Modesty: The Insidious Objectification

I am posting again a bit early, but I’m too riled to wait until next week. I haven’t thought about the topic of modesty in a pretty long time. Since leaving fundamentalism, it hasn’t intruded into my decision making process when I look through my closet in the morning, and I no longer run in the circles where it comes up as a casual or formal topic of discussion. And it’s been nice!

But I think it’s time to visit the topic, even though it doesn’t play a major role in my life right now, because some asshat made the mistake of commenting in a conversation with me that it’s “easier to see a woman as a whole person when she dresses modestly.” That man should be thanking his lucky stars that knees can’t reach groins through the Internet.

Hang on tight, because I’m pissed and I’m going to blow this shit out of the water.

Modesty is just another form of objectification.

It’s just another form of the patriarchy attempting to reduce women to their body parts.

It is not about respecting women. It is not about protecting women. It is not about teaching them to value themselves. It is ENTIRELY based in preserving male privilege and propagating the pathetic myth that men can’t control themselves and women, therefore, are responsible for men’s thoughts.

From memegenerator.net

I’m going to go even further than that and say that the principle of modesty is the foundation of rape culture and objectification. The assumption that women need to cover their bodies in order to get respect from others or to have self-respect for themselves is what makes people think it’s okay to say that a woman’s dress contributed to her rape or sexual assault. It’s the assumption that women’s bodies are always sexual when exposed that makes people think that exposing _____ amount of skin means she’s there to be looked at or used for sex or that she wants to have sex. And further, it’s that assumption that an exposed body is a sexualized body that makes people think it’s okay to degrade and objectify women who have exposed their body, without regard to the reason for the exposure.

Modesty isn’t just another way of reducing a girl to her body parts. It is the way of reducing a girl to her body parts. The obsession of covering or uncovering a woman’s body is the same obsession. And it comes from the same mindset—that women are there for men, either as temptresses or toys. Either way, her body isn’t there for her. It’s all about how it looks to someone else—specifically some other man. Her body loses its function as the vehicle through which she lives and instead becomes the measure of how others determine her virtue.

And there is no winning!

Modesty teachings range all over the place. I used to get emails on modesty when I attended Bob Jones University. Everything was a “stumbling block.” Pants drew attention to the butt. Skirts drew attention to the butt. nude hose made legs look sexy. Colored stockings made legs noticeable, thus indecent. Bare legs made guys think of sex. The only “safe” option was to not have legs!

Oh, it is such an effective way of keeping women confined. It’s such an effective way of keeping them feeling guilty for their bodies, ashamed and hyper-aware of every aspect of it. It is the perfect method of reminding them that their primary function in life is sex-appeal.

How convenient to put the responsibility on women to be viewed as human beings.

How convenient for men to be told they can’t control themselves when it comes to sex. It’s so much easier to believe it’s uncontrollable and to blame someone else for the prejudice, superiority, and privilege than to admit that one is prejudiced, views women as inferior, and is too fucking lazy to fight against the culture that reduces women to body parts.

But newsflash! My humanity isn’t determined by my dress! Walking out the door butt naked shouldn’t in any way diminish my personhood to anyone.

I don’t have a problem seeing a guy as a lesser person because he’s shirtless. And before we get into the “but men are visual and wired to view women that way,” let me just remind everyone that I’m attracted to women too. I’m attracted to the exact same body parts as men. And I’m very much a visual person in my attraction. But I don’t have a hard time remembering that a beautiful girl is a person, EVEN IF SHE’S DRESSED IN NEXT TO NOTHING! I don’t stop seeing her because I see her cleavage!

It’s time to stop focusing on what women are wearing and take a good hard look at the cultural mindset that allows men to think of women as “less than.”  In the end, if, like this guy, you have a hard time seeing me as a whole person, it’s not my clothing that makes it difficult for you to view me as a whole person; it’s your prejudice that makes it difficult for you to view me as a whole person. And that isn’t my responsibility to change. It’s yours.

