Infuriating.
“I can dress very, very immodestly while hitting every line the church would draw on my body as a guide for modest clothing.”
True story. The number of Mormon wedding receptions I’ve been to where the bride wears a “modest” wedding dress that was very tight is larger than the number of weddings with more breathing-friendly wedding dresses.
The lessons of list-writing the traits of a worthy Priesthood holder I would marry really stick in my memory of YW. We must have had at least one of those lessons each year in YW. And then it repeated in sigle student ward RS. Sometimes, after making a list of the qualities we wanted in a husband (I would put RM, Eagle Scout, super tall, likes to hike, doesn’t like country music… you know, the important things), we would then be asked to make a comparative list of goals for ourselves to be attractive to that person (so that would be, be an RM myself? well… not sure that’s what ALL male RMs want, YW Recognition award? Well, I got it, but I tell you right now my husband has no idea what is really involved in that, so it’s not impressive to him, I should be tall…? wait…).
I might have been boy crazy on my own without YW, but having my only sactioned identity in the Church built upon my ability to attract a future husband did not help me focus on the right things. And those lists were really ridiculous–a combination of stuff my leaders told me needed to be on the list and my own shallow (but age-appropriate) traits that really aren’t what is important in a partner.
I agree with you, if YW focused more on making strong, secure individuals of our youth, it would benefit everyone.
You know, Alisa, that second list is as bad, if not worse, than the first one. I could probably stretch myself to make an argument for the value of identifying characteristics we value and need in a partner. I really can’t justify in any way writing a list of characteristics I need to develop in myself in order to attract a partner. And this gets at another root problem: when we make everything we teach YW about the teleology of becoming a wife and mother, we rob the things we teach of their substance. If I teach the YW that they should be well-educated because it will help them be better wives and mothers, I shift the substance of what I’m saying away from education and onto being a wife and mother. And while it may be true that being educated will help someone be a better spouse and parent, that is not why we should be well educated.
Very well said.
Great post. I agree with all of the other praise.
My guess is that someone reading this from a TBM perspective would say, “Dressing a 9 year old as a prostitute and preparing young women for the God-given privilege to be a wife and a mother are not the same sin.”
And while I agree that objectifying women whether as direct misogyny or as benevolent patriarchy is still objectification, I wonder if there’s more complexity to the issue.
I guess what prevents me from forwarding this post on to my Bishop (as I would like to do) is this phrase,
“Rather than lessons in which girls make lists of characteristics they should look for in a worthy, Priesthood-holding husband, have them make lists of the characteristics they should foster in themselves to be loving human beings in relationship with others, successful employees, and contributing members of their larger society. ”
It’s the word, “Rather.” I guess I’d rather have it say, “In addition to.” Choosing a spouse is an important part of life. The young men should have lessons on what they are looking for in a woman as well. I’d say it’s every bit as important as how to be a good employee (or a good sister, or a good friend, or a good volunteer).
While I do agree that the church does emphasize being a wife and mother to a fault, there may be a way to find balance. Just like we are all trying to find balance in the many roles we play.
But Jessawhy, the phrase “to be loving human beings in relationship with others” covers marriage relationships as fully as it does sister and friend relationships. I don’t deny the importance of helping young people understand the kinds of characteristics they should value in the people they build relationships with; I just think that we can do it without making it be specifically about finding a spouse. Especially when we’re talking about teaching 12 and 13 year olds. I personally think I know what I want in a marriage partner because I know what works for me in relationships more broadly, which then gets filtered into what I hope to find in a spouse.
I also am not a big fan of delegating this responsibility to the church. If I were a parent, I wouldn’t want the church to even touch teaching my child what s/he should look for in a spouse because I’m pretty sure I’d disagree with a good deal of it. I’d rather have these conversations at home and, more important, expose my children to models of good marriages.
I once asked my mom if she read that book Fascinating Womanhood when she was young. It was published just a couple of years after she was married. Her response was that no, she hadn’t, because she just didn’t see the need to read a book in order to understand how to relate to her husband. She already knew how to do that because she knew how to love people. I see these list-making exercises in much the same light. I shouldn’t need to make a list of characteristics to know what I’m looking for in a marriage partner. I know what I’m looking for because I know which marriage relationships I’ve seen that I admire; because I know what I value in relationships with other people.
perhaps I would find the list-making less offensive if it were more encouraging of critical thinking and observation. In other words, if the exercise were something like: “think of a couple you know that you admire–any couple, your parents, an aunt and uncle, friends of your family, a neighbor couple–and identify two things you like about their relationship with each other. Why do you like those two things?” Now that is an exercise I could actually be okay with. But the list-making exercises are far too often prescriptive and, by extension, proscriptive (which is terrible) than they are truly reflective.
Good points. I read Fascinating Womanhood in HS with a friend. We giggled our way through the whole thing.
I remember asking my mother if it was real. “You’re supposed to stamp your foot and pout like a child when you want something from your husband?” It was ridiculous.
I see your point about relationships in general. That certainly would be more in line with New Testament Jesus (not so much with Mormon Jesus, but that’s another topic). I don’t know how the LDS church could free itself from the family-centric discourse that consumes it. Only if we disengaged from that (which I would welcome) could we get to a place where emphasizing all relationships could be as acceptable as emphasizing marriage.
It occurs to me that perhaps the focus on the family as the central unit is what has caused this whole problem in the first place. If women are the linchpin to making and keeping a family, then we need to make sure they’re on board or it won’t happen.
I guess another topic is whether or not we should all have the same aim for marriage and children.
another day, another thread. . . .
Jess, I really hope you write a post someday about New Testament Jesus vs. Mormon Jesus.
I understand why the church emphasizes family. Sealing is after all a saving ordinance. And there’s that whole multiply and replenish thing. That said, I think the emphasis is misguided. I think that if the church continued teaching the importance of all ordinances, including sealing ordinances, and emphasized the importance of human relationships then people would still recognize and understand the importance of marriage. And we wouldn’t have so many of the problems we have as a result of the current approach to teaching about marriage and family.
Also I have to think that the emphasis on marriage and family is in large part a social control mechanism. I know most Mormons would disagree with me, but that’s just how I see it.
Excellent post! Maybe the best post ever. Insightful, rings true, very well thought out and very very well stated.
Brilliant post! It always struck me as ironic that at church, it is taught that men have less agency than women in regard to sexual impulses, therefore women must cover up more, because if they do not, then men can’t control themselves. And women who can’t reproduce and deal with infertility (and perhaps even those whom miscarry) are somehow less righteous than women who easily become pregnant within the covenant (of course). It is long overdue for basic principles like agency and the fall to apply to women and female bodies as much as it has been applied to men and male bodies. Thank you for writing this, Amelia. I wish it was a lesson at church!
Funny, that’s not the church that I belong to, spunky. None of the statements that you made correspond to any of our doctrines. While it may be true that some members treat others that way… those are not fundamental beliefs of the LDS church. In conference, there were several mentions of women who have never married, aren’t able to bear children etc. In all instances, we are taught to love and respect each other. While I do agree that there is often a misunderstanding among members about the roles of men and women, I believe that we, as a people, are taught to love, honor and respect women. And there has been more and more of an emphasis on this from leaders in recent years.
I have to agree with Michelle. As a woman who has faced infertility myself, I have never, in any way shape or form, felt or been taught that I was less righteous than someone who got pregnant easily. I have encountered much compassion within the church when discussing my infertility.
I think the important thing is to remember that the church is a big messy complex thing. And its members have hugely varying experiences. I’m very glad, Erin, that you’ve found support as you’ve dealt with your infertility. And I agree, Michelle, that the core principles of the gospel and of church teachings are love and respect. But Spunky’s experience is as valid as yours. I think this kind of disconnect often has to do with the difference between explicit and implicit messages at church. Often underlying explicit messages of love and respect, there are implicit messages that are not quite so constructive. Sometimes for some people in some places those implicit messages are much louder than the explicit ones. And I think the church has a responsibility to find ways to teach their explicit messages with as little collateral damage as possible. This post addresses one way in which they fail to do so.
Michelle and Erin, walk a mile in my shoes. Or just ask a woman who is over 50, can’t have children and as a result, never had children and is still active.
Wow, this is a a really brilliant and fresh take on modesty. Thank you.
(as an interesting sidenote: I had several LDS friends post Granderson’s article on Facebook and praise him. I chuckled to myself and wondered if they know that he also writes fantastic stuff like
My link didn’t work. 🙁 To finish my previous thought, I wonder if they know that he also writes fantastic stuff like this:
JonJon that Granderson piece on the myth of the gay lifestyle is amazing. I love it. Thanks for sharing it. I admit to an enormous temptation to send it to my very conservative Mormon family (which is where I found the Granderson piece I linked to in my post) and agree that this author does indeed write really great social commentary…
I’ll likely resist, however.
That was my thought too!
Yeah, for a minute I fantasized about posting that link as a comment wherever I saw the modesty article posted, but I too refrained. 🙂
Excellent post! Thank you!
I think as a people we pay way too much attention to what other people wear and are always judging their level of “appropriateness.” It should be way more about love and respect for our bodies and less about weather we meet the criteria of a rigid checklist
Amen, Hydrangea. Amen.
A really interesting discussion. One of the reasons that I find some of your arguments faulty is that they don’t seem to take into account the idea that “modesty” is a value of lower laws and higher laws that have little to do with sexuality. We teach our daughters from a very young age and mentor our young women starting at 12 that they should wear sleeves and longer skirts and shorts as a lower law–a foundation, if you will–in preparing them for the higher law that they’ll live as they mature and come to understand the full concept of modesty. Modesty is about preparing for the temple, yes, but it’s also a much broader, more beautiful concept–about being empowered and liberated from letting anyone label you, and being comfortable in your own skin. About being pleasing to your God. I feel like a discussion of modesty that doesn’t include that kind of falls short of the mark.
I completely agree that modesty goes far beyond what kind of clothes we put on our bodies or sexuality. Which is a big part of why I wrote the post. So many of the Mormons I know use “modest” to mean “conforms to the church’s dress code.” And that’s just not what “modest” means–modesty is a much, much more complex concept (if you haven’t done so, you really should look at Starfoxy’s series at fMh; I provided the link at the end of my post; she does a better job of fleshing out the concept of modesty than I’ve seen anywhere else).
While I would agree that true modesty is only partially about sexuality, the Mormon tendency to emphasize physical, bodily manifestations of modesty (rather than the much more complex version you reference and Starfoxy so beautifully explicates), tends to situate modesty in the same realm as sexuality and chastity. And I think it’s pretty hard to argue that the church doesn’t present it’s version of physical, bodily modesty as a remedy to the kinds of sexualization that Granderson and Moses object to. My point is not to elaborate the “full concept of modesty,” as you put it, but to critique the notion that conforming to a strict dress code successfully counteracts and/or prevents the sexualization of girls’ and women’s bodies, while asserting that it actually contributes to that sexualization. As such, I would say this is not so much a discussion of modesty as a discussion of the negative ramifications of superficially understanding modesty and therefore believing that the “lower law” version thereof (to use your construction) is a solution to much of anything, especially something so complex as sexualization.
I haven’t really heard much official treatment of modesty as a lower-law, higher-law thing, though I find it an interesting approach. I like it in that it helps us think about the strict dress-code aspect of modesty as something that we shouldn’t fixate on. That said, I’m really not a big fan of ever using a strict “lower law” code. I find it very problematic in lots of ways. And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a lower law version of sabbath day keeping or modesty or pretty much anything else. I know that it’s useful and necessary to give children black and white rules, but I think that with something like clothing even children can be taught in a more nuanced way than the no-sleeveless-to-the-knees approach we currently take.
Interesting article, although I’ve got to say I disagree …
The Church is going to focus on family and gender-specific roles, and schools are going to focus on things academic/career-oriented/secular. And I’m fine with that – it’s my job *as a parent* to make sure my kids are well-rounded. Not the school’s. Not the church’s.
I’m not going to pull out the D&C for this, but I’m pretty sure that’s what the scriptures say, too. It’s our job to raise and teach our own kids, and it’s silly to point at church/school/whatever and say they’re doing it wrong. If “they’re” doing it wrong, it’s our own fault for relying on someone else to raise our children.
Why is it inherent to “church” that they focus on gender roles and family? Is it not the church’s mission to help every person overcome spiritual death? And isn’t becoming perfect even as Christ is perfect, in other words becoming whole, necessary in order to fully overcome spiritual death? And in that instance, isn’t it necessarily the work of the church to help every individual become as complete, i.e. well rounded, as possible?
I absolutely agree with you that ultimately the responsibility lies with parents to help their children understand the nuances of all kinds of things, including modesty and sexuality and gender roles and education and pretty much everything else. The problem is that the church tells its members that it will never lead them astray and that if they’re good, believing members they’ll “follow the prophets” in everything, right down to the number of earrings they have. And then the church proceeds to give guidance not only on large scale principles and the teachings of Jesus (which is really what it should be doing), but also on minutiae of daily living. It’s no wonder that so many Mormons adopt whole hog what the church says as if it’s their own truth.
All of that said, I really don’t know with which part of my post you disagree. Just that the church has a responsibility to help its members, regardless of their sex, become well rounded individuals? if so, I’ll point you back to my paragraph #1 in this comment. It is my opinion that the church’s work is precisely to help every single one of its members to become whole, complete people capable of returning to God. And its emphasis on things like gender roles and its flawed attempts at teaching complex principles like modesty via reductive and simplistic codes like its dress code result in its failure to accomplish that work.
I just compared the YW manual with the Aaronic Priesthood manual, I scanned a bunch of the lessons that I couldn’t tell by the title what the direction of the lesson would be and I found that for the Aaronic Priesthood there were 2 lessons about marriage. I couldn’t really find anything that was focused mainly on fatherhood (but I was scanning).
For the YW, I found 5 lessons about her role in her current or future family, 1 about dating, and 5 about marriage.
I didn’t see anything on dating for the YM.
So 11 lessons for the YW and 2 for the YM.
I went to BYU and I wonder if that is why it always seemed like the guys they were fine with putting marriage off and all the girls were obsessed with getting married. Which of course gaves the guys control in the relationship b/c the girls wanted it more.
I think most girls have more of a natural tendency to want to be married so they don’t need any fuel added to that fire.
Just looking through the lessons it seems like the Aaronic Priesthood lessons would create a lot more spiritual depth than the YW lessons.
This kind of discrepancy just drives me crazy, Hope. And I absolutely agree that the imbalance in how young men and young women are taught leads to some very unhealthy obsessions with getting married. I certainly went through my phase of being obsessed with getting married. And that phase had long lasting destructive psychological consequences.
I really wish we would just purge the YW/YM manuals of lessons about gender roles and keep lessons about marriage to a minimum and have them be balanced in manuals for both boys and girls.
I’m so glad you responded to these articles. I also received them in celebratory emails, and engaged in a few head-against-the-desk types of conversations afterwards.
I have huge problems with how Moses carries out her point, and I hadn’t even stopped to register the implicit dog on feminism.
“I feel like the way she presents it is actually somewhat harmful. No 12-13 year old girl, no matter what she is wearing, should ever be described as looking “like a prostitute.”
Rather than condemning girls for “dressing like sluts”, we should consider why they are making those decisions – maybe they feel like their only value is their sexual desirability, because they are oversexualized. Immodest clothing, in and of itself, is a very tiny problem, if at all. The societal values that lead teenage girls to dress in a certain way that is often disempowering is what concerns me.
If a girl dresses in a very sexy, revealing way because she feels like she needs to give visual pleasure to men to have importance, because her main role in her surroundings is as a sexual object, that’s a huge problem.
But if a girl dresses in a very modest, covering way, only because she thinks of herself as a sexual object, and that dressing modestly is a way to protect men from the temptation her desirableness would cause, that is just as problematic.
In both scenarios, she is denied full humanity. Her existence is reduced to what effect she has on the men around her. Articles that simply say “girls need to stop dressing slutty and sleeping around” only reinforce the notion that a girl’s body should be regulated by the people around her.
I think that discussion about this issue is much more useful when it is about empowering young women to feel capable, important, and respected for who they are. If they are confident in themselves, and stop dressing “for others”, it doesn’t really matter what they wear, whether revealing or modest. They are living for themselves, with an awareness of their actual divinity. That is going to effect the course of their lives a lot more than a prom dress.
I couldn’t agree more, Nat. And what good is a church that doesn’t help accomplish that very thing? That doesn’t help each of its members feel “capable, important, and respected for who they are? But the Mormon church keeps itself from doing that. I don’t deny that it helps some people feel this way. But it has the potential to help so many more people without abandoning those it already helps.
It’s true. It would be nice if my church was the organization for which I could have the highest expectations. But instead, it’s the organization for which I have to apologize most often. I get that the church can’t be perfect, but you think prophetic leadership and all would give us a leg up on catching onto truths that have been circulating for 50 years or so….
I love this part “And then, when we see a girl’s bare shoulders because she’s wearing a perfectly decent tank top or an expanse of skin on her thigh because it’s hot and she’s wearing shorts, when her neckline makes it recognizable that she does indeed have breasts, we’ll be a hell of a lot less likely to see her as salacious and hypersexualized and instead register little beyond the lived reality of the female body.”
Part of me was disparaging that there is no way to turn this boat around. It just seemed like a lost cause as long as there are women that enjoy using their bodies to attract men and there are men that are turned on by women’s bodies. (hell, I know I like to turn my man on with how I dress) How do you fight that? But I think you’re on to something key here. Women can be sexual without being defined by that sexuality, and it’s in how we talk to our children NOW that makes the difference. Most women will still enjoy feeling attractive, and most men will still perk up at the sight of cleavage, but placing the emphasis on everything ELSE in addition has got to be the only way to find balance. Or at least I hope so.
