Saturday, June 14, 2014

Does Modesty Perpetuate Rape Culture?

{Trigger Warning: The topic of modesty and rape is offered in a frank discussion as I see it from my perspective.}
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I spend a lot of time on Facebook. In fact, many would say too much. But Facebook is where I choose to interact with family and friends, as well as stay up-to-date on popular trends. When it comes to news, I use Facebook much in the same way I use Wikipedia. I get the gist of the article or idea and then go seek more reputable sources for information. (You did know that Facebook is not a reputable news source, right?)


A couple of weeks ago, my news feed started blowing up about modesty and rape culture. Apparently, many believe that modesty perpetuates rape culture.

What is rape culture? What does it mean? I had to look it up (Again, Wikipedia is my starting point. But for the most part, everything I researched had the general consensus that this was an appropriate definition. So, I'm going with it)

According to Wikipedia:
Rape culture is a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society,[1] and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone rape
 Proponents of the modesty = rape culture movement say that modesty does several things:

1. Modesty puts the blame of rape on the victim.
2. Modesty focuses on the women.
3. Modesty makes the man blameless.

By simply doing a quick Google search, one gets many (many!) verses that are used for supporting modesty. And what I've found is that, yes, the Church's idea of modesty (as a purely human concept) does, in fact, focus on these facts, so much so, that it shares in the Secular World's view - a dangerous stance, to be sure).

Modesty puts the blame of rape on the victim.

There is a sad truth in our society - two, actually. One, rape isn't discussed. It's often swept under the rug. Two, if a woman was raped (because, men don't get raped), she somehow instigated it. She drank too much.  She dressed too provocatively. She was where she didn't need to be.

Modesty focuses on women.

Modesty is typically associated with women. A woman needs to be covered, being careful not to show too much skin. Men do not have the same standards put on them. Unless he is walking down the street without a stitch of clothing on, pretty much anything goes. (Although, there does seem to be some heavy controversy associated with the baggy pants look.)

Modesty makes the man blameless.

Men, apparently, are idiots. Watch any television sitcom and most of the laughs are at the husband's/man's expense. The classic scene: the wife is away (consider it a night out, a conference, or just grocery shopping) and the husband is clueless. Therefore, modesty suggests that the man is blameless in his actions as response to what a woman is wearing.

Despite all of this, I fully support the concept of modesty.

But I do not support it in a traditional sense. Rather, I propose that modesty is this:
John 7:24 
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” 
1 Corinthians 10:31
New International Version (NIV)
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 
I purposely chose two verses that did not contain the word "women"or "men" because I believe modesty is an idea and a practice that applies to everybody.

To me, modesty goes beyond clothes.*

No, I do not believe that people should dress in ways that expose more skin than they should. I am not suggesting that girls/women wear clothes that make them sexless. (Meaning covering them so much that one can no longer distinguish if an individual is female). I am also not suggesting that a female cannot wear shorts or a tank top. She can wear shorts and a tank top without exposing an abundance of butt or breast. Even as a female, I find boobs in my face a little distracting.

But I do not let the guys of the hook here, either. I feel that there are certain places that you should wear a shirt. Aside from working in the backyard or at the pool, I feel boys/men should wear shirts. I absolutely believe in the "No Shirt. No Shoes. No Service." mentality.

Ultimately, however, modesty is about attitude/motivation. Are clothes meant to portray a message? Yes. Without a doubt. What that message is depends on the wearer. A man or a woman's Power Suit exudes a sense of wealth and/or success. If anyone sees someone dressed like this, they know that the wearer means business. And stores would have us believe that clothing is supposed to exude a sense of youth and sexiness, regardless of the age they are marketed to. (Anyone remember this little fiasco?)

I'm teaching both of my kids about modesty. My son is certainly not going to think it's okay to make sexual advances toward a girl if she's dressed a certain way. I teach my son not to rape. I teach my son to respect girls/women, even if their dress says otherwise. Is my son going to look? Yes. Is he going to think impure thoughts? Yes. Is that the fault of the girl? No. But his actions stop there.

I've gotten very lucky with Baby Girl in that she doesn't like wearing clothes that show too much skin. She's very modest, in and out of the house. She doesn't wear clothes - even clothes her father and I would allow her to wear - because she's not comfortable in them. I understand this because, as a teacher, there are clothes I no longer wear - anywhere - that I used to wear everywhere five years ago.

Clothes send a message. Regardless of the message, each individual is responsible for their own actions. Girls don't ask for "it" by their dress, but they also aren't stupid. They know someone is looking. They want to be saw. Guys know that they're being looked at, too. Eye Candy isn't limited to just one sex.

Modesty is a matter of attitude. How do you want to put yourself out there? Does a rape culture exist? Yes. It manifests itself in a number of ways: blameless attackers, off-color jokes, silence. But the idea of modesty in and of itself does not perpetuate rape culture. What a woman wears and how a man acts are mutually exclusive. People who think that woman "ask for it" are deluding themselves.

But at the same time, modesty has a purpose. Modesty goes beyond clothes and it applies to both men and women. Perhaps this is what we should be teaching.
Modesty is modesty.


Until next time,

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*I do have to go on record as saying that I do not let Baby Girl wear a bikini. I do not believe young girls should wear them as I do not believe they are "cute". As a victim of rape and sexual abuse, I am of the mindset that there are child preditors out there who are stalking children. (I suppose in this case, I am perpetuating rape culture. I see it as a way of protecting my daughter, much like I teach her about stranger danger. Is every adult she talks to out to get her? No. But she would be wise to be careful who she talks to.)