Thursday, June 19, 2014

Modesty Culture Part 8: Sexism and Misogyny

Modesty Culture Part 8: Sexism and Misogyny

From Merriam Webster:

Sexism (noun):
1:  prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially :  discrimination against women
2:  behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Misogyny (noun):
a hatred of women

That “Modesty Culture” is strongly sexist is almost beyond dispute, but I will attempt to demonstrate this in this post.

I also intend to show that “Modesty Culture” is based on deeply misogynist underpinnings.

Sexism in Action

Some friends of mine have their children in a home study program from a local charter school. Although this was news to a social worker in one of my legal cases, charter schools are public schools. They receive public funding, and have to follow most of the same regulations that other public schools follow.

So, recently, this charter school scheduled an event involving water balloons.

Soon, an e-mail went out to all the parents making it clear that the girls were not to wear swimsuits.

Nothing was said about the boys.

Until one parent protested that this was sexist, at which point, the dress code was applied to both genders.

Again, let me say for the record: this was a public school. A public elementary school. So this involved kids, not teens. But apparently “Modesty Culture” has reached there too (probably because these are home school families), and someone got his or her panties in a knot imagining that little girls might wear swimsuits to a school event, and that little boys might actually see little girls in swimsuits. The horror!

This is how it always goes.

Whenever there is discussion of “Modesty,” it is always about the girls. It never, ever starts with the boys. People don’t sit around talking about how awful it is that parents don’t make their boys cover up. (Unless they are talking about ghetto pants - and that discussion has everything to do with race.) They never talk about the way boys are “defrauding” the girls.

More than anything, when activities involving water are planned, no one ever says, “We had better make sure the boys don’t wear swimsuits.”

Because this is never about male bodies. Just female bodies.

Sure, some try to make it seem less sexist by making a token nod to the guys, but that is never where it starts. It always starts with the girls. Always. I have never in all my time in the Patriarchy movement or in Evangelicalism heard it start with the boys. Nope, always with the girls. Usually, boys won’t even get mentioned.

(Good examples of the token nod can be found many places, but I would use the example of the Duggars, who have had a policy for their girls for years, but who finally decided that the boys couldn’t wear shorts. Dollars to donuts it was out of a realization that it looked sexist otherwise, not because they really started out thinking that boy’s calves caused lust in young women.)

Imagine, for another example, that you were planning a youth group pool party. How many seconds do you think would elapse before someone raised the issue of what dress code should be imposed on the girls? Ten seconds?

Likewise, imagine a “Letter to Young Men” that paralleled the ones to young women that proliferate on the internet. If the genders were reversed, wouldn’t it sound ludicrous? (see link below in the notes)

Perhaps the best example from the recent news is that of a certain Mrs. Hall. This Mrs. Hall has a blog, perhaps best described as a “Christian Mommy Blog.” She wrote a post entitled “FYI - if you are a teenage girl” - essentially an open letter to her sons’ female facebook friends, complaining about their clothing, their "selfies," and their supposed seductive poses. 

Now, Mrs. Hall seems well meaning, and is probably - like many who promote “Modesty Culture” - a decent, nice person. However, she is also a glaring example of the sexist nature of the discussion.

Her post went viral - probably beyond her expectations. Some of my friends re-posted it. It even hit the news media, where she ran into some flak for a variety of reasons. There are plenty of thoughtful responses addressing the root issues of slut shaming, “defrauding,” and male responsibility. A couple of the best were from Kristen Howerton and Beth Woolsey

However, there was another fact that was noted: Mrs. Hall’s blog had pictures of her teen sons on the beach, shirtless, flexing their muscles. (Mrs. Hall subsequently deleted the photos, but you can find them here. I’ll note another deletion, once controversy arose…)  

I love that the blogger who reposed them pointed out that the flex is the teen male equivalent of the duckface. So note, Mrs. Hall had no problems with her sons displaying their strength, virility, and - let’s be honest - their sexiness, for all to see.

