Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Modesty in North-American Christian Culture

Warning: potentially controversial topic ahead…

Today, on Facebook, a friend of mine posted a link to THIS ARTICLE.  Its about a year old, and there is much discourse on the internet about it.  So, i'm late to the bandwagon.   However, it really got me thinking today outside of my “west coast-Canadian world view” & I am thankful for that.  I actually was quite surprised as to how much my emotions reacted to reading the article & found it difficult not to reply; even though I know that Facebook is not the best forum for complicated conversations.  I am thankful that I have friends who are not within the same socio-cultural standpoint that I am, who have different convictions than I do.  ‘Cause I need to be reminded of other perspectives, sometimes.  I would also like to hear yours, in my comment space! (though, if it gets rude, i will moderate comments!)

I think that modesty and purity is a topic that frequently comes up in Christian communities, and that it *should* be discussed, and *should* be controversial, because I think that it is important that women (and men) are able to express their views and opinions.  I believe that Christian men and women should think about how our actions, words, and choices, affect other people (Christian or not).  I also acknowledge that I definitely come from a more liberal-social-anglo-catholic world-view, so, I probably speak from that influence.

I struggle with is the idea of modesty and purity as Christian women, being a cover for the complicated social phenomenon of "slut shaming" and "rape culture." If you don’t know what rape-culture includes, at its most basic, it is the same idea that when a woman gets assaulted, and she happens to be showing cleavage or wearing a skirt, she was molested/assaulted because of the clothes she was wearing. That concept is absolutely.not.true.

Humans (men, women, Christian or not) are autonomous beings: I found that the article implies that it is our responsibility to control other peoples thought (in this article, through the choice of our athletic attire).  As a tall, fit, athletic, extroverted, good-looking woman, i gain attention NO MATTER what I am wearing.  I have heard from Christian communities that if I wear baggy clothes and ball caps, I am not engaging my god-given femininity. However, on the other hand, if I wear spandex or tank tops (err: rowing, triathlon, running, cycling, hiking, etc.), I (as in this article) could cause men to have impure thoughts. I found myself thinking, like others have written in other blogs, that articles like this removes dignity from both men and women: it denies women their identity, defining them as risky & tempting objects, and frames men as sex-driven fiends who have no control over their thoughts. It forgets that both men and women bearers of the image of Christ. If a man chooses to even look (um… look?  To open your eyes in the morning is “to look”) at a woman in “curve conforming attire,” the woman is "Asking for it."

It is never true that women are "asking for it," and always true that men have the responsibility to control how they express their desires.  Every human, including the sex-worker on my street, or the super-cut attractive guy on the beach, or the senior in my church, is made in the image of Christ, each deserving of equal dignity and respect. Therefore, even if I chose to dress less-modestly, I would still expect that I would be treated with dignity and respect.  As a woman who is strong, powerful, athletic, tall, christian, married, faithful and seeking of God and my husband, I am given the free-will to wear what I am comfortable in & I acknowledge that my choices do not control other peoples thoughts.

Based on that,
1)      I think it is important to note that women should be able to make choices based on what they feel comfortable with.  Therefore, if a woman feels empowered, strong, confident (and, dare I say strengthened in faith) in the clothing they choose to wear (conservative, "curve bearing" or, whatever), then they absolutely should wear that clothing. But… women should not be dictated in what they wear, out of guilt or shame for what they perceive men might think. 
2)      I can’t help but wonder how much of this article is culturally based:  Might we ask “what is the difference in “Christian” modesty v.s. “Southern-USA-Style Christian” modesty?”  i.e.: modesty is a socio-cultural concept.  In my personal experience, that I have learnt by living in many places over the past few years, the clothing-choices of Christians in Vancouver is very different from the choices of Christians in Malawi, and very different from Christians in West Virginia, etc. Even outside of Christian circles, if that is relevant… e.g. Yoga pants are frequently an acceptable office attire in Vancouver (probably because, or why, Lulu Lemon was founded in Vancouver).
3)      I do realize that the point of this article is not about violence against women, but, I see it as a quick skip and a jump away.  On a global basis, violence against women exists at the highest rates in conservative, religious countries. Despite the fact that those countries are not predominately Christian, this trend may shed light upon the fact that clothing choices do not correlate with such violence.

When looking up different thoughts on women and Christianity, I found a neat quote from the Archbishop of Canterbury: 
In God’s grace our very humanity is the material through which God’s divinity is revealed. Male or female, it matters not, so long as in our beings, through our clay, in a willingness to risk everything and stop at nothing, we offer ourselves to Christ and for Christ. Then we may in his grace and love be made like Christ, who emptied himself and took the form of a servant, for the sake of the world. In our very weakness, we may be the instruments of God’s transforming power for the world.

so, on a lighter and moderately more satirical note J I enjoyed this article: http://thesaltcollective.org/modesty-whensuitsbecomestumblingblock/

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