The Double Edged Sword of Modesty

By: Tom Westerholm

Mattie Montgomery is the lead singer of a wildly popular heavy Christian band called For Today. Obviously, many people liked the status, while many others criticized him for being “too judgmental.” Most of the people who called him judgmental missed the fact that rather than telling women with provocative pictures on their Facebook to stop calling themselves Christians, Mattie was calling for Christians to stop posting provocative pictures. Bit of an important difference. But the argument got me thinking about how modesty fits into the Christian lifestyle.

The easy solution that is often presented to the problem of modesty is to ask women to dress less provocatively. After all, it’s not like we men would be looking if you weren’t giving us something to look at, amirite bros? Women, right? Always acting crazy. *elbows other guys in the ribs in a manly way*

There are two major problems with this line of thinking. First, we are blaming women for our own shortcomings. If I was on a diet and you were eating a doughnut, I might appreciate it if you didn’t eat it in front of me, but if I yelled at you for doing so, I would be blaming you for my own lack of self-control, which wouldn’t be fair. Also, I would never ask a stranger not to eat a doughnut in front of me for the sake of my diet. After all, it’s my fault that I suck at denying myself sweets. In the same way, I might appreciate it if a woman didn’t wear an incredibly low-cut shirt or post Facebook pictures in her swimsuit, but if I yelled at her for doing so, I’m blaming her for my crappy self-control rather than holding myself accountable.

Second, by asking women to cover up, aren’t we actually objectifying women in a different way, telling them that their body parts tempt us so they must cover them? Rather than taking the focus off of a woman’s sexuality, we are continuing to focus it, but in a reverse way. “Hey girl, I like your boobs, now cover them.” By saying this, I’m still objectifying women, and worse, I’m trying to control them, only I’m doing it under the guise of Christianity.

And yet, the fact still remains that if women underdress, men will continue to stare and lust. We have been brought up in an over-sexualized, over-stimulated culture in which everywhere men look we see a billboard with a swimsuit model or a Facebook picture with a ton of cleavage or those spam internet ads that you see on sites where you illegally download your music perfectly legitimate websites that you use for perfectly legitimate reasons. I don’t know if men are wired to be more sexually visual, but we are certainly nurtured to be that way by the visual images in our society.

So I guess my point is that for men to ask women not to dress provocatively, they are objectifying women, while if women do dress provocatively, men will be more tempted to look. I don’t have a real solution to this problem. I’m just pointing out that the whole thing is a giant, uncomfortable mess.

I don’t claim to be an expert on this subject. Feel free to call me a sexist pig, present your own solution, or offer other ideas in the comments. Let’s have a discussion.

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7 thoughts on “The Double Edged Sword of Modesty

  1. Aimee Jo says:

    I enjoyed this post very much, first of all. And second, when I first saw Mattie post this on twitter it really hit home for me. As a girl I sometimes show my body off, and it made me realize that I can’t sit around calling myself a Christian if I have no intention on changing myself. I mean, if your faith hasn’t changed you than it probably hasn’t saved you either.
    That being said, I agree completely with what you’ve said also. Men shouldn’t ask women to dress a certain way around them, I mean, that’s exactly what got us here from the beginning. Women were sex objects and were dressed up like dolls and used as trophies for men.
    Respect is the only way this issue can be fixed. If men respected women as equals and respected their bodies as holy temples than women would return the respect by not dressing so provocatively thus asking for men to disrespect them. There needs to be team work from both sexes.

    • I agree, Aimee, especially about respect. The way our culture has glorified sex, I worry that we are going to have a lot of trouble teaming up. But I think talking about it might at least put us on the right track.

  2. Excellent breakdown of a touchy subject. Both perspectives you present are valid, and you lay them out concisely and succinctly. Bravo. The ultimate question seems to me to be “So who then bears the brunt of the burden to prevent lust, men or women? The chicken or the egg? The voyeur or the porn star? Answering this question firmly either way is a sexist and silly thing to do, and in today’s secular culture, made even more ridiculous because the question itself has been thrown out. Watch the Philip DeFranco on Youtube for an example. This is a guy who makes a wildly popular YouTube show recapping the day’s news and talking about thing that interest him, including porn. In fact, I’m discovering that today’s culture doesn’t really apologize for lust and pornography anymore – it simply accepts it. Consider TheOatmeal.com, another wildly popular website that acknowledges and accepts pornography’s place at the center of the Internet. On another tack, in college I was assigned to read a book about “Christian Sex” that left a big open door for its idea of “non-sinful” consumption of pornography inside a marriage context. So where does modesty even fit in anymore? In the out of touch facebook posts of “Christian Musicians”? The Bible seems clear enough on the subject, the foundation of moral teachings against lust come from Jesus’ mouth: “You have heard it said, do not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – So coming back around, in my mind these words place the onus on the man, though I have a feeling Bible scholars can probably point at words of Paul and others on the subject of modesty on the part of women – something about head coverings comes to mind. So I’m back around to where I started in my own mind… chicken, or the egg?

    • Not sure if you meant to include For Today in the “out of touch Facebook posts of ‘Christian Musicians,'” but for the record, I know the guys and they are very well plugged in.

      I agree about what Jesus has to say about lust. I just don’t see anything beneficial in porn. I don’t believe that there can be “non-sinful” consumption. Call me close-minded, but I just don’t see it.

  3. Derrick says:

    It’s all just a big circle. Men lust after women. Women want to get attention from men. Women wear revealing clothes. Men love it and encourage it by giving them the attention they wanted.

    Why should we not try to stop the circle? I mean if we are trying to be as much like Christ as possible, shouldn’t we make any effort we can?

    I really don’t think it’s objectifying women to tell them to dress less provocatively. If they did, maybe guys would look for qualities in women besides sexuality. Then, if men start looking for other qualities, perhaps women gain more self esteem and don’t even feel the need to dress that way. (this is all in generalities, as not all women and men are like this, obviously)

  4. […] The Double Edged Sword of Modesty (cardboardmagazine.wordpress.com) […]

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