My world doesn’t revolve around men. When I get dressed in the morning, I’m not thinking of men. I wear what makes me happy or what serves my needs, regardless of whether someone else likes it or not. If I wear shorts, it’s not to get a guy’s attention. If I wear an ankle-length skirt, it’s not to “protect” a guy’s mind or prevent him from thinking about me. I dress for me and no one else.

Show a little modesty, guys, and stop thinking that everything to do with my body has something to do with you.

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32 thoughts on “Modesty: The Insidious Objectification

  1. somepcguy says:

    I’m sorry, but you are wrong. Modesty is not just for women. Men are also called to dress modestly. Those who only call on women to dress modestly are hypocrites. I had a friend in high school who always complained because teachers and other authority figures treated him as a pot head troublemaker because he dressed like a pot head troublemaker. Of course the reason he dressed like a pot head troublemaker was because he WAS a pot head troublemaker and wanted his fellow students to know it. When you dress to send a certain message to some people, don’t be surprised when other people get the same message.

    • Who said I was dressing to send a message? If I wear shorts on a hot day, I’m dressing for my own comfort, not to tell anyone else anything . . . other than that it’s hot outside. And I would say the teachers were wrong to mistreat a student over the way he was dressed. However, it sounds more like they were dealing with him as a troublemaker because he was causing trouble. Dress really doesn’t (or shouldn’t) play into the scenario you gave.

      • somepcguy says:

        Are you saying that you do not match your shorts to your top?

      • -__- That’s cute, but it’s a non-sequiter. Maybe I do; maybe I don’t. Maybe I’m ocd and desperately need things to look a certain way in order to be at peace. Maybe I’m blind and can’t tell whether I match or not. Maybe I don’t care. Either way, matching is hardly a determination for whether I dress for myself or others.

      • somepcguy says:

        How you dress sends a message to other people. Whether you choose to shape that message or not, other people interpret who you are based on how you dress, just as you understand who people you meet are based on how they dress. It may not be right, but it is a fact of nature that we have to live with in our daily lives. If you don’t want people to think you are a slob, don’t dress like a slob.

      • You’re arguing that something should be because it exists that way–another logical fallacy (Hume’s Is-Ought Problem). Just because that’s how the majority of people behave doesn’t mean it’s how all people behave. It certainly doesn’t that’s how they should behave. You’re making assumptions about me without knowing me in the interest of defending your own stereotypes. I hope one day you learn the freedom of dressing for your own needs. Namaste.

      • somepcguy says:

        I dress how I please, but I understand that others will judge me based on how I dress. In the same way I have learned that I judge others based on how they dress AND I have learned that I often do not have time to evaluate people on an individual basis. That I have to make an initial evaluation of people based on what they present about themselves by what they choose to wear.

      • Your laziness to evaluate people on the merit of their words and actions as individuals also is your problem, not the problem of the person you are judging. It is your responsibility to change just as it is your responsibility to change any prejudice or stereotype you hold. If you choose not to change it, you can’t blame the target of your prejudice for your own shortcomings.

      • somepcguy says:

        You don’t always have time to evaluate people on the basis of their words and actions. If you, as a woman, are walking alone someplace and see someone approaching, you do not have time to wait until their actions make it obvious they are a rapist. If you do not decide based on superficial things (which include the fact that it is a man, not a woman, how they are dressed and where you are) to immediately take evasive action it may well be too late to avoid rape by the time they take an action that indicates that they actually are a rapist. This in NO WAY reduces the responsibility of the rapist for taking whatever actions they take. You seem to think that everyone who suggests that you make choices so as to reduce your odds of becoming a victim is saying that if you don’t do so that reduces the guilt of the person who victimizes you. It does NOT. No matter what bad choices you may have made, the person who victimizes you is still fully responsible for their bad behavior. On the other hand, don’t you think it wise to choose to take actions that will reduce the likelihood that a victimizer will select you as their next victim?

