Modesty Culture is Bullshit

I have been doing a lot of thinking about how women are socialized to believe they must dress a certain way in order to be respected. Recently, I’ve delved into research on the topic of “modesty culture,” and more specifically, why this concept is complete bullshit.

I would tell all of the easily offended, conservative, “sex is for marriage only,” “I like to guilt women by using the Bible,” women-hating folks to stop reading this piece, but to be honest, I think you need this information more than my lovely, accepting, diversity-praising, women-loving friends. Please continue reading, and remember, it’s not your turn to talk, so keep your women-hating comments to yourself and broaden your minds.

 

Let us begin by discussing how modesty culture is nothing more than a concept created to promote the idea of women being property of men.

 

Men and women socialized to spread the messages of misogynists put down women who do not dress or act modestly enough to be deserving of respect or a stable relationship. They use guilt and denial of sexuality to shame women into denying their sexual feelings and self-expression.

To put it more simply, modesty culture, from my understanding, teaches women that they must act, dress, and be a certain way to be considered respectful or worthy of respect. Women must not wear or do certain things, such as wear revealing clothing, have sex before marriage, curse, participate in sex work, etc. The list continues.

 

Let’s get personal to put this into context for you all.

 

When I wear a revealing outfit, have casual sex, or somehow otherwise buck “modesty culture” it is not because I do not respect myself or that I place my value entirely on my body. No. I do it because I am confident in my body and know that every other woman on this planet has similar body parts (that are given to us at BIRTH), so therefore I am not showing anything that we haven’t ALL seen before.

Breasts, hips, vaginas, and any other womanly part you have is NOTHING to be ashamed of. And, can we be honest here? Being naked or wearing a spaghetti strap dress in the summer is comfortable. Get over your obsession with my shoulders and breasts; we all have them.

When I do not cover up it is not because I want men to disrespect me or that I am seeking attention based only on my body. Actually, I do not care what a man thinks about my body. Furthermore, I feel by placing so much emphasis on covering up to “value” ourselves, we are actually placing our worth entirely on our naked bodies. We are doing exactly what modesty culture claims we should not do.

 

We are told we should cover up so men value us for more than our image, but why are they incapable of doing so without a turtleneck and jeans covering MY body? Bullshit. I do not live to police the actions of men I cannot control.

 

I can show my body off because I know I have much more to offer than my image. What I wear or do not wear is for my own comfort. Go ahead and have a look, but good luck getting to know the deep, inner workings of my mind because those are far more valuable than any picture of my body you will ever see or receive. I love my body, but I also love my mind, and to me my mind is much more important to keep hidden and remain conservative with.

Wear whatever the fuck you want ladies. And remember, you do have much more to offer than your bodies, which is exactly why you should do whatever you want with it. Your body is yours. It is not your father’s body. It is not your mother’s. It is not your future husband or wife’s.

We are socialized to believe that to remain respectful to our fathers and our future husbands we must cover up and “respect ourselves.” What I choose to do with my body has nothing to do with my father or the man I may (or may not) choose to marry in the future. You define respect for yourself, no one else can do this for you. And what if I don’t want a husband or a wife in the future? Irrelevant.

 

Let’s continue with another personal story to illustrate further how ridiculous the concept of modesty culture is, this time in regards to “Dress Code” in schools.

 

Now ladies, I know you have all experienced the horrors of the dress code and the repercussions of not dressing in a manner deemed “appropriate” by the school administration. More than likely the administration is made up of mostly, if not all men.

I lost count of how many times my friends and I were in trouble for wearing a skirt or shorts too short, a shirt with straps too thin, a v-neck too low, or a dress that was just not “appropriate” enough for school. I remember multiple times sitting in a secret room in the office because my parents were unable to leave work to bring me different clothes, and I refused to wear my sweaty gym clothes for the remainder of the day. They call this “ISS” or in school suspension.

I think it is important to point out my high school did not have air conditioning, so it got pretty toasty in the summer and spring months. Our high school went as far as to ban LEGGINGS AND YOGA PANTS! Because, you know, our underage legs and booties were just too exposed in a pair of black, full-coverage pants.