But when girls did it, the poop hits the fan, and they have to be unfriended.

This is clearly a double standard - and just as clearly sexist.

I believe, however, that it goes beyond sexism. Beliefs about women and their bodies are rooted in a misogyny that dates to the beginning of recorded history and is as near to a human universal as possible.

The Misogynistic View of Women

A root idea at the heart of “Modesty Culture” is that women’s bodies are a source of sin. Men’s bodies do not carry the same baggage. Their bodies are just human bodies, to be used and enjoyed at will. If anything, male sexuality is looked at as being positive, and to the extent that it isn’t that fact is blamed on women. “He couldn’t help himself,” “ boys will be boys,” etc.

But this in fact goes even deeper, to a belief that women are inherently a source of sin, and that they are unclean, deviant, and dangerous if not controlled properly. This belief transcends history, geography, and religion.

Let’s take a tour.

In the Western tradition, much of our thought stems from the influence of Plato and Aristotle. (Even today, much of cutting-edge philosophy is concerned with the same debates that these two men brought to Western civilization.)

Aristotle in particular did a lot of thinking about women. His work, Politics, laid out how he believed society should be structured, and the relationships between a free male and his three subordinates: women, children, and slaves. (Saint Paul’s discussion in Ephesians 6 is a clear remix - a midrash - of Politics, which would have been intimately familiar to him as an educated Roman citizen.)

In Aristotle’s view, women were defective men. Fetuses that developed normally became male, and those that were crippled somehow became female.

“The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities - a natural defectiveness.”

This followed naturally from the limited medical understanding of the time. A man “planted a seed” in a woman. That seed would grow to resemble the parent (the father) unless something went wrong. (Our understanding of egg and sperm and DNA has superseded this idea, but the treatment of women as defective compared to males lingers.)

Thomas Aquinas, who attempted a unified philosophy and theology blending the ideas of Aristotle with Roman Catholic teaching in his Summa Theologica, put it this way:

“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence."

Protestants are not exempt from this. Martin Luther:

“Girls begin to talk and to stand on their feet sooner than boys because weeds always grow up more quickly than good crops.”  

Confucius gets in on the act too:

“One hundred women are not worth a single testicle.”

Likewise the Koran explicitly states that men are inherently superior to women.

An orthodox Jewish prayer, dating back to antiquity - but still in use today - states:

“Blessed art thou, O Lord our God and King of the Universe, that thou didst not create me a woman.”

(The same prayer also gives thanks for not being created a Gentile and for not being created an uneducated man. Get your racism, sexism, and classism all in one place. It is possible that Christ was referring to this prayer or a predecessor when he chastised the pharisees for saying “I thank God I am not like other men.”)

Everywhere you look, you can find beliefs that women are defective compared to men. Indeed, this belief remains in the very depths of our thoughts and words about women. The assumption is that the “normal” form of mankind is male. Anything that deviates from that norm is abnormal, defective, dangerous. Thus, the ways that women differ from men are not really looked on as differences, but as defects. Woman’s smaller size is “weakness,” their statistically greater degree of empathy and cooperation is “sentimentality.” The very word “hysteria” means an illness of the uterus. Men are the norm, women are the scary “other.”

This likewise spills over into our view of female bodies and sexuality. The secondary sexual characteristics that define women are looked upon as the source of sin in men. The secondary sexual characteristics of men do not. Men don’t have to hide their broad shoulders, larger muscles, or facial hair. Those are normal human characteristics. The female characteristics - breasts, narrow waists, broader hips - are deviant and dangerous.

And what of the idea that women’s bodies are the source of sin? In fact, there is a longstanding, near-universal belief that women themselves are the source of sin. Let’s take a look.

Early church theologian Tertullian wrote the following:

Do you not believe that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on even in our times and so it is necessary that the guilt should live on, also. You are the one who opened the door to the Devil, you are the one who first plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree, you are the first who deserted the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, man. Because of your desert, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins?