      • You’ve officially plucked my last nerve, and I won’t be allowing you to post again. There IS NO dress that identifies a rapist. Women and men can both be rapists. They come in all shapes, sizes, races, and clothing styles. The first time I was sexually molested (at the age of five) was by a “man of God” who by all accounts looked oh-so-decent in his suit and tie. The next time I was sexually assaulted was by an ordinary person in the middle of a crowded department store when I was wearing a bulky sweater and a wide, calf-length skirt. So don’t fucking tell me that there is ANYTHING I can do to prevent someone from taking advantage of me by changing the way I dress. I played that game for over twenty years, and it didn’t do jack shit to protect me. In fact, Bob Jones University, the “bastion” of Christianity that controls women’s dress for their “own good” down to every single detail, had the highest ratings of sexual assault for 2011 of ANY school in the area. Some good the whole dress code is doing them! Try educating yourself before you spout off ignorant opinions.

  2. jo says:

    somepcguy: bare skin is the most natural state in which a human can be – it’s how you were born and how you’ll leave. So if I step outside naked, and take a hike in the woods during the summer, anyone that happens upon me and suddenly cannot view me as a whole human being — that’s my fault?? It’s silly to victim-blame, because it can so easily be turned around on you. Let’s say you wear a tie to work. Perhaps I cannot view you as a whole human being while you wear that tie around. Under your reasoning, it’s your fault, and you are the one who needs to change to rectify my view of you.

  3. You have no idea how much I loved this post! It sounds like we grew up in similar environments and the idea of modesty is something I struggled with a lot. The other one that bothers me is when people, usually men, say things like women should take the time to look nice, put on makeup, wear heels etc.. I once was told to “have a little respect” for myself because I went grocery shopping in a sweatshirt and sweatpants. I’m sorry, my sole purpose in life is not to make you happy or to exist for your enjoyment.

    If I want to look nice I will. If I don’t then I won’t and it usually has nothing to do with anyone else. And if I want to go shopping in sweats because I feel ill, then deal with it. End rant. 🙂

  4. […] “Show a little modesty, guys, and stop thinking that everything to do with my body has something to do with you.”  Sometimesmagical quips about modesty, patriarchy, and objectification. […]

  5. Missy M. says:

    I love this post, thank you for writing it. I stumbled across The Modesty Survey a few weeks ago and, well, RAGE! Because the thing is (and you touched on this) even if I believed that I need to stay modest because its my responsibility to control men’s reactions (I don’t…), modesty is so subjective. Before I saw that website, it never would have occurred to me that, say, wearing a necklace or tying Aa sweater around my waist would create a “stumbling block.” We really can’t win.

    And yes, other commenters, people are judged by how they dress. Aboslutely. Its not cool, but of course it happens. But I want to point out, because some people don’t seem to be clear on this, even if you think a woman is dressed like the sluttiest slut who ever slutted, her manner of dress still isn’t unspoken consent to sex.

    • Trying to live by those subjective standards was exhausting. I was under so much strain to keep my body hidden. I’d run back and change my shirt in the middle of a “date” (at BJU dating was basically sitting in a parlor without physical contact while school-appointed “hostesses” walked around making sure you didn’t sit less than six inches apart) because I was so afraid of causing a guy to stumble. There were even some guys who said that the flash of an ankle when I girl was walking down the sidewalk in a long skirt was enough to make them “stumble.” It was truly ridiculous.

  6. micah says:

    I think the whole “modesty” issue is just another game men play to control women. After all, if she is then raped, they can blame her for how she was dressed. The thing is that none of that is going to keep a bad person from doing bad things. I was molested for 2 years as a kid, went into a deep depression and gained a huge amount of weight. Did I deserve that? Was I somehow responsible? I would say no! I don’t say any of that for sympathy but to make the point that if someone wants to rape someone or hurt a child, male or female, they will do it. Your clothing choice just doesn’t matter.

