Lately there have been a few posts on some popular news outlets and blogs about “modesty”. Some conservative, calling on women to “help their Christian brother’s” by dressing in modest, Christ-pleasing ways. Some a bit more “progressive”, putting the responsibility for men’s “stumbling and impure thoughts” squarely where they belong … on the men who think them. And some just trying to make sense of what Jesus calls Christian’s – men and women both – to in terms of appearance. Congressmen in Montana aside, the issue of modesty (Christian or otherwise) has long been debated and answers, much less the culture shift I believe is needed, are slow in coming.
I will admit that some of the more conservative posts and articles have had me seeing red, but as I strive to discern what Jesus calls Christians to I realize this issue has a long and complicated history and like many polarizing issues, is fraught with deeply held convictions and a bit of fear and loathing. So why am I writing about this? Partly because I’m frustrated with one conservative blogger’s avoidance and partly because the more research I did, the more I felt this issue isn’t merely a Christian issue … unfortunately it extends far beyond than that.
Let me say, I moderate the comments on my blog. People are all over the spectrum on this issue. Here is why I moderate. I’m not serious enough or well-known enough (aka well followed or followed at all) for real people to actually comment on my posts. Currently, I get the spam comments from bots, you know, the ones that promise ‘male enhancement’ or ‘stronger hair and nails’. Truly nothing I want appearing on my blog. So I choose to moderate my comments, hoping against hope that someday someone real will actually comment on something I’ve written. If there ever is a real, honest comment I will quickly and excitedly approve it, regardless of how I feel about it personally because to me one of the goals of a blog is to engage. It will be an amazing day … the day I get a real person commenting on something I’ve shared here.
So, back to my topic. The blog post that kicked this whole thing off lives here. The first comment I wrote was not approved (hence the talk about moderated comments) until I wrote a second comment asking why my first comment wasn’t being approved. Within 5 minutes of my second comment, the first was approved. A portion of my comment appears below and you can read the full comment (along with some other interesting thoughts) here (mine is the 2nd comment on page 2).
In your post you mention “The truth is, we don’t need to see something that was meant to be shared with someone the context of marriage…” and I agree with you! So to this point I ask, shouldn’t that include the male torso? When you go swimming, Jarrid, do you wear a swim shirt and modest swim trunks? When you join a pickup basketball game at the gym, do you strip that shirt off when you get hot?
Does knowing (and prayerfully considering) this fact change the way you plan dress for the gym, beach, or pool? Does it alter what you will tell the young men in your church about dressing modestly?
How many of the men who have commented in wholehearted agreement to this post appear shirtless in public? Would these men be willing to alter their attire to a more Christ-pleasing, modest style now that they know their naked torsos are stumbling blocks for their sisters in Christ? I wonder.
As you can see I ask the blogger several questions, to which he gives this answer:
“Totally see where you’re coming from. And yeah, I definitely agree that men need to be careful too.”
To say I was underwhelmed by this response would be the understatement of the century. Needless to say, I wrote a follow-up reply on 1/31, which as of today, still has not appeared in the comments section of the post. Either the author deleted it or is leaving it in moderation limbo. Before you say “maybe he’s been out of town” I honestly don’t believe that to be the case, though in all fairness I suppose that might be a possibility.
In my heart, I believe he doesn’t want to approve my comment because he doesn’t agree and doesn’t want to say so on his blog – he believes that the responsibility for modesty falls squarely on the shoulders of women, despite all his “…men need to be careful too” lip service. He doesn’t want to engage in thoughtful, Christ-centered debate … debate that might illuminate and provide true Christian growth. He want’s to be read, followed, and perhaps quoted.
Unfortunately, I didn’t copy the follow-up comment before I hit submit. If he doesn’t approve it, it will never be seen again. Basically, the gist was, “Why didn’t you answer the question, ‘Do you appear in public (at the gym, lake, or pool) with a bare torso?’. If you do, will you be adopting a more modest, Christ-pleasing dress since you now know the bare torso is a stumbling block for your sisters in Christ?”
I can only assume (it is impossible to know for sure since he won’t answer) he thinks men appearing in public with bare torsos isn’t an issue of modesty and more generally the responsibility for modesty lies with women. I suspect that e disregards the fact that it makes his fellow sister’s in Christ stumble is, “our problem” because he doesn’t want to have to alter his swim or gym wear.
If I’m honest, he is entitled to have these beliefs, but having them makes his railing about “painting a new standard” look silly and chauvinistic since he clearly doesn’t hold men to the same standards he does women. Add this to the fact that he is a “Christian leader” (a person others follow, believe, and rely on) and you might begin to see the danger. What is the danger?, you ask? Here is the crux…
Our society is staggering under a pervasive and sneaky gender bias (against women). Don’t believe me? I hope you will read on, dear friend.
Society has forever been calling on women to “dress modestly”, placing all the responsibility for appearing modest and making sure men don’t stumble on our shoulders. Both men and women (yes, we do this to ourselves) perpetuate gender bias. I would like to direct you to the fruits of my research surrounding modesty and its role in perpetuating gender bias:
- Modesty: I Don’t Think it Means What You Think it Means
- Christian Cleavage Probably Isn’t the Problem
- Immodesty All Over the Map
- The Evolution of the Swimsuit
There are literally hundreds of articles on popular Christian sites (modesty articles) and blogs across the web that, by in large, all focus on the responsibility of women when it comes to “modesty”. A Google image search on the phrase “modesty of dress” reveals hundreds of images … all of women. Even celebrities have begun addressing the disparity between how women and men are treated while walking the red carpet, one notable example by Cate Blanchette. Even the dictionary is complicit in gender bias as illustrated by two of the top three definitions of modesty, which portray gender negative illustrations (women be modest in dress, men be modest in your achievements).
And we wonder why so many women have self-esteem issues, suffer from body-dysmorphic disorder, or fail to report being raped – I believe it’s a direct result of the gender biased, “women are responsible” culture so pervasive today; that somehow women are responsible if men think impure thoughts or take improper actions when seeing women they perceive as immodestly dressed. For me, it begs the question, “In what other area do we place the burden of our purity on another person?”, instead of where it belongs with ourselves.
I will confess, it all makes me crazy because I don’t believe that dressing modestly or helping our fellow man avoid stumbling should be the province of women – it should be the province of everyone. As Christians, we are called (men and women alike) to model Christ-like behavior and I, for one, would love to see a shift in how this issue is portrayed to Christians before another generation of Christian women and men are tainted by the idea that it is women who are responsible for modesty.
How can we possibly begin to dismantle such a systemic gender bias surrounding modesty? It seems daunting when I think about it, but as with most things, it happens in small increments … with a myriad of small steps, one right after another. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day and we have no reason to expect something so pervasive as gender bias would be easily dismantled either, but it’s worth the work … for ourselves and all the women who come after.