Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On Modesty and Male Privilege

My virtual friend Emily wrote a great piece for the "Church Leaders" website yesterday about the problems with modesty rules in Christian culture, and rightly pointed out how these rules unfairly shame women into particular behavior patterns, often resulting in lasting emotional and psychological damage. It was an honest, personal story of one woman's struggle with reconciling her freedom in Christ with the rigid behavioral codes often handed down to women from the pulpit or from Christian culture in general.

It was a great article.

And then there were the comments.

Sweet. Jumping. Jehoshaphat. The comments.

(The comments are the reason that I put "Church Leaders" in scare quotes in the opening sentence. Admit it, you went back and looked.)

I defintely suggest that you give the article a read, but I actually recommend you don't read the comments. It got a little cray-cray in there for a minute or two, and it will probably just destroy your faith in humanity no matter which side of the argument that you're on (though I'll admit, there actually were some really bright spots of honest dialogue that I genuinely enjoyed).  **But especially don't read if you're easily triggered by things like spiritual abuse or rape apologists.**

The basic premise that many of the commenters were defending was that women have a responsibility to dress modestly in order to keep men from sinning (by thinking lustful thoughts).  Most commenters were pretty forceful in driving this point home.

But here's the problem as I see it: If, as many of the commenters suggest, men (even or perhaps especially Christian men) are sexual predators who are incapable of looking at a woman who isn't covered from head to toe without wanting to rape them (or at least mentally rape them), that is decidedly not a problem that women should feel *obligated* to or even *can* solve. Perhaps that bears repeating, and in simpler terms:

If men are skeezy pervs, that's decidedly an issue for men to address.

Shifting the blame to women just passes the buck along and enables men to continue being skeezy pervs. "Oh, I'm getting all lusty because she's wearing skinny jeans and a v-neck." No bro, you're getting all lusty because you have a distorted view of women as objects that you need to get under control.

Now, before we get into the heresy-hunting here, I should say that yes, I believe that modesty is a quality that *all* Christians should strive for (and yes men, that includes you), but scriptural notions of modesty go far beyond the dress codes for women they're often reduced to in Christendom.

But to me, what this discussion exposed was a deeper underlying problem. The fundamental question that wasn't being addressed was why this notion of modesty, and the moral obligations being derived from it, was so lopsided. Why were we making all of these proscriptions on the behavior on women, but essentially ignoring the behavior of men? To me, the answer is as simple as it is disturbing.  Call it what you want: misogyny, patriarchy, institutionalized sexism. I call it rape culture.

It's the same culture that teaches freshmen college girls tips for not getting raped at orientation instead of teaching freshmen college boys *NOT TO RAPE FRESHMEN COLLEGE GIRLS*.

It's the same culture that blames and shames victims of sexual assault into silence, instead of bringing the perpetrators to justice.

It's the same culture that sees women's bodies as objects to be controlled as means to men's ends.

In the end, it's about control. It's about maintaining male privilege and perpetuating patriarchy. As these (mostly) men approached this issue of modesty, there was rarely a question of the man's responsibility in this cycle, and when it was mentioned, it was an afterthought. "Oh, sure, men should be modest too, and they're responsible for their own actions, but women shouldn't cause them to stumble." [heavy sigh]

Now I just met you, and this is crazy, but I think this might, *might* be one of those speck/plank scenarios that JC was talking about. Maybe instead of addressing the culturally ambiguous standard of "modest dress" for women, we should worry more about our attitudes towards the objectification of women.  Maybe instead of trying to place the blame on women for our own shortcomings, we should do the hard work of re-wiring our brains, removing the influences that continue to perpetuate our distorted view of women.  Maybe instead of writing off rape culture in the church as "living in a fallen world", we should focus on what it means for us as men to partner with God in bringing the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. (Pro tip: the Kingdom of God probably doesn't include rape culture.)

So, we've covered quite a bit here in a short amount of time, but let me know what you think. How do you define modesty? How do we balance our freedom in Christ with our responsibility to our brothers and sisters in a way that doesn't embrace institutional inequality? Do you think that rape culture informs church culture, or have I gone too far too fast with this argument?  How can men do better and be better in this (Please, don't think this one is a question only for men. I'm *especially* interested in input from women here.)

159 comments:

  1. fantastic, and i'm thankful you went there. the plain fact is, your talking about this stuff matters a TON, because so many (even 'progressive' christian sorts) dismiss women broaching these topics as angry! emotional! feminists. rape culture, sexism, shame, and control are absolutely antithetical to the Kingdom of God. thank you for calling a spade a spade.

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    1. Well, you know me, I'm not one to beat around the bush. :)

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    2. You make such a good point about the "Don't Get Raped" vs. "Don't Rape" idea. It is refreshing to see people like you constantly after the truth.

      I would love to see you delve into it further!
      Because, to further your analogy, ACTUALLY having a "don't rape" class at a college orientation would be objectifying ALL men as sexist pigs, which would be replacing one form of objectification and disrespect with another.

      That is something I haven't really seen addressed yet - A man can be damaged too.
      A MAN growing up under the same Modesty Rules was also taught that being sexually attracted to a woman was a sin, and thus, LIVED UNDER THAT SHAME TOO.

      I think that is where a lot of the comments you called "god-forsaken" came out of...that struggle with their own shame.
      (Not all. just some.)


      HOWEVER, the fact that rape is such a horrible, hideous problem means there is something deeper, at the core of a man who misuses a woman in a way such as rape. Something is deeply wrong with his view of what makes him a man and a person, how he chooses to manage his thoughts>actions, how he justifies what he does, and of course, how he views/values/doesn't value other people - specifically women.

      I think I'm saying, it has to be more than a "Here's how not to rape someone" class. (aka you need to be trained like animals how to not let your animal instincts engulf you.)
      A guy KNOWS "how not to rape someone". They are responsible for their OWN actions, as you have diligently illustrated!

      Women don't just need guys who are speaking up for women who have been wronged and hurt by the actions of men. Women need men who will also encourage men - lead, teach, mentor, befriend, whatever - TO BE GOOD MEN.
      Honestly, MEN need other men who, like you are doing, speak up for women AND encourage other men. Sort of like Rachel Held Evan's "eshet chayil - woman of valor". But for men.

      If the masculine leadership is in such a hypocritical state right now...our culture needs men like you to 1. stand up for the rights and value of women and 2. encourage men. Be there for men. Walk along side of men. Stand up for their value as well.

      Sorry this is long. I've read over much of the comments section of both your and Emily's articles and I appreciate you listening as well.
      God bless.

      -Beth

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    3. gahh. clicked the wrong reply box. sorry.

      -Beth

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  2. I'm pretty sure I liked almost every comment you wrote on Emily's article (especially responses to the comments that made me want to tear my hair out).
    Thank you for expanding this into a blog post. Wonderful!

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    1. I kind of felt obligated, mainly because the church leaders website started censoring a lot of comments. It ceased to be a place where actual dialogue was taking place, so my hope here was to open up another venue for discussion.

      Thanks for reading!

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  3. Help, I've fallen into the comments on the article you linked and I can't get up.

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    1. NOOOOOOooooo.....

      Well, you can't say I didn't warn you. :)

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  4. I tried to leave a comment but I don't think it worked so if this posts twice just ignore it :P

    Anyway, as I was *trying* to say before the internet so rudely interrupted me, it's so refreshing to hear this coming from a Christian man. Thank you.

    And no, I don't think you're going too far at all to say that the church is influenced by rape culture. I'd lived this (it's one of the reasons I left the church), written about it a lot on the ol' blog, and I've researched this extensively (actually doing my senior capstone on this very topic). Thank you for calling it out, both here and in those god-forsaken comments.

    Also, I would define modesty more in terms of privilege and materialism than in terms of sexuality. Seems every passage about modesty is about not flaunting gold and expensive hairstyles rather than about cleavage.

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    1. I think god-forsaken is an excellent description of those comments. [sigh]

      What do you think the best way to challenge the influence of rape culture in the insitutional church? Is this a baby/bathwater situation, or are there concrete steps we can take to try to move toward a more egalitarian and holistic concept of modesty that doesn't objectify and subjugate women?

      BTW, I love where you're going with your concept of modesty. I think there could potentially be a sexual component (one that is universal and reciprocal, unlike the way we see that component enforced today), but taking a whole-of-scripture approach with modesty makes sexuality one (small) component of many, and gives us so much richer a concept.

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    2. Good questions. I'm not sure if modesty can be universalized or made into a clear standard. Maybe it'd be better to think of it as a virtue of humility and try to cultivate that virtue and see where that moves us in our individual lives. But I'm probably not the person to ask since I'm not a very orthodox Christian in any sense.

      As for challenging rape culture, I'm trying to figure that out. I try to challenge it by calling it out whenever I see it, educate people about it, etc. But I feel like I'm banging my head against a brick wall trying to get people to listen. Yeah, I'll have to think about that.

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    3. I hear you. So much easier on the intellect to just dispense with the whole garbled mess called Christianity. Because for one thing, inerrancy is such a pervasive fallacy that excludes intelligent discussion and offers instead some of the most improbable explanations as to make the head spin. Ugh I've digressed...

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  5. I've been thinking about modesty a great deal over the last several months. Mostly, because my daughter is about to outgrow the little girl/toddler section and is about to start in on girl's clothes. I will have to make a special effort to be sure her pants don't have anything written on the butt and that her tops don't have gathers to simulate cleavage. That's crazy and something I don't have to worry about with the boys. I would like to teach my daughter modesty in a larger context- that she matters and that she doesn't have to rely on her boobs to get attention. But, that's much harder than just pulling out a ruler. I think modesty is worth talking about separately from rape.

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    1. I have two boys (for now), so my focus is on the other side of this equation for the time being, teaching them about respect and dignity and value...although the oldest is only 3, so we're starting small. :)

      I absolutely agree with you that modesty is worth talking about separately from rape, in fact, that's really the underlying thrust of both Emily's post over at church leaders and my post here. I think that we, as men, are projecting our issues onto women within the context of discussions on modesty. Does that make sense?

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  6. I don't even think modesty is really the issue in all this and I think you point that out. What this suggests is that male sexuality is so incredibly immature and dangerous that it must be treated this way, really as a condition. Talk about unhealthy. Then women think they are a problem, wow, that's going to make for healthy sexuality and marriages. Not.

    Sexual attraction is not lust. If you can't say wow, I am attracted to women or a particular woman for any number of reasons, without turning that into lust, then you have an unhealthy sexuality and should seek help.

    And great points Luke on the rape culture thing. Men don't have to have the same mindset as a rapist, which is what so many of these arguments are saying.

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    1. "Sexual attraction is not lust. If you can't say wow, I am attracted to women or a particular woman for any number of reasons, without turning that into lust, then you have an unhealthy sexuality and should seek help."

      I think this sums up my sentiments much more succinctly. Thanks, Aaron. Brevity has never been my strong suit. :)

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    2. "What is lust" to me, gets at the heart of the matter. I think if you have an intent to lust, or an intent to cause someone else to lust, then I think you've sinned against your brother or sister. But there's so much confusion on lust's definition - even in Scripture.

      There's a gray line for every man (or woman, but I really think more for men) where he crosses over from healthy sexual attraction into lust. And until you clearly *define* that line, there will be misunderstanding and miscommunication abounding in any discussion about lust. Who? Me? Define lust? Honestly, I don't think my answer would be helpful to anyone, since it's so personal. And there's the problem with discussions about lust. We can go in rhetorical circles on this issue, since the definition of lust will vary with each person.