By the way, this is from the first chapter of On The Apparel of Women, his detailed list of rules for how women should dress. (Modesty Culture has some deep roots.) In addition to his forbidding of any jewelry or makeup, he argues that women shouldn’t wear colored clothing at all. The worst, though, is his argument that if women really understood their true guilt via Eve, they would be “walking about as Eve mourning and repentant, in order that by every garb of penitence she might the more fully expiate that which she derives from Eve,— the ignominy, I mean, of the first sin, and the odium (attaching to her as the cause) of human perdition.”

He makes it even worse in another work.

"Woman is a temple built over a sewer, the gateway to the devil. Woman, you are the devil's doorway. You led astray one whom the devil would not dare attack directly. It was your fault that the Son of God had to die; you should always go in mourning and rags."

Perhaps St. Clement put it most succinctly:

“Every woman should be overwhelmed with shame at the thought that she is a woman."

This idea that women are responsible for the first sin - in a way that men are not - is woven through the history of the theology of gender. Make no mistake: women were believed to be as dangerous as Eve - or the devil. Each and every woman. All are the source of sin.

St. Jerome:

“Lift the corner of the dress and you will find the tip of the tail.”

St. John Chrysostome:

“Among all savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman.She is an inevitable evil, an eternal mischief, an attractive calamity, a domestic risk, a charming and decorated misfortune.”

Martin Luther:

"God created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve spoilt all, when she persuaded him to set himself above God's will. 'Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices, that lead men into error."

St. Albert Magnus:

“Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one's guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. ... Thus in evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good.”

Or how about this one from the Hindu Code of Mann, circa 100 BCE:

“It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the wise are never unguarded in the company of females. Women, true to their class character, are capable of leading astray men in this world, not only a fool but even a learned and wise man. Both become slaves of desire. Wise people should avoid sitting alone with one’s mother, daughter or sister. Since carnal desire is always strong, it can lead to temptation.” and “Men may be lacking virtue, be sexual perverts, immoral and devoid of any good qualities, and yet women must constantly worship and serve their husbands.”

Wait, isn’t that sounding a bit like Modesty Culture? (Actually, it is frightening how much this Hindu work resembles Doug Phillips’ teachings on gender, "stay at home daughters" included.)

Or how about the secular politician Cato, arguing that a law prohibiting women from wearing jewelry should not be repealed. (It was, despite his efforts. This incident, by the way, occurred during the same cultural period as the New Testament.)

“Give loose rein to [women’s] uncontrollable nature and to this untamed creature and expect that they will themselves set bounds to their is complete liberty, or rather if you want to speak the truth, complete license they desire...From the moment they become your equals, they will become your masters.”

Yes, if we don't control women and their clothing, utter license and perdition will follow.

From The Ancrene Rewle, on the reasons women should enter convents:

“It was commanded in the Old Law that a pit should always be covered; and if an animal fell into an uncovered pit, the man who had uncovered the pit had to pay the penalty. These are horrible words for the woman who shows herself to men’s sight...The pit is her fair face, and her white neck, and her light eye, and her hand...She is guilty...and must pay for his soul on the Day of Judgment.”

Sound familiar? See, you cannot separate Modesty Culture from the misogynistic view of women and their bodies. Female bodies are dangerous to men because women are dangerous, defective, the very source of evil in the world.

Whenever one talks about “defrauding,” “making it hard for the men,” “sending the wrong message,” and so on, what one is really saying is “women and their bodies are pits, by very nature the cause of men’s sin.”

At the root, it is misogyny that causes us to view women’s bodies this way, and men’s in a completely different way.

I bring this up in part because there has been a lot of ink wasted on trying to find reasons, scientific and religious, why women’s bodies are different, and thus naturally sexualized. On the Darwinian side, you have the argument that it is easier to see a woman’s likely fertility from her shape than a man’s. Or the old saw that men are more visually stimulated than women - which turned out to be false once one actually, you know, tried a scientific experiment.