I’ve come full circle from thinking tank tops on my little girls were bad to teaching them how to respect their bodies in other ways and caring less about how much skin is showing. I do think appropriateness is crucial, but we talk about it in terms that are also age appropriate (as in children don’t know how to be provocative, so how can their clothes be?). Of course, my oldest is only 7 and still takes my suggestions for outfit coordination, so I hope I have good things to say in a few years about how it’s all working out 🙂
Corktree, I love this:
“Women can be sexual without being defined by that sexuality, and it’s in how we talk to our children NOW that makes the difference. Most women will still enjoy feeling attractive, and most men will still perk up at the sight of cleavage, but placing the emphasis on everything ELSE in addition has got to be the only way to find balance. Or at least I hope so.”
One of the consequences of the all-or-nothing approach to modest dress is that we make all outward expressions of sexuality and sexual attractiveness suspect. In reality, there are times and places when it’s appropriate for a woman to express her sexuality and to try to look sexually attractive. The goal should be helping young women understand how to do that appropriately, not to make doing so taboo.
I’m new at reading on here, but felt this topic was an important one as I have two pre-teen girls at home and 3 other kids close behind.
On the topic of when to dress girls “modestly” and at what age do we enforce “strict dress codes”? I’d say this: From the beginning. Not full on ankle to wrist clothing, but appropriate for their age. Tanks on little girls, fine. Shorts, just not too short. As they get older, start lengthening them and tell them if they want to dress older and more mature, to start dressing like mommy. If you are dressing in a “modest” fashion and still remaining stylish, your daughter will have a desire to follow. If you see a size 5 padded swimsuit, don’t buy it. How hard is that? Yes, shame on the manufacturers for producing such a disgusting article of clothing, but really, it’s the consumers that decide if they continue to produce them or not. I do feel clothing reflects ones own modesty be it vanity, attitude, self-confidence, or behavior and should therefore be a base to build upon. To children, it is one of the more simple things you can explain and one of the reasons the YW program tends to focus on it. Too many girls dread wearing garments because it will restrict their wardrobe, they should be taught that it will be a great privilege and a blessing when the time comes and so if their wardrobe is already appropriate, they won’t have to restrict it.
I too agree that comparing young girls to prostitutes or sluts based on how they dress is a little off. For the most part, they are too young to really understand such a comparison and are not dressing in that fashion because the aspire to be one.
The Church as always stressed the importance of family being the key and central part to God’s plan: While the husband maintains the duties of the priesthood, the woman maintains the house. Now, when I was in YW I had serious, SERIOUS problems with this outlook and argued with leaders, parents, and bishops. I feel the same as Jessawhy on the replacement of the word “rather” with “in addition to”. I am a great wife/mother but am also a creative, talented, unique person and it wasn’t until my later teenage, early adult years that I learned you could be both. My first marriage I tried to do my role as I had been taught, my husband would not have been on “my list” (had I made one in YW). Hence why it was my first marriage. In between marriages I discovered who I was, developed myself some more, and my marriage now is so opposite of the first because of these discoveries. While I do stay at home, bake, cook, clean, have babies (5), and do all my other household duties….I also belly dance, do henna body art, paint, photography, read, etc. I am a happier wife and mother because I am more than just a wife and mother.
Young men and young women should learn all aspects of modesty, I think too much is focused on the clothing. But like I stated early, I personally feel that it is a good base. My mother always nagged me “If Jesus were to walk in and see you wearing that, how would you feel?” We could replace “wearing” with “doing” “saying” and so on. I think the church means well and tries to direct its teachings to such a large spectrum that they have to go back to basics, but parents can add to and define it for their own children.
“My mother always nagged me ‘If Jesus were to walk in and see you wearing that, how would you feel?’”
I think it is sad/strange that so many people see Jesus as a petty and condemning judge rather than Savior and advocate at the judgment bar. God’s children wear many different things. I do not think I should feel any more embarrassed to see Jesus in my birthday suit than anyone else. Jesus asked us to clothe the naked because it was a form of temporal assistance, not because he is offended by the image of God. I think if I came to Jesus is the sluttiest outfit I could imagine, he wouldn’t even focus on my clothing. He would focus on my presence and say, “I am so glad you came to me.” That’s the Jesus that inspires innate self-worth in those he saves.
Appropriate clothing is more of a cultural thing. I cover up because it’s important culturally, and because I like to hide my baby weight, but not because I think Jesus doesn’t like tank tops.
Alisa: Amen! I think Jesus is not a petty person and the way we draw lines to show “modest” from the “immodest” is beyond petty.
I have to agree with Alisa here. I think the “what would Jesus think were he here” test is terrible. And I think Lulubelle makes a very important point when she calls attention to cultural differences. There just is no abstract, objective standard of “modest dress” that can be applied. Which is part of the problem with the “what if Jesus was here” test.
I do really like, Chris, your point about understanding that being a stay home mother is not about foreclosing all of the other wonderful things a woman is. it sounds like you’ve found a fantastic balance in your marriage and I can only imagine that all the wonderful things you pursue make you a fabulous wife and mother. I think that is so important because a fulfilled, happy mother is going to be a better wife and mother. This is a huge part of the reason that I dislike the church’s prescriptive method of teaching wife-and-mother-dom. There are women for whom having a career is a necessary part of finding that personal fulfillment that will make them a better wife and mother. Just as one example. This is why I think we’d be better served by a general emphasis on each individual becoming a complete, well-rounded individual and developing loving human relationships. When these things are taught in conjunction they will lead to happy healthy marriages, rather than giving people a cookie cutter definition of “good marriage” and “proper wife-and-mother-dom” into which they must squeeze themselves.
FWIW, I passed along that article because I think it’s interesting to see how people ‘out there’ outside of the Church also see a problem with how girls and women dress.
But in passing along that article, that shouldn’t be misunderstood as me thinking that the solution lies just in clothing — nor do I think the Church suggests that it does. To me, our doctrine is a lot broader than that, and modesty needs to be understood in context of that doctrine.
But I think the things you are concerned about here already exist in the doctrine. The foundational principles of our eternal identity, God’s plan of happiness, and the role of the Savior in our lives to me are examples of the core teachings upon which we can then teach our children about prophetic counsel such as modesty.
I honestly think that part of our journey is to learn to synthesize truth. What I see as the challenge is that sometimes that synthesis doesn’t happen as well as it should, but that is true in critiques like this as well as sometimes in individual YW teaching situations.
But to me, I think the truths and tools are all there at our disposal to help our children have the context for the counsel we receive about more specific elements of our lives.
I couldn’t agree more about the importance of synthesis. I just think that when the church and its members continue teaching prescriptive approaches to worthiness, whether we’re talking about modesty in dress or Sabbath behavior or scripture study habits, rather than critical thinking approaches, we fail to model such synthesis. The tools may be there, but we can’t assume that church members know how to use them when we keep just laying them out and naming them rather than modeling their use. I don’t see that kind of modeling often enough, even at the very highest levels of instruction. Instead, we too often take the milk not meat, black-and-white approach. And our approach to physical modesty is certainly an excellent example of that problem.
“When women are celebrated almost exclusively because of their potential as breeders and nurturers of children, then we successfully sexualize the female body every bit as much as pushing heels, padded bras, plunging necklines, and miniskirts for pre-teens does.”
I get the point of your article, and I agree with your assessment that teaching modesty can be inadvertently sexualizing. The problem is, you take such an extreme view of Mormon culture and teachings, that I find it difficult to jump on this train. Take the passage above, do you really think that Mormon girls are taught to be “breeders”? There is a vast difference between emphasizing motherhood and reducing someone to a “breeder,” but it doesn’t read as shockingly. Furthermore, do you really think that teaching a girl to be nurturing is just as sexualizing as buying her a push up bra? “Every bit as much”? Really?!? Clearly it is not in my opinion. And not every Young Women’s teacher has her girls write a list of characteristics she wants in a husband. The example is a bit cliche. I believe that our Young Women leaders are generally thoughtful and prayerful in trying to teach meaningful modesty to our youth, but it’s easier to say how it should be done than to actually do. It’s a very challenging topic in light of contemporary social environments and media messages.
Finally, I believe that the application of the modesty standards in the church should count for something, but is rarely address by those who criticize the church’s position on, or its member’s approach to, the topic. The standards apply to everyone, not just the attractive girls. Large, small, attractive, unattractive, developed, undeveloped, fertile or infertile, we’re expected to cover the same parts of our bodies. Perhaps we can do a better job of articulating it, but clearly the equal application of the standards sends a message that modesty is not related to physical attractiveness and sexuality. Modesty is a statement about one’s true worth and value and a rejection of society’s false statement of one’s worth and value. In the application of consistent and equal standards, I think we do a pretty good job of getting the modesty message out.
“…do you really think that Mormon girls are taught to be “breeders”?
Utah’s “fertility rate” — the number of live births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 — was 93.1. That is 41 percent higher than the national average of 65.9.
In YW’s we were asked to do the list-thing of a potential mate at least once per year… I don’t think it’s an exception in YWs.
PS: Not sure if the church teaches the “breeding”-thing as much anymore but it sure is ingrained in our culture. Just take a friend of mine a few years ago who was popping out one baby after the other with a husband struggling through grad school and working a few jobs. “Why don’t you space these out a little more or wait until Ken is done with school and has a job?” Answer: “Just being obedient.”
Richard, I certainly take your point on the word “breeder.” And no I don’t honestly think that the church overtly teaches its girls that they’re breeders. But I do think that when all of the church rhetoric on women’s roles is taken as a whole, that’s a very powerful implicit message. I knew when I wrote this piece that the particular word “breeder” would grab attention and turn certain readers off and I thought about using other language. I kept this word in because it moves to the surface of the conversation a message that I think is implicit in the conversation. And I honestly would like the more true-blue believing members of the church to experience some of the horror at rhetoric that I experience regularly at church. For instance, the lost purse story that Elder Cook shared in his “LDS Women Are Incredible!” talk horrified me in much the same way “breeder” horrifies you. I am constantly being admonished by believers to understand the spirit of what’s being said in spite of the truly horrifying surface of the rhetoric. I suppose I’m doing a little bit of “turnabout is fair play” here. Maybe not the wisest choice, but I think it does help me make a point.
And I didn’t say teaching girls to be nurturing is as sexualizing as a push-up bra. I said teaching a strictly enforced black-and-white modesty code that goes in the direction of covering the female body is as sexualizing of girls as the push-up bra is. I’m fine with you disagreeing with me, but I’d hope you understand what I’m saying first.
As far as the universal application of the dress code, I’d point you to Rebecca’s comment above. The problem with this is that the same code applied to every female body will lead to quite (sometimes radically) different results. I absolutely agree that modesty is about recognizing one’s own worth and value and rejecting the temptation to attempt to conform to external, socially enforced expectations of image. I would simply point out that the church’s current approach to teaching modesty in dress constitutes an external, socially enforced expectation of image and, as such, is problematic in many ways.
I am the 2nd Counselor in Young Women’s in my ward right now. I do think that some people in the “mormon culture” are extreme in all rights. That does not mean that there are normal people who teach our youth in a loving way. I can tell you right now that our focus with our young women is to teach them they have a self worth that is eternal. They have a Heavenly Father who loves them and that they can overcome the obstacles they will face in life. I will never have them make lists about anyone but themselves. I know that we have to teach them about chastity and modesty or else the world will dictate that behavior. I know that they will be happier if they follow the laws that the Lord has set for them and for all of us. I also will never ever teach them that they are only good enough to reproduce. We are teaching them that the media is wrong in how they depict women and sex. What you describe the Young Women’s program to be, in my opinion, is false. I also grew up outside of Utah, and live in Florida. I am not trying to insinuate that Utah is the problem, people are the problem. This church is true and the doctrine perfect. The people are not true and perfect though. Especially when they teach the doctrine and add their opinion which can be false. I am sad that you and your nieces are having those experiences in Young Women’s. I can tell you that those things are not happening in my ward here in Florida. I am not a writer, and sometimes my words get jumbled, but I do know that teaching our girls they are of a royal birthright will help them weather the storms of this life. I do agree with some points you have, but I don’t agree with the generalization that it is the church who is doing this. It is the people and it’s that simple.
Rachel, I like the approach you’re describing in your comment. I would challenge your church vs. people construct, however. It’s certainly true that the members of the church are imperfect and sometimes misrepresent the church’s intentions in its teachings. That said, I don’t think we can excuse the church of all responsibility in the destructive teachings and rhetoric and behaviors of its members. The people get their ideas from somewhere. And when those ideas and approaches are so common that people from all over have experienced them (and I see enough recognition and agreement with what I’ve said here to argue that the bad practices I’ve described are not just anecdotal exceptions to the true norm), the church bears some of the responsibility. And it is right and good for us to ask the church and its leaders to reconsider their approach when that approach is so clearly leading to misapplications of their words and distortions of the principles of the gospel.
I’m with Richard on this. I’d pass it along as useful analysis if not for extreme language that makes it seem hostile, which will decrease its potential impact.
WOW! I completely agree! I honestly hadn’t thought about modesty in this way, “(the extreme cover up and the extreme exposure) reduce girls to their bodies.” That really is the same message…really got me thinking. I also love the comment made later “we do a real disservice to our young women by by….making them the gatekeepers of the boys’ goodness, too.” Seriously I remember having this drilled in my head as a YW, and feeling extremely guilty when my horny high school boyfriend wanted to go a little farther than what I felt was appropriate. “I must be good,” I’d think to myself, “It’s MY responsibility to keep him under control and make sure he ‘behaves’ himself.” –How messed up is that?
It really is messed up, Violette. Drives me bonkers that this still gets perpetuated by the church. You should really read Kathryn’s piece about teaching girls about sexuality (link at the end of my post). It’s incredible.
I agree with what Rachel said. I also agree with some of your article but I believe if people truly understood the nature of God and the doctrine of the Mormon church they would be able to understand the true meaning of the lessons in relation to Heavenly Father’s plan for us–even if it is being taught by imperfect people–and not just focus on what bothers them. For example, some have left comments that they are bothered that they have been told not to have a 7-year-old wear a sleeveless shirt or short shorts. They feel that 7-year-olds are not sexual. While that may be true, you can look at what might be the reason that is being taught. Could it be that it might be easier to teach them to dress appropriately from the beginning rather than have to find the point of when it isn’t appropriate? You could also look at the growing problem of pedophiles and the sexual exploitation of children. Wouldn’t it be better to just stay as far away from that as possible? I just think it is better to look at the spirit of the law rather than be bothered by the letter of the law.
Immodesty and improper use of sexuality are becoming a more of a problem so they do need to be addressed more. But if you get hung up on that and other lessons focused around being a mother and a wife (which is essentially one of main things Heavenly Father would like us to focus on), you will miss the rest of what is being taught about how Heavenly Father feels about His daughters and about women getting an education and developing their own faith and individual worth. Again, I feel people will be more at peace with what is being taught if they look at the basic principles of the lessons and the reasons why they need to be addressed and they won’t feel like they are being told “No” to sex which makes them focus on it more, they will understand why they should act that way and will feel more secure in following the counsel.
“Could it be that it might be easier to teach them to dress appropriately from the beginning rather than have to find the point of when it isn’t appropriate? You could also look at the growing problem of pedophiles and the sexual exploitation of children. Wouldn’t it be better to just stay as far away from that as possible?”
Let me get you straight. Pedophilia is caused by girls wearing sleeveless tops and dresses? Children who instead have short sleeves are in less danger? I would be interested to see what you think draws a pedophile to a child. But, I am shocked that you would think that wearing a top without sleeves (for a girl–not a problem for a boy?), leads directly to pedophilia.
I think that what you write is exactly what should be avoided — reducing even the youngest girls to only their bodies, and making dress responsible for the reprehensible desires and behaviors of adult (men). I hope one day you will seriously reconsider your stance.
The idea that the way a child dresses is causing a rise in pedophilia makes me sick to my stomach. Seriously?
I don’t miss the other stuff that’s being taught. And I appreciate the good parts of what gets taught. But for me, and for many other Mormon women, the destructive aspects are paralyzingly destructive. And responses from others in the church for whom that is not true are generally unhelpful. For instance, it’s not helpful when someone says that I don’t “truly understand the nature of God and the doctrine of the Mormon church.” all that does is situate all error and fault in me and excuse the church of all responsibility for the harm it causes its members. The fact that not all members experience that harm does not mean the church doesn’t bear some responsibility for causing the harm some of us experience. I’m not saying it’s totally flawed or that there’s nothing good there; I’m just saying that there are problems and they do originate in the church and its teachings and the church should listen to those members who hurt and try to make appropriate changes. And I find it grossly irresponsible on the part of all parties to attempt to locate the fault only inside those who suffer as a result of their ignorance or their unwillingness or their sinfulness.
And amen to Alisa and Stella both. Covering little girls’ bodies up is absolutely not an appropriate means of attempting to control the problem of pedophilia. And I would argue it’s not the answer to loosening sexual mores, either (I would actually say you’re wrong about loosening sexual mores, but that’s another issue). It’s not an answer because it continues to treat the female body as about nothing but sex, when in reality the female body is about a hell of a lot more than just sex. It’s about pleasure of all kinds (not just sexual pleasure), it’s about joy, it’s about strength, it’s about struggle, it’s about just being. And focusing all of our attention on the sexual aspect of the female body either by dolling it up in inappropriately sexual attire or by trying to conceal its sexuality denies the complexity of women’s bodily existence.
I have to agree with Richard and Rachel. The extreme language is a turn off. Growing up, modesty just wasn’t that big of an issue as you make it sound, we, as YW, dressed modesty and didn’t mind it.
I know when I went to BYU and met girls that had grown up in Utah there was a big difference in what they thought was modest and what I thought. I was a bit shocked. I don’t know if they had just been taught it was okay or if they had just rebelled against what they had been taught.
where did everyone grow up? I grew up in SC.
I’m from So Cal, and so is Amelia.
Loved Loved LOVED your article! As a previous YW counselor, I did my best to teach exactly what you stated in your article, that young women should first learn to respect themselves and be themselves while considering their future. I had one young woman who really wanted to be a fashion designer. We took an entire month of lessons on how to encourage each other for future places in the workforce. You can imagine the reception by the girls – glorious; the reception by the church leaders and parents, not so much. I was told it was not my place to instill such thoughts into their minds. The young woman who wanted a future in the fashion world, she came to me in tears one Tuesday night, “I’m sorry, Sister Lindner, but I will not be able to be a fashion designer because it doesn’t fit within the scheme of things to be a wife and a mother.” I cried with her and told her that if she ever changed her mind, I would be right there beside her!
