Today, Dr. I. brings us part 2 of his series on modesty. Comments appreciated. Enjoy!
The current push towards modesty in the modern church relies on many false assumptions. Last week I spent some time lining out some of my misgivings about how men are viewed in light of modesty. This week, I will look at some of the underlying assumptions I see regarding women. Before I do that, though, I do have to put a disclaimer here:
I am not advocating that women or men should be allowed to wear whatever they want whenever or wherever they want. What I am advocating for is that believers extend grace instead of judgment, and congregants to act with acceptance and love instead of control and manipulation.
And so, with that dear readers, let us turn out attention to the lies we believe about women.
#1 – Women’s bodies are a commodity
Commodities are bought and sold. Commodities are valued by what the market will pay for them. Commodities are subject to the law of supply and demand (most of the time). Women and their bodies are none of these. I have a feeling that most of us would agree with this statement. Those in porn or prostitution might disagree, but most women reading this don’t live in that world.
Underneath the modesty doctrine, though, is a lot of this thinking. I have heard women tell other women that if they show too much, they devalue their body. Really? So if supply goes up and demand stays constant, the price must go down, right? If you give it away, men won’t think it has a lot of value. Yep, I’ve heard that one as well. The worst idea of of all is the idea that a woman’s purity is like the pearl of great price Jesus talked about. A man found it and then went and sold everything he had to purchase the field so he could have the pearl. This is how some view marriage, with the woman’s purity as the pearl.
Don’t misunderstand me, I think my bride is an amazing woman and an amazing beauty and I would willingly sell everything I have to be with her, but this line of thinking (attaching a value to women, particularly her body) leads to a great deal of problems in our church and a great deal of pain when trying to apply modesty based on this idea. One of them is:
#2 – Women’s beauty is a zero sum game
I haven’t heard this one spoken specifically, but I can see it in action. For those who don’t know what a ‘zero sum game’ is, it’s the idea that if one item goes up, something else must go down to make all of them add up to zero. If I have 20 $1 bills to give to women and my instruction is to dole them out to each woman according to her beauty, then…my wife wins all and the rest of the women lose. Sorry.
Fine. I will give my wife $10 and then a few other ladies in my church a couple of bucks.
Immediately, you think me harsh. Of course I have to give my wife the most (if not all), but if I give some others out, why do some get bills and some get nothing? What if I change my mind? What if I want to make it as fair as possible? I have to *take* a dollar from one woman to give it to another. Now, I have to take $9 from my wife to make sure everyone gets $1, assuming there are 20 women.
Don’t think this applies? You haven’t been paying attention. In the modesty debate, there’s this fear that if a scantily clad woman shows up at church, all men will be paying attention to her (if you read that as ‘lust after her’, please read my first blog). If married men are paying attention to that woman, less attention goes to their wives, right? Wrong. Attention is not a zero sum game either. If a beautiful woman walks into the room (even a well coiffed, modestly dressed one), that does not mean every other woman in the room loses their beauty. Beauty is not a zero sum game, either.
The modesty movement fosters this idea of beauty as a zero sum game. I don’t think it intentionally puts this idea forward, but it comes through nonetheless. And while I am on the subject, please allow me an ‘aside’ here. Beautiful women attend my church. There are women that spend a lot of time on their hair, and it looks great. Ladies, if I compliment your hair, I am not lusting after you (see my first blog). If I say I think you look pretty in that new dress, it does not mean I wish you were not wearing it…or anything at all. If I compliment your smile, please don’t think I am coming on to you. If I compliment you, it means I noticed something I like. I think my wife is pretty as well. I like her hair. I like her smile. I like her dress.
And just because I compliment you does not lower what I think of my wife. Another woman’s beauty has no impact on your own. Beauty is not a zero sum game. Husbands, feel free to compliment my wife; she’s a beautiful woman. She was beautifully and wonderfully made. She spends time taking care of herself. If you compliment her breasts I will knock you out…you know what’s appropriate! Husbands, if my wife looks pretty, feel free to tell her. It would make her day. I promise I won’t think you are trying to hit on her, and I will respectfully compliment your wife and you will assume it’s innocent attention as well. Aren’t compliments supposed to edify the receiver? Let’s do it intentionally, with joy.
(Oh, and while we are at it, how about we men in the church step up and start complimenting the single ladies in our church. Maybe…if they receive non-sexual compliments from mature Christian men, they would gain a better understanding of what appropriate male attention looks like and wouldn’t be confused about where the line is…I’m just saying.)
OK…back to the topic at hand.
#3 – Immodestly dressed women are trying to steal men
I have heard well-meaning Christian women jokingly comment that the ‘floozy’ is going to steal her husband. This statement may be an exaggeration and it may be true in a small percentage of circumstances, but how many women do you know who would clutch their husband closer when he compliments or pays attention to the scantily clad woman? It’s almost a cliché by now.
Why do the women do this? Because they assume the scantily clad woman is on the prowl. The article that started me thinking about all this suggested that the woman wearing less probably has a reason for her attire other than stealing the attentions of men in the church, but yet…we tend to treat them this way anyway.
So how do we escape the trap of the zero sum game? Grace and Love, I think. What if a scantily clad woman shows up and gets complimented by women and men alike for things that have nothing to do with what she wears? What if she shows up in something short and tight and sees men and women alike complimenting each other, as well as her, on her sense of humor, her creativity or her kindness ? What if she shows up and witnesses people garnering attention because they are beautiful and unique creations of God and have infinite value in themselves, simply for who they are? Do you think she will show up next week in a short, tight outfit?
Maybe. But in that environment, would anyone really care? If she’s not a commodity, she doesn’t need to sell anything – or give it away – and nobody else fears her flooding the market with her goods. She’s God’s child, wonderful and special, and her worth is rooted there. Yes, this is how it would be in my perfect world, to be sure, but if we are able to get over these lies we believe about women, I think modesty would come a lot easier us all, and it might not even matter.