      If you've been given the gift of beauty (or *any* gift), it's your responsibility to wield it carefully. No, you're not responsible for some else's lust. But if that's your intent - to cause someone to lust, then I suggest you consider if your actions are becoming of a believer. Now, if you're dressing provocatively on purpose - not to cause lust, but to garner healthy sexual attraction... you should not be surprised if you attract as much negative attention as positive. *Everyone* has to be responsible for their behavior. The idea that you should be able to dress sexy, and not attract some sleeze, is simply naive. Our world is full of broken people.

      Likewise, if you're looking on someone with the gift of beauty, check your heart. What I do is pray for the one I'm checking out. For me, praying for someone I'm admiring from afar has always helped me to keep my desire in check. It humanizes what I'm tempted to objectify.

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    3. I'd like to respond to what Anonymous said here: "But if that's your intent - to cause someone to lust, then I suggest you consider if your actions are becoming of a believer."

      Let's just go ahead and say it is NEVER anyone's intent to "cause someone to lust." People don't really work like that.

      I know people (all genders) who want to be attractive and dress to attract good things for their lives (meaningful interactions, romance, promotion, social camaraderie, fun, etc) or to express things (a particular style, social understanding, favorite color, favorite band, joy in their own body, etc) Attraction and expression are not wrong motivations for dress.

      I don't know ANYONE, of ANY gender who has ever wanted to be "lusted" after. Lust is, as Luke so thoughtfully put it, "mental rape." There's no consent, no relationship required, no commitment or equality. And that's the problem with lust. It is the act of someone mentally taking control of someone's personhood or body and using it for ourselves. That is why it is so wrong: it uses other people.

      NO ONE DRESSES TO BE LUSTED AFTER. Not a person dressed "sexy" or a person dressed "modestly." No one deserves, entices, or is responsible for another person using them mentally or physically. Christian or not.

      Let's just assume that no one deserves, "asks for," or wants abuse, no matter what we personally think of their attire.

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    4. Emily, I have to say that I was actually talking to a friend the other day about her teen years. She was saying that she knew the power her beauty and sexuality held and she often used it to get attention. I think that may be the idea behind intent to cause someone to lust. When women dress with the intent to draw sexual attention, when they move their body in a way to get a sexual reaction from a man. I have never really done that. It is not a power I feel I have. I could not relate. But it was fascinating to hear a dear friend speak to the power she felt when she sexualized herself. She freely admitted to being an active participant in that exchange. From a place of insecurity and a desire to be loved and known but still an active participant.

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    5. Hey Emily! While I love your article tons and tons, I have to disagree about no one wanting to be lusted after. Can I be honest about the on the internet? ...I do. I have. I have reveled in the idea that I am someone else's "forbidden fruit". It may not show in my clothing choice, or even my posture & body language. But, I know my heart. It can seem like a flattering thing to some of us. I have to fight that by looking at the real truth of it. Whether a luster, or a lustee (is that a word?) it can seem shiny and attractive until you get to the heart of what lust really is.

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    6. And what is lust exactly? How do you in the (albeit fringe) Christian community define lust? Let me just say that I do find this whole discussion wonderfully refreshing, especially coming as it does by self-professed Christians who would be labeled "enemies of the state" by the more mainstream, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, woman hating, science denying, poor people despising, church. But I suspect you all might not have workable definition of lust outside of your own (by which I mean "Christian") context. Finding the opposite sex attractive is not lust. Even Erin here finding it flattering to be found attractive and desirable doesn't strike me as lust. So how do you all define it if you're not going to use the Church's rather tormented explanation? I'm just curious.

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    7. @Ken - I tend to view lust in terms of power, possession and control. I conceptualize it as the space where physical attraction (a normal, healthy thing) intersects with objectification (a very unhealthy thing), and suddenly the person that you are physically attratcted is dehumanized and becomes simply an object to be possessed, controlled, conquered or dominated. This conceptualization makes much more sense to me, especially when we consider that lust isn't something that's confined to sexuality. Does that answer your question?

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    8. That's a very interesting insight, Luke. So your definition of lust is what I might call (or many feminist thinkers might call) "objectification" when you stop seeing a person you might be attracted to as a full human (and divine) being and break her (speaking as a heterosexual male here) down into a collection of parts, albeit very attractive parts, but parts nonetheless. You could just as easily do this with a car. But a car does not have a soul as we understand it. A car is subject to your control over it. A woman, however attractive, is not. This is problematic for misogynists (and rapists) of course.

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  7. I said well done to Emily and I'll say the same to you, Luke. You've both done wisdom, insight and your faith proud.

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    1. Thanks for reading, and thanks for the kind words, Sharideth.

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  8. I loved Emily's post - found it to be honest, refreshing, and common-sensical. Then I read the comments and wanted to weep for mankind (while also feeling more violated by the minute from all the rape apology).

    Thank you for writing this. Hearing Christian men talk about this gives me the smallest glimmer of hope for the faith of my childhood.

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    1. Thanks for reading, and my hope in writing this is that just maybe we might be able to bring more Christian men into the discussion. The fact that posts like these are so rare is what A) makes me afraid to ever have a daughter and B) motivates me to make sure that my boys grow up seeing the world differently.

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  9. Yes! Thank you for this Luke! One of the biggest problems with how "modesty" gets thrown around these days is that it's used to constantly body-shame women. Because who makes these rules? Who has decided what's modest and what's not? It means something different to everyone, which is why its ridiculous that the burden is put on women to uphold these invisible modesty codes. And YET (dusts off soapbox) many Christians look down on Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab or other coverings saying that it's "oppressive." Ok...so which one is it?? Be covered up but don't be TOO covered up?? The mixed messages are astounding.

    And I actually can't believe that people are asserting I am somehow responsible for the thoughts of other people! I bet almost every women can think of a time when they were hit on, cat called, approached, groped, grabbed, looked at creepily when they were fully dressed just minding their own business!! The thought that what I wear has any connection with a man's own personal struggle with lust is absolutely absurd. Once again, the blame goes to women and we have to take on all the pressure of making sure that EVERY MAN IN THE UNIVERSE doesn't lust after us. Ok, then.

    Sigh. Anyways. Sorry about the ranty comment. All this to say, your perspective is much appreciated.

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    1. "I bet almost every women can think of a time when they were hit on, cat called, approached, groped, grabbed, looked at creepily when they were fully dressed just minding their own business!!"

      ^^ This. Yes.

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    2. Thanks for reading, Alyssa. You rightly point out the double standard between Christians and Muslims, but I think there's a double standard that's just as glaring between men and women. Let's just say, I don't see a whole lot of pastors preaching about male modesty from the pulpit, and LifeWay isn't banning any books with "penis" in them. To me though, all of this just goes to illustrate the point that fundamentally it's about control as a means to maintaining male privilege rather than actual concern for people's (either men or women) well-being.

      You're right that the level of clothing doesn't matter, and in fairness, I should point out that a couple of commenters on Emily's piece actually highlighted that same point and tried to point the responsibility back to men. They, of course, were downvoted. :/

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    3. Yes, I scrolled through the comments section and saw those few voices of reason...however on a post for Christian leaders its sad that those voices were the minority.

      I totally agree about double standard between men and women. It's glaringly obvious. Because men are "visual creatures" and women NEVER struggle with lust, apparently. My point in bringing up Christians/Muslim perspectives on modesty is to say that modesty rules are completely made up and subjective. Therefore, holding women to these impossible and body-shaming standards of modesty doesn't make any sense.

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    4. @Alyssa - "Body shaming standards." This is so important, and I don't think it gets talked about enough. Modesty enforcers pay no mind whatsoever to the long-term psychological and emotional effects of their rules *on women*, while using the long-term psychological and emotional effects *on men* as justification for their rules. The message that's sent then, whether intentional or not, is that the damage being purposefully inflicted on women through modesty rules is somehow less significant, less important, or less wrong.

      We're teaching our daughters that a lifetime of self-esteem and body issues is just the price that they have to pay for the sake of male purity, and frankly, I think it just sucks.

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    5. "'Body shaming standards.' This is so important, and I don't think it gets talked about enough. Modesty enforcers pay no mind whatsoever to the long-term psychological and emotional effects of their rules *on women*"

      Thank you Alyssa and Luke. So many women, myself included, have been affected psychologically by "modesty enforcers." A lot of us in ways that we cannot explain and don't fully understand. The past year or so I've been growing and maturing in my understanding of lust and modesty, and it is such a relief to know that I am not in control of the thoughts of others. "Making sure that my brother doesn't stumble" is an impossible task that was never meant to be mine (and never really made sense to me growing up, since it doesn't make sense at all), and I am so much more free now. In the same way that we need to take up the responsibility that is our, we need to leave what isn't ours. No need to take up extra burdens that were never meant for us to carry.

      I wish that both christian men and women would acknowledge their responsibility to love and respect one another and see each other as Christ sees us. If we would just keep our eyes on Christ so much of this wouldn't even be an issue.

      Thanks for this, Luke :) Keep it up

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    6. "I wish that both christian men and women would acknowledge their responsibility to love and respect one another and see each other as Christ sees us. If we would just keep our eyes on Christ so much of this wouldn't even be an issue." - A hearty, full-throated amen to that.

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  10. Luke, you always do a spectacular job of poking at sacred cows - particularly when it comes to the issue of male privilege in the church.

    Like Becky said above, it's a challenge to parents raising daughters to teach them about modesty in a culture where the sexualization of our girls begins at such an early age. Honestly, it's challenging enough on its own without even navigating the territory of becoming stumbling blocks to the men around us.

    Your question about how do we honor our freedom in Christ and honor each other WITHOUT shifting blame to women is one that is really, really worth hashing out. Unfortunately, the conversation all too often devolves into "but God CREATED men to be VISUAL creatures" and all manner of other conversation-stopping reactions.

    Thanks for creating a place for real dialogue on the topic. It has given me MUCH to think about.

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    1. Thanks, Megan.


      I honestly can't imagine the difficulties of raising girls. [gulps]


      The devolution of those discussions depends on some pretty fundamental assumptions about the essential roles and properties of men and women, and these gender stereotypes themselves tend to reinforce notions of male privilege. What's more, they're often based on a particular(ly narrow) view scripture. So, what happens is, when we ask questions about placing the blame where it belongs, it can be akin to fundamentally challenging someone's world view. That can be tough for people. It was for me, but hey, I think I turned out alright. :)

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    2. I think when we are discussing dress standards with daughters we may want to ask what message they are trying to send with that particular top or skirt. Why does it make them feel pretty? Less about what others see and more about how they see themselves and how they define beauty.

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    3. As a young woman and someone who has served as a counselor at a Christian summer camp with strict modesty rules, the best lesson we can teach teen girls (and ourselves) is to dress in a way that is comfortable and makes you feel confident. Girls already experience tremendous shame and pressure to look and dress a certain way. By enabling them to develop the right thinking processes to discern what makes them feel confident and comfortable (rather than "don't cause your brothers to stumble with your slutty outfits!"), they will gain self-respect and feel empowered to make decisions out of empathy, not shame.