Within the month, I had resigned from my position.
Thank you for your comments – thank you for the encouragement that you have given me, as a lover and a hater of the church. 🙂
That’s awful, I think in YW marriage is emphasized too much and in YM it’s barely talked about, so you have all these girls wanting to get married chasing RMs, who can “tell by just meeting the girl if she’s the one”. The guys are focusing on careers and developing themselves, and the girls only goal in life is to get married. It leaves the girls open to being emotionally damaged from the rejection.
I think it’s a turn off to guys also, having all these girls waiting around to get married. They should be prepared to enter the workforce so they can get a job that they enjoy, so they can be a whole person when it comes time to get married.
Even if the only goal for women to get an education is so they are prepared to support themselves just in case….then today an education isn’t enough. You have to have work experience. Not only for your resume but for yourself. It’s not until you go out and get the job after your education that you really find out where your niche is. Then if you exited the work force for a while to have children, you will know where to pick back up if you have to enter the work force again.
I think I’m a better wife and mother because I had very promising career before I had kids. I know if I had not had that I would feel trapped in my marriage and motherhood because that is the only thing I could do. I got to choose to be a wife and mother, I didn’t have to do it because that was my only option.
Tamara, thank you for sharing your experience. And it just makes me so very sad. I don’t understand discouraging YW leaders from teaching girls about their career options. Because it tells me, yet again, that my adult existence is an aberration and a failure since I’m a professional but not a wife/mother. So many Mormon women who don’t grow up to have the ideal struggle because of that fact. It would be so very much better to prepare our girls for any eventuality rather than to give them the false belief that of course they’ll grow up, get married, and have babies in their own private version of the prescribed ideal.
Brilliant! Thank you! I’ve been making these same arguments for years! On my mission, I had a member take a picture of me and mail it anonymously to my mission president with a letter stating that he thought my clothing was immodest (it wasn’t). I have large breasts and have never been interested or comfortable in high necklines, but as a missionary I was definitely not showing the girls off. My mission president assured me that he saw nothing wrong with the way I dressed… but then proceeded to treat me as though I was ruining the purity of the elders. Later, I was given a male anatomy lesson and a thorough explanation of blue balls and accused of making the elders physically ill. I was repeatedly shamed because of my “sexy” anatomy, although my behavior was above reproach. All of the time and energy spent shaming me could have been better used teaching those young men that they are accountable for their feelings and actions. We are the creators of our thoughts, not the victims of them.
I agree with some of what you’re saying, which is why I’ve chosen to start my girls off adhering the standards set forth by the church. That way, I won’t have to make them feel like something all of a sudden is wrong and they need to cover themselves when they turn 12 or 16 or whenever. I don’t agree that we shouldn’t cover up just because what a man does or thinks is his problem. I also don’t agree that padded bras and celebrating motherhood are equally complicit in sexualizing girls/women? You lost me there. I also have no problem with what Elder Oaks said. How is a scantily clad girl any different from a scantily clad model in a magazine?
Andrea, it’s because a scantily clad girl isn’t dressing for the purpose of sexualizing herself. She could be dressing scantily because it’s hot outside or because she likes to dress that way, or even because it’s culturally acceptable. Any reason, it shouldn’t matter because we are all responsible for our own thoughts, choices, and the way we project ourselves. That girl is only “walking pornography” if you choose to see her that way. To anyone else, she could just be a nice girl dressing for a hot day.
The problem is that you only see her as dressing scantily clad because she wants to sexualize herself. You have bought the idea that a woman is only her body. A magazine model is paid to dress a certain way and project a certain image and it isn’t fair for anyone to project that idea onto anyone who chooses to dress less covered up than you.
Just wanted to say, Amelia, that I adore your post. I’ve felt for some time that a woman should be able to walk into a room wearing a bikini and expect men and women in that room to see her as being of infinite worth and divinity, rather than walking pornography. That’s how Jesus would see her, I’m sure.
Amen. I couldn’t say it better myself.
I think I’ll try that at the next ward Halloween party.
I’m going as Malibu Barbie 😉
Thank you. Love this. What I gather from the comments is that all of us were taught very different things about modesty. Maybe that is the problem. Some were taught the complexities of sexuality and that modesty in dress and manner intrinsically grow out of developing respect, divine worth, and self-love. I think that this is a good thing for a kid.
Others were taught- as I was- that modesty was a measure of a woman’s obedience and the way to control male sexual desire. This was hurtful in a couple ways. First, (I’m saddened to admit this) but I was extremely judgmental of others. If I saw girls in a bikinis, short shorts, or tank tops I immediately judged them as bad girls. One of my stalwart male friends whom I respected married a girl who wore bikinis. I immediately thought less of this girl and of this guy for choosing her. I still feel really bad for the way I judged them. I see a lot of judgement still exists with adults too. There are people who insist on long skirts to church, others who swear God insisted on pantyhose, and more still who decry any woman wearing pants to church functions. I hate seeing insistence on the outward indicators of obedience at the expense of the internal ones.
Teaching women that they are the gatekeepers of male sexuality is extremely problematic. I grew up unaware of male sexuality but terrified of it. Since this was how I was taught about modesty, I grew up sure that if I showed my shoulders the man I was with couldn’t control himself. I hated being alone with men because I feared this untamed beast coming out. In fact, I have a good friend who was sexually abused and often blames herself for this very reason. She wasn’t modest. This is a problem. I had no clue about male sexual control until I was in college and dated some guys who could say no. It was fascinating to me that my now husband could set rules and stick by them. I never knew that men could be gatekeepers. Another problem. Lastly, I worked in a residential treatment facility where many of the women suffered abuse. Three such cases have never left my memory. While the stories differ in detail the main premise is the same. Good Mormon girl, young and naïve, goes on a date. Boy gets physically aroused. Shows girl. Frightens girl. Tells girl that she has done this to him by being so _____ (fill in the blank). Girl has heard this rhetoric her whole life “Your modesty helps men control themselves” “You need to be good so that men don’t have bad thoughts,” etc. Girl believes she is to blame. Girl is manipulated into thinking she’s already sinned. Girl is manipulated, pressured, and even abused into doing things she doesn’t want. Girl goes home and blames herself.
For that reason alone we need to teach YW about modesty in totally different ways. Instead of using modesty as a euphemistic way to teach them about sex, we need to teach them about sex. The goal should be about empowering women through knowledge which will help prevent girls from seeking male attention via immodesty and protect them and help them heal from abuse.
On a totally different note, we need to empower fathers to realize that daughters with positive and appropriate male attention at home have less problems with immodesty and sexuality. Here’s one example where all the preaching in the world cannot compensate for having a positive male influence. Why don’t we focus on that instead?
I love this comment, whoa-man. Love. You’ve done such a fabulous job of illustrating some of the problems in our approach to teaching girls about modesty.
I too was very judgmental when I was young and taught the black-and-white code. To the point that I told my younger sister when she was a teenager that only sluts wore skirts as short as hers (which wasn’t actually that short). This was my sister who struggled with body-image issues already. I feel positively terrible now, as an adult looking back with a great deal more understanding about body image issues, that I was so judgmental. And while part of the blame lies squarely with me in my missing charity, part of the blame must also lie squarely with the church for promoting such rigid guidelines as if they were the unchallengeable Word of God. Which they simply are not.
Whoa-man, great points. I don’t know about others, but I certainly didn’t understand male sex drives until I was in college, or married really. The scenarios you describe seem very real. I hope that we start teaching our young women about sex in a safe way and help give them training in being assertive.
In fact, that’s one of the ironies here, isn’t it? LDS women are socialized to say yes to everything. Just the other day a friend of mine said yes when her daughter was asked to give a talk in Primary that she didn’t want to do. I told her, “You’ve been taught that you have to say yes all the time, even if you don’t want to do something. Perhaps you should go in and ask your daughter if she wants to give this talk. If she says no, respect that choice and tell the Primary president that she won’t do it. Teach your daughter to be assertive in the way you weren’t taught yourself.” It’s eye opening to think that women are meant to be the gatekeepers of men’s sexuality, and yet they’re socialized to say yes and please men, especially.
What a riveting point. This comment has really opened my eyes. I too struggle with saying no because I want to be good and make others happy. How then do we expect our girls to say no when it really matters and when its really tricky (80% of sexual abuse is from someone you know) if they haven’t be taught or empowered to say no in other difficult situations. What a brilliant point.
I agree. Excellent point, Jess! Your comment reminds me of a similar point made by Jennifer Finlayson-Fife when she was interviewed on Mormon Stories. She said that it was really sad when YW were pushed and prodded into sexual activity by YM, they said “yes” because they had been so well taught to be pleasers, and then they felt guilty and/or were disciplined by the Church for what was in effect being date raped. ?????!?
Well said Whoa-man!
I keep tucking away bits and pieces of these conversations for what I want to teach my daughters (do I really have to send them to YW?!) and this is a big part of what I want to explain to them about sex. But what about the YM? Do we have any way of encouraging a different approach with them as well? I’m not sure what their official lessons look like, but I gather that they don’t get the same message. Can you just imagine? “Be careful not to get those girls too excited!” We need this dialogue changed on a larger scale so we’re not always fighting it. I know this will probably be the case, but I’m not looking forward to counteracting what my children learn about this at church. I don’t mind teaching them my own way, but I would guess it becomes harder when you have to place yourself in opposition.
Isn’t it funny that parents have to give permission for their children to receive sex ed at school and have the right to opt out of that, but it’s not even something we really think about doing with the “chastity” ed at church? Just another way in which far too many parents cede far too much authority to the church.
And I totally agree, Corktree, that this particular problem will only be mitigated by an institution wide adjustment. It won’t help to teach the girls something different if we don’t also adjust how and what we teach the boys.
It isn’t easy to counteract these messages they are repeatedly layered into the psyche for years reenforced by shame, guilt, fear of abandonment by loss of the spirit and fear of eternal consequences they can create inhibitions and attenuate normal sexuality she is taught to shut down normal sexual thoughts or feelings. This could be avoided by simply offsetting the world’s view by presenting the case for chastity and modesty nonjudgmentally explaining the consequences without misstating or exaggerating the penalties in other words follow Joseph’s example; teach them correct principles and they govern themselves. This avoids subconscious abridgement of their agency.
Howard, I couldn’t have said it better myself. You’ve captured the essence of almost every problem i have with the church.
Amelia I just read Should I Stay or Should I go? I went the family cost was high I was gone a long time but it was worth it to end the dissonance and create space to grow. I don’t regret it. Guided by the Spirit I returned a few years ago I love the gospel but well you know the problems with the church are still there. So now you know more about your struggle I would guess that insight will eventually free you to decide.
Thank you for this post. Hopefully this will inspire more of us to lead the modesty discussions in the church in a more constructive direction. I’m still in it for this very reason- to make sure my voice is heard, and to prevent our church from being overrun by jerks. I believe that it’s a lot more democratic than we think. As Claudia Bushman said, we have to speak up, our voice is valuable. Keep up the good fight everyone!
I love this post, and shared it on Facebook (and got positive feedback from both evangelical and Jewish friends).
It’s been kind of eye-opening to read the comments above. Dressing your toddler (or even your baby) to current “modesty” standards (lines on the body), so they’ll never have to change their habits? Seriously, that is C-R-A-Z-Y.
I was a child in the 1970s and a teenager in the 1980s, and when I was a child, I dressed as a child, in bikinis and tank tops and short shorts. When I was approaching puberty, I stopped wearing these things. The adjustment was painless (and almost completely unconscious), because I am a reasonably intelligent human being and can understand that appropriateness has multiple factors. Our kids today are no less intelligent than we were, and they, too, can handle this shift without difficulty. If we give them room to do so, surprise! they can make good decisions on their own.
I disagree with nearly everything said in the article and the comments, but nevertheless it has all been fascinating and enlightening to read.
I do not think you are being fair by blaming leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the oddities and inappropriate lessons taught by its members. Very often we hear the male and female general leaders discuss the importance of a woman gaining an education and continuing to stay well-rounded and educated. The fact this doesn’t happen is disheartening, but certainly not to the point where I would blame an entire church for the actions of some of its members. The emphasis on family and motherhood is not a bad thing.
My biggest issue with this article, though, is the overarching disdain for motherhood. As a college graduate who spent many years in the workforce before I married, I made a conscious decision to become a mother and to leave “work” to stay home. I am a better person for being a mother; it is an emotionally challenging job that does not completely define me, and I am grateful to be a mom. I do agree we should teach our children to have goals other than parenthood, but I am insulted when mothers are described as “just” moms, mindlessly spitting out babies because that’s what we were programed to do.
I also felt that motherhood was under attack. It makes a full time mother almost feel ashamed that she is just that. Some of us genuinely enjoy being just a mother! Not because I was raised to believe so (which I wasn’t, my mother was a writer and editor) or because the church insisted I be, I am because I love it. I worked outside of the home for 3 years and my relationship with my children was more strained, so I’m happy with my decision to stay home.
I also thought of another point with the clothing “issue”, speaking from experience, young girls that dress immodestly are more likely to sacrifice their morals. They generally show skin because they find themselves to be attractive and want others to feel the same and sadly media has made many believe that “sexy” is the only way to be attractive. I became a mother 11 days after I turned 16. I hadn’t done any other inappropriate behavior until I started getting more attention from boys and that started when my shirts showed more belly, my necklines got lower, and my shorts got higher. My attitude changed when I changed my style of dress. Now I’m not saying all young girls think this way, but after working with and counseling young girls that have found themselves in situations similar to mine, most of them started to shed the clothing as the boyfriend and she became more comfortable with each other.
After talking with my husband I came to a realization that he agreed fully with: Eve was not created to reproduce, but that her creation was to give Adam a loving companion. The whole reproduction thing was started after the had sinned and left the garden, not that all sex/reproduction is a sin, but that it wasn’t her primary purpose. As women/wives, we should be a caring, loving, companion to our husband first.
It makes me sad to see members “dislike” the church, if you dislike it, why are you still a member? Why do you accept something, but not all things our leaders teach? They try their best to direct us. Our stake recently had a meeting for all adults in which the encouraged us to speak about sex openly in the home, to not make it such a dark and scary thing. Where do you think the stake leaders got that message from? Adjustments, rather than “changes” are made all the time to more effectively teach the members. The church is constant and the doctrine is constant, the laws of modest will never change, but the way the church goes about teaching it might. Like I said before, when you are trying to reach out and teach 11 million members…..you might not get it right at first or find something that meets everyone’s needs and expectations.
Chrisralston said, “If you dislike it, why ar you still a member?” Because Amelia and me and the women here at Exponent don’t dislike it. We do think that it’s time to re-examine how we teach about modesty. Hardly seems grounds for you to pull out your anti-missionary efforts and try to widdle down the membership to people who only you agree with. If you were successful in your mission to turn people off to the Savior’s invitation (yes, I am at the church on His invitation, not yours), you would find the Church would have only one member: you.
I have to say that this:
“After talking with my husband I came to a realization that he agreed fully with: Eve was not created to reproduce, but that her creation was to give Adam a loving companion. The whole reproduction thing was started after the had sinned and left the garden, not that all sex/reproduction is a sin, but that it wasn’t her primary purpose. As women/wives, we should be a caring, loving, companion to our husband first.”
is every bit as, if not more, offensive than the idea that I exist primarily to be a wife and a mother. It means that women exist in order to provide for the needs of another (specifically a man), rather than because she has an immortal soul that needs to go through a mortal existence in order to become like God (which is the actual reason women exist, if we’re to believe the Gospel).
I absolutely do not exist in order to get married or to have babies or to be a companion to a man. Sorry. I don’t. I want those things. I want them very badly. I think they’re all wonderful things. I respect and admire people who are dedicated and loving parents and partners. But I do not exist to be/do those things and neither does anyone else. We exist because we are as individuals unique, vital children of a god and a goddess and because we must experience this mortal existence in order to become like our god and goddess. Part of this existence may (and I do emphasize may) be to marry and/or to have children, but it is wrong to shift our attention from the actual reason we are here to one of the potential goods we may do/have while here.
I expressed absolutely no disdain for motherhood and if you see it in what I said, you’re misreading. I respect and admire people who choose to have children, both women and men. I adore my own mother, who was a stay home mother for most of her life. I completely understand and celebrate that mothers are every bit as complex and accomplished as non-mothers. One of my own sisters, for instance, is not only the mother of seven children, but invented, manufactured, and sold a product that revolutionized an entire industry and is now working on her second start-up. I would appreciate readers not telling me that I “disdain” mothers and motherhood when I said absolutely nothing of the kind, nor even implied it.
What I do disdain is the systematic instruction of girls and women that their primary (and really only truly important) role is wife and mother. And I just don’t understand how anyone can listen to the rhetoric at church and not see that message. Do our leaders do a slightly better job now of addressing education for girls/women than they did twenty years ago in the days of President Benson’s outright rhetorical attack on working women? Yes. They do. But it’s almost always still couched in terms of making girls/women better wives and mothers. And so long as the church continues to espouse the utterly ridiculous and totally false assertion that every woman is a mother, it’s impossible to say that it truly celebrates women qua women instead of elevating the role of wife and mother to the status of an idolatrous ideal, while mostly ignoring and certainly downplaying women’s other accomplishments.
I am not the one disdaining any accomplishment of any woman. The church, on the other hand is a completely different story. I feel like my accomplishments as a single professional woman are often and systematically disdained by the institutional church and by members of the church.