    • I’d go just a step further and say it’s the game of the patriarchy to control the oppressed, which includes women but also many male victims as well. In our rape culture, sadly, the only person who doesn’t seem to get blamed is the one actually perpetrating the abuse. I’m very sorry for what others did to you, but I appreciate the courage it took to speak out. Thank you for adding your voice. ❤

  7. Leopard says:

    somepcguy seems unable to distinguish the way society is from the way it should be. There’s no need to tell us “we have to live with this in our daily lives”, we KNOW that. But that doesn’t mean we should blindly accept it and shy away from challenging it.

  8. My sister in law posted a pic that infuriated me the other day…..it said ‘dress how you want other women to dress around your husband’

  9. Rawiya says:

    Thank you for this post. Truly, truly, truly. I am just coming to terms with my history of abuse, and am processing how this history fits with my perceptions of myself, my religion, my community, and my conceptions of “womanly ideals,” which obviously includes dress. Nothing I wore as a teenage girl begged for me to be abused by an old, respected man in my religious community. Abuse isn’t about sex. It’s about power, and you can be wearing a bikini or a chador for all the power lustful care to warrant their advances.

    • I’m so sorry for the abuse that you suffered. Nothing anyone ever does or wears justifies or warrants abuse of any kind. I’m glad this post held value for you, and I wish you all the best as you process things.

  10. […] “Modesty is just another form of objectification. It’s just another form of the patriarchy attempting to reduce women to their body parts. It is not about respecting women. It is not about protecting women. It is not about teaching them to value themselves. It is ENTIRELY based in preserving male privilege and propagating the pathetic myth that men can’t control themselves and women, therefore, are responsible for men’s thoughts.” Modesty: The Insidious Objectification – Sometimes Magical […]

  11. I know I’m a little late in posting on the thread but I have to say I really appreciate this post. I grew up very conservative and attended private school through college and I was indoctrinated with the concept of modesty. My favorite quote was: modesty isn’t a line to cross, it’s a path to walk. As I’ve grown and matured I’ve come to realise that the argument for modesty is really an excuse for the men who wield it to absolve themselves of responsibility for their own actions. A pastor tells a woman: “Don’t wear that because you’re causing me to stumble.” What he’s really saying is: “I’m a Man of God who can’t control my thoughts or actions.” Another reason I’m disgusted with organized religion. But that’s a story for another time.

  12. […] with assuming that women are responsible for men’s fidelity and thoughts…but I’ve already done that and so have so many others. And ironically, I’m not upset at the body-shaming post. Rather, I […]

  13. lazydakini says:

    Reblogged this on Ramblings of a Lazy Dakini and commented:
    Exactly.

    ‘I’m going to go even further than that and say that the principle of modesty is the foundation of rape culture and objectification. The assumption that women need to cover their bodies in order to get respect from others or to have self-respect for themselves is what makes people think it’s okay to say that a woman’s dress contributed to her rape or sexual assault. It’s the assumption that women’s bodies are always sexual when exposed that makes people think that exposing _____ amount of skin means she’s there to be looked at or used for sex or that she wants to have sex. And further, it’s that assumption that an exposed body is a sexualized body that makes people think it’s okay to degrade and objectify women who have exposed their body, without regard to the reason for the exposure.

    Modesty isn’t just another way of reducing a girl to her body parts. It is the way of reducing a girl to her body parts. The obsession of covering or uncovering a woman’s body is the same obsession. And it comes from the same mindset—that women are there for men, either as temptresses or toys. Either way, her body isn’t there for her. It’s all about how it looks to someone else—specifically some other man. Her body loses its function as the vehicle through which she lives and instead becomes the measure of how others determine her virtue.’

  14. Anca Chitoi says:

    The idea of a woman not earning respect because of how much skin she is showing does objectify that woman. It tells men that less skin mean they can respect women. That idea is false. Unless you engage that woman you dont know what she is like. Personality and her personhood should not be measured on the amount of skin she chooses to reveal.

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