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    4. Honestly, one of the best ways I've learned to dress appropriately was to simply: I learned to dress appropriately. And as with most learning, I made mistakes. But those mistakes help me I figure out what clothes I was comfortable in, what styles I like, what colors look good, what clothes actually fit on my body, etc.

      Danielle is right to recognize that girls are already under tremendous peer and social pressure to look a certain way.

      By the time I was 8 or 9, I was very aware of what I was wearing, how I looked compared to other girls. (But I've been posing for photos and choosing my outfits much younger, of course, this is just when I remember being conscious of it.) And from that age, I was aware that I didn't fit in with other girls.

      I think the conversation always has to start with recognizing that girls bodies are their own. It has to start with allowing them to make mistakes, to talk about what they like in a safe space, to allow them to ask for guidance but not control their decisions. How to do this will vary on the age and maturity level of the girls, but it's possible to do better.

      Thank you, Danielle for providing this prospective, and Jennifer for asking this question! I believe this is a much better conversation than most and one I wish I was a part of much younger!

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    5. I love what you say about learning to dress appropriately, Emily. Sometimes we goof up. It is okay!
      I think the show "What not to Wear" helped me look at getting dressed appropriately from a better angle, then the Modesty Rules of controlling lust. When getting dressed, consider how you want to present yourself. What do you want to say?
      That does take figuring out and trial & error.

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    6. I think this is so important--modesty can't primarily be an issue about "not making our brothers stumble" without falling into exactly the same pit preachers decry as "immodesty": Dressing primarily, and even solely, for the attention and tastes of men. Though the outworking is different, it means looking at every article of clothing through the eyes of, "What will boys think of THIS one?" e.g., Who will approve of me? Who will be repulsed by me? Who will rebuke me? Will the nice Christian boys think I am a nice Christian girl ("modest is hottest")?

      I would argue that it is actually pretty idolatrous to make the male gaze the sole definition of what constitutes modesty.

      Yes and amen to everything already said by the other replies. I just wanted to raise this point in particular--dressing to win the favor of "good boys" is not much better (if any) than dressing to arouse the desire of "bad boys". Modesty has to be an issue between a woman and the Lord, not between a woman and all men who might see her.

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  11. We should cover up our sexual organs. Everything from there is cultural. It is wrong for me to go topless in the US because it is immodest in the US, but it is not immodest in PNG. I am a Christian, but I do not see a strict guideline provided in scripture.

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    1. Agreed, modesty (defined narrowly as the sexual component we're addressing here) is cultural, but I think if the culture is being dictated by one half of society to the detriment of the other half, we have an obligation to challenge such an arrangement, no?

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  12. Wow. Thank you for this. And I am way too tired to even think about reading through those comments over there. Oy vey. Separating the modesty issue from the men-are-uncontrollably-arouseable-creatures issue is key here, I think modesty is desirable - for all of us - but who defines it? And appreciating the female form, whether covered from head to toe or walking the beach in a bikini, is something everyone should be able to do without being worried about 'crossing the line' into lust. (same for the male form, by the way). We're made differently and we're made to appreciate those differences. That does not mean that looking leads to lust leads to rape! Nor does it ever mean that healthy men want to jump any woman's bones when they look at her with appreciation. How did we ever get there??? Well, you're right. We got there through generations of wrong-headed patriarchy and the objectification of women. NOT from the teachings of scripture, but from the misappropriation and misinterpretation of them. Sigh. This gets old, doesn't it? This is a thorny issue and for people in my generation it means unlearning a whole lot of stuff that was not so much taught as caught. I'm working on it. Thanks for helping me in that process.

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    1. Also, I think we need to expand our definition of modesty well beyond dress codes. The fact that we've abstracted away so many layers of what scriptural notions of modesty convey speaks volumes in itself about our culture. For example, we're much more comfortable having a discussion about modest that revolves around policing female dress codes than a discussion about modesty in the houses we live in, or the cars we drive, the size of our bank accounts, etc. I think we've *all* got quite a bit of unlearning to do.

      But your point that "appreciating the female form, whether covered from head to toe or walking the beach in a bikini, is something everyone should be able to do without being worried about 'crossing the line' into lust" is well-taken, and it illustrates some of the absurdities of the modern modesty rules, like it's OK to wear a swimsuit at the beach, but wearing a sleeveless shirt to church in the summer is a no-no. Are you *kidding* me with this? :)

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    2. A while back I wrote a week's series called "The Modesty Myth" (akin to the Purity Myth so prevalent in our churches, too). This is one of the ideas I touched on -- that modesty is so much more about humility than hiding our bodies. You can check out the whole series here: http://www.fromtwotoone.com/search/label/The%20Modesty%20Myth.

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  13. That it would be a clever and inventive idea to teach male college frosh not to rape women is astonishing. Thank you for this bold and declarative treatise.

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    1. Astonishing and deeply trobuling, I might add. Thanks for reading.

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  14. My thoughts?

    It was "Christian leaders" complaining about six-year-old me playing with a hobby-horse (YES, SERIOUSLY) that made me afraid of them and think that there was something wrong.

    It was "Christian leaders" who handwaved away complaints of sexual harassment and abuse on the grounds that the complainer was not perfectly modest and demure that made me think that (to paraphrase Shakespeare) the man doth protest too much.

    It was "Christian leaders" who blamed a 12-year-old girl for her father molesting her, because she wore shorts who made me afraid of my own father (a good man who has never given me cause to fear him).

    Ultimately, though:

    It was Christian leaders going on about the needs for women to be modest and obedient (for various spurious reasons) that made me lose my faith. Because I looked at the overall pattern and struggled to find more than a tiny handful of Christian leaders who actually saw me as a person, and I asked myself how it was that someone could follow the message of JC and hold views like those simultaneously. One or two, I could dismiss out of hand. But when I struggled to find ANYONE, that was too much.

    I'll say that again: Christian leaders going on about modesty and obedience, "Christian leaders" supporting rape culture, "Christian leaders" saying that as a woman I am lesser drove me from the (mainstream middle-American Protestant) church I was raised in.

    Rape culture as supported and upheld by Christian leaders made me an atheist. Because atheism was - to me - preferable to believing that God knew what the leaders of His flock were up to and did nothing.

    I preferred to say and believe that there was no God than to believe that God hated me.

    If Christian leaders actually CARE about those they refer to as their "sisters," then they need to ACT LIKE IT. Because right now, the rhetoric I hear is one of anger and hatred. They don't see women as their sisters, they see them as things. Things to be owned, things to be used.

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    1. I'm glad that you felt like this was a safe enough place to share your story, because your story is an important one that needs to be told. Your voice matters in this conversation, more than you know.

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  15. So I hear what you're saying. But my own history makes it so that I hate myself every time I look at a woman's ass, which is hard not to do sometimes. I had to pretty much look at the ground when I was in seminary at Duke, especially in April which always brings about a significant wardrobe change. So there is a part of me that wants to beg for some compassion and mercy, not that I would ever use the way someone dresses as an excuse to justify violence or looking down on them. I agree that we can't shame women or blame them for rape culture. But I also think there are hidden power dimensions that aren't politically correct to name which are in play when women dress in a certain way. It's a farce to say that an outfit is "cute" when it's cut in such a way to be seductive. Of course, I understand it could be just that you don't want to wear a burkah when it's hot outside. I can see that. But I think there's a difference between acknowledging that men can develop unhealthy visual fetishes because of how we're wired and misapplying blame for sexual violence. I hope it's not sexist to say that I'm grateful when women I'm in community with opt for regular clothes rather than seductive ones because it does spare me a lot of internal torture regardless of who's to blame for that.

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    1. (Same as the "Anonymous" at 12:37)

      I'm going to say this as gently as I can:

      It is not about you.

      When a woman puts on a revealing outfit, she is rarely thinking of you. She might be thinking of a man she knows whose eye she wants to catch, she might be thinking of a *woman* she knows whose eye she wants to catch.

      She might simply be thinking that it is hot out and she wants to feel the sun on her skin.

      But it is relatively unlikely that she is thinking of you.

      Also, this:
      "men can develop unhealthy visual fetishes because of how we're wired"

      This happens to women as much as men. Seriously. I have yet to have a woman friend who has NOT indicated that some visual stimulus or another does not really get her going.

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    2. "It's not about you."

      Shouldn't all believers be looking out for each other, though? There's all kinds of verses about seeking each other's best and not leading others to stumble. A man of strong character won't lust regardless of what's put in front of him, but unfortunately, there's a whole lot of "weaker brothers" out there, and Paul is pretty clear that doing things that in any way enable their sin should be avoided.

      That said, there definitely is a thoroughly wrong gender misbalance in our culture. Too often Christian leaders portray women as seductresses laying the traps for helpless men who can't help but lust. Men, on the other hand, get away scot-free in terms of enabling women's lusts.

      Two (hopefully) positive suggestions for a way forward:

      1. Always have a *much* stronger emphasis on a man's need for self-control than a woman's need for "modesty." Where modesty is encouraged among women, do it primarily for the sake of their own identity (they don't need to present themselves as sexual objects, even if the culture encourages that), but also, secondarily, as a blessing to the men in their lives. For this secondary reason, encourage them not to excuse men's sin but to do it as a gracious act to fellow sinners, giving up their right to dress certain ways as Christ gave up his own life for those who in no way deserved it.

      2. Explore in what ways men ought to be looking out for the women in their lives to help them avoid sin, even if that means cutting into what they would otherwise have the freedom to do. The fact that the ways to do this are not immediately at hand is indicative of the sinful, oppressive patriarchy embedded into modern Western Christianity.

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    3. "Shouldn't all believers be looking out for each other, though?"

      Look out for? Yes. Be held responsible for? No. The two cannot be conflated. And "looking out for each other" is often used as an excuse to meddle in someone's private affairs. It's not loving, it's not kind, it's not warranted. It's a power play, a hug-slug, a concern troll.

      "they don't need to present themselves as sexual objects"

      There is nothing that anyone can wear that will present them as a sexual object. People are not objects. Objectification happens when the elliptical you decides that someone else is no longer human. Clothing has absolutely nothing to do with it, except for being used by the person doing the objectifying an excuse for their despicable dehumanizing. ("She was asking for it!" anyone?)

      "Explore in what ways men ought to be looking out for the women in their lives to help them avoid sin"

      For one, this seems to assume that women need men to look out for them. For another, it gives someone else way too much input into the personal lives of people. Like I said before, it's a power play. And it's unnecessary.

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    4. morgan, your post reveals how bad modesty/lust teachings shame men as well as women. we ALL need to be freed from this mess.

      noticing one another, even desiring one another is natural. sexual attraction is natural and part of the way God created us to be (whether we're married, single, or celibate). there is sexual attraction independent of objectification, sin, and lust--but our purity teachings don't acknowledge this! instead, we encourage people to feel shame for the sexuality that God created in us. there is much gnostic, body-and-sexuality-hating heresy in the church today, and it's not helping us to love God or each other well.

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    5. Suzannah, thank you for point out the gnostic angle. That's one of my favs. The Modesty Rules are heresy, yo!

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    6. @Morgan - Totally get where you're coming from, but I've got to echo @Suzannah's point that the kind of shaming that men do to themselves simply for noticing the beauty of a woman can be just as harmful as shaming a woman for being beautiful. Yes, when April comes around, women wear shorts and tank tops, and we see parts of their bodies that God lovingly created us to be biologically attracted to, but where we go wrong, I think, is in assuming that in and of itself is wrong, you know?