Which brings me to the next point: it is impossible to separate out the actions of church members and the teachings and actions of the institutional church itself. It simply cannot be done. I am not saying that every single little action or every single word uttered in every ward and stake is the direct responsibility of the leaders in SLC. I am saying that it’s impossible to deny a causal relationship between what gets said in general conference, printed in church publications, and set forth as God’s Truth ™ in church manuals and what church members teach and do. Just as one example, the table of contents of the YW manual I looked at had ten lessons directly related to marriage, motherhood, dating, and nurturing family. It had one lesson about anything to do with career or education. You can’t tell me that such discrepancies in materials provided from the top of the hierarchy have no bearing on what happens at church on Sundays. And I didn’t even get into what the lessons actually say; I assure you that if I did I could point to even more examples of how much what is said by church leaders and sanctioned by them as the Truth shapes and influences the destructive messages delivered on Sundays at the local level.
Yeah, I missed the “disdain for motherhood” part (and since I’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 10.5 years, you’d think I might have noticed!).
Excellent point, Amelia. I think this point is so central to many discussions that it’s worthy of a post (or a dozen) of its own. It’s far too easy for people to write off anything negative perpetuated by the Church as the misguided work of a few rogue members when it’s so easily traceable to stuff like chicken patriarchal rhetoric at a general level.
Exactly, Ziff. Which is why the kind of willing acceptance of anything that comes from The Church and The Leaders as if it were an unquestionable manifestation of God’s will really bothers me. That attitude not only fosters but almost requires the dismissal of problems in the church as only the fault of rogue members. After all, under that schema, to question or find fault with something the church does is to question or find fault with God, and clearly God is without fault so clearly the church is without fault so clearly the church never bears any of the responsibility for problems. All of which leads to an overdeveloped tendency to situate all blame with the person who struggles as a result of something troubling at church. Which is, at the end of the day, why it’s my own fault that I feel pain as a result of the church’s teachings.
The tendency to absolve the church of all responsibility for its members’ negative experiences and therefore situate the responsibility in the person suffering (because even if someone at church says something nasty, I should, after all, not take offense [thanks a lot Bednar]) Ticks. Me. Off.
After reading this article and most of the comments, it’s clear this is a hot topic! I agree with some of what’s been said, but I read many things that are rather scary, some even bordering on apostasy. There are 4 points I’d like to make:
1. The Lord’s position on sexuality, reproduction, and modesty are immutable and clear. There’s a big difference between disagreeing with how a standard is taught (being a concerned, responsible member and parent) and with what the standard is (apostasy). Those who are called to positions to teach youth are human and make mistakes. Sometimes they teach more or less than the Lord’s standard, either by word or example. Sometimes they take some things too far and create skewed perceptions in their students. It is true that much damage has been done over the years by well-meaning leaders who stray from the Lord’s way. As parents, we should be vigilant and talk to our children not just about what they’re taught at school, but at church too. Things have changed over the years even at a general level with regards to what leaders talk about and what is left for individual choice and interpretation. The Lord’s standards have been the same all along, but the people called to administer the work on earth continually improve, and it’s good to talk about issues like this.
But it is important to remember that the Lord’s standards have not and will not change. The Lord’s standard for modesty does not depend on hot weather and cultural mores. We can (and many leaders do) teach our youth the Lord’s standard in a way that uplifts and inspires and helps them become better people. That some leaders cause damage teaching them doesn’t mean the standard is wrong. All of God’s commandments are calculated for our happiness. Self-esteem problems, unproductive inhibitions, dissatisfaction with marriage and life in general, etc. are the result of false teachings (and/or sin, but in the context of this article, false teachings are the problem being discussed).
2. Teaching our children the Lord’s standards from a young age does make it easier for them to live happy lives as an adult. It’s sad that any LDS parent would be upset and throw away an issue of the Friend for teaching children the Lord’s standard for dress. If we fail to teach our children, and they develop any habit that makes obedience to the Lord difficult later in life, we have failed our children, and the sin is on our own heads.
3. As a man, I cannot choose the way my body responds to seeing a scantily clad woman. Obviously, I can choose my actions regardless of my surroundings, and I am accountable for what I choose to do. The Lord’s standard for modesty makes a lot of sense to me, and I appreciate it. It’s hard for a man to focus on productive and righteous endeavors when faced with powerful distractions. What a woman wears does not change her divine nature or destiny, and it does not change her intelligence or talents. However, her choice of attire affects her divine destiny, because if she breaks the commandments, she won’t attain it. Her choice can also prevent or at least cloud a man’s ability to recognize her intelligence and talents. The Lord does not intend for women to be sexual objects in the eyes of men or in their own eyes, and the Lord’s way helps prevent it. It’s ironic that women have tried so hard all these years to make men see them as more than “breeders”, and yet the way they dress now makes it harder than ever for men to see them as anything else.
4. Whether a woman dresses immodestly to entice men or just to keep cool or fit in, the affect it has on the men who see her is the same (though her actions can magnify the effect, if she is trying to get their attention). If a man who sees her commits a sin, she is not guilty of the sin too, but she is guilty of a sin, however much smaller it might be. It is a principle in general that we should not help Satan entice our brothers and sisters to sin. If I tried to get my friend to drink a beer, and I succeeded, would you not agree I was guilty of something? Then why not a woman who breaks the Lord’s standard for modesty? Such a woman is not creating irrestible temptation in anybody, but she’s still creating temptation, and she’s still breaking a commandment herself.
The Lord’s position on sexuality, reproduction, and modesty are immutable and clear…The Lord’s standards have been the same all along…The Lord’s standard for modesty does not depend on hot weather and cultural mores. What is the Lord’s position on sexuality and reproduction? What is the Lord’s standard for modesty?
However, her choice of attire affects her divine destiny, because if she breaks the commandments, she won’t attain it. What does dressing have to do with breaking commandments or attaining divine destiny?
If a man who sees her commits a sin, she is not guilty of the sin too, but she is guilty of a sin, however much smaller it might be. This is pure B.S. what makes you think she is trying to get you to sin?
Um, I think maybe you should review the comment policies here, because I don’t think telling people they’re on the high road to apostasy is okay.
I don’t have time for an in-depth point-by-point response here, but a few things:
I have to agree with Howard that your last points about girls being dressed “immodestly” affecting men. Do men have certain physiological responses to women’s bodies? Absolutely (and praise be!). And women have physiological responses to men’s bodies. But you know, when I see a swarm of mostly naked men go running past in nothing but their short running shorts and their tennis shoes and it turns me on, I don’t assume that their intent in dressing in that manner was to lead me into temptation. Nor do I assume when I see a man wearing a fitted shirt and slim fit jeans that his intent was to turn me on. Do men sometimes dress in a certain way in order to turn women one? Sure. And there’s really nothing wrong with that if they’re doing so at an appropriate time in an appropriate setting and in an appropriate manner. It’s more than a little ridiculous for you to assume that anytime a man looks at a female body and is aroused by it, the woman in question must have been dressing her body so as to lead men into temptation or even to assign her the milder intention of trying to turn men on. I wear tank tops all the time when it’s hot outside. And trust me, I do it because it’s hot and I’d prefer to be a little cooler, not because I hope that every man who claps his eyes on my scandalously unclad shoulders will be led into temptation by thinking thoughts about fornicating with me.
The very fact that you make the assumption that girls dressed other than “modestly” by Mormon standards are intending to turn men on illustrates my point: the female body exists first and foremost as a sexualized body as a result of our current teachings re: modesty. I suppose I should thank you for giving such a lovely example of the point I was trying to make.
And Janeannechovy is correct: we do ask in our comment policy that our commenters not lob accusations of apostasy and heresy (though I will say that I do very much appreciate your thoughtful tone; usually when people start throwing around words like “apostasy” they’re doing so in a very strident hateful way and your comment doesn’t read that way at all, even if I disagree with what you’re saying; thank you for making your comments in a civil and friendly fashion).
Thanks for the responses. I appreciate discussions like this, because they help me think more deeply about things.
I wasn’t trying to break any rules by talking about apostasy. I didn’t point any fingers. My experience with the internet is that people’s motives and thoughts are often not accurately communicated. I wouldn’t condemn anyone above for anything that they wrote, but some of the things I read sounded dangerously close to apostasy. I know it’s a strong word, but criticizing Church leaders and policies is a common symptom of apostasy.
Amelia, you’re right that polygamy has been acceptable at times in the history of mankind, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Lord’s standards “change all the time.” =) When I said “sexuality and reproduction” I was thinking of the Lord’s stand against fornication and adultery and in favor of having children in general. But what I actually said includes polygamy, so I made a mistake there. The Lord’s standard for chastity and modesty have never changed, neither has he rescinded the command to multiply. But modesty is the topic here, and that remains immutable.
When I said “Whether a woman dresses immodestly to entice men or just to keep cool or fit in….” I thought I was addressing that immodest clothing does not imply a desire to tempt men. I readily acknowledge that there are other reasons to wear less, and I didn’t mean to imply (nor do I think) that all women dress immodestly in order to seduce men.
But really, the whole issue of why a woman would want to dress immodestly is irrelevant. The Lord’s standard for modesty (which can be found in the “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet on lds.org, if you’re not sure what I mean) has nothing to do with intent and grants no exceptions for temperature or any other reason a woman might want to lower her standards.
Whether a young woman thinks of how her appearance will affect men or not, if she knowingly breaks the standards, that’s just as much a sin for her as it is for any one else to break any other standard the Lord has set. I’m not condemning anyone by saying that, I’m just repeating Church doctrine. I’m not perfect either, and I’ll be held to exactly the same standard as everyone else. That’s just how it is. The Lord does hold his people to a higher standard than the world does. We can choose another way and rationalize it however we want, but our rationalizations aren’t going to change his mind, and they’re not going to make us happy in the long run.
The problem, Tom, is that the standards the church teaches are often mutable and culturally based. And modesty is an excellent example of that. 50 years ago when my mother was a teenager, she wore sleeveless clothes all the time and no one at church said it was immodest. That particular guideline (to not wear sleeveless clothes) was part of a (misguided in my opinion) conservative backlash against the cultural changes in 1960s and 1970s America. 50 years before my mother wore her sleeveless dresses (which also showed her calves, mind you) as a teenager, it would have been totally unacceptable for a woman to wear a skirt that only came to her knees. Yet to-the-knees is our current standard of modest. 50 years before that it would have been unacceptable to be showing any leg, let alone leg all the way up to the knees.
The point is that the cultural understanding of what constitutes “modest” dress changes all the time and God’s Standard ™ changes right along with cultural standards.
And that fact is not limited to modesty. I could point to similar changes in re: miscegenation, the priesthood ban, tithing, relationships between husband and wife, how to properly wear garments (one of my great grandfathers didn’t even remove them for bathing–just half at a time), and on and on. I could point to plenty of stories in the Bible that show discrepancies in marriage guidelines.
Are there consistent standards? Yes. But they’re generally not standards that are about daily practices. Instead they’re principles. For instance, fidelity will not change. Honesty will not change. compassion, love, mercy, etc. Those things will not change. But you really can’t be aware of the history of the church, both restored and ancient, and argue that God’s policies and standards never change.
Heh. I think criticizing church leaders and policies comes more from paying attention than from latent apostasy. Human leaders, fallible policies, totally okay to offer constructive criticism (of which this post is an example, btw). I think you have a wayyyyy broader definition of apostasy than a) most readers of this blog, b) many members of the church and its leadership, and arguably c) the handbook itself.
LDS modesty standards are without scriptural support except for aprons of fig leaves and coats of skins mentioned in Genesis 3.
LOL…..Howard, part of me wonders if you’re trolling. =)
If you want to understand LDS doctrine on modern revelation vs. ancient scripture, check out this talk by President Benson (when he as President of the Quorum of the Twelve):
Points 2 and 6 directly address your comment.
Tom suggesting trolling and apostasy is flamebate.
I am familiar with President Benson’s Fourteen Fundamentals and if I may I would like to point out the first of these fundamentals reads; The prophet is the only man who speaks for the Lord in everything. this statement contradicts President Benson’s own authority to present these notions prior to actually becoming the prophet and as you pointed out he was President of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time.
These notions do not take away from the fact that LDS modesty standards are largely without scriptural support. For instance you offered For the Strength of Youth as reference for “the Lord’s standard for modesty” which btw is actually the church’s standard for modesty this pamphlet offers Alma 1:27 for scriptural support which reads …and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely
Amelia, you’re absolutely right that many policies and procedures of God’s church have changed over the thousands of years of human history. Your last response illustrates why it’s important in discussions like this to define terms in order to improve communication (janeannechovy also questioned my definition of apostasy, for that matter, which I’ll also address).
I don’t know if there are already accepted terms for these things, but I think it’s helpful to distinguish between Celestial Law (the law that God lives, that is the same yesterday, today, and forever—immutable) and Church Law (the current subset of Celestial Laws and/or special rules God is requiring members of his church to keep, for whatever reasons he might have, often due to our inability to fully live his own laws).
As the members of his church and the cultures of the world progress, Church Law will evolve until, ultimately, it becomes the same as Celestial Law.
There are lots of examples (some of which you noted, modesty being a prime example) of how mankind has gone beyond the mark, resulting in cultural standards that are actually more strict than God’s own standard. As our culture has come down from prior extremes in modesty, Church Law has been able to follow. But I don’t think God’s own standard ever changed. I can see wisdom in having his church be just as strict as the prevailing culture, but I really don’t know why.
As society’s standards continue to plunge, eventually we’ll get back down to where the Celestial Law is. I bet we’ve already reached that point for modesty. The current standards outlined in “For the Strength of Youth” are already the minimum necessary to properly wear temple garments, and I don’t think we’ll see those changed.
I also know that some of the relaxing of Church policies have come after Church leaders pondered and prayed about feedback they received from members, which acted as a catalyst to receive additional revelation.
With that said, I think it’s also important to distinguish between that constructive criticism offered by sincere, concerned members and the “repeated public opposition to the Church”, which is the handbook’s definition of apostasy. Airing grievances with Church policy and leaders on a public forum could have a legimate, productive purpose to encourage other members to consider the issues and then use proper channels of communication in the Church to provide feedback that Church leaders will actually receive (they’ve already admitted that they don’t monitor everything on the internet). But airing grievances publicly can also be done to justify oneself or drum up resentment toward the Church. It makes it easier for those who do oppose the Church to find rocks to throw against it.
To be clear, I can’t judge the intentions of those who publicly express criticism of the Church, because I have no idea what they are. I also can’t weigh the benefits of open discussion among members against the damage that might be done to the Church’s reputation. My gut feeling (nothing more than that) is that public criticism is more damaging than productive.
If you feel you have a legitimate concern about a Church policy or leader, what have you done in the Church to really help solve the problem? If all you’ve done is gripe with friends, family, and publicly on the internet, are you really sincerely trying to help build the kingdom? (Of course, I’m not looking for answers to those from anyone, I just think they’re good questions we should ask ourselves before criticizing the Church.)
Amelia, I also appreciate your thoughtful responses to my comments, and I appreciate what I’ve learned from this discussion.
Tom, you’re changing your argument here. You initially said:
“But it is important to remember that the Lord’s standards have not and will not change. The Lord’s standard for modesty does not depend on hot weather and cultural mores. ”
I understand the distinction you make between a higher law and a lower law. That said, until this point in the discussion you have insisted that what the church is currently teaching is the immutable standard of God in re: modesty. My point is that people 50 years ago probably thought the same thing as did people 50 years before that and 50 years before that. In my opinion it’s rather arrogant to point to anything the church is teaching and say “that will never change because it is God’s actual will.” that has been said often enough and then proven wrong about enough things that I think it’s wise to simply not say such things.
As to God’s true standard of modesty, why isn’t it possible that God doesn’t even think the naked body is immodest? After all, in the perfect state of the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were naked. It wasn’t until the perfect state was contaminated by sin that the possibility of “immodesty” became a factor. I’m not a prelapsarian myself, but this is a perfectly plausible understanding of (im)modesty. Which is why I’m just not willing to speak up and say “I know what God’s will is and it will never change.” Which is, of course, what you’re doing. The fact that you’re pointing to the church as the source of what you know and that you’re relying upon counsel from church leaders to inform what you know does not change the arrogance of the statement. I’d be much more comfortable with the statement “I believe that the church’s standard is divinely inspired for our day and time and therefore will abide by it,” even though I personally don’t agree with the statement.
As to this:
“The current standards outlined in “For the Strength of Youth” are already the minimum necessary to properly wear temple garments, and I don’t think we’ll see those changed.”
I would simply say again that garments have changed in the past; why wouldn’t they change again in the future? I have no doubt that back when garments still went to the wrist and the ankle, but culturally acceptable dress was shortening both sleeve and skirt/pant lengths, there were members decrying the cultural change while insisting that the church’s standard was correct because the garments would never change.
Here’s the full definition of apostasy from the handbook:
That definition is not exactly precise and requires a lot of interpretation in order to apply it. It further requires some understanding of the intent of the person being labeled “apostate.” Which is why it’s inappropriate for an ordinary member reading a blog post to be lobbing the word around as a descriptor of what he’s reading and, by extension, the person who wrote it. I assure you that you are not the first person to tell me I’m bordering on apostasy; that does not mean I welcome it however.
The thing about “airing grievances with Church policy and leaders on a public forum” (something you dismiss as not constructive) is that it allows people who feel like they do not have a voice in the institutional church (many women feel this way, for instance, as do other unacceptable groups like homosexuals) to speak. More importantly, when I speak up others read what I have to say and learn that they’re not alone in their ideas after all. Which in turn may encourage and empower them to reach out to even more people and to actually speak up in their own congregations. Not everyone is like me. I feel entirely within my rights to call a bishop on something he’s saying that I think is in contradiction to church teachings or scripture; I don’t hesitate to speak up about my problems at church. But that’s not an easy thing to do and most of the people I know who actually share my beliefs and opinions about issues like modesty or feminist issues or gay marriage or how we conceive of sexual sin are not willing to speak up in Sunday School or RS/PH, no matter how strongly they hold those beliefs. The institutional church is not at all a place that welcomes voices offering criticism, even if it may be somewhat more welcoming of voices making suggestions while expressing complete belief and acceptance of what the church dictates.