All of these seem to me to violate Ockham’s Razor. Among competing hypotheses, select the one with the fewest assumptions until proven wrong.

The simplest theory is that of misogyny, driven by an exclusively male experience of sin and lust.  A disdain for - and dehumanizing of women combined with a desire to shift blame. As the father of our race once put it, “The woman you gave me…”


In the next installment, I will talk about the inconsistent ways dress codes are applied, depending on unchangeable phyisical characteristics - and also the presence of “shamefacedness” and adherence to gender roles.

Note on Sexism in dress:

I cannot recommend highly enough Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers.
As well as brilliantly taking down many of the sacred cows of patriarchy and sexism, she shows pretty clearly that whenever anything becomes desireable to men, they take it from women, and it is thenceforth forbidden to women. She lists all of the vocations that were once women’s work, until they became profitable enough for men to take them over, and exclude women from them, except as low paid workers.

She also notes that this is the case when it comes to clothing. This was written when it was still controversial for women to wear pants - it was considered “immodest” of course...exactly the way pants for women are treated by Lindvall, Gothard, Phillips, and the rest...

[T]ake the sniggering dishonesty that accompanies every mention of trousers. The fact is that, for Homo, the garment is warm, convenient and decent. But in the West (though not in Mohammedan countries or in China) Vir has made the trouser his prerogative, and has invested it and the skirt with a sexual significance for physiological reasons which are a little too plain for genility to admit. (Note: that the objection is always to the closed knicker or trouser; never to open drawers, which have a music-hall significance of a different kind.) It is this obscure male resentment against interference with function that complicates the simple Homo issue of whether warmth, safety, and freedom of movement are desirable qualities in a garment for any creature with two legs. Naturally, under the circumstances, the trouser is also taken up into the whole Femina business of attraction, since Vir demands that a woman shall be Femina all the time, whether she is engaged in Homo activities or not. If, of course, Vir should take a fancy to the skirt, he will appropriate it without a scruple; he will wear the houppelande or the cassock if it suits him; he will stake out his claim to the kilt in Scotland or in Greece. If he chooses (as he once chose) to deck himself like a peacock in the mating season, that is Vir’s right; if he prefers (as he does today) to affront the eye with drab colour and ridiculous outline, that is Homo’s convenience. Man dresses as he chooses, and Woman to please him; and if Woman says she ever does otherwise, he knows better, for she is not human, and may not give evidence on her own behalf.

(Note: throughout the work, Sayers uses Homo to refer to humans collectively, Vir to refer to males, and Femina to refer to females. She also shows how Vir is considered to be the representation of Homo, and that Feminia isn’t. Did I mention how strongly I recommend this book?)

An Alternate View of Adam and Eve:

It’s pretty funny, actually, the old belief about Adam and Eve. Eve was supposedly more easily deceived, and that’s why the devil picked her.

In my view, this is backwards. The devil picked Eve because he figured Adam would be a pushover. The “Father of Lies” himself, the greatest deceiver in the history of the world, a great and powerful supernatural being: the most irresistible liar of all time! And she questioned him. Eve was persuaded by the best there ever was.  That’s respect! Adam, on the other hand, didn’t even say anything in protest, easily being led along by a mere woman.

Perhaps what would have happened had Adam eaten first is that Eve would have given him a look, and said, “couldn’t you even ask for directions?” Just saying.

A bit on the thinkers of the past:

My intent is not to run down the great thinkers of the past. Aristotle and Aquinas and Luther all contributed to much that is good in the world. However, they were products of their time, and subject to making wrong assumptions just as we are. That said, I do not excuse misogyny in them. As with any human’s writing, one must cling to what is good while rejecting that which is not.