      I know that there are no easy answers in this, but I do think that while there may indeed be some differences between "acknowledging that men can develop unhealthy visual fetishes because of how we're wired (although I think this gives far too much credence to the "how we're wired" part) and misapplying blame for sexual violence," I think the root issue is still the same. It's fundamentally about control, and for me, when I read Matthew 5:28, the distinction between the two tends to evaporate.

      Thanks so much for adding your voice here. I really appreciate your candor and vulnerability.

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    7. This talk of shame reminds me of an article by Hugo Schwyzer. Here is the link: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/life/relationship/features/28856-beauty-vs-sexuality.
      He talks about how the lust issues shames both men and women which fits into this discussion perfectly!

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  16. Wow. Great post, Luke.

    Hit the nail on the head when you said"
    "It's the same culture that teaches freshmen college girls tips for not getting raped at orientation instead of teaching freshmen college boys *NOT TO RAPE FRESHMEN COLLEGE GIRLS*."

    When I read that comment, I had to do a serious double-take. I don't know which bothers me more -- the fact that your statement is true, or the fact that I had never noticed that before.

    Totally agree with you on the plank/speck illustration too. Guys need to be responsible for themselve rather than make excuses and finds scapegoats for their lewdness.

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    1. Confronting the lopsidedness of our moral landscape when it comes to gender can be pretty...jarring. Thanks for adding your voice to the discussion, Dan.

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  17. Thanks for writing this. I've always argued with my American evangelical friends about the modesty thing, because I grew up in a place with dramatically varied definitions of modesty. On the one hand, you have the Muslims of Indonesia, who (if they are faithful) have women who cover their heads. On the other hand, you had the Papuan tribes-people I was around regularly. Those church gatherings featured women clothed only in grass skirts and men wearing a vegetable with hineys exposed.

    I argue that modesty is cultural. So you grow up in a Papuan tribe? Then, quite frankly, boobs become no more sexual than ankles. You grow up in a conservative Muslim culture? In that case, a woman's hair is highly sexual. Conservative evangelical? Well, we all know what's what in our subcultures.

    So... I think women AND men are responsible to be reasonably modest within their own culture. I think perhaps the reason this is such a hot button to us is that we are straddling two cultures - the evangelical subculture has strangely dramatically different norms than the average American culture. That dichotomy doesn't necessarily exist around the world.

    Thing is, I think we sometimes act as though women should make themselves undesireable, because desire=sin. That's not true. What IS true is that we need to see each other first as people and learn to manage our own desires and be self-controlled. This is just as true with emotional longing as it is for physical longing.

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    1. "men wearing a vegetable with hineys exposed." So awesome. :)

      But seriously, you brought up a great point in the dichotomy between Evangelical culture and American culture. In a lot of areas (the ones that I would argue *actually matter*) there aren't really stark differences between the Evangelical culture and American culture writ large, but this is one area where there actually is a difference. The question that I think we have to ask is whether or not the values that informs these cultures are morally justifiable. As a dude, I look at conservative Muslim cultures (which I've spent a lot of time in, as you know) I see the same oppressive, controlling dynamics at play (obviously, to a greater degree). So yeah, I acknowledge that differences in culture exist, but I guess what I'm saying is that shouldn't stop us from questioning the legitimacy of the moral claims that those cultures make, does that make sense?

      Also, the point about desire=sin? Exactly. So good. Thanks so much for adding to the conversation!

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  18. Definitely that thinking doesn't go to the heart of the problem.

    On the flip side, speaking as a typical woman who found herself with a surprisingly revved up libido as she neared 30 (aren't you glad I commented?) it doesn't matter how "modestly" a dude is dressed for me to be physically attracted to him.

    It's not his fault.

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    1. Also, I'm not sure we should be assigning "fault" to anyone for simply being physically attracted to somebody. Maybe blame God. It's biology's fault. :)

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  19. I am in absolute and total agreement with this post. While i do not think women should be wearing mini...well mini anything...they are going to do it anyways. Guys really should read this post!

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    1. Glad you liked it, Lily. Thanks for reading!

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  20. Great post! I remember being taught about modesty and being super-confused about what I was supposed to do- I'm not a guy, how can I possibly know what is and is not going to "cause" lust?

    The logical conclusion of the whole "modesty" thing is that there's something evil and dangerous about femininity. And that conclusion is so blatantly, offensively wrong. Men and women are created in the image of God- they are SUPPOSED to look like that.

    Some stuff I wrote on my blog about modesty:
    Modesty as she is taught
    Modesty: My Solution

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    1. "The logical conclusion of the whole "modesty" thing is that there's something evil and dangerous about femininity." Nail:Head

      Oh, and the Batman shirt graphic in "My Solution"? Priceless!

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    2. Loving this article and the open commentary. Can so identify with so many. Always had these discussions with my mum, along the lines of Muslims and "heinies". She sonehow still believes modesty is NOT cultural. ? I agree, modesty is about clothing. It's about behavior. And attitude. Ive had some well covered Mennonite girlfriends who were pretty farm flirtatious!! It's just like "meekness" or "temperance" are those about clothes? Or any of the other character qualities of the spirit. None of them involve strictly clothing . I particularly appreciate this comnent because i spent an entire childhood hating my body and hating being a woman in general because with every new development i had to wear more and more layers. Every day my mother had something to say about me. My breasts were too big, i beeded to walk aroung sucking in chest to hide them. My hips were too shapely and wide. I couldn't we're pants or skirts, only jumpers so the sway of my hips when walking wasn't seen. Even then, I must avoid walking in front of a man, even my own brothers, est they notice. Even my shoulders were consdered sexual! Had to wear sleeves that covered the arms and dressed to the floor. I couldn't go swimming with my brothers in the creek. To compensate, I got fat. Hoping that if I was fat enough men wouldn't look at me.

      And yet, they walked around shirtless in shorts any time they pleased. Nice muscular farm boys. Of course I was never attracted to them! They were my brothers! And sympathized with me. The wide divide was unbearable. I left home with such a negative view of myself angry at god for making me bear the brunt of everyone's sin . My husband has spent years helping me recover. Last winter we went to Florida. I took a deep breath, put on a bikini and sunbathed. The irony? Nobody cared. I watched and couldn't even see the locals galling at even the pretty girls. It was so commonplace. I lay there in the sun and sand and reached such and epoch for myself I'm crying as I recall it! Near naked as I was and crowds of people and nobody staring.

      I want to comment a little on the visual attraction thing, too. Women are visually attracted, too. We notice muscles and thighs, we see your biceps and face and thighs. Believe me, if you've got a six pack, we will be attracted. To say that men are attracted visually but women are sexless and mute except to what? Sweet words alone? Is a sham perpetuated by culture. If a woman is sexless, it's because she has been taught to be that way.

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  21. Thank you for hosting this discussion, Luke. It was such a relief to not be the one promoting or wrestling with this topic.

    It's important, but I get exhausted. Thank you for helping me see that I am not alone. This is the Church and I love it.

    [also, WORD on needing college dude workshops that include HOW NOT TO RAPE ANYONE lessons.]

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    1. er, HOW TO NOT RAPE ANYONE is probably a better word order?

      I'm tired.

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    2. Hosting has honestly been my pleasure. Thank you for opening the door.

      And we'll give you a pass this once and accept the tired excuse, even though when you wrote this it was like not even dinner time.

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  22. Great post. Great conversation. Thanks for the time and energy you've put into this.

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    1. Thanks for reading and for the kind words, Esther.

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  23. This is probably one of the best posts I've ever read from you. Thank you for the intelligent brilliance of it. I get it, I agree theoretically with you...I want with my whole heart to understand the freedom that's peeking through the lines of what you've written.

    But then it comes to practicalities and I get stuck. I still worry that what I wear will "cause someone to stumble". I try to tuck my curves away out of a vague sense of "it's safer this way". And while I get that chalking it all up to "living in a fallen world" isn't necessarily appropriate - it feels true much of the time. It feels safer to take the responsibility on myself (and make sure daughters take similar precautions) than to trust the whole sexualized mass of male-dom out there.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for being honest in your reply. I get the stuck feeling, obviously from a different perspective, but I get it. I guess from my perspective, I'm just ashamed/angry/embarrassed that we men have created a world where that kind of thing is necessary.

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    2. Not all men. Some of you are helping to dismantle it. :-)

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  24. Thank you so much for this! (And also for your work in the comment section over at ChurchLeader).

    The biggest thing that gets to me about this whole "modesty discussion" in the American church is that in the ONE verse in the BIble where women are explicitly commanded to dress modestly (1 Timothy 2:9), Paul sets up the opposite of modesty as "braided hair, gold or pearls, and costly attire." In other words, the opposite of modesty isn't nakedness or "more skin," but extravagance! So...where in the world did we get the idea that modesty was somehow related to the amount of clothing worn/skin showing?

    This is bad Bible interpretation, plain and simple.

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    1. But Shaney, everybody knows that Jesus wants us to have nice shiny things, so that couldn't *possibly* be the proper interpretation of that passage! ;)

      You're absolutely right though. Our overly-reductive definition of modesty is problematic for sure, but I think it's just a manifestation of the deeper issues I brought up.

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    2. Oh, Shaney, you have hit it on the head: bad Bible interpretation. So many Christians take the contemporary meaning of a word (and one that suits their agenda, natch), in this case "modesty," or a fragment or a verse or a passage and assume it means the same as what it meant when the author wrote it and the original audience read it. Too many pay scant if any attention to alternate translations, the Greek (or Hebrew or Aramaic as applicable) definition, collective Christian wisdom re commentaries and such, etc....much less the cultural and situational contexts that gave rise to it. So. Much. Damage. has been done by this (and I grew up fundamentalist, of the "Independent Baptist" variety--scare quotes for good reason!), so I know whereof I speak all too well. All Christians, fundies and evangelicals not the least, would do well to read How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Fee and Stuart to rid themselves of this particular nasty habit.

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  25. This was phenomenal! Thank you!! I just wrote a post about actually looking in to what modesty is - geared towards women but men have loved the truth behind it. LOVED this post! I'll be adding a link on to MY post for this one! Thanks!
    Www.shewithunveiledface.com

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    1. You're welcome, and thanks for the kind words! I'm glad that there so much interest in having this conversation. It's definitely one that needs to be had.

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  26. Coming from a background that acutely measured girls' shorts against the 'Fingertip Rule," down to the fingernail (literally), I grew up with the idea that God might have created us with these shapes and curves but basically, it was a sin to show them.
    Humiliation that followed an exposed bra strap, other friends' moms 'helpfully' pulling me aside about "just a little too tight, your skirt."
    I grew up ashamed of the way I looked. And even more so, when a man would take notice, judgement was thrown on me for even accidentally attracting the male eye.
    At youth groups, boys were told not say to say 'bad' things to girls, while the girls were harshly told "You MUST protect your Christian brothers. It's YOUR JOB."

    Why is it my job to refocus the mind of someone else, especially from the opposite sex?
    No freedom to embrace the way our Creator made us look.
    Constant guilt at garnering any kind of side glance.
    Constant fear in dark sidewalks and alleys.
    Screws you up, I have to say.

    Thank you for speaking the truth to us who need validation and knowing someone else took the time to say something.

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    1. It's not your job. It was never your job, and it was never your fault. I'm so sorry you had to go through that.