As a “not-so-typical mormon girl” I think you have completely missed the mark. I grew up in a home where I was the only LDS member. I wore skimpy bikini bathing suits and short shorts with tank tops. My parents didn’t care what I wore. I attribute a lot of “experiments” I had in high school to the fact that I felt a little more ‘free’ then my other LDS friends because I could actually wear a bikini or short shorts. They had all these ‘rules’. I can attest that my friends were not ‘forced’ to wear modest clothing, they chose to do so. I do think they way we dress coincides with how others, mostly men, view us. What woman WANTS to be viewed as a prostitute?
This is not a fair article. The Church not only teaches about modesty for girls, but also for boys. The Church also encourages all young women to go to school and receive an education. Go on a mission. These things are all important, as well as having children and raising a family. Just as men are encouraged to get an education, go on missions and have children and raise a family. You can be an individual and a mother at the same time. Sure, some mothers can make their daughters feel like nothing but mere ‘mini moms’ but, I don’t think that is how it is with the majority of the Church. It’s not fair for you to generalize and focus just on modesty. The Church as a whole does not degrade woman and make them into only Mothers. BUT, if we don’t help our daughters to become good individuals AND mothers, who do we expect to raise up an intelligent, understanding, righteous generation? The role of modesty in the Church isn’t all about making us ‘virtuous for the pickings’ it gives us a sense of empowerment, not only did this man want to build eternity WITH me, but he did it for me and NOT because I am a great piece of meat. Modesty is also subjective in the eyes of the Church. Many leaders have come out and said “It’s what YOU think is modest. Some tankinis are more modest then one piece suits.” This is a church all about choices. Apparently, your choice is to focus on the nit-picky and not see the entire picture OR the whole story. It’s not a fair article.
I disagree. This is a wonderful post. Your response isn’t entirely focused, so I’ll just pick one point to respond to.
That’s a nice ideal, but it does not correspond at all to what the Church actually does. It absolutely hammers the issue of modesty for YW, while at best mentioning it in passing for YM. The treatment of the issue is nowhere near being similar for the two sexes. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous at best.
I didn’t read all the comments but some things (probably the stuff at the beginning of these comments) have been floating around in my brain. So my comments are about preparing young women for their place in the future. It is an interesting time that we live. By and large, women have to be prepared to be and do everything. I think you mentioned that you are single and at some time felt a little resentful because the expectation that you held (endorsed by the church and family) was not met. I could totally be wrong. I had the opposite problem. I went to college and wanted to get married. I held that expectation first and foremost. Then I did get married only to find I was wholly unprepared for it. The only formal lessons I had on running a family and household came from church. School trained me to have a career and to need academic stimulus. School is what I did most. Someone mentioned there were more lessons on the role of motherhood, marriage and family in Young Womens than Young Mens. I guess I agree with this amount because these lessons prepared me for what I do all day every day. I had years of prep for a career. I agree that the Young Men should have more seeing the Brethren are having to “encourage” them to take the next step to marriage. My mother didn’t cook and cleaned when I wasn’t present. I was only required to attend school, do extra-curricular activities, and clean on Saturday mornings. I never really managed children. Yet an abundance of my time is spent cooking, cleaning and caring for children. Needless to say the transition to motherhood and household management was NOT easy. I was a little angry and resentful that I hadn’t received better training. I knew how to cook but that is a far cry from running a household and training children. I dedicated myself to the task. It wasn’t really fun, but now I appreciate the simplicity and complexity of household life. I am as good at now as I would have been a nurse (in my alternate life where I made different choices). I am happy. I think I could have been happy either path but I was definitely underprepared for the motherhood route even though that is where my expectation was. Men have it easier because their path is a career even if they end up with a passel of kids to raise by themselves. I know very few men that would stay at home. And honestly I can’t say they “should” because in my experience it doesn’t match their make-up as a male. They have a hard time multi-tasking and things fall apart. But that is my experience only. All men are different.
I find the comments on modesty interesting. I think I will change some commentary around the whys of modesty and try not to be extreme but I have to say that I think modesty is important. Cut and dried rules are not always good but they certainly make things smoother. If I never buy a tank top or two piece then it is just a heck of a lot easier for me. My kids don’t really care that much. My kids are happy with a tee-shirt and bermuda shorts. But I don’t want them to maintain a sexuality around it. The human form is beautiful and conversely not that big of a deal. At our house, we don’t make much of open doors while changing or bathing little kids together. Hopefully we aren’t objectifying the female form by requiring a sleeve and some length to a short or skirt. It makes transition soooo much easier. Again they don’t seem to care that much and we don’t even mention the sexuality part of it until they are old enough to be experiencing it.
Thanks for the discussion. I like to consider all sides. I don’t fear opposing opinions and have gained something here. I little introspection is good. As I said, I think we will continue to have sleeves and long shorts but I will approach discussion about it differently. I have already tackled the problem of being underprepared for household management for my girls. They are already proficient in both academics and domestic things.
Martha, I’m glad that you’re trying to be more proactive about helping your daughters be prepared for the domestic work they’ll undoubtedly have to do, regardless of whether they’re single or married as adults. And I hope you’re preparing your sons to do that work, too. This is my thing: no matter an individual’s sex, they need to know how to maintain their own home. Everyone should know the basics of cleaning and cooking and household maintenance. Because everyone will someday be an adult living on their own without parents there managing the house. And I very, very, very strongly believe that husbands should be contributing to the work of a household operating smoothly. I completely understand that if a couple chooses to divide labor by having the husband work outside the home while the wife is the primary caregiver for children by staying home, then the wife will likely do a lot more of the day-to-day maintenance work at home. That said, that work does not end at the end of the work day. There are still children to feed, bathe, and get into bed. There are meals to cook and dishes to do. And the husband should be an equal participant in that work. Accordingly, our boys and young men should be learning how to maintain a household as well as preparing for a career. Same goes for girls. The point is this: regardless of what shape an adult life ultimately takes, every adult life will involve both maintaining a household AND needing the capacity to earn a living. So it just doesn’t make sense to me to emphasize one over the other for either boys or girls.
I don’t think that setting boundaries about what clothing is “appropriate” will necessarily lead to unhealthy perceptions of the body; all parents have to do that (though I think a more flexible approach is wiser in the long run). What leads to unhealthy perceptions is failing to teach children and young adults a nuanced conception of “appropriate” and talking so much about what’s “modest” in terms of the sexual aspect of the female body. And I think an overemphasis on a girl’s future as wife/mother contributes to the problem because it reinforces the notion that a girl’s value lies in the sexual attractiveness and capacity of her body. It’s why I think there should be a lot more equity in how we teach boys and girls. At the end of the day, they need to know how to do the same things because the only future you can absolutely guarantee them is a single one, no matter how much you have faith that they’ll be able to marry and have children. It’s impossible to guarantee anyone a future with a partner. And anyone who is single needs to be prepared for both career and maintaining a household.
I think this is a fantastic discussion. Amelia, I can tell you’re putting time and thought into this, and I really appreciate what I’m learning from you.
“Tom, you’re changing your argument here….”
One of the things I’ve learned these past couple of days is how poorly I expressed my thoughts about your article and the comments I read when I first posted. I’ve seen how terms I’ve used have created different responses than I expected and have created diversions that aren’t really what I was meaning to talk about.
What I think of what I read above hasn’t changed, but I’m trying to explore how to communicate it effectively. I think it’s obvious that we’re coming at this issue from different perspectives, different backgrounds, and that we don’t agree. But I don’t think I’ve effectively communicated what I think.
I’m not trying to win an argument. There are those who choose to publicly criticize the Church. Like others in the comments, I’m standing up to defend it. If someone interested in the Church ever reads this page, I don’t want that person to walk away thinking this Church is ruining young women, because it does young women so much good. At the very least, I’m learning how to communicate more effectively with people that have different opinions.
Let’s throw out the whole discussion about apostasy. I never intended that to be more than a side-comment when introducing my real points. I had no idea that word would create so much distraction (and I got distracted by it too trying to clarify what I meant). I never thought to condemn anyone for anything they wrote. I don’t know anyone here personally, and I’ve never presumed to be able to judge anyone. I’ve used the word “apostasy” casually with many friends over the years, generally referring to any steps that lead to actual apostasy as apostasy too. I’ve learned here that that word is not a good choice for making points in public forums with people who might not think about that word the same way. =)
When talking about the Celestial Law concerning modesty, I used words like “I bet” and “I don’t think”. I know I don’t know, which is why I didn’t say definitively what it is and that something won’t change.
Your last post helped me recognize where exactly it is that we disagree and know what terms to use (at least for some things….I might still completely fail here =) ).
1. This is either the Lord’s church or it’s not. If it is the Lord’s Church, then what the Church and its duly called and set apart leaders teach is the mind and will of the Lord for us now.
2. The Church is not a democracy. God does not need our counsel or permission for anything. He knows that his leaders here on earth make mistakes and that the vast majority of those mistakes are harmless. He knows how to best correct them when needed. His way may not be the way we think it should be done, but he does it his way just the same, because he knows best. He also knows what will best help us learn what we need to learn in order to live with him again. Sometimes he is willing to change things at the general level, but he waits until the leaders ask about it. He knows why he does that.
3. God does care what we think, because he loves us, and he knows that what we think has eternal consequences: if we disagree with him, then we won’t live with him. As Elder Nelson pointed out in the last General Conference, God’s plan is not a cafeteria. We can’t pick and choose what policies or commandments we put on our plates. As we’ve already discussed, sometimes the “menu” changes. But whatever the current menu is, we can either accept it and be blessed to receive all that God has, or we can reject it (either all of it or even just one thing) and suffer the consequences.
4. Not all issues are of equal importance. The most important things are the things that directly impact our ability to return to God. If a young woman receives improper instruction about modesty, causing her to develop unhealthy emotional habits (or worse), then that might be a real source of affliction for her (and even others) in her life. But no matter what happened to her, she can still make it back to God if she does those most important things. In the long run, that damage will be healed. She can overcome it. If the damage is so severe that she can’t overcome it, then God will know and will judge her accordingly. Either way, her salvation is not in jeopardy for something someone else did to her. The danger for us in general is that when we get caught up in smaller things like the details of the current standards for modesty and other “hot topics” discussed around the internet, we end up missing out ourselves on the really big things like making and keeping temple covenants.
5. It’s good for us to be vigilant and report problems as we see them to our Church leaders. They will most likely give our feedback proper consideration. If they don’t, then that’s on their heads. God knows what happened, and he knows the best way to handle it. He can help us know if there’s anything else we should do, or if we should just drop it.
6. If we have shared our opinions with our leader but don’t see any change, it’s very likely that he gave our thoughts and feelings exactly the attention they should have received, but he does not feel any need to change anything or pass it up the line of authority. Again, God knows what’s best, and maybe we’re wrong. Or maybe we’re not wrong, but it’s just really not important enough to do anything more about.
Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the Lord’s church or not?
Does God know best or not?
Are our church leaders called of God or not?
Will God hold us to the current standard he has set for us or not?
The Church’s positions on those subjects are clear. Do we accept them or not?
I accept them. Not because I’m taking the Church’s word for it, but because I’ve put the promises of God to the test. I know they’re true. We are free to pick and choose which commandments we obey, and we are free to disagree with Church policies and leaders, both in private and in public. We will reap the consequences of our choices no matter which path we choose. There is only one way to God for us, and that is the way he has revealed to us today. Any other way, whatever other way, will lead someplace else and will be less than what we could have received.
I really appreciated all of your thoughts. I totally agree with you… especially #1, #2 and #3. Thank you for so clearly stating what is in my mind and heart as well.
Tom, I really have no problem with you attempting to defend the church. That said, what you’re doing in this comment is bearing your testimony of the church as an earthly manifestation of God’s will that cannot be led astray in any significant way, not defending the church’s approach to teaching its members, specifically young girls and women, the concept of “modesty.” Even the thing you’re defending against (“someone interested in the Church ever reads this page, I don’t want that person to walk away thinking this Church is ruining young women, because it does young women so much good”) is not an accurate representation of what my original post argues. I don’t think the church “ruins” young women and I didn’t argue that in my post; I argued that the church’s approach to teaching modesty via black-and-white dress codes in conjunction with its emphasis on wife/mother being the only important role a woman can fill contributes to the trend of sexualizing young girls because these things continue to send the message that a girl’s/woman’s value is primarily attached to her sexual attractiveness and capacity to reproduce.
I mostly disagree with your various points in this comment, but since they are primarily off topic I’m not going to respond point by point. I will simply say that I think it’s an enormous error to dismiss the kinds of problems I’m pointing to in my original post as being less important and therefore tolerable since a woman can still return to God. That kind of teleological thinking contributes to any number of problems with very serious ramifications in this life. And given the mandate God has given that we build zion (not for next year or for after we’re dead, but for right now) I cannot believe an argument that it’s okay to ignore problems that are of less importance. Especially when they aggregate into something much, much more serious than any one taken on its own (i.e., teaching strict dress codes + teaching only wife/mother roles for women combine to contribute to sexualizing girls from a very young age).
This was a very interesting article and reading this comment i was wondering if you really believe it is the church’s fault that this is happening or the Mormon culture. They are two very different things. I seem to recall several talks in GC recently that mention women preparing for careers and being ready in case they did not find a husband.
Josh, I don’t buy making sharp distinctions between church and church culture. I don’t believe they are “two very different things.” I do see that there is sometimes a difference between the possible intent of what gets said by church leaders and how church members put what they say into action. But I don’t understand the idea that the church is some abstract entity that is completely distinct from the culture it engenders. And I use the word “engenders” very intentionally–the church creates, gives rise to, produces its culture. It’s not like the church says one thing and then its people come up with some crazy mistaken notion; what the church and its leaders say gets interpreted by its members and therefore directly generates the culture of the church. And I would argue that there are very predictable patterns of interpretation; given that fact, the church leaders could certainly anticipate the most common interpretations and work to avoid the mistaken ones. I just don’t see the leadership doing that. Instead I see them exacerbating that problem (think of things like Dallin Oaks with his line about immodestly dressed women becoming pornography; there is no way in hell I could be convinced that Dallin Oaks is not smart enough to understand how easily that statement could be misinterpreted in terribly destructive ways).
I’d be pleasantly surprised if there were GC talks that urged women to pursue education and career, period with no marriage context caveats. I’m not at all surprised if there are talks that tell women to pursue education and career as a contingency plan in case they don’t get married. Frankly, I don’t find that an incredibly valuable or empowering message, since it still sees career and education as secondary to marriage/family. Education and career are not secondary to family/marriage for men, even though marriage and family are every bit as important for men as for women. Why on earth should they be presented as of secondary importance and as nothing but a back up in the event that the life plan of marriage/family just doesn’t happen for women? Drives me bonkers.
“1. This is either the Lord’s church or it’s not. If it is the Lord’s Church, then what the Church and its duly called and set apart leaders teach is the mind and will of the Lord for us now.”
I don’t know if I have the stamina to enter into this, but I will make an effort to give you a glimpse into the mind of a progressive Mormon. Your statement above doesn’t resonate with me. It’s completely black and white. Are you leaving no room for cultural constructions and understandings which filter into our leaders’ injunctions to us?
It sounds to me that you have a “zap” notion of revelation. God zaps the leaders of the church and puts in their minds exactly what God would have them know. People like me see revelation coming in a totally different manner. They see revelation from God being filtered through layer after layer of cultural constructs, and that therefore, it is very likely that many statements by leaders are colored by such context. This is a scary idea to a lot of Mormons, that we have to use our own spiritual connection with God to discern when our leaders are accurately representing the will of God. But it’s one that I personally embrace — I think it behooves every Mormon to hear our leaders and ask God ourselves what’s right and true and what’s not.
And as an example of what I’m talking about, look at Church leaders comments about why blacks didn’t have the priesthood. They were fence sitters in the preexistence, they had the mark of Cain on them, they were less righteous before they came to earth. These are all statements that I — and I think most other Mormons — would see as very much colored by these leaders’ cultural contexts. I can’t think of a single church leader today who would say such things.
Absolutely agreed, Caroline. No matter how inspired the prophet is he is deeply embedded in his culture; add to that the fact that his formative years were spent in our culture 40-60 years ago, which means he’s at least one more step removed from our contemporary culture. That will color how he understands the inspiration he receives. I just cannot believe that revelation happens in the form of God telling a human being exactly how things should be and the human being, with all of his flaws and limitations, disappearing and becoming nothing but a totally transparent conduit for God’s words. I just don’t think it works that way. And there are all kinds of examples of things prophets have said in the past which have proven, over time, to be heavily influenced by their cultural context and not actually God’s will. I think it’s really rather dangerous to treat the prophet’s words as if they were exactly the words God would use.
What do you mean by Celestial Law concerning modesty? Modesty is not an eternal law or even a significant commandment if it were we would find mention of it in the Bible, BoM or D&C. One example of eternal dress has already been offered Adam and Eve were nude prior to the fall another is Maroni he was covered from mid forearms to his ankles by a loose white robe but it was open allowing Joseph to see that he wore nothing underneath and his bosom was visible. As you can see garments are not an eternal law either.
IMO it is the Lord’s church but your conclusion what the church and its duly called and set apart leaders teach is the mind and will of the Lord for us now doesn’t necessarily follow. In order for this to be true the Lord must reveal or approve each of the things being taught and how they are being taught in detail this assumes a lot more revelation than has been apparent since Joseph died the church appears to run more on inspiration than the kind of revelation that Joseph received and inspiration includes much more of the man and his thinking than revelation does. You assume the Lord knows what is being taught and would correct the teachers if He choose to. So do you believe He reads the mind of each GA as he prepares a General Conference talk, each teacher and each speaker? Have you ever been corrected? By the “church ” I assume you meant it’s published materials do you believe that they are similarly reviewed in detail by the Lord? If so it contradicts some of what you said in 2 & 4.
Sharing concerns about these things with church leaders will not likely not result in serious consideration yet because they involve subconscious biases that have been repeatedly taught for many generations. Do you really believe your SP would attempt to sell these concepts to Salt Lake even if he believed them?