What I find most annoying is not that historical figures and cultures have been misogynist, it's that modern day Christian leaders try to pretend that we don’t have a misogynist past. That we always believed women were equal in value, intelligence, and ability. No, we didn’t. Until recently, and only in some cultures, women were believed to be inferior to men. Period. End of sentence. This isn’t debatable.

Even worse, though, is the way that Christian leaders try to claim that we believe women are equal in value, intelligence, and ability, while saying things that clearly indicate an inferiority. “Women are more easily deceived.” “Women shouldn’t be leaders in the church, home, or society.” Sorry, that indicates a belief in inferiority, and you sound silly when you say that you believe women are not inferior. It also requires that you ignore the misogynist roots of those ideas. Woman's exclusion from leadership is inextricably fused with the idea that women are congenitally inferior, as are most of our stereotypes about male and female traits. And yet, we have book after book proclaiming gender essentialism as being God's truth, rather than the lingering result of millennia of misogyny.

Which leads me to:

Note on the struggle to keep one’s faith:

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most offensive things Christians can say is, “People become atheists because they want license to sin.” It’s far from universally true, and it paints everyone outside the faith as immoral and unethical - as monsters, really.

I can say, as someone who has wrestled greatly with my faith throughout my adult life, that it is often the opposite. The struggle for me has been how to resolve the conflict between my faith and my conscience. The things that are taught and done are offensive to my conscience. The apologies for slavery, for example, I find to be evil. Likewise, the longstanding misogyny and sexism is a problem for me. Originally, it wasn’t unique to the church, obviously, but a universal. (And even now, strident atheism is largely misogynistic too.)

Lately, however, many parts of secular culture - (gasp!) Feminism, for example - have actively fought against misogyny, while the church seems largely intent on defending it, whether by condoning domestic violence, promoting gender roles and stereotypes as God’s plan for mankind, or by being the one last place that women cannot speak or lead.

This has led me several times to places where I worried that I would either have to jettison both my brain and my conscience, or leave Christianity.

Ultimately, though, I have hope, because Christianity did eventually reject slavery, witch burning, and other evils of the past. It can evolve - and badly needs to.

The bottom line: Christ himself was never dismissive to women, never blamed them for men’s sins, never treated them as defective or dangerous. If Christianity can be more like Christ, and less like the culture of the past, I can accept that.  

A few links:

Micah Murray’s excellent post on feminism and why sexism is real. Excellent job of reversing the genders to show how ludicrous it is.

Oh, and this one too. Darcy’s blog is full of gems, not the least of which is her harrowing account of her courtship. This post takes the whole “Letter to Young Girls” thing and gender flips it. 

One final gender flipper. A friend tagged me when she posted this. I am so guilty of this. Heck, I’ve owned a tux since I was 18. “When Suits Become a Stumbling Block”

Yet another one on the targeting of females with dress codes. “Dress code continues to be a concern, specifically with our female students.” Nope, no sexism to see here. Move along.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Modesty Culture Part 7: Maybe Christian Women Should Buy Their Clothes at WalMart

Modesty Culture Part 7: Maybe Christian Women Should
Buy Their Clothes at WalMart

Post update: After some comments from Facebook, I realized I needed to make some things clear. 1. This post is hyperbole. 2. No, I do not believe all Christians should just shop at WalMart. I thought that was obvious, but apparently not. 3. I am taking a hyper-literal approach to the real meaning - in context - of the passage in question. I am actually the opposite of a Biblical theonomist, and I deplore interpretations that seek to impose rules based on a hyper-literal interpretation. 4.  I do stand by my assertion that classism is a big problem in our society and in the Church. 5. I am trying to point out that we have misused this passage by ignoring its actual meaning, and instead have used it as a proof-text to enforce cultural clothing preferences. 


Try to remember the last time you heard a “hard hitting” sermon on the problem of classism in American Christianity. Crickets, more likely than not.