      On a side note, it's kind of funny, I've never understood how conservative Christian churches that believe in a literal reading of Genesis get past the part about "in the image of God He created [mankind], male and female he created them." Femininity shares the same space with masculinity in the imago dei. It's not something evil to be hidden, it's something beautiful to be celebrated.

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  27. Thank you, thank you thank you thank you. This is never something I really struggled with (thank GOD) but it is becoming something I struggle with, especially because within the next years, I pray to have a daughter, and these are things my husband and I will have to teach her, and especially our son (Lord willing). THANK YOU. Thank you.

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    1. I have two sons, and though the oldest is only three, it's never to early to start teaching these lessons. Thanks for reading!

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  28. I was pleasantly surprised to see a Christian man say all this, Especially after my own experiences with Southern Baptist theology in a Christian school. Everything you described, it was all there in the teachings with speakers and special assemblies. When anything about "modesty" or sex came up, the fingers pointed ONLY at the females. Their dress, their behavior, and "if anything happened" it was 100% the female's fault. We were all completely responsible for how males treated us.

    Even when I was trying to believe in Christianity (didn't take for many many reasons besides this one), my mind and spirit totally rebelled against this huge glaring double standard. Even when I was severely punished for punching the lights out of a boy who groped me in the school hallway, and he was never even spoken to about it. I was punished for defending myself AND "inciting his lust." And I was likely the most modestly-dressed girl in the whole school. I was just born with large breasts, SO SORRY GUYS. :P

    You are correct in calling it rape culture, and it was absolutely dominant in that school.

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    1. To be honest, all of this stems from bad theology revolving around a lady and a tree and an apple. It's ridiculous, and the harm that it has caused is immeasurable. I am sorry for your experience. Victim-blaming is just never, *never* OK. Thank you so much though for being willing to share your story here.

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  29. I liked your thoughts. But I do have one concern, you affirm that all Christians should be modest but most everyone has failed to take into account what modesty looked like for Jews under the Old Covenant & Christians in the founding of the Church. I think we would find a stark contrast between what we accept in our culture & what they felt was appropriate. The Biblical context of "modesty" doesn't typically refer to cleavage or short skirts because that was totally unnecessary. The practice was to be covered up no matter what. Anyway, didn't want to be a wet blanket. Just wanted to address that one issue. Great article though, seriously.

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    1. The Biblical context of "modesty" doesn't really directly refer to sexuality at all if we really want to get down to it. It's not a wet blanket, it actually brings up a great point, that we've manufactured this notion of sex-centric modesty that doesn't really have a solid Biblical foundation.

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  30. Thank you for writing this! Modesty is a topic I've become increasingly interested it over the past few weeks. I was that girl who taught other girls to wear a sleeved shirt under her sleeveless dress, skirts that reached their knees, and even shoes that didn't scream "look at me!" You know? Looking back on it, I didn't believe any of it. I practiced it, mostly, followed all the rules, but I never felt beautiful. I grew up in a very conservative environment. It took years before my mom let me wear pants to church events. Jewelry was forbidden (with no explanation of why), and sleeves were a must. When I was dating my boyfriend, my father would tell me to not allow myself to be a piece of "dough" and my boyfriend a "baker." He'd look at me with a sort of dirty look when I would get "carried away" hugging my boyfriend to the point where our shirts touched. I felt so dirty. Always, I was the one to blame. I was the one "allowing" my boyfriend to touch me in an inappropriate way. You see? He didn't have any control over his actions, it was my job as a lady to be the referee and perfect my reflexes when I saw a hand coming my way, heading towards my leg, or shirt, or whatever! Ughh it was awful! Rape culture influencing the church? YES! And I'm not trying to be critical of my family. I love them, and truly, they've come a long way and become so much more open-minded about these issues, but it still left a scar that I took with me into my marriage. I'm healing now, and I want to thank you and all the other writers who've addressed this issue for facilitating the "renewing of my mind." Since I stopped buying into this ideology, I FEEL SO FREE! I cannot even begin to describe what being freed from this has done for my self-esteem, my self-worth, my relationship with my husband, and my walk with the Lord. It's night and day. This is a real issue, with real people being affected by a narrow-minded understanding of modesty perpetuated in Christian circles. I am not a sex object, I am an image-bearer of God, and knowing this has made all the difference. Thank you!

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  31. I think John Eldredge has some good insights on this topic, or I gleaned some from his book, Wild at Heart, anyway. I think part of the issue is the guilt and shame men feel if they even look at a woman and appreciate her feminine qualities. There is NOTHING wrong with that, even a married man can appreciate the beauty of another woman. Men want to control the dress of women and blame them because of their own guilt and shame. Some of it is due to an improper understanding of grace and just how free they are! And sadly, women are made to feel shameful about their bodies. I have a friend, who like the commenter above was "born with large breasts," and sadly the people who made her feel the mostly shamed about it were OTHER WOMEN!!! (Although she did experience the creepiness of plenty of men as well.)
    Especially women in authority over her.
    I think it all boils down to the fact that our human tendency is to want law, because that's external we think that makes it easier to live by, when it fact, it just produces more sin. When you begin to understand grace and know how free Christ has made you, your behavior comes from the inside, from the love of God that is shed abroad in your heart.

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    1. "I think it all boils down to the fact that our human tendency is to want law, because that's external we think that makes it easier to live by, when it fact, it just produces more sin." I couldn't agree more! It's easier to follow a set of rules than to renew your mind. And likewise, it's easier to teach others to follow a set of rules, than to lead them and mentor them to a renewal of their minds.

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  32. I came across this because I follow Lauren Dubinsky on Twitter.

    Thank you, Luke. Thanks for having the guts and insight to call it like it is.

    So often, the concept of rape culture is completely written off by the church and by conservative culture as some socialist/liberal/propaganda/scare tactic. But it is a reality, whether we like it or not.

    It's sobering that we can think it radical to teach boys not to rape while we find it perfectly normal to teach girls not to get raped.

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  33. This is a wonderful post! I personally feel like modesty shouldn't be all about covering everything up, we should be proud of our bodies enough to not be ashamed of the beauty of God's creation. Now I'm not into the "flaunting what you got" phrase, but a girl shouldn't have to worry about showing a little skin. I think the mentality of it that I've been trying to learn is, "Who am I dressing for? Why am I dressing like this? Is it to look nice? Is it to get attention?" If women are dressing to grab male attention, then of course they are going to try to dress showing a little too much, and this should cause a little concern for women in the church. There's a fine line here between dressing because you like the way you look in an outfit that doesn't show too much, and dressing to show off. Honestly the only way Christian women are going to discern this is to be humble before God and really pray about their attitude towards how they dress, and what should modesty mean. Men in the church, on the other hand, should definitely work together about not shaming each other if they look at a woman. But they should hold each other accountable for lust (just as women should, after all we are all human and all lust) and help each other to cut out the media that continually evokes sex and lust in their lives. Be a support system, don't be judgemental, bring God into the situation, and consciously work on when your thoughts are lustful. No body is perfect, we are all going to have sinful thoughts, but realizing we have these thoughts and trying to stop them? That's how God wants us to live our lives. Not living in shame, but striving for perfection and knowing that we will never be perfect, but when we try to be, the closer we are to walking with the Lord in His presence.

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  34. Since I am a 59 year old male I can truthfully say that I have been exposed to the modesty argument for many years. And I have also seen a faithful Christian woman walk into the church in high cut off jeans and a low cut sweater. Not much was left to the imagination at either end when she bent over. Having to deal with and redirect the thoughts that I ultimately had wasn't because I was a perverse male or into control. And while I see much thought has gone into this discussion about patriarchy and "rape culture", I don't see anything that addresses male modesty. So ladies, what might men be guilty of that would cause a woman to lust? Would it be an action, attitude, mode of dress? Turn the tables and help me understand what the male equivalent of cut offs and sweaters would be.

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    1. This is a good question- because I have also seen very little that addresses "male modesty." Here's my opinion, as a straight woman: I have had problems with lust, but not that often. In general it's not the same for women as for men- though I definitely think Christians should talk about the fact that WOMEN DO DEAL WITH LUST TOO. And the things that "cause" me to lust aren't very easy to define- it's certain body types and certain clothes, I guess. In general, it's NOT attractive to me to see a guy with no shirt/ showing a lot of skin. So I don't think there are any obvious guidelines to "help" women not lust- and I would never expect guys to try to guess what I like in order to avoid it. That's ridiculous.

      BUT I can tell you what would be the equivalent of "modesty culture". Just like "modesty culture" tells women "be careful not to wear anything too revealing, because a guy might think lustful thoughts, and we have a responsibility to protect our brothers", if guys were treated the same way we would teach (trigger warning for rape here...) "be careful never to be alone with a girl, because she might fear that you're going to rape her, and we need to protect our sisters from those fearful thoughts." People would severely criticize guys who (very innocently) happened to spend time alone with a woman. Like "How can you do that? We have a responsibility to protect our sisters from thinking those thoughts!" and it would get blown way out of proportion, assigning sexual motives to the very mundane activity of being around other people- just like sexual motives are being assigned to women's clothing choices. And every so often, a guy would be falsely accused of rape, and everyone would say "well he was asking for it (the false accusation), being alone with that girl."

      To be clear, I'm totally not advocating that, because it's ridiculous. I'm just giving an analogy of what it would be like if our culture shamed and condemned men the way modesty shames and condemns women.

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  35. Real talk, were you a women's studies major in college?

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    1. Philosophy major, but I read a lot. Would it have been a problem if I was?

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  36. Both parties are at fault, as always.

    Men need to be rebuked for porn, objectification, and disrespect of women. Women need to be rebuked for dressing provocatively and encouraging men to view them as pieces of meat (1 peter 3:3).

    Have u seen guys justifying their objectification because a woman is dressing provocatively? They need to be rebuked as well!

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    1. Nope. Sorry bro, I'm pushing back here. She could be naked and it wouldn't give a dude the right to objectify her.

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    2. Also, porn is just another symptom. Pornography is the commoditization of the object of femininity that men seek to control, and it just reinforces the status quo. The problem is, you could get rid of the porn, and the underlying objectification of women would still exist. So arguing about porn in this context is kind of a non sequitur.

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  37. ""Oh, I'm getting all lusty because she's wearing skinny jeans and a v-neck." No bro, you're getting all lusty because you have a distorted view of women as objects that you need to get under control."

    "Maybe instead of writing off rape culture in the church as "living in a fallen world", we should focus on what it means for us as men to partner with God in bringing the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven."

    Hot damn, so good. THANK YOU. I really feel strongly that if people of God -- men and women TOGETHER, not only "alike" -- can get a handle on this issue, the amount of hearts hurting from sexual issues throughout secular culture will have an army of tangible grace at its aid.

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  39. You know, Adam and Eve were naked....and in time they would have created a lot more naked people....and eventually the world would have been FULL of naked people! AND it would have been NORMAL!!!! Wonder if eventually women would have been made to cover up to turn down the temptation or if men would have remained "unskeezy" due to a whole different mindset...hmm...

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  40. Thanks for the article. Its an important topic.

    Here is how I look at it. As a female, I know that my body, be it naked, bathing-suited, barely clothed, or covered head-to-toe .. is not the root reason for a man's lustful thoughts toward me. HOWEVER. While it is not my responsibility to keep him from sinning ... it should be my JOY to protect him, in whatever way I can.