Never mind the fact boys were allowed to cut out the sleeves on their shirts, wear see-through tights for dress-up days, and wear pants that sagged so low you knew exactly what color of underwear they were wearing each day. Never mind students were being bullied in the hallways, having sex in the janitor’s closet, or hanging up derogatory signs in parking lots without repercussions.

Bullying is a problem for many schools in this country, but Knoxville was special. I feel as though I am getting off topic here, but I promise I do have a point. I missed class many times due to dress code violations. I lost out on educational opportunities, just like many of my fellow girl classmates.

I also lost class time hiding in the counselor’s office because of bullying and harassment. Much of the bullying, abuse, and harassment I experienced in high school was either done by or because of boys within the same exact school. I want you readers to take a guess which of us were “rewarded” with actual infractions on our high school records: the dress code violators or the bullies?

You guessed it. It was us girls who wanted to come to school dressed comfortably, cooly, or just wearing whatever the fuck was clean and ready to wear for the day. What bullying problem? We have girls in yoga pants to police we don’t have time to fix that! This article is for all the administrators who took away my opportunity for education because they felt my clothes would make creepy male teachers uncomfortable or distract boys.

 

God forbid the boys miss out on class due to distractions! Send her to the principal’s office.

 

Stop policing what women wear, do, and say. Stop guilting us into conforming to your shitty beliefs of how women are supposed to be. Modesty culture goes against biology. It goes against humanism. It goes against feminism. It is vile and cruel to make women feel guilty for being born with vaginas and breasts.

I refuse to allow men and misogynists to define what respect is. I define what self-respect is, and I am the ONLY person responsible for my body. I am responsible for choosing what I put on or in my body. I am responsible for what I do with and to my body. Modesty culture is bullshit. I am no one’s property, and neither are you.

 

This blog post was written by Courtney Dalton with the intent of making men and misogynists uncomfortable.

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8 comments

  1. One little point:

    I believe you’re conflating respect and self-respect throughout most of your rant. Dressing appropriately for societal norms is about getting or keeping the respect of others, not about self-respect. There’s a huge difference and the two aren’t or, at least shouldn’t be in my rarely humble opinion, dependent upon each other.

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    • I respect your opinion and politely disagree. We are all raised and socialized to believe different things. I don’t think the respect I receive should be contingent upon what I wear, at least solely. I also agree there is a different between to two, so I am sorry if it seemed I was implying that I did not believe so.

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  2. I was really just pointing out that it seemed to me that you were mixing the two from point / thought to point / thought. I probably wouldn’t have even bothered to comment upon that except that I see too many women – and almost all the “womyn” – conflating the two and using that conflation as a basis for their angst and rage.

    But hey! I’ll admit freely that I’ll make a preliminary judgement about you or anyone else based upon how they’re dressed. I’ve got to say, however, that my resultant level, nature, and context of respect might not be normative.

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    • I appreciate your comment either way! It’s excellent to be able to discuss different points of view in an open manner.

      I’ve also been guilty of judging others because of that, but I’ve been judged so harshly myself that I try to refrain from doing so now.

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  3. I don’t think that’s anything to be guilty about per se. At an initial meeting or sighting, how someone dresses is pretty much the major piece of data available, followed by how they wear what they’re dressed in as it were.

    Again though, I’m not completely normal in viewpoint and I’m from a different time. If I saw you in a spaghetti-strapped, little sundress, I’d probably think – pardon the old terms – “good girl” instead of “slut.” Then, I’m old and from Florida’s gulf coast. Even the CATHOLIC high school I went to didn’t have a problem with such dresses…though a tight leather skirt would set them right off.

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  4. Great quote: ” modesty culture, from my understanding, teaches women that they must act, dress, and be a certain way to be considered respectful or worthy of respect.”

    Hi Courtnay, I don’t think your post, however, shows a full understanding of what modesty culture is about. It is not about women being the property of men, at least not in modern Christian culture. However, that could be very true in Islamic culture. You could improve your post by making that distinction.

    I wrote a short post (550 words) called “Calling a Woman a Skank.” If you would like to read it, I am open to any feedback: https://christopherjohnlindsay.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/virtue-of-modesty/

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