But did you know that this was one of greatest concerns of the apostles? In I Corinthians, Saint Paul is appalled that the rich are getting drunk while the poor go hungry. Saint James warns against showing favoritism to the rich. Christ himself warns that it is more difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God.

But we have made it so that wealth is equivalent to Godliness in far too many things.

It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss all of my observations on this point. I’ll simply say that if you analyze a lot of what is considered to be “godliness” by the conservative church, you will find that it is much easier to attain if you have money. And nearly impossible if you do not.

Let’s look at James 2 (all quotations are from the NASB unless otherwise stated:

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.  For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?  But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court?  Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

Saint James doesn’t pull any punches. By showing favoritism to the wealthy and the higher classes, we become judges with evil motives.

Let’s apply this to the Modesty Culture context.

Attaining the definition of “Modesty” takes money.

You can’t buy “modest” clothing off the rack at WalMart.

In fact, if you look at much of what is deplored as “immodest,” you will find that it is the sort of thing the “hoi polloi” wear.

The sort of stuff you find on the rack at WalMart.

The sort of stuff that people of limited means wear. I do not think it would be stretching at all to say that a lot of what is deplored as “immodest” is really just “low class.”

The big elephant in the room of conservative Christianity is an out-of-control classism.

You can see it in our celebrity culture. We have our own celebrity pastors, with their own brands, big houses, and huge budgets. Speakers that command high fees and fill stadiums. We practically scream like schoolgirls seeing the Beatles whenever a celebrity converts, or becomes known to be a Christian. As if their souls were worth far more than that of a poor brown skinned person.

You can see it in the way that we talk about people on food stamps and the way they cook and shop, as if they were immoral or stupid, rather than impoverished.

You can see it in how we talk about immigration. Educated immigrants - often from Asian countries are fine, but no more of those impoverished dirty Mexicans. (Class and race are so intertwined in the United States.)

You can see it in the horror of “Obamacare,” because heaven forbid poorer and younger people get the guaranteed and affordable health care that older, wealthier people do.

You can see it in the way that class can get you instant credibility in church, just as it does in the greater culture.

And believe me, you can see it in the swimsuits advertised as “modest.” This goes equally for the ultraconservative ones with the offensive branding of “cover up for Christand the retro “modest” suits. Well, they cost $90 or more. Sure, some of them are cute and kind of “vintage.” (Meaning from a past era, of course.) Hey, you want to wear them, fine. If they fit and look good, why not? If you can afford them. Same thing with catalogues like Land’s End. We’ve bought stuff from there. Usually, it is high quality - but with a price to match. Not everyone has the budget for a $75.00 swimsuit. Also, many of the suits don't work or fit well for slender figures. If you like it and can afford it, go ahead.

But don’t confuse your ability to afford these expensive outfits with “godliness.” It’s your economic privilege, not your virtue, showing. And likewise, don’t confuse your upper middle class sense of style with “godliness.” It’s your sense of snobbery, not your virtue, showing.

Those women who are wearing basic bikinis off the rack at WalMart aren’t more sinful than you.

WalMart Juniors swimsuit. Cost: $10.00
Rey Swimsuits retro suit. Cost: $100.00
Likewise, all those homemade dresses? The ones that look like Amish dresses? (The type my wife was forced to wear during her teens…)

Those too show your privilege.

People who make less money than you don’t have the time to sew their own clothes. They are busy trying to survive. They also don’t have the privilege of using their clothing as a protest against mainstream culture. And so they buy culturally normal clothes at WalMart.

So again, what you are calling godliness and modesty is really just your goddamn wealth and privilege that you are flaunting.

If you took I Timothy 2 literally, you would buy your clothes at WalMart

If you really want to take I Timothy 2 as literally as possible, what would you do?

You would make sure you wear clothes that are affordable by the least privileged in our society. WalMart. 

Or maybe a thrift shop.

Dress your kids on those Dora the Explorer t-shirts that were on the clearance rack.