    An example I always think about is alcoholism. If I have a best friend who is an alcoholic ... me having a drink in front of her/him is not the cause of their addiction ... however, it doesn't help it and may even inflate it. I don't want to do that. So I choose to protect that person by NOT having a drink around them.

    At the end of the day, I love my brothers so dearly. Their propensity to lust matters SO much more to me than the tight/low-cut/whatever outfit I want to wear. And trust me ... I have them and LOVE them. But. The moment a girl's outfit is more important to her than the heart of her brother .. a whole new category of sin in HER life is introduced. (Ladies, whether they admit it or not, place a lot of their worth in what they wear. Too much. No? I'm the only one who does? Yeah right.)

    So no, women are not, in any way and NEVER, the reason that guys lust. But. If we love our brothers ... don't we want to do what little we can to honor them? (I don't agree with modesty extremes .. and who even knows what that really means or is considered to be these days.) I just think a simple effort to be mindful is enough. If you aren't sure how your clothes are going to affect a man ... ask a male friend (I do it all the time). If asking causes him to lust, well .. crap .. but, odds are that just means he would have if you didn't ask, too. ;)

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    1. Congratulations. You've just proven Luke's point, contributed to the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy (albeit in an implicit way), reduced women everywhere (including yourself!) to objects of desire, and contributed to furthering rape culture in one fell swoop. I feel for you.

      You can be as covered-up as you like; that won't stop someone with raging hormones and a sex drive from lusting after you. It also won't stop an arsehole from raping you. If THEY'VE determined in THEIR hearts to do such a thing, IT'S THEIR FAULT, NOT YOURS.

      Also, comparing alcoholism to this is more than a bit ridiculous, IMO.

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    2. Congrats, you are part of the problem.

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    3. Hey Anonymous,

      Thanks for sharing here, but I think you're misguided. Your viewpoint is based on so many myths, namely that "men are visual," "men can't help it," and "sexual attraction is the same as lust." I believe there is a much different story that doesn't require that anyone dresses more or less conservatively than THEY choose as a member of society.

      And as far as your analogy about modesty and alcoholics, I just have this to say: http://emilyisspeakingup.tumblr.com/post/35722097557/modesty-and-alcoholism

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    4. I wasn't posting as an angry contributor or someone trying to be aggressive .. or even persuasive. I wrote what I genuinely thought to be true ... if it's not, I absolutely want to know. Its not a good feeling to come back and see mean-spirited replies. I would have so much preferred corrections out of love ... especially when some of what was said really opened my eyes to a perspective I hadn't seen before. I'm learning ... like everyone else.

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    5. A bit of an idea then. My problem is that, ultimately, I don't think it's just about my "outfit." I think far more of the woman is at stake.

      A drink is just an object. It is, fundamentally, a thing to be used and enjoyed. My body is not an object. It is an integral part of me. Remember, after all, we are part of the religion that horrified the Hellenistic world by insisting on the bodily resurrection. And as a human being, I am far more than an object to be used well, or put aside when it's not helpful. This is part of my problem with the way modesty is handled - it ignores that I, in my body, am a person in the image of God.

      I think also that this kind of modesty talk can create real, serious damage to women. Certainly some men may lust more with different outfits. But some women may learn to become ashamed of their bodies, and by extension themselves. I've lived with that - it becomes a very real barrier to Christian growth as a woman. Or it makes it harder for either party to properly understand how respect is supposed to function. So I think there are very real negative effects on women, even to the point that in trying to help keep men from sinning you are pushing both towards other sins.

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  41. Thank you.

    I can't tell you how much I appreciate your writing.

    I did wade into the comments over there, and instead of losing my faith in humankind, I'm going to focus on how very much I appreciate you and Preston Yancy.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Katherine! And there you go, let that be a lesson to us all: accentuate the positive. :)

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  42. I think James nails it (parenthesis are my comments)

    "Blessed is the man (and woman) who endures temptation; for when he (or she) has been approved, he (or she) will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

    Let no one say when he (or she) is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he (or she) is drawn away by his (or her) own desires and enticed (including but not limited to lust, pride, self-worship, social gratification...). Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

    Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren (and sisters). Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (all the blessings of this life here on earth: people, possessions, and places), and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures." (James 1:12-18)

    Wow!

    It appears that we really don't want to accept the blame for our own sin. And in the process of blame-shifting we effectually accuse God of giving corrupt gifts... on all sides of this discussion... patriarchal and matriarchal cultures notwithstanding! False guilt is always a crippling lie, but true guilt is the pathway to freedom in Christ! True freedom only comes from the living Word of God... regardless of corrupt cultural baggage!

    It's time for the firstfruits to live like it!

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    1. I'm sorry, but could you possibly explain what you mean by "true guilt is the pathway to freedom in Christ"?

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    2. By "True guilt", I mean what God's law, as given in His Word, brings to our conscience when we begin to understand how God's righteousness contrasts with our fallen nature. (Romans 5&6) The Gospel of Christ and the freedom He brings to our soul is then truly "Good News"! Without guilt over sin (as defined by God, not us), we will never come to Christ as we truly are: filthy, rotten sinners. The call of the Christ is to "Repent and believe in the gospel".

      In this discussion on the misappropriation of guilt and/or the systemic propagation of false guilt (as you rightly point out in this blog on Modesty & Male Privilege), I was just trying to point out that we cannot ignore that true freedom is only found in Christ... not breaking the shackles of "tradition, convention, oppression, culture" alone.

      Am I making sense?

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    3. OK, I do see where you're coming from, but it's God's kindess that leads us to repentence. I just don't see a solid scriptural foundation for guilt and condemnation as viable means to loving relationship with God. And while I agree that freedom is found in Christ, we cannot forget that in His name, all oppression shall cease. I think we, as speakers of that Name, have an obligation to pursue justice where we see injustice (especially injustice that uses that Name in vain). That's all I'm trying to do here.

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    4. My attempt in interjecting James' instruction is to add a scriptural aspect to the conversation in regard to "temptation" and the truth that all sin that we commit comes from temptation that arises from personal desires that distort the focus of the Christ follower... and I think that is key to this discussion (in terms of "what can we do about it?"). I will put it this way, in personal terms: If I, as a redeemed man, allow my desires (even good ones) to direct/control me, they will lead me into temptation, and if I do not flee temptation then I will sin, and if I sin I will see death's work in my experience. However, I love the development of James' instruction, because he doesn't stay there... he makes sure that we realize all good things in life are not FROM the devil or whatever, rather from GOD!

      So, practically: the relationships I have with my wife, my 2 daughters, my mother, and my sisters in Christ (as well as with my sons, brother, father, and brothers in Christ)... are gifts from God... and each of those relationship should have vastly different qualities in regard to my part in those relationships... but I am to keep my desires in all of those relationships in submission to Christ and in obedience to His Word, if any glory will come from any of them! When I am not led by my desires, but led by Christ, then I will be the husband, father, leader, and/or friend that I need to be for the relationships in my life and I will not abuse, mislead, harm, shame, or hurt them in any way!

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  43. What a long overdue conversation piece! This pervasive sexism and 'blaming the victim' ideology is such a subverssive, ever-present, destructive force that the church has failed to acknowledge and actively war against. Ultimately, its not about modesty at all.

    I like to think of satan as the original misogynist. There were two genders in the garden, but the devil chose eve. Not because she was the 'weaker' one, but because of a particularly special hatred for woman. Adam was the first to 'blame the victim' and that, I believe, was by the devil's crafty design to set in motion a culture that would allow it to habitually committ atrocities such as rape with unstoppable force. As long as we blame the victim, enforce modesty rules, live with passive indifference, etc. we are distracted enough in our plank viewing that we make the enemys work like taking candy from a baby. So he steals our joy...

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    1. WHOA! That is something I've never even thought of before, and it makes total sense! *nods* Excellent post. :)

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  44. You might like this article: www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/12/the-purity-culture-and-trust.html

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  46. You did not take this too far. You just spoke it clearly & it feels uncomfortable to many. All this nonsense about men not being able to control themselves is rape culture. As a woman, when I have tried to have similar conversations as Emily is so brave to write about, the typical male response is "you don't get how men are wired. so, as a woman, you have no say in this (unspoken bit, just do what we tell you, right?)"

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  47. Without trying to sound like an angry feminist, it is so rare and refreshing to hear from a man who recognizes these issues. I get so discouraged at times, but seeing brothers in Christ striving alongside their sisters to fight for their protection, both practically and systemically, is so powerful. I cried reading this because I didn't think that many men in the church viewed rape culture as legitimate or see the thinly veiled sexism in the church (I should have taken your advice and avoided the comments on Emily's post, very unwise). You called the issues out so articulately, and I am thankful to know that there are men that can step outside themselves and empathize. Thank you.

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  48. I think the difficulty I run into with this sort of idea is that it completely flips the scenario and instead puts a lot of pressure on men instead of a lot of pressure on women. Now, I don't know, maybe that's "just" after what men have done to women for who knows how many years. I understand and agree that that's a problem, even though, as a man, I can't speak to having experienced it personally.

    But maybe it would be more helpful for both sides to think about this in love, rather than just shifting the blame. Women should think about how they dress and conduct themselves, not out of a sense of guilt, but in love for their brothers. If it's EVER out of guilt, that's wrong. But because most men (or, at least, speaking for myself) are strongly visual *and* very fallen, how women dress *does* matter. Likewise, men should very much reconsider how they think about and view women; again, not out of guilt, but out of love and respect for their fellow humans, made in the image of Christ and very much people, not objects to please our own lusts.

    Does that make sense? I'm not trying to revert this back to putting blame on women. I want all of us, men and women, to think about this in love, not in guilt or pressure or anything else like that. What we do, and how we choose to live our lives, affects those around us, and it's good to be aware of that.

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  49. Hi, stranger here, a friend linked to this discussion off facebook. I just wanted to address one of the pet projects of the discussion board here: the notion of a "How not to rape women" orientation for male college freshmen. I teach college, and this has all the marks of an idea that no one has seriously thought through.

    At freshman orientation, students get barraged by all kinds of information. How to navigate the campus, how to navigate the academic technology, how to use the library, how to use the dining hall, how to avoid plagiarism, extra-curricular clubs to sign up for, on and on and on. What do students do with all this information? What anyone would do - they filter it out and select the bits that seem interesting or useful to them by their existing priorities. The rest of it goes in one ear and out the other.

    Every woman has a vested interest in protecting herself from rape, and the newly independent lifestyle of a college student exposes her to vulnerable situations that her prior home/school life probably did not expose her to. She can benefit from being made aware of the risk situations and how to avoid them, and she will listen to this information because it is in her self-interest to do so. It is a sensible use of time and resources that has genuine practical benefits.

    A male college student, on the other hand, arrives on the campus with a character that either makes him a potential rapist or doesn't. If he is not already a potential rapist, a "do not rape" seminar will not teach him anything and will be a complete waste of his already overburdened time. If he IS a potential rapist, let's be honest for a moment - does anyone think for a moment that a boy who is willing to rape a girl will be dissuaded from it for one second because he had a 45-minute seminar during freshman orientation? Of course not. In fact, I would worry that it would actually cause MORE rapes to happen - "Oh, people DO such things?" - rather as prison terms often make inmates into more hardened criminals than they already were. So for ALL incoming freshman males, such a seminar would be nothing more than a colossal waste of time.