There is a lot to respond to this evening! It’s interesting though that there’s a common theme running through what three of you (Amelia, Caroline, and Howard) said: a general lack of confidence in our leaders and even in revelation itself. There are a couple of points to clarify, then I’ll respond to that theme briefly, and then come back to the subject of the original article.
@Amelia: “Even the thing you’re defending against…is not an accurate representation of what my original post argues. I don’t think the church ‘ruins’ young women and I didn’t argue that in my post…”
My comments haven’t been directed solely to the original article. I read through most of the comments before I posted (and skimmed through the rest, because there is a lot of repitition), and a lot of them agreed with the original article and added to it, some of them more critical and negative than the original. I think it’d be easy for someone not familiar with the Church to walk away from reading this page with the impression that the Church’s YW program is harmful, and I think that’s sad. Fortunately, many others have posted in defense of the Church, so a sincerely searching reader will still see both sides. In retrospect, I agree that the word “ruins” is too strong. It was getting late last night, and I had already stayed up late the night before on this, and now here I am again. The best I can hope for my writing is “good enough.” =)
@Howard: “Tom, What do you mean by Celestial Law concerning modesty? …”
From my last post, that was referring to a previous post where I talked about “Celestial Law” vs. “Church Law”. Amelia and I both agree with you that we don’t know what the Celestial Law for modesty is. It sounds like where Amelia and I disagree is whether the Church’s current standard of modesty is actually the Lord’s will for us or not.
Now for revelation. Caroline and Howard said similar things, but for brevity (yes, I actually think about that….though it doesn’t stop me), I’ll just quote Amelia’s version of this idea:
“I just cannot believe that revelation happens in the form of God telling a human being exactly how things should be and the human being, with all of his flaws and limitations, disappearing and becoming nothing but a totally transparent conduit for God’s words. I just don’t think it works that way.”
Howard acknowledged that Joseph received revelation like that, but I think it’s fair to say that the general idea is that revelation like that (i.e. something beyond simple “inspiration”) doesn’t happen anymore.
It is true that inspiration is much more common. We are expected to study things out in our minds. When we come to the correct conclusion on our own, we need little more than a small confirmation to know that we are right. If God wants to reveal something to us that is in line with our subconscious biases, then he needs not do much more than put the idea in our minds, and we’ll readily pick it up and go with it. But when God has something outside our current way of thinking that he needs to tell us, something our culturalization, paradigms, and biases would place outside of our range of thinking, he still has power to “zap” us. My wife and I have both experienced that.
“[A] totally transparent conduit for God’s words” perfectly describes other experiences I’ve had teaching the gospel and giving priesthood blessings on a few special occasions. And I’m not special! I’m just a regular-joe member. Just this last Sunday, one of the missionaries in our branch shared an experience he had similar to one of mine. I’ve talked to many other members over the years that have also had these experiences. One of the foundational doctrines of the Church is that God speaks to man, and that all of God’s children have direct access to him, and that we are all entitled to receive personal revelation (of which inspiration is just one method, albeit the most common) if we do what it takes to receive it.
Much of what Joseph Smith taught HAD to come through direct revelation, because the restored gospel is so different from what was already on the earth. But since then, all members (including succeeding prophets) have had the prolific and clear revelations he received as a base to work from. With his lifetime of experience and training and copious amounts of modern scripture that has preceded him, President Monson today may not need more than a nudge of inspiration here or there for most things. But if God can zap me with revelation that is outside the scope of my thinking, then I’m sure he can zap Pres. Monson with anything he needs his prophet to know.
God is not limited in his ability to teach us and reveal anything to us. But we can limit what we’re able to receive through the choices we make. “Zap” revelation may not be common, but it still happens when God has something to he wants us to know and when we’re prepared to receive it. The fact that a human being with flaws and limitations can be such a conduit and receive such divine communication is a testament to the power of the Atonement. We can repent and be clean and prepared to receive revelation for our stewardships, even though we’re not perfect.
In addition to having confidence in our leaders’ ability to receive revelation, we should also have confidence in their desire to help us. Maybe there are bishops and stake presidents here and there that don’t care so much, but my experience has always been that they really do love us and want to help us. They’re still human and make mistakes, and they have to repent and do better just like the rest of us. If I had a concern that my branch president could not resolve, I know he would ask the Stake President, because I know he’s asked on behalf of other members already. Same with my Stake President.
That said, let’s come back to the subject of modesty, and start by answering Howard’s last question:
“Do you really believe your SP would attempt to sell these concepts to Salt Lake even if he believed them?”
If he felt that he should share them with Salt Lake, he would. In such a case, I expect that he would present the concepts effectively such that his leader would correctly understand the issue. I have confidence that Salt Lake would give the issue due consideration, seeking the Lord’s will on the subject. I have confidence that the Lord would make his will known to them (even if it requires a “zap”), and I have confidence that those leaders would act in accordance with the revelation they received. That’s what I’ve done in my leadership callings, and I would imagine that our general authorities are at least as diligent as I am (but I bet they’re a lot more diligent than I am, because I’m really nothing special).
@Amelia: “…I think it’s an enormous error to dismiss the kinds of problems I’m pointing to in my original post as being less important and therefore tolerable since a woman can still return to God…. I cannot believe an argument that it’s okay to ignore problems that are of less importance.”
Technically, I didn’t say we should dismiss or ignore the problems you mentioned. But I didn’t say what I think we should do with them, which left plenty of room to infer that I think we should dismiss them. My point was that we should keep them in perspective.
Here’s how I would put your article in perspective:
Most of the problems you attribute to the “Mormon church” should really be attributed to “Mormon culture.” Your article seems to use those terms synonymously, but there really is a big difference. I grew up outside of UT, but I went to BYU and remained in Utah Valley for several years before moving back east a few years ago. “Mormon culture” as experienced in UT does not exist in most of the world. “Mormon culture” definitely influences what speakers, teachers, and even leaders emphasize and talk about. When 99% of members have been in the Church all their lives and have had all the lessons a thousand times, sometimes things that are less important creep into class discussions and grow into mountains. Of course, that happens sometimes everywhere, but my experience moving around a lot and living in multiple wards in UT and in other states, is that “Mormon culture” is real and distinct from the Church. (Now I’m not saying Mormon culture is bad or that members outside UT are more or less righteous or anything, just that there is a noticeable difference in the culture that the members share beyond the core religion itself. I lived in 3 wards in UT after I graduated, and all of them were great.)
An example is the final point of the article: “I have a radical proposal: the church and Mormon parents should teach girls that they have value without connecting that value to the sexiness of their bodies, their attractiveness to men, their capacity to make babies.”
That is actually what the Church already teaches. Maybe something like this would be more accurate and still address some of your concerns about how YW are taught: “I have a radical proposal: Mormon parents and leaders should pay more attention to what the Church actually teaches on modesty and stick with revealed doctrine and principles when teaching girls about their intrinsic value as daughters of God.” I know that doesn’t address much of what was in your article, but just an example of how the culture is separated from the Church.
I understand now (at least a little bit, certainly more than I did before) why you feel you don’t have a voice in the Church, and why you would be critical of the Church and its leaders. I guess in a way you’re trying to give them the “zap” you think they need to move the Church forward.
If not ignore or dismiss or post on the internet, what do I think should be done about problems we find?
If I saw a problem that I think should be corrected by Church leaders, I would talk to my bishop or branch president about it and make sure he was aware of the issue. Then I would drop it and move on with my life, confident that the Lord and his representatives would handle it correctly. If I had a real reason to suspect my bishop let it fall through the cracks (they’re only human), I think it would be a good idea to follow up with him on it, but I certainly wouldn’t weary him about it or let it distract me from more important things. If I felt I should talk to the Stake President about it, I would, but not until after giving the bishop a chance, and I wouldn’t go higher than that. I can see how a lack of confidence in revelation and in our leaders’ desires to seek the Lord’s will would make that course of action sound ineffective, maybe even naive or stupid.
Perhaps that is the root of our disagreement. I can see how my confidence in revelation leads to confidence in our leaders, confidence in the current standards and policies of the Church, and confidence that things will change in the right way at the right time as God sees fit. I know that when the prophet speaks to me, he’s speaking the words of God, because it feels the same as when God speaks to me; and whenever I apply what God teaches me, my life improves, and I am happier.
Please watch your rhetoric what you are calling a general lack of confidence in our leaders and even in revelation itself is relative and may actually be overconfidence on your part after all they are simply men who survived long enough to become next in line at one point most of them were probably regular-joe members like you say you are but now they are senior celebrities living a high standard of living in Utah sure they are well traveled but they also travel as celebrities and their view points probably reflect this lifestyle they were not humble seeking 14 year old farm boys chosen and trained for many years by God Himself as Joseph was. Little has been officially revealed since the D&C was published except OD1 and OD2 and neither came about by simply bringing these issues to the attention of church leaders and remaining confident that the Lord and his representatives would handle it correctly. One was the result of years of government litigation and force and the other the result of the violent civil rights unrest of the 60s.
If God wants to reveal something to us that is in line with our subconscious biases, then he needs not do much more than put the idea in our minds, and we’ll readily pick it up and go with it. No, you won’t readily pick it up and go with it, not without a psychological epiphany. These concepts are subconscious prejudices they are below one’s conscious understanding or awareness and therefore not well understood, easily accepted or emotionally embraced by those who harbor them no matter how spiritual or well intended they might be and that may well be why they persist in spite of God’s inspiration. God may be unlimited in his ability to teach us and reveal anything to us but we as mortal men and women are limited in our ability to receive it understand it and put it to good use.
“Please watch your rhetoric what you are calling a general lack of confidence in our leaders and even in revelation itself is relative and may actually be overconfidence on your part after all they are simply men….”
My use of the term “general lack of confidence” wasn’t intended to exaggerate or mischaracterize your position. Based on what you and others said previously and what you further explained in this last post, I would say that “general lack of confidence” is an accurate summary.
I understand that you probably think I’m overconfident, and I think that based on our discussion so far, this is really the heart of the issue.
“God may be unlimited in his ability to teach us and reveal anything to us but we as mortal men and women are limited in our ability to receive it understand it and put it to good use.”
If we really can’t receive and understand it, does God really have the power to give it? Saul and Alma the Younger are two examples from scripture of God exercising his power to reach us. He can break through the hardest of hearts to make his will known. He usually doesn’t work in those ways, especially with those who reject him, but for those mortals who have spent a lifetime learning and practicing and turning their hearts to God, their ability to receive, understand, and use revelation is a lot less limited than you think.
Either the Church is true or not. If it’s true, then what it teaches is true. The Church teaches that the prophet speaks for God, and that if we reject the prophet, we’re really rejecting God. The Church also teaches that we can’t pick and choose which doctrines we accept and which commandments we’ll keep and expect to receive the same reward as those who accept and keep them all to the best of their ability.
If I’m overconfident, time will tell. It’s your right to disagree with Church teachings and to hold and express whatever opinions you have. Maybe that sounds arrogant to some, but I don’t mean to be arrogant. I am confident in my understanding of Church doctrine on the subject of prophets and revelation, and I know it’s true. (I’m much less confident in my ability to express my understanding of Church doctrine, but I hope you will agree that the Church does in fact teach what I said it does in my last paragraph.)
“If God wants to reveal something to us that is in line with our subconscious biases, then he needs not do much more than put the idea in our minds, and we’ll readily pick it up and go with it. No, you won’t readily pick it up and go with it, not without a psychological epiphany.”
I did say, “…IS in line….” Did I miss something?
I just remembered about President Eyring’s talk from the Sunday morning session of General Conference last October. Here’s a quote that’s relevant here:
“As I read that message from a servant of God, my errand for today became clear. God sends messages and authorized messengers to His children. I am to build trust in God and His servants enough that we will go out and obey His counsel. He wants that because He loves us and wants our happiness. And He knows how a lack of trust in Him brings sadness.”
While I was looking at that talk just now, my wife brought this in to me from this month’s Ensign, p. 74:
“…President Eyring encouraged leaders to increase their capacity to receive revelation.
“‘Only by the Spirit will you know how to apply what you read in the handbook,’ he said. ‘…It may seem to you impractical to expect or even hope for the stream of revelation you need in your daily service. It will not come without faith and hard work, but it is possible.’
“President Eyring promised that as leaders work and pray to ‘understand and follow the words of life’ given to them, the Lord will help them give service and leadership beyond their own powers.”
I have seen those principles work in my own local leaders, and I have experienced them myself, but I do have plenty of room for improvement.
I think this is probably a bad approach to take. Church leaders can be inspired without being inerrant. If you leave no room for this possibility, then when they come out and say things that are self-contradictory or offensive or obviously false, what can you do? Following your own framework, you’ll have to ditch the Church and all the good in it because you now believe it’s false.
Tom, a general lack of confidence suggests a standard that is not being met. I offered evidence for one standard and you offered testimony of a another so given that we disagree on what the standard actually is perhaps we can agree to say that my confidence is less than yours or yours is more than mine. I am personally aware of God’s ability to break through the hardest of hearts but as you point out He usually doesn’t work in those ways and I am also aware that both faithful members and others can enjoy rich personnel revelation but this is the exception not the rule. Either the Church is true or not. Sorry I know we hear this phrase a lot but the church is NOT true however the gospel is true. What the church teaches ultimately must come down to revelation for it’s teachings to be true. Revelation is contained in the standard works and also contained in the words of a sitting President of the church others do not have the authority to receive revelation for the church and everything a sitting President says is not revelation, much of it is simply advise.
I did say, “…IS in line….” Did I miss something? Sorry did I misunderstand you did you mean that God wanted to confirm your subconscious biases or correct them?
…President Eyring encouraged leaders to increase their capacity to receive revelation. Thank you for this and the other quotes I am impressed with President Eyring’s spirituality it is an encouraging way to end your post.
Tom, you end by saying:
I am glad that is your experience. However, I would point out that you are in at least one position of privilege within the church–male. Arguably, if I’m correct in assuming you’re American based on your brief description, you occupy two positions of privilege: American male. I have no way of knowing your race, but if you are a white American male you occupy three positions of privilege.
I am white and American, but I am also female. And my experience in the church is radically different than yours. Where you don’t experience a disconnect between what you’re hearing from church leaders and what you hear from God, I experience that disconnect all the time. And your repeated focus on this threadjack tells me one thing: you situate the problem in me (and others like me, of course). You’re very nice about it, but you still situate the problem in me. And I really don’t have any patience for the “blame the sinner” or “blame the dissident” attitude I see in the church all the time. While I don’t currently force my life to fit the prescribed shape promoted by the church, I did for many years. And I can tell you that I had just as many problems with what I was hearing from the church leadership then as I do now. And what that tells me is that the problem is not isolated to some internal struggle of mine, to my inability or unwillingness to just have enough faith.
On the sharp Church vs. Church Culture question, i’ve already commented elsewhere on this thread. And it remains a threadjack.
With that, I am going to ask that this side conversation be dropped. It’s off topic. And the participants are not going to be able to change each others’ minds. If/When I write a post about these actual issues, I would love to have your participation in the conversation. But for future comments on this thread, I would ask that you stick to the topic at hand: the relationships between the church’s approach to teaching modesty and the sexualization of girls’ and women’s bodies.
Amelia, I won’t say anymore about the issues we discussed, but you said something about me personally that I think warrants a response:
“I am glad that is your experience. However, I would point out that…if you are a white American male you occupy three positions of privilege [within the church].”
Really? After all that you’re going to discount my experience based on my race, nationality, and gender? God doesn’t require any less of me for being white, American, or male. I have to meet the same requirements to receive personal revelation as everyone else. It’s not easy meeting those requirements, and I’m not perfect act it, but God is merciful, and he makes my efforts worth it a hundred times over.
Amelia and Howard, I really do appreciate the time you spent on this. I’ve learned a lot, and it’s been a great opportunity for me to work on my weaknesses.
Tom enjoyed the back and forth as well but your last comment indicates that you have no idea what Amelia and others have been talking about here. Male only priesthood and the strong focus on family and motherhood results in the following church culture; stay at home mothers are one down from men, working mothers are two down and others are three down.
Tom, let me apologize. I can see that I did a fairly poor job of actually saying what I meant in my last comment. I was trying to keep it relatively brief and sacrificed far too much as a result.
Please know that I did not intend to discount your experience. Nor did I intend to say your experience is not valid or valued. And you are absolutely correct that God has high expectations of all of his children regardless of their sex, gender, race, nationality, etc. Please accept my apology for implying otherwise.
What I meant to get at is that while your experience is certainly valid and should not at all be discounted, it is at least partially the normative experience because you fit the normative church identity (if I’m correct in my assumption about your race, which I may not be): white American male. As someone who fits the normative experience, it’s not surprising that you would experience less cognitive dissonance between that experience and what church leadership says (after all what it says is at least partially shaped by the church leaders’ identities–cultural, national, ethnic, gendered) than someone whose identity is not normative. Mine for instance, because I am not male. Or a gay man’s, because he is not straight. Accordingly, your experience (though valid and valued) cannot account for and explain my experience. I think this is especially true if the church continues to insist on essential and eternal gender differences.
I raise this point because I think it’s very easy for anyone (myself included) to see things from within their own perspective and very hard for anyone (myself included, though I do try) to step outside of that perspective and see things from someone else’s social, cultural, and/or gendered position. And far too often members of the church who occupy the normative position respond to people like me (people whose church experience includes a lot of the same positives yours has, but which also includes many negatives and a great deal of cognitive dissonance and spiritual/psychological pain) by telling us that our problem is an absence of confidence in God or church leaders.