That would be keeping with the spirit (and the letter) of Saint Paul’s instructions. Wear stuff that doesn’t show off your wealth, but is normal, well ordered, and typical of the less fortunate in your culture.

Don’t make worship - or “godliness” about what you are wearing or your ability to afford it.

In my opinion, those who impose dress codes on others are actually violating the spirit of “Modesty.”

They are making worship and “godliness” about what they are wearing. And what others are wearing. They are sexualizing worship. They are showing off their superior “godliness.”

In the next section, I will talk about the millennia old sexism and misogyny at the root of “Modesty Culture.”

Note on a modern example of showing favoritism:

Lest you think that favoritism is a problem of the past, let me just give an example.

If I walk into a church, wearing my khakis and collared shirt, tell people I am a lawyer when asked what I do (often the first question a man gets asked), and pull out my violin, what happens? I get instant respect and credibility. I have established my credentials as part of the educated professional upper middle class.

No let’s imagine instead that a young man comes in wearing saggy ghetto pants, who is out of work after layoffs at the oilfield. You are dreaming if you think he gets any respect from any church he walks into. Double that if he is African American. (Class and race are bound up together in our nation. One of the worst things a middle class white boy can do is dress or act “Black.”)

I think if Saint James walked into our churches, there would be some ‘splainin’ to do. Just saying.

Let me just mention one more thing: big breasts and big butts are associated in our minds (and to a degree in reality) with African Americans and Hispanics. Flat, cylindrical figures are associated more with northern Europeans and Asians. Hmm. Harder to be "Modest" when one is a person of color, methinks.

One more on classism:

I am trying to remember a time when I heard a sermon on classism. Specifically, a sermon wherein I was called to task for making classist statements about dress, intelligence, behavior, etc. (Because I have committed this sin, as have most people I know.)

There is at least one website dedicated to mocking the “People of WalMart.” You probably already know this, because your friends have posted it. We mock the clothing, the body shapes, the language (very guilty), the culture, and the tastes, of those of lower class. We assume they are all lazy, stupid, and above all, tasteless.

I am becoming increasingly uncomfortable with this attitude, because I find it hard - impossible really - to reconcile with the teachings of Christ. (And a number of the apostles too…)

But I cannot remember ever hearing a sermon condemning this sort of humor-at-others’-expense. Ever.

But you know what I have heard? Thousands (literally) of discussions, teachings, sermons, blog posts, articles, and so on about how bad it is that young girls dress the way they do.

Again, we completely ignore the intended meaning of the passage - classism and materialism - and instead make it about the supposed sexual faults of others. 

Note on WalMart:

Yes, I know one can buy one-piece suits for cheap at WalMart. In the old ladies' section. With all of the control panels, underwires, and other devices in them. They are generally sized for the wider figure. No, they are not comfortable or well fitted to younger or thinner females. 

Yet somehow, we are shocked, shocked, that young women would rather shop in the juniors section rather than wear what their grandmothers are wearing. 

Note on showing off:

In some ways, it is hard to find a better example of this than the Duggars. Most people have heard of their “reality” show on TLC. What fewer know is that they are part of Gothard’s cult - and indeed promote his ideas on the show - and that they also have ties to and promote Doug Phillips (Vision Forum) and the Pearls.

However, even the casual observer can see that they have a pretty good bit of wealth. The enormous house, the multiple businesses, the bus that cost more than my house, the multiple household staff, and so on. There sure seems to be a lot of focus during the show on these things.

Also, there is the way that they constantly use the show to promote their particular viewpoints. I don’t necessarily begrudge them this, but it sure seems to be showing off how spiritual they consider themselves, and how they believe that their way is so much more “godly” than the way normal people do things. A little self-awareness would lead them to recognize that much of what they are able to do is due to their economic privilege, and would be completely unavailable to the average person.

An interesting article:

Unsurprisingly, class plays a huge role in “slut” shaming. It also rarely if ever works to the advantage of those lower on the wealth and class scale.