I don’t know how many times I’ve heard pastors talk about how important it is for Christian women to be modest.
Incidentally, most of those pastors were men.
I heard things like, “Don’t be a stumbling block to your brothers in Christ,” “Modest is hottest,” or even “You don’t want to be like Bathsheba, do you?”
Or, worse, posts like this. Seriously, what the hell is that even about. I went on a rant for two days about that damn thing; ask my husband if you need proof.
Now, I have to preface this by saying that I think modesty can be a good thing–for both men and women. Our bodies were created by God (Psalm 139:13), and we ought to present ourselves in a way that honors that. This goes far beyond modesty, though, to such things as eating nutritious, healthy food, staying active, and maintaining proper hygiene. If you dress in a way that does not line up with the fact that your body was literally created by God, then you’re not doing it justice. So, don’t dress like a prostitute, you’re better than that.
I have nothing against the concept of modesty in and of itself. What I do have a problem with is the ways it is addressed in western Christian society, first of which is the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to be modest so that her brothers in Christ do not sin.
Yes, the Bible does say that we’re not supposed to be stumbling blocks for one another, but that is both addressed to mixed-gender crowds, and is not referencing attire. If we want to use this phrase, then we have to also call men to the same sort of modesty, and it has to be about more than clothing. The way we act, speak, dress; all of it needs to be done in a way that does not deter our brothers and sisters from what we’re actually trying to accomplish.
What I want to know, however, is why it is a woman’s responsibility to make sure that a man does not sin, instead of it being his own responsibility. Take that post from earlier. If that weren’t complete BS, I would have to be constantly focused on whether or not the way I walk, or sit, or even just stand, let alone the way I dress, is making any man sin, instead of focusing on more important things, like, I don’t know, everything else.
Seriously, if just seeing a woman sit without her legs crossed makes you start lusting after her, you have bigger issues that you need to deal with. It is not her doing that has made you sin, it is yours. Get some help. Pray. Work on it. Do whatever you need to do so that you can look at a woman without automatically thinking about sex. But do not blame her for your own problems.
Let’s look at that Bathsheba bit earlier. I often hear that the whole David-and-Bathsheba scandal was really her fault, because she shouldn’t have been bathing on her roof, and a righteous man like David would never have sinned if it weren’t for that. However, Bathsheba would have been totally justified in bathing on her roof–it was spring, and very sunny, and she would have gone up to her roof to bathe in order to dry off quickly. David, however, was not justified in being in his palace–his army was at war about 30 miles or so away, and he should have been with them instead of spying on naked women from his deck. Even disregarding this, he by no means had to have sex with her just because he saw her naked. He could have seen her and promptly have turned around or have gone back inside. He did not have to stare, and he definitely did not have to send his guards to go get her. He most likely would have had them tell her he wanted to have her over for dinner, or something of that ilk, and led her on with false pretenses. He also probably got her drunk before having sex with her, making it not just sex, but rape. And, if it had really been her fault, he wouldn’t have had to try to cover up her resulting pregnancy by asking her husband (proven a righteous man by the rest of the story) to sleep with her. Altogether, David’s sin was not a result of Bathsheba’s action, but of his own jackassery.
The second problem I have is that this assumes there is no GLBT community in the Church. This whole notion is based on the idea that if straight men see straight women doing or wearing just about anything, they’re going to sin. Would it be okay for a lesbian woman to see another woman dressing or acting immodestly? How about a gay man seeing another man doing the same? Could a gay man (or a lesbian woman) see a straight woman (or a straight man) this way? Could a gay man and a lesbian woman see each other being immodest? And what the hell should we do when our bisexual brothers and sisters are around? Should we check every person’s sexual orientation before we let them see us?
This concept falls apart very quickly when reality is factored in.
Third, and this ties in to the first a bit, is that this idea that women are in charge of making sure that men do not sin. This is nothing but another instance in which women are seen as servants of men. Clearly, a man would not lust after a woman if that “sick she-ass,” to quote John Damascene, hadn’t caused him to do so. Instead of calling him out on his sin and finding ways to help him get past it, she ought to submit to his reality and his rules. This mentality puts a bandage on the problem instead of fixing it. Women, as equals to men, ought to stand up for themselves and say no, we will not submit to your rules. We will act and dress in a way that speaks truly of who we are as created beings. If that causes problems for you, then those problems are greater and deeper than just the way we dress, and it is you, not we, who needs to fix them.
I suggest an alternative. Instead of saying “modest is hottest,” (which is a contradiction, but that’s not the point) let’s define modest as badass. This shows that our concern is not for what other people see, but what we believe about ourselves (i.e. that we are created beings), it gives women power and authority instead of making them submissive, it gives the sense of having a greater purpose in our lives, and it states that there is more to us than just how we look. It says, “I am a force to be reckoned with. I am so much more than a body: I am also a brain, and a heart, and a soul. My body was not made for gazing upon, but for action. And I don’t care what you think of me, because I’m fixed on something greater.”
Go be badass, friends. You might just shake things up a bit.