I have a very simply wish: I wish that the people around me (both in the cyber and in the real world) would hear what I’m saying and try to understand my perspective rather than repeatedly tell me the same answers I’ve been hearing all of my life but which simply don’t work for me. I’m not criticizing here; I’m not saying those answers are just across the board wrong or bad or hurtful. I’m just saying, “Please here me, please try to understand me, because what the church has been trying to do all of my life doesn’t work for me.” And I can’t continue beating my head against the same answers over and over and over. That is not only the theoretical definition of insanity (trying the same thing over and over expecting different results), it has literally resulted in mental illness for me. I have been very fortunate in having a support network that has helped me work through the depression I’ve experienced. Not everyone is so lucky. And I think if we, as a church, would embrace questions more readily and explore them and seek for resolutions together, rather than simply giving the already known answer (no matter how valid that answer is, no matter how fully it is based in real, positive, constructive experience).
holy hell incomplete sentence. Those drive me crazy. I meant to end my last comment this way:
And I think if we, as a church, would embrace questions more readily and explore them and seek for resolutions together, rather than simply giving the already known answer (no matter how valid that answer is, no matter how fully it is based in real, positive, constructive experience) we would be able to better provide a warm, supportive, welcoming, loving network for all of God’s children, rather than just those who fit the normative experience. Shouldn’t that be our goal?
Amelia, thank you for the clarification! That makes a lot more sense to me, and I agree that we should be trying to improve our ability as a Church to “better provide a warm, supportive, welcoming, loving network for all of God’s children, rather than just those who fit the normative experience.”
That’s what I’ve appreciated so much about this opportunity for me personally. The better I can understand where other people are coming from, the more effective I can be in helping them.
I grew up a Mormon and think the way you say they emphasize only the physical part of modesty was definitely not true in my experience. I only have to say that I am sorry that has been the experience of some, but that is not what I believe the church teaches.
Amy, I’m glad you had a good experience with being taught modesty, but the fact that so many women have a common experience where modesty is a negative, focuses solely on women, and tells girls to cover themselves for the sake of men suggests that in many cases, it is what the church teaches.
Very nice, Amelia. This post, as well as somebody’s comment somewhere on the bloggernacle (feel free to take credit if you’re reading this) about Diana Troi not getting promoted until she stopped showing cleavage and wearing minidresses are two of the greatest highlights in my readings on “modesty”.
Modesty and appropriateness are about much more than skin. To me, a naked three year old on the beach is less disturbing than a three year old wearing a bathing suit designed to accentuate while concealing the figure a three year old hasn’t actually developed.
The suggestion that young children have anything to flaunt or anything to cover up (other than for hygienic and protective purposes) sickens me. Both are manifestations of sexualization.
Here’s a quote to go along with Caroline’s comment:
“President J. Reuben Clark stated, “We can tell when the speakers are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’ only when we, ourselves, are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’” (Daniel H. Yarn, Jr., ed., J. Reuben Clark: Selected Papers on Religion, Education, and Youth, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1984, pp. 95–96.)
This is in harmony with the counsel of Brigham Young: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” (In Journal of Discourses, 9:150.)
We make no claim of infallibility or perfection in the prophets, seers, and revelators.”
I also like this quote from this book called “Shaken Faith Syndrom (it talks about leaders being influenced by the culture and circumstance in which they were raised.)
“Prophets, however, are not born as prophets and they are not raised in social and cultural vacuums. When they are called as prophets they don’t suddenly become divine- they are still men. Prophets have and are entitled to their own opinions, their own misconceptions, their own biases, and their own mistakes.”
We are all in various stages of learning and growing in the Gospel, including the prophet.
Here’s a quote to go along with Caroline’s comment:
“President J. Reuben Clark stated, “We can tell when the speakers are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost’ only when we, ourselves, are ‘moved upon by the Holy Ghost.’” (Daniel H. Yarn, Jr., ed., J. Reuben Clark: Selected Papers on Religion, Education, and Youth, Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1984, pp. 95–96.)
This is in harmony with the counsel of Brigham Young: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” (In Journal of Discourses, 9:150.)
We make no claim of infallibility or perfection in the prophets, seers, and revelators.”
I also like this quote from this book called “Shaken Faith Syndrom (it talks about leaders being influenced by the culture and circumstance in which they were raised.)
“Prophets, however, are not born as prophets and they are not raised in social and cultural vacuums. When they are called as prophets they don’t suddenly become divine- they are still men. Prophets have and are entitled to their own opinions, their own misconceptions, their own biases, and their own mistakes.”
We are all in various stages of learning and growing in the Gospel, including the prophet.
Very interesting point that pushing modesty still puts focus on girls as sex objects, and I liked that as a new perspective to think about. I especially want a lot more focus and awareness on the idea that hyperfocus on marriage for girls has been a negative as “girls’ capacity for independent action and decision making outside the realm of their role as mother-in-training is downplayed”. I know that I have regretted decisions I have made based on that mentality, as have my friends.
I support the theory that women can be happier if they are not raised with the idea that their value depends on attracting a husband. I feel it could help them to be more emotionally independent and create healthier relationships where they do not lose their sense of self if an all-important relationship falls out from underneath them. Many women seem to settle for abusive and unhealthy relationships because too much of their identity and dreams are wrapped up in just having one.
There are two other points I would like to make though…the second more important than the first perhaps, but still legit:
First, I don’t support the mockery of the roles wives and mothers have played in the past as I read the disdainful tone in comments on learning to iron or cook. It is condescending to look down on women who live what we society would call a ‘traditional lifestyle’. My mother is an amazing woman and my parents have an amazing marriage that most people can only dream about. Married over 30 years and actually still happy about it. They are equals and I have never doubted that. Both have made sacrifices and neither is the same person they were before they married. I have watched them counsel together, support each other, and grow as they have struggled and not given up or given in to divorce. Do not ridicule these women. They have been the backbone of society for centuries.
Second, and perhaps more important, there is one thing that I felt this article didn’t address, and that is how males actually see females, which IS SEXUAL and is more likely to BE SEXUAL the more skin they show. The quote about girls showing a lot of thigh cuz it’s hot (I’ve seen girls wear daisy dukes with their boots in the winter) or wearing a shirt with a neckline that indicates they indeed have breasts seems to be made against women who judge other women based on their level of modesty while ignoring the real effects of modesty on MALES, which is STILL SEXUAL. And if we downplay the FACT that men DO view women even MORE SEXUALLY the MORE skin they show, we are deceiving ourselves.
It is the thought of SELF-RESPECT for one’s own body that should motivate modest dress. Of course males support women ‘taking control of their sexuality’ because it means more for them…more aggressive women, more flesh, more pornography, more casual sex, and more lust in general. We undermine both our men and ourselves with immodest dress.
This article seems to believe this is a world where modesty doesn’t matter, but unless you have a cure for the natural lust of a man looking on a woman (good luck with that), I would suggest it is best to err on the side of modest and encourage a society where men respect women and women respect themselves.
Angela, a few replies:
Here’s the actual quote you refer to in your second criticism:
I did not say “a lot of thigh”; though “an expanse of thigh” may mean “a lot,” it may also mean three or four inches. On a woman as tall as I am (6’0), three or four inches isn’t a hell of a lot. But it would still mean wearing a skirt or shorts that didn’t hit my knees. I also happen to have fairly large breasts–a 36DD in fact. That means that if I wear a couple of buttons unbuttoned (which is pretty standard practice) people will likely register a hint of cleavage. And if I wear something that’s tailored or fitted, it will be very apparent that I’m a little busty. I’m not going to wear crewnecks and turtlenecks in order to keep men from dwelling on the fact that I have an attractive set of boobs. That’s stupid and should be unnecessary. The v-necks I wear are perfectly decent. My unbuttoned buttons are totally normal and not revealing. It’s just apparent that I have breasts. There should be absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that when someone glances at me, it registers “huh, that woman has breasts”; there’s nothing wrong with seeing a little skin on my thighs or my shoulders. You’ve taken my statement and turned it into an exaggeration by reading it to mean a lot of thigh being shown by daisy dukes and boobs falling out.
The reality is that while it is certainly true that men respond to the sexual attractiveness of women, and that when a woman goes beyond culturally acceptable norms in how she exposes her body it may draw even more sexual attention, it is not at all true that any exposure of the female body must necessarily lead to pushing men’s “natural lust” into overdrive. How, then, do you make sense of cultures in which women regularly go topless? Do those cultures include men who are constantly in a state of uncontrollable lustfulness? No. Of course not. Those cultures just include men who have learned how to regulate their sexual responses. And I don’t see why I should have to dress like a nun in order to prevent men from feeling a little lust. Instead, I think it’s their responsibility to learn how to control their impulses and their thoughts. Further, your attitude contributes directly to the “blame the whore-victim” mentality that continues to operate in our society (for instance, take a look at the NYT coverage of the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in which the girl and her mother were blamed because the girl dressed “older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.”
That mentality is repulsive and the “cover up lest you arouse the men around you” approach to modesty contributes directly to it.
Really? You really think women taking control of their sexuality means women being more aggressive or dressing like prostitutes or participating in pornography or having casual sex or more lust in general? I’m sorry, but that’s just reflective of yet more “blame the whore” mentality. To me, women taking control of their sexuality means women saying No when they mean it and their No being respected. It means women expecting to receive sexual pleasure as well as giving it. It means all women, even married ones, having the right to say “not tonight, honey” with less of a chance of spousal rape because husbands feel entitled to having sex. It means understanding one’s own body and what will lead to sexual pleasure. It means knowing options for contraception and family planning. I simply don’t buy into the anti-feminist, reactionary argument that women’s taking control of their sexuality leads to nothing but bad. Who would you rather control women’s sexuality? Men? That’s how it used to be and when it was that way it meant women had much less control over their own bodies in terms of sexual experience and reproduction.
There is nothing in the original post that suggests I favor a world in which men do not respect women or in which women do not respect themselves; to the contrary, my argument is that so long as we couple a black-and-white modesty code with an overemphasis on the wife/mother role, neither men nor women will respect women the way they deserve to be respected because we will instead be contributing to the sexualization of the female body. Nor do I anywhere suggest modesty doesn’t matter unless you subscribe to the narrow, black-and-white definition of “modesty” favored in the Mormon church. I very much believe modesty matters; I just don’t think “modesty” means complying with a black-and-white dress code and doing our best to hide every indicator that a woman’s body is in fact sexually attractive. I subscribe to a conception of modesty far more akin to the one Starfoxy describes in the series I linked to at the end of my post. If I were writing a post about what “modesty” is, I would have fleshed that out for myself; but that’s not what this post is about so I didn’t.
Thank you. I appreciate your gift to say something I have been trying to explain for a long time, but couldn’t find the words. Thank you.
Excellent post, Amelia. Really excellent. This goes in my personal bloggernacle hall of fame.
Thanks, Ziff. That means a lot to me in light of some of the insulting responses I’ve gotten (coughcoughTONcoughcough).
I normally don’t make a habit of making assumptions. However, in this instance, I am left with no other choice, but to make this assumption: the author of this article has never been in a Healthy Sexual Relationship with a Male. If she was an adult, if she had ever been in a healthy relationship with a male, she would understand that no matter what her mommy taught her, no male is going to look at a woman’s chest hanging out of her shirt and only notice the color of the shirt. The author is obviously missing a very vital lesson in Biology if she thinks that people only think girls are sexual, because they make an issue of talking about it. Welcome to Biology 101. Men are physically and biologically attracted to the sight of a woman’s skin, her chest, her everything. The two different approaches that are referred to in this article are not causing men to look at women sexually, they just do…Biology caused it…not mormon women. The difference is only in the approach of how to handle this Reality.
If a mother dresses her child like a prostitute, she believes in using the reality to her advantage. She believes flaunting what will stimulate the males is how to attract a man.
If a mother dresses her daughter modestly, she believes that a boy will have a chance to get to know more about her daughter than her bra size, before he is attracted to the point of a sexual relationship. In other words, she wants her daughter to attract men who are looking for more than a piece of meat. I’ve heard it said, if you use meat as the lure, you get a dog. I grew up with 4 brothers that were looking for wives with intellect, values, abilities, and goals of her own. They were not attracted to girls who were advertising with meat.
These two different parenting styles are merely strategies in approaching a Biological Reality that no one can change…nope..not even a Mormon mother. Anyone that asserts that Biology is a result of a Mormon mother’s parenting strategy is giving mother’s credit for a power that belongs only to the Heaven itself.
your mother didn’t let you run in the road when you were 2 either…and you didn’t understand that at the time either.
For a person who doesn’t like making assumptions, you make a hell of a lot of them. All ill-founded. You couldn’t possibly know anything about my sexual history, neither whether I’ve had a sexual relationship with a man, nor whether any relationship I did have was healthy or not.
You also make assumptions about what I’m saying. Apparently the simple fact that you made it through the post is not a good indicator of your ability to move beyond reading the words on the page to actually comprehending them. Nowhere in my post did I suggest it was okay for “a woman’s chest [to be] hanging out of her shirt.” Your blatant (and frankly unbelievably stupid) misreading of what I did say is just another example of the extent to which Mormon rhetoric on modesty has sexualized the female body: you can’t even imagine a neckline that allows someone to register that someone is female, without it meaning boobs falling out all over the place.
You also assume that I don’t comprehend basic biology. You are, unsurprisingly, again wrong. I not only understand the biological underpinnings of sexual attraction, I acknowledge as much at various points in my comments. However, the fact that men experience a biologically based sexual attraction to the female body does not mean that they or our society have to sexualize the female body. If you had bothered to read my post well enough to actually comprehend it, instead of so superficially that all you can do is spout off a knee-jerk and just plain jerky reaction, you would have seen that I provided the definition for “sexualize.” It’s not at all the same thing as “perceive as sexually attractive.” I’m not going to redefine it here; if you can’t bother to read the original post with enough care and intelligence to grasp it’s surface meaning there’s not much help for you.
Finally, you assume that I need a parental figure (presumably you, since you seem to think you have a vastly superior understanding of How Things Are) in order to teach me how to understand the world. Again you are wrong. And again you illustrate some of the most disgusting tendencies of the Mormon mentality: namely that women are just oversized children who need to be guided so that they don’t err.
Your assumptions are not only wrong, they’re not welcome. If you can’t bother reading thoughtfully enough to understand the basic premise of the post, don’t bother commenting.
it seems to me that Ton had a much better response to your article than you had to his/her response. He/She gave a short argument that was not attacking you at all, but all you could manage was one insult after another. Why do you have to insult so much? Could it be that some of the arguments are true and you just don’t like them?
For your first counterargument about assumptions made, since you don’t actually state whether you’ve been in a healthy relationship or not, even when presented with the possibility that that could be the case, there is nothing left to assume but that you haven’t. People that have done something that they are accused of not doing generally state that they have done it when it is something they could be proud of having done.
As for your second and third statements, men do have a higher tendency to “check out” females no matter how they are dressed, but, as a man, I think I can say that it is much easier to focus on other characteristics that women have than what their physical features are when they are not trying to show anything off. Most women can also dress perfectly modestly without making me think that they are not women. And if you are arguing for less modesty simply to desensitize men to women, I will tell you from experience that is does not work. The more desensitized men are, the more women are objects and not people because the only thing that is becoming desensitized is that women are people and not that they are physically attractive.
Your final point is simply childish, and so you clearly fit into your “Mormon Mentality”.
Um, also–women don’t cover their mammary structures at all in some cultures, and it doesn’t seem to interfere with daily life.
i’m really, really tired of the ‘it’s biology’ excuse for mysogeny. as long as it makes you feel better, i guess.
It must be said: your response is ridiculous. A newcomer to this site, I cannot imagine what point your flame is trying to serve: it’s not deliberate trolling, is it? Nor can I imagine what poisoning the well, assumption piling about the author, and bald, contradictory statements about biology and gender (men are attracted to meat; is that all men–except your four brothers?) will lead to any sort of productive disagreement, let alone healthy dialogue or mutual learning.
Even if I wanted to use some of your points, I wouldn’t know how. What, in your view, is the main point of the original article? It can’t be that “biology is a result of a Mormon mother’s parenting strategy.” And the analogy about letting children run in the street would risk being offensive, were it not so trite.
Forget Biology 101: let’s try Blog 101. If someone writes an article, whatever its problems or potentials, restate the successes of the article and then provide a careful critique, stating where you disagree.
As I understand it, the point of this article is that an over-sexualized view of the female body can lead to either immodest behavior or, the far less recognized possibility, hyper-modest behavior. This dynamic requires healthy moderation, and a solution, as I read the author proposing, lies in expanding the ways that we teach young women to value themselves.
I’m not sure what’s not to like about this proposal. Hardly radical. Your response, on the other hand… Perhaps we all can lighten up a bit, and at the same time behave a little better as blog citizens?
WOW I am NEVER going to a gynecologist again! They see a LOT of my “skin” and to think he was getting sexually stimulated by that all this time! If it IS just biological, we who have male gyno’s are in a lot of trouble and danger!
Let’s look a little deeper than shallow “trained, taught, educated and readily accepted” rhetoric… Men’s “biological response” as you call it is entirely based on current culture! In the 1800’s the “call girl” wore heavy petticoats and pantaloons. When an ankle was reveled men had a biological response and saw her as a sexual possibility. Men do not get the same response today from seeing a woman’s ankle or knee. PERCEPTION has changed. To go as far as I can on this point… Men who live in naturist societies do not get genital responses from seeing fully naked woman. They have learned that sexuality is more about the individual, their personality and SOUL than their body. He becomes arroused by love and the person, not the body. Bodies are everywhere, but there is only one soul he loves. He has become a more civilized human being, not less. Further, teen boys who are raised in these cultures view women and the naked body in the same light. I have seen little boys in our LDS culture who were aroused by seeing any nudity, even that of a painting or a doll. But in the Naturist culture, little boys just see a body and do not behave any differently. We MUST therefore conclude that it is not biological (any further than controlling our thoughts) but in fact is our society telling us and us choosing to accept in our minds what is and is not erotic.
I forgot to post in this site… Very useful for seeing a bigger picture and realizing how modesty SHOULD be taught to our children in a way that is more consistent with the things Christ taught than is our current way of teaching modesty: http://www.ldssdc.info/
Amen Amelia. Thank you for your response.
Ton writes; I normally don’t make a habit of making assumptions. However, in this instance, I am left with no other choice, but to make this assumption… I agree with Amelia you do make a lot of assumptions for instance please explain why are you left with no other choice? You had a choice to post or not and choosing to post there are many different approaches you might have taken that didn’t involve assumptions. If she was an adult… clearly she is an adult. You go on to accuse her of something there is no evidence for; The author is obviously missing a very vital lesson in Biology if she thinks that people only think girls are sexual, because they make an issue of talking about it. Your writing style is muddled and suggests muddled thinking in any case you leave the reader wondering what you are talking about.