    Freshmen orientation cannot take the place of a lifetime of parenting and socialization that did or didn't happen. This proposed "Don't rape" seminar makes a lovely political football to kick around, but will achieve nothing but waste time and resources that could be more practically used elsewhere.

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    1. @anon, i disagree. how often do we really talk about consent? i read a rather disturbing piece recently at the Good Men Project about "good guys" who rape, who somehow *didn't know* it was rape and not sex. (much rape, after all, is "date rape" and not committed by strangers-in-the-bushes.)

      we all could do with better conversation on not mistaking "signals", drunkenness, or personal desire for enthusiastic mutual consent. conversations about honoring human beings and their bodily autonomy and preventing rape are never a waste of anyone's time.

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    2. Perhaps it wouldn't have to be during orientation, either. The first week into classes? The second week? I know when I first came to college I received a "Welcome to [my university]" envelope that included several printed sheets, including one with facts about rape, date rape, and how to avoid it. I don't know if the guys got the same thing, but I would hope they did. If not, this could be included in their welcome packet as well. Like Suzannah said, I think it would be helpful for both genders to have more conversations about what it means to consent or not, and how to draw boundaries and respect the other person's boundaries as well. A lot of situations that some people consider "borderline" date rape, or "She didn't say no so she must have been asking for it," are because girls and women are taught to let men down gently, not to say no in an overly direct way, while men are taught that they can call the shots. (Obviously this is an oversimplification, for which I apologize.) Teaching both genders that it's okay to say no, okay to be direct, and that if the other person isn't clearly indicating enthusiastic consent that it might be a good idea to at least back off and ask could help out in a lot of those situations.

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    3. It seems to me that it would also be helpful to make it clear to the men that the university took allegations of sexual assault seriously, and were prepared to follow up on them. Even if guys already inclined to rape wouldn't be dissuaded by a "rape is bad" handout, they might think twice if they knew such behavior wouldn't immediately be dismissed as "boys being boys" and/or "she had it coming".

      In other words, if the atmosphere of a school is proactively hostile against sexual assault, with a commitment to never just look the other way, perhaps fewer people would have the courage to do it.

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    4. But isn't the assumption that we need a "DON'T RAPE" seminar for guys a tacit admission of the rape culture, one that assumes a priori that all males have a natural tendency to rape?
      To me, that is equally as offensive as the assumption that a woman is "asking for it" based on how she is dressed.

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    5. @Anonymous - In a word? No. And it's not an assumption, it's a conclusion based on the a posteriori empirical observation of the exceedingly high number of sexual assaults that occur every year on college campuses.

      And actually, it is *NOT* having a "DON'T RAPE" class that assumes that men are naturally rapists. The focus on victims fatalistically assumes that there will always be rapists, and that the best way to try to deal with this fact is to educate women on how to avoid being a victim of one of the members of this infinite pool of rapists.

      Teaching a class on enthusiastic consent and mutual respect, on the other hand, acknowledges that it is not simply part of the nature of a man to be a rapist, that the culture that desensitizes us toward rape can be deconstructed and the lessons unlearned.

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  50. Thank you so much for this, Luke! I realized the rape culture/modesty culture connection a month or so ago and wrote on my own blog about it. (http://tencentlottery.blogspot.com/2012/11/what-rape-culture-and-modesty-culture.html , if you're interested) My perspective is a little different, as I no longer consider myself religious and so am critiquing somewhat from the outside. Which is why I am so pleased and grateful to see that you, as a Christian man, (and, through the comments, so many other Christian people) have noticed just how objectifying modesty rules really are (or as I term it, "modesty culture", that is, the evangelical Christian take on modesty rather than what the Bible says about modesty, as the Bible really is never talking about inches of skin at all). This whole discussion gives me hope that maybe,on a grassroots level at least, Christianity is moving in some healthy directions, away from some of the things that drove me away in the first place.

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  51. Always wanted to ask men who blame women for their lust why it is they still have eyes. "If you're so Scriptural, why didn't you pluck out your own eyes since they offended thee, when you lusted after that woman? "

    Oh THAT part of Scripture is overlooked!!! When these men present themselves eyeless and not as a rapist, or a rapist defender and they may have some credibility in their "Godliness".

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    1. But Cathy, Jesus was being metaphorical there!! :)

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  52. This reminds me of a couple of years ago when I was dating a Christian guy who was *extremely* appreciative of the shape of my body. (I have big childbearing hips and a small waist. BAM!) I was not dressing in a way that Christian culture would call "immodest" either. All my years of conservative Christian upbringing and not knowing my own body or sexuality had me feeling quite guilty about the way I was being perceived by him. But I couldn't always tell the difference between guilt and the red flag of ACTUALLY being objectified. He verbally (and graphically) expressed his desire for me often, and would tell me it was "my fault." At the time I felt kind of flattered. Fortunately I was not raped, and my growing discomfort with his sexual forwardness finally led me to end the relationship. For at least a year after the relationship ended, I felt uncomfortable in any form-fitting clothing for fear of causing arousal in men while walking down the street. This is a great reminder to me that my body is not to blame for a man's sexual thoughts or actions.

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  53. Great post and some great comments.

    My two cents- I didn't grow up Christian (became Christian at 14, my parents still aren't) and I didn't grow up in a conservative American context, so I have to say all this is *very* weird to me!

    Do the guys who support this 'modesty' thing go about in a constant sexual fervour? What happens if they see something they like? Are they complaining about feeling attracted to someone or tempted to go off and do other things or what?

    I think:
    * Emotions (and erections!) are what they are - they're involventary reactions to stuff. Neither is intrisically sinful, I think.
    * How we act on emotions (etc) can be wrong - we have will power to choose our reactions and our minds to help us understand other points of view which can change how we feel.
    * We can also choose not wallow in or encourage our emotions (i.e. distraction, refusing to dwell on them, prayer etc)

    Also, it seems to me that some American conservative Christian women are being consigned to a lifetime of awful sex! (When they're married, of course!). If you can't feel beautiful, attractive, show off your naked or partially clothed body for your husband, how can you enjoy making love with him? (And before someone says it, it's really not easy/possible to go from a mindset of 'my body is a nasty sinful thing that needs to be hidden' to 'my body is a beautiful thing to be enjoyed by me and my husband'.)

    I think the church could do a with a bit more 'Song of Songs' and a bit less of old Paul! (or at least de-contexulised Paul).

    Cheers,
    Eleanorjane

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  54. "Shifting the blame to women just passes the buck along and enables men to continue being skeezy pervs. "Oh, I'm getting all lusty because she's wearing skinny jeans and a v-neck." No bro, you're getting all lusty because you have a distorted view of women as objects that you need to get under control." (Luke Harms)

    No, Luke.

    Men get 'lusty' because of male sexual nature.

    Period.

    As a male, Mr. Harms, undoubtedly you're aware of this.

    Why popular culture wants to pretend this either doesn't exist, or that men are 'distorted' (as you assert) - or that both sexes are 'equal' in this regard is completely absurd.

    Clearly, men should control themselves - and the overwhelmingly majority of men do - but, just as important, women should dress in a way so as to not titillate men in this regard.

    For a five-minute course to counteract the nonsense that's been propagated for the last forty years, here it is.....

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

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    1. No, John, you're failing to grasp the point of the entire discussion, which is that there's a difference between lust, and and a man or woman's normal physiological reactions. No one is pretending that these reactions don't exist, and no one is pretending that men and women process physical attraction the same way. But there is a distinction to be drawn between physical attraction and lust, whether you choose to admit it or not.

      Physical attraction recognizes beauty. Lust sees a person as an object to be possessed. Lust has everything to do with the mindset of the man (or woman) doing the lusting, and it is on the person doing the lusting where the sole responsibility lies.

      "Clearly, men should control themselves - and the overwhelmingly majority of men do - but, just as important, women should dress in a way so as to not titillate men in this regard." -John C.

      This, John, is an example of exactly this kind of blame-shifting I'm talking about.

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  55. Thank you so much for your comments. For me, Jesus' comments on looking at a woman lustfully are some of my life verses. They are one of the reasons that I can still be a Christian. As opposed to the teachings of some (although certainly not all) in the church that, "If you look at a woman lustfully, then it's her fault. She's an evil, fallen seductress with that temptress woman's body. Cover her up, avoid her, confine her to her home so you won't have to see her, control her as you need to so you don't have to deal with your lust," Jesus said, "If you look at a woman lustfully it's YOUR issue, and YOU need to deal with it with whatever it takes." Women were not mentioned in the solution, because women are not the problem; it's what you have in your heart that is the problem. (I of course consider this to be the same for me as a woman if I look at a man lustfully; it's my job to deal with it, not his fault for arousing me.) Furthermore, Galatians points out that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, so we should expect that as we become closer to God and more of whom God meant for us to be, we would become better at controlling our actions and behavior.

    As many other women here have noted, the church's view on this has been so damaging in my life. I've spent much of my life fearing that if I looked at all attractive, I would be dragged off in the bushes and raped at first opportunity, and IT WOULD BE ALL MY FAULT. The rape I always thought I could deal with, but having my community blame me for it... that was the killer part. (I will add that I've generally had good Christian communities that didn't focus on this too much, but I read a lot and there are a lot of Christian dating books and such that promote that idea.) I finally last summer decided to wear tank tops for the first time since I was little, and went out around town, and guess what? No one noticed! (with the exception of a few close friends who know me well) All of the men that I walked by (nervously) just kept right on going, or maybe nodded a hello, with the possible exception of one guy who said something along the lines of, "Oh, isn't it nice that we're finally getting sun after such a cold and rainy summer?" You get the point. In fact, all of the ogling that I've gotten in the past was when I was wearing loose jeans and baggy sweatshirts. It doesn't MATTER what you're wearing. Guys who want to ogle will ogle, and guys who want to treat you decently will.

    I have a dance studio that I attend regularly that has an unspoken philosophy that has made so much difference in the way I feel about these issues. The belief is that if you want to dress up and look physically attractive or feminine, you're welcome to. If not, you're welcome here as well. But when we go out to dance together (as we do once a month as a big group), you have the right to be safe. So if you're a woman who is getting hit on by creepy guys who won't leave you alone, your people look out for you. The men in our group will come over and grab your hand and take you off to dance (and when the dance is finished they may try to make sure they leave you in a different part of the room from the creepy guys). The women in the group will come over and grab your hand and call you to the bathroom for a "private chat", or whatever else she can think of. If you ever need someone to walk you to your car when we leave, or to drive you to your car, you've got it. Normally it's not a big deal, and we all just have a good time and enjoy each other. If necessary, though, we hold to the idea that everyone has the right to be safe and enjoy the evening out with friends, irregardless of clothing, and we have each others' backs. (And while it hasn't been a huge issue, it would be 100% the same for the guys in our group, who have equal right to say no and not be hit on by creepy people who don't respect their no.)

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  56. I really appreciate your point about specks and planks, Luke. What kills me the most about the whole Christian-female-modesty-obligation issue is that it feels like a great big game of shame and manipulation. If you don't feel shamed into conforming to a somewhat arbitrary standard of modesty, then you obviously must be manipulating the male population into giving you what you want, be it attention, love, stuff, whatever. The church should be teaching its women to rise above that game, not feed into it. But asking for real transformation is too hard, so we'll just paint everything to look real nice by making you follow our rules.