“Modesty in dress is a quality of mind and heart, born of respect for oneself, one’s fellowmen, and the Creator of us all. Modesty reflects an attitude of humility, decency and propriety.” (Priesthood Bulletin, September 1970, p. 2.)
I have learned from my family and from church lessons that I have an immeasurable worth because I am a child of God. I’ve learned that the way I dress AND act affects the way I think as well as the way others–not just men–perceive me. I am grateful for prophetic counsel which helps me to live in such a way that I can someday return to my Father in Heaven and live with my family eternally.
I’m sorry you had a different experience.
Mary, I love your comment. Of all the comments yours is the voice of reason and truth. It’s ironic it seems to have been dismissed and no one has commented on it. I congratulate you Mary for your clairvoyance and ability to point out what is truly meaningful in all of this. It’s a shame you aren’t getting more attention and being lauded more. I wrote a perhaps more controversial comment with the aim of pointing out the irony of complaining about modesty and it was only berated. Heh, I wish I had you’re tact.
Actually, I don’t think what you’re saying is at odds with the author’s message. If I’m interpreting the author correctly, modest dress will flow naturally from people (male and female) having respect for self and others. The clothing would reflect the inner humility, decency and propriety.
Fabulous post, Amelia. Thank you. This is getting emailed to all my female LDS friends. And being saved for reference for teaching points to my sons. Well said.
I loved this post!
I like how clearly you lay out the distinction between recognizing that somebody is sexual (or having sexual thoughts and feelings about them) and sexualizing them — i.e. reducing them to a sexual object.
Most of the disagreements I’ve had over modesty with Mormon men have involved statements to the effect of: “You don’t understand because you’re a girl, but men are very visually triggered so girls ought to cover up and save us from feeling guilty over it.” That argument has always fallen a bit flat in my mind, although I could never really articulate why. After all, I don’t want to cause unnecessary guilt. But now I realize that what bothers me is the underlying assumption that a man cannot at once recognize a female’s sexuality and also acknowledge that she has many other components (like a brain and a personality) that also make her more or less attractive, sexy, important, or respectable to them. I think this is a pretty dangerous assumption that can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Stina, a corollary to my argument about it being acceptable for us to recognize a woman’s body as a woman’s body, for a woman’s body to be sexually attractive without it having to be sexualized, is the argument that it’s acceptable for men to feel sexual attraction to and even a certain amount of lust for women’s bodies without that meaning they have to feel guilt. The justification for the “cover up” version of modesty that you gloss here (and which I think you rightfully object to) is that men should feel guilty if they respond to the sexual attractiveness of women’s bodies. They shouldn’t. That would be like saying someone should feel guilty for the hunger they experience when they smell yummy food. Of course, Mormon attitudes towards sex and sexual relationships are pretty screwed up, too, so it’s no surprise that some Mormon men feel guilt over what are very natural sexual feelings or like those sexual feelings must be entirely avoided in order for them to be chaste. But that’s for another post.
Ah ha! I think you really hit on something there about the guilt.
I’ve been married about eight months, and in that time period my husband developed a passion for guns, and I developed a hobby of dabbling in the bloggernacle’s more feminist websites. In other words, despite all our commonalities that led to dating and a marriage, we continue to discover our humorous differences. Ironically enough, my very straight-edge husband had been asking me about my feelings on modesty and suggesting I might have been taking it overboard (my family was also pretty conservative, although in different ways). This article was an amazing springboard to some great conversation about how we conceive of bodies, who has responsibility for “bad” thoughts, gauging your own agency, how we value women and men, etc. It was AWESOME, and it really helped us continue to evolve and grow together. So instead of echoing all these people who enumerated your article’s strengths, I just wanted to say thanks. This article really verbalized some murky, instinctive ideas that I couldn’t quite enumerate on my own.
Agree with the post. How can we quantify the effectiveness of training our youth about relationships and sex? How about figures for teenage pregnancy.
America has the highest rates in the developed world. I read recently that it is the lowest it has ever been at 39/1000, which compares to 13 for Canada and most western European countries in single figures as low as 4 or 5/1000. The most recent figures I could find for Utah were 2005 at 55/1000. If europeans can achieve 5 and Utah can, with all this emphasis on modesty achieve8 or 10 times that figure we may be basing our whole approach on a false premis.
I have 4 daughters and did spend a lot of time on the messages they were sending by the way they dressed, but this has nothing to do with the Gospel of Christ, it is culture and not based on eternal truths.
All the mormons that have been so stoked to share the LZ Granderson article probably don’t know that he raises his son with his boyfriend that he left his wife for.
Probably that’s a bad guess. Probably you’d be surprised at how many non-homophobic Mormons there are.
I really liked this article. In fact, I referenced it in a post today about changing garments, especially for women. If you or any women reading this have any insight, I’d love to hear your comments. It’s at:
I enjoyed your post, too. In fact I commented on it but my comment got thrown into moderation. I also tweeted it so people who follow our twitter feed will find it. Thanks for pointing us towards your post.
Thanks for the input. I pulled your comment out of spam – not really sure why it was there. I appreciate your insight, and this post was actually one of the things that triggered my post.
Check it–notice anything unusual about this picture? http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=2760&p=4231
oh my eyes are burning! that girl’s shoulders are bare and now I’m just filled with lustful thoughts!
I knew when I was a pretty young child that my mom used to wear sleeveless clothes when she was young. It always seemed weird to me that it would have been okay for her to do it when it wasn’t okay for me to do it.
I apologize if I repeat what others have said, as I didn’t read all comments.
I’m only in my early 20s, so teenhood was not too long ago for me. I feel that I grew up with a healthy idea of modesty and sexuality, though I attribute this more to modesty as taught by my mother and sisters than by the Church. My mother always emphasized choice — she might express that she thought a certain outfit was inappropriate, but I would be allowed to wear it if I chose. Overall, I remember my attitude being that dressing modestly was what I chose, because it was simple, made me feel comfortable and showed respect for myself and those around me.
I do remember, however, some things that bothered me. I remember being told that if I were dressed immodestly and a boy looked at me and had, I don’t know, sexual stirrings—I was responsible for placing those in his head. And to me, that seemed like a load of crock. If you want to tell me that I should dress modestly because my body is sacred, fine. If you want to suggest that modesty is pleasing to God, fine. Those make me responsible for myself, my body, and my relationship with God. But the thoughts and feelings of others? Why would I or should I be held responsible for those?
Another experience. I was in a ward with a VERY large group of youth (about 60 altogether). There was a pretty strict dress code for mutual. Once I showed up with a nonmember friend to mutual; we had been riding our bikes and it was hot out, so I was wearing shorts. And mind you, these were long, slightly above the knee shorts. The bishop personally came over to me and asked me to go home and change into pants. I was so embarrassed, even more so because of the impression this might’ve made on my friend the first time she came to church with me. I went home after opening exercises and didn’t return for the rest of mutual.
We moved my senior year of high school to a ward with many less young women, about 6-8 altogether that came regularly. They were so glad just to see the young women show up to mutual. I remember many times seeing girls at mutual in tank tops or shorts or shirts that may have been a little to short. It didn’t matter; the leaders made these girls feel welcome, and I was so glad. They were showing these girls that were valued for who they were, with no conditions (such as modesty) placed on that.
Thanks for writing this, Amelia. I thought the suggestions you gave were great, and would be interested to see them in practice.
Elyssa, thanks for your thoughtful comment. Your anecdotes really struck me. It just amazes me that well-intentioned members of the church can’t seem to understand the harm they do when they so strictly impose something like a dress code (which is supposed to be a Good Thing because it Prevents Sin) in the way the one bishop you mentioned did. That’s not a recipe for helping anyone; it’s a recipe for objectifying women’s bodies, for embarrassing people, for excluding people who may very much need to be there, in short for Doing Harm rather than Good.
I think it’s so sad that members of the church are sometimes so blinded by the size of their communities to the needs of individuals. I have been struck many times, as I have lived in a variety of places, by the tendencies I see in areas that are less Mormon to be so much more open and accepting of people who don’t conform and the inverse tendency in places that are more Mormon. Very sad. And a direct contradiction to the example of the Savior who knew his flock so well that he would give his undivided attention to the needs of the one, rather than being blinded by the ninety-and-nine.
I read the article. Some of the comments. My apologies for repeats. I have the solution; let’s have all the women wear the constrictive choking button up to the middle of your neck white shirts, ties, and suits. If a man can cover up everything except his head and hands and not complain (I admit, many do) and not feel that this hypermodesty imposed upon him contributes to his sexualization…so can a woman. Is that equal enough for you?
Ruben, your comment makes no contribution to the conversation and does nothing more than belittle and dismiss the ideas of the OP and most of those who commented. It’s not really welcome. If you’d like to actually engage with the ideas, explaining why it is that making men wear a suit and tie to church contributes or does not to their sexualization (and do re-read the post to get a definition of sexualization, since you seem not to understand the concept), that would be fine. If you’d like to take on the church with its ridiculous absolute dress codes for both men and women (after all, your suggestion would be a terrible violation of the church’s dress code for women, since it would constitute cross-dressing and would mean wearing slacks to Sunday services), I’m all for it. But you did nothing thoughtful; you were just snide.
As to what equality is enough for me–well as a baseline I’d like those who engage on this blog do so with thoughtful consideration rather than mocking dismissal, without regard for the sex of whoever is engaging. Just for a start. If you can’t offer that, take yourself elsewhere.
It was meant to be an ironic lampoon. I’m sorry but it’s just comical to me the extent that men cover up when they really have nothing to show off. Whereas women actually have a choice and choose to show as much as they can. And when asked not to, complaints abound. I would love to see a male writing such an article and being heard or even seriously considered as much as you have. To me, what you write about is a double standard. It’s like going up to a muslim woman in a burka and saying that the men should be able to have more freedom in what they wear.
If you really want to see the extinction of the sexualization of the female body you just have to face facts. You must realize that a woman showing off body parts and expecting everyone to use their higher brain functions and see her for who she really is, is a fantasy, Mormon or not. The reality is, people judge based on what they see and the hint of nudity triggers thoughts of sex. If you want to argue on this I suggest you take a few neuro/psychology courses and you will understand that this is a fact that you simply have to deal with. It would be idyllic for this not to exist. But if things were idyllic what use would we have for the church. The solution is teaching people Christlike attributes (like you suggest) AND following modesty.
You know, Ruben, I’ve already had my intelligence insulted in this thread. I don’t need it insulted again. If you cannot make a constructive comment, you’ll be banned. Period. The OP advances an argument. Engage with the argument. Understand its terms (including the concept of “sexualization,” which you don’t seem to understand since in both your initial comment and this comment you can’t seem to see it as anything but “sexual attractiveness”). Make a real contribution. If you can’t, I’ll be sending your comments into automatic moderation.
Is that equal enough for me? No. Not even close. But I think you know that in spite of your deliberate obtuseness. If wearing a constrictive choking button up shirt was the only difference between the sexes in Church, then your comment would be witty. But obviously you are lost when it comes to understanding those differences, so keep your dismissive comments to yourself until you know what you are talking about.
If a constrictive choking button up was the only thing I had to complain about in LDS gender role culture, I would be much happier. Truly. But as it stands, there are plenty of problems to choose from. You can read them if you go looking for them. And you can even read them, right here, in comments. And right here, in all our Exponent posts.
Ruben, I sent your comment into moderation. If you’d like to really converse, then I’ll be more than happy to engage.
Hah! I’d take a tie over nylons any day.
I’d take a skirt over pants…maybe a kilt.
I loved this post and I agree that this is the best articulated article on modesty that I have ever read. I am wondering if there are any resources or articles out there that offer more in-depth suggestions on teaching modesty with this approach in mind? I am a young women leader and reading the teaching manual sometimes makes me want to pull my hair out. I’d love to be pointed in the direction of some good resources/articles/websites. Thank you.
[…] this may actually backfire, as discussed in an article by Amelia at The Exponent entitled “The Modesty Myth: Why Covering Up Just Won’t Do“. Making these changes to garments would involve having individuals define what is modest […]
I thought your article was quite thought provoking. It does make a lot of sense.
Somehow it reminded me of the problem Muslim women face regarding modesty and sacred dress combined with cultural norms. From one extreme, the Muslim women in some places must cover from head to toe with only their eyes showing. This very much parallels their status as second class citizens verging on being property. On the other extreme, there are places, such as academic institutions in Turkey, where women cannot wear a head covering even if they desire to do so as an authentic expression of their faith. In which case is the woman more free? In both cases the demand to tell her what to wear is coming from external sources and not necessarily representing her authentic self. In the case of the burka, does it really make her closer to God or does it really help men control themselves better…or is it more about men better controlling the women?
Visiting a mosque once with some very moderate Muslim persons, I learned that women had to either remain in a separate, adjoining room or would need to remain in the back of the room. One of the women said jokingly that it was because the men were too weak. If there was a woman kneeling and praying with her head to the ground and her rear end in the air, as occurs during prayers, the men behind her would not be able to focus on their prayers.
There is no clear answer on this issue, but the discussion has been fascinating. There are so many factors to be taken into account for how this came to be and if/how the current teachings cause emotional/psychological damage or perpetuate dysfunctional relationships. In my own ideal world, each person would be able to be fully him- or herself and express themselves freely in speech, action, and dress. My worldview, however, is colored by more Buddhist-like ideas that if people truly knew themselves and what they were doing here, they would behave in ways that respected both self and others. Thus there would be no need for externally imposed hard rules that must be followed under all circumstances. Rather there would be guidelines that would help people find their path. Crazy, I know, but hey…I said it was my little utopia didn’t I?
Thanks for your thoughtful comments, JB. I completely agree that the ideal is a society in which everyone, male and female, can fully be her/himself–one in which a by-product of respecting oneself and others is to behave appropriately in every regard. Not “appropriately” meaning obeying externally imposed rules, but appropriately meaning with consideration for oneself, others, and circumstances. I don’t think it should take rigid dress codes and rules to accomplish that kind of attitude. Also, your little utopia sounds just lovely to me.
Ummm to the person who said that the Lord’s standards for modesty don’t change…do you really know anything about the history of the garment? My own grandfather refused to go through the temple because the garment was NOT conducive to his work environment being that it went to his wrists AND his ankles…but now it’s to the knees and short sleeved?? Hmmmm..sounds like the standards DO change…
There was a GREAT article… I think at Wheat and Tares that discussed the changes in the garment, and asked for suggestions – which apparently, they emailed to the people who design such things at beehive clothing… I wonder what happened with that.
Anywho… there’s the link if you’re interested.
I know I’m late in commenting on this blog post, but it was brilliant – which is why I was compelled to comment tardily.
Ruben’s been sent to moderation-purgatory, but after reading his nonsensical suggestion of mandating women to wear button-up shirts, ties, etc., as a measure of “equality”, I had to ask: what does Ruben wear when he swims? Is he concerned about whether or not his swimsuit shows too much of his midriff, or does he wear a pair of boardshorts and call it good? Where’s the suffering there, Ruben? His other comment purporting to describe the double standard men experience when it comes to dress really isn’t worth commenting on, except to say, “thanks for showing your ignorance of the subject at hand!”
I also had to laugh (not in a really funny way, mind you) at the anecdote which shared: “One of the women said jokingly that it was because the men were too weak. ” That has been the justification for the subjugation of women for centuries, and still occurs in some organized religions today. (“You wouldn’t want the ERA to pass, because that would be a step down for you.” Etc., etc.)
Anyway, thanks for the article, and thanks for your courage in posting it.
[…] is to keep telling young women to frame their sense of self based on how they appear to others (attracting men with their bodies or attracting men by covering up their bodies).In short, I believe that modesty is not about the body parts that are covered, but about dressing […]
Amelia, I was at the Counterpoint conference on Saturday, and I loved your comments so much that I’ve been going through your archive here. I’m pretty new to the world of LDS feminist blogs, though not so new to the struggle–I’m basically giddy with excitement about finding this community that’s going through the same things I am.
Anyway, since I have just discovered you, I wanted to comment even though I’m really late on this thread. I love your style, the way you put things together, and I think this is an amazing post. I hated being in a BYU student ward, where this kind of “meat market” attitude is so prevalent; I actually wrote in my journal once that I was starting to think I’d prefer the kind of guy who just wants to get in your pants over the stereotypical RM who’s just sizing you up for your potential as an “eternal companion.” After all, both guys made me feel pretty much the same–namely, disgusted and demeaned–but at least the first kind of objectification was honest. And one that wouldn’t be defended in church.
Thanks so much for this post.
Better late than never … just wanted to thank Angela for her incisive comments.
Her comments represent much of my approach to modesty and I too have traditional parents with a love that runs deeper than most … all conservative approaches are valid; if, they produce healthy and whole individuals, don’t you think???
Another thought … have we actually checked with males about their views on modesty???
[…] comes into play here. Amelia recently tweeted a post that was very much in line with her earlier post about modesty (read it if you haven’t already). Most of it was similar to what Amy said, but this part […]
[…] Mother’s Day in sacrament meeting mraynes and the blessing of her third (unexpected) baby Amelia shows the problems with how the Church wants us to raise girls in regards to modesty Stella contemplates being single and having a baby Jana considers the scars of life her body […]
[…] Amelia over at the Exponent says what I’m trying to say far better. Also, please go read her post in it’s entirety! […]
[…] Some posts that also do a good job of exploring these topics (though they are not lesson guides) include Deborah’s “Un-Sexy Modest” and Amelia’s classic from 2011 “The Modesty Myth” […]
[…] doing it more justice than I can; Julie Smith at T&S outlines some flaws, as does Amelia at The Exponent, as does fmhLisa, as does Tracy M at BCC. Yet I can’t resist chiming in: as a teenage girl in […]
[…] less taboo it becomes.” It’s a powerful message and a dramatic foil to the increased modesty rhetoric from the LDS […]