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  57. I really hope that church culture wakes up to what you're saying here. I had it drilled into my head FOR YEARS by Christian School/Sunday School/Summer Camp that I had a moral obligation to keep my "brothers" from sinning. The reason used to enlist my compliance? That my body would then be safe from the men I hadn't aroused into sin. This caused a lot of pain during adolescence...were my tank top straps too thin? The lining of my swimsuit top not thick enough? That group of boys made me feel uncomfortable...is it my fault? Now, in my late twenties, I have accumulated enough life experience to realize that it is the mere existence of women that arouses (some) men into sin. I've been sexually harassed while wearing a knee-length dress with long sleeves. While wearing wearing jeans and a winter coat. Even while wearing that most revered piece of church youth retreat clothing....the one-piece swimsuit.

    If modesty is indeed what keeps women safe from predatory men (i.e.: by removing temptation), then how to explain what's happening to modestly dressed women in Egypt? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19440656

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  58. Headless Unicorn GuyDecember 9, 2012 at 11:49 PM

    The basic premise that many of the commenters were defending was that women have a responsibility to dress modestly in order to keep men from sinning (by thinking lustful thoughts). Most commenters were pretty forceful in driving this point home.

    Isn't that the exact same rationale used by Extreme Islam to justify the burqa, the locked harem, and honor killings?

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    1. Yes, much of the idea in countries that have extreme dress codes, etc for women is that women are responsible for the lust of men. What scares me sometimes is that I've read comments on other Christian discussions about modesty where someone (or more than one person) says, "Well, we don't want to say that women need to wear the burqa... But isn't it great that Muslim women are so modest? If only women in this country would be that modest..." I get the real impression that what they want is, in fact, for us to wear burqas. Which is counter-productive, aside from being oppressive and controlling towards women. As has been pointed out, the more you force women to hide, the more you sexualize everything that is hidden. In a culture where women wear no shirts, breasts are baby feeders instead of sex toys (not that they can't be both). In a culture where women walk around in shorts all the time, knees are no big deal. Unless it's usually covered, chances are you don't consider hair to be a huge turn-on. But if you are told that knees must be covered, then seeing a glimpse of them might drive you wild. Or if you live in our country, an accidental glance of cleavage if a woman bends over too much might do the same thing. Similarly, if you cover a woman in a burqa, then a chance breeze stirs it and you get a tantalizing peek at her ankles (something not considered sexual in most of the world), it is likely to cause you to react. The main sexual organ is the brain, and it's drawn to what is considered tempting or alluring. That's why it's all about self-control and considering the people around you to be real human beings worthy of respect rather than trying to control one person's lust by changing the actions of someone else.

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  59. I found a link to your blog and certainly respect the redemptive heart for gender equality behind the message. I have a few comments, however. But first, a question for you to ponder.
    What is better when confronted with the object of our sinful desires: for one to flee (1 Cor 6:18), to stay and fight the desire (1 Cor 6:20), to point the blame (1 Cor 11:1-16), or to give in and enjoy for the time (probably not a good idea)?
    From this article, you might say the correct answer is #2. I would say there's not one correct answer.
    Yes, it is important to have an outlet for impulses towards lust (1 Cor 7:9). A friend, an internet blocker, a church… Marriage is recommended by Paul in this instance. It is also important to realize that there are those weaker in faith than you are. Children, for example, need protection from the evils that are rampant not only from within us, but from the forces all around us. There is a subject (our sinful desires) and an object to all impulses. Our folly DOES negatively impact others. Other’s folly does negatively impact us. The church should recognize this. Recovering sex addicts, as well, are weak in these matters, not just women.
    The church must take the side of the marginalized, whoever that may be. In this case it is the recovering sex addict. Male or female, no difference. Not only is it institutionally easier to place rules on the tangible, it is wiser.
    Are you suggesting an abolition of dress codes? If not, fine. If so, please rethink. Dress codes are important, as they help us to respect ourselves, which both men and women should learn to do. As we are all on the road of sanctification, the church should be a place that recognizes things that have been historically a problem.
    Those were some of my initial thoughts. What do you think?

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    1. "Recovering sex addicts, as well, are weak in these matters, not just women." ?? Not sure what you meant here.

      "The church must take the side of the marginalized, whoever that may be. In this case it is the recovering sex addict. Male or female, no difference. Not only is it institutionally easier to place rules on the tangible, it is wiser."

      The problem is that while placing rules can seem wiser, in many cases they lead to more problems. Humanity in general is tempted to create a list of rules and regulations to handle any possible situation that might come up rather than working on the harder issues of inner growth and maturity. We also find it easier to limit the freedoms of others rather than to limit ourselves and work on our own self-control. Some rules and limits may be necessary, but the problem in the area of modesty is that many churches/groups have taken what by their definition is a male problem (the issue of lustful feelings and actions towards women) and putting all of the responsibility (and all of the blame for failure) on the shoulders of women. Not only is this unfair to both sexes, it is also doomed to failure, because as Jesus teaches, only the person sinning is capable of stopping that sin.

      Furthermore, many of the rules and comments made towards women by churches are impossible to fulfill. The basic tenets of this philosophy are that ALL men are sex addicts and so ALL women who are around men must protect the weak men from their fallen selves. The problem is that the trigger is not tight clothes, or cleavage, or anything along those lines; the trigger is simply being female. You won't hear that stated explicitly, but many of the stories (shared here and in spinoff discussions about this, linked above) involved girls who were naturally curvy being lectured about how they were too tempting IRREGARDLESS OF THEIR CLOTHING because their breasts were large. Or women sexually assaulted or harassed while wearing loose jeans and baggy sweatshirts, and told that they asked for it because of their dress. Or maybe sent home from school because of a skirt that was an inch too short. On one board (from a long time ago) discussing a girl who went to church in a dress with spaghetti straps someone said, "People who sin like that are going to hell." And on and on. That is what placing rules on women to control men's sin looks like.

      Or perhaps another analogy would be helpful. Someone used the analogy of alcoholism and women wearing tight clothes being the equivalent of asking your recovering addict friend to go out for a few beers with you. I would suggest that it is more like a pastor suggesting that because there are food addicts out there who wrestle with everything they eat, any and all serious Christians should give up eating. Permanently. And that nothing else is acceptable. You may think I am exaggerating, but as I mentioned earlier, many of the rules and comments have the underlying message that what is wrong with women is that they have a female body. Period. Yet not a one of us is capable of stopping ourselves from having a female body, ever, at least not while we walk this earth.

      "Are you suggesting an abolition of dress codes?" it depends on what you mean by a dress code. If you mean that some clothing styles and types are acceptable in one arena and not another, then I don't think anyone is suggesting that. To use an extreme example, the clothing I wear to a formal ball (which my dance studio has a few times a year) is different than what I wear to my office job, which is different than what I wear to my manual labor volunteer job. It wouldn't be reasonable or appropriate in our society to wear the same clothes to all three (although I must admit that I'm amused at the idea of showing up to work in a formal ballgown). But what the modesty culture referred to in this post is different, and to be honest I think getting rid of a lot of those rules would be to everyone's benefit.

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    2. I'm sorry; when it's this late and I'm tired I'm not capable of being succinct. Lots of text!

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    3. Jackalope- well said!!!

      "The basic tenets of this philosophy are that ALL men are sex addicts" yes, exactly.

      "I would suggest that it is more like a pastor suggesting that because there are food addicts out there who wrestle with everything they eat, any and all serious Christians should give up eating. Permanently. And that nothing else is acceptable." Yes, this! And I totally agree that the attitude behind "modesty culture" is that femininity is inherently evil and dangerous.

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  60. Thanks for this. I haven't read all the comments here, so perhaps I'm not the first to say it, but the thing that makes me crazy is that we're still having these conversations, and we're having them like they're new. There's this deep information abyss/amnesia going on (which often afflicts movements that challenge the status quo). Did I write about these issues in (Christian) college papers ten years ago? Yep. Did women of the previous generations make similar critiques? Yep.

    But heaven forbid that we just remain silent while the dynamics persist. So thank you.

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  61. Dear Luke,

    A friend directed me to your blog and the article. I will not subject myself to reading the comments under the article. I can only imagine, especially based off of your post, the horrible things people have said.

    I just want to thank you for all that you wrote. I want to scream it from the rooftops! I've been saying this for years. I went through something tragic and it had NOTHING to do with how I dressed. I had one friend who was attacked after she left the gym... so are women not to wear athletic apparel? Seriously.

    I've written a fictional story based off of my trauma that will be published within the next month. I hope that Emily, myself, and many women out there can come together to change the culture...to push the focus off of blaming the victim, and prosecuting the offenders. I also hope to educate Christian leaders as well that what a woman wears doesn't equal rape, or lust in any way. I agree with you in that as believers, we all need to be modest in how we dress.

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  62. My sister sent me this article, and I want to tell you I really appreciate it.

    I actually run a blog on data/research criticism, and this made me think of a study that seems very relevant to the discussion.

    In 2009, there was an MRI study done that had men fill out a questionnaire about their attitudes towards women, then showed them pictures of women in various states of undress. When they recorded the brain activity of these men, they found that those who were most misogynistic on the questionnaire actually had no activity in the part of the brain that would have recognized these women as humans or had any empathy for them as people.

    I bring this up because it seems like some men are "double dipping" in the immorality pot here. Essentially, the more misogynistic you are to begin with, the harder it is to see women as human when they are wearing less clothing. So in this sense, blaming the women for what their wearing could hypothetically make the problem worse, by encouraging the misogyny that was intensifying the lust to begin with.

    Men's level of lust is not a static uncontrollable data point, it's linked deeply to how they feel about women in other areas as well. I'd love to hear a sermon about that some day. Evidence based morality is my favorite!

    Thanks for hosting more discussion on this!

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    1. Oops, forgot to link to more on the study....
      http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/02/090216-bikinis-women-men-objects.html

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  63. Just wanted to thank you for this post.
    Occasionally I hear from a dude who gets it.
    Almost never from Jesus-following types.
    So thanks.

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  64. I'm obviously too late to join the discussion, but I still wanted to thank you for this post. It's so empowering to see a male expressing these thoughts instead of just women! I also appreciate the fact that you address the issue that being attracted to someone is NOT the same as lusting after them. As has been pointed out in some of the comments above, this is an issue that hurts both women and men as well as our relationships with one another.
    When I was growing up, due to modesty rules and the ideas that guys "can't control themselves," that they are "visual," and that they couldn't help lusting after any girl dressed "immodestly," I equated attraction with lust (i.e. mental rape.) There were some guys in high school that I knew were attracted to me, not because they told me things like, "You're hot," but because they told my friends things like, "She's beautiful. I like her eyes." Even though their comments weren't derogatory, and even though they always acted respectfully toward me, I would feel uncomfortable around them because I couldn't stop thinking that they were picturing me naked, that they were imaging or wanting to have sex with me. Because that's what attraction is, right?
    Even though I think it's important for women to understand that a guy who is their friend still might hurt them, it's embarrassing to look back on the assumptions I made about what guys must be thinking when they looked at me. How stuck-up and self-righteous of me to decide any guy who said I was attractive was some kind of pervert; but to me it really was creepy and unsettling, and quite frankly still is sometimes.
    It's obvious why women should be offended by this crazy body-shaming mindset that's out there, but I also hope we all realize that the modesty issue is one that should be offensive to men, too.

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