I was raised Pentecostal, of the holy-roller variety that placed great emphasis on modesty, particularly (dang near exclusively) on women. Pants on women were a no-no, but at times accepted for modesty reasons (with the classic, fugly sweats under skirt combo). I managed to hold fast to my jeans because I think my parents honestly didn’t agree with the rule, and also, I weighed 100 pounds when I finished high school. In other words, my teeny tiny self was deemed to not be a temptation, no matter what I wore.
I’ve been thinking of these types of modesty standards a lot lately. In a spate of unrelated stories across the interwebs, people are warring about the supposed indecency of bare legs, peek-a-boobs and the booty’s contour in Juicy couture. Just yesterday I read this story at the Daily Mail that left me stunned.
Women in Swaziland have been banned from wearing miniskirts and crop tops because they ‘encourage rape’ – and offenders face a six-month spell in jail.
Police in Swaziland, the last absolute monarchy in Africa and an incredibly conservative nation, have resurrected an archaic colonial criminal act from 1889 to stop women wearing clothes that expose their body.
Swazi police were responding to a march in the second city of Manzini last month by young women, some wearing miniskirts, who were seeking equal rights and safety.
In Swaziland women are legal minors and two-thirds of teenage girls have been victims of sexual assault, according to the South African Independent Online.
Police spokesperson Wendy Hleta warned: ‘They will be arrested.
‘The act of the rapist is made easy, because it would be easy to remove the half-cloth worn by the women.
‘We do not encourage that women should be harmed, but at the same time people should note acceptable conduct of behaviour,’ she said.
The ban also applies to low-slung jeans and tank tops. However, the ‘indlamu’ costume, a tiny beaded belt worn when young women dance for King Mswati topless and with their buttocks fully exposed, is permissible, authorities declared.
So these women in Swaziland who are raped… I’m still reeling over grown women being “legal minors”…. are making it easy by wearing low-riders and short skirts? So instead of focusing on the predators who have made “two-thirds of teenage girls” into victims, the government will arrest the girls and women? Unless of course they’re dressed in costume dancing nearly naked like an X-rated version of “Coming to America” for the king, that is. Facepalm.
While clothing is being blamed for inciting sexual assault in Africa, Emily Maynard, writing at Church Leaders, makes the case that a women’s clothes shouldn’t take the blame for inciting lust.
In the culture I was raised in, there were constant discussions about modesty.
Not the “oh, hey, don’t be a rude showoff, because that’s rude” kind of modesty conversations, but the rulers and rulebooks of big-time modesty. If you’ve experienced it, you’re probably nodding or cringing, and if you’ve never encountered it, well, use your imagination.
Though the trappings varied, the lectures and conversations were always essentially the same: People talked about what girls were wearing and how the act of putting on clothes in the morning could radically change what boys were thinking.
There were endless options for violations and validations in Modesty-land, depending on the exact situation and circumstances. It didn’t take long for me to absorb the idea that I wasn’t a person with a body—I was an outfit with the power to control the morality of men.
I believed the lie that I was responsible for everyone else.
There was always a part of me that was desperate for a way out of the burden of over-responsibility, but my diligent self just kept trying to shoulder the shame and paranoia of the Modesty Rules, because I thought they were God’s plan for me.
In the last few years, though, I am learning a subtle difference in responsibility.
I have learned that, yes, people should be responsible, but not to me. God created each person with a level of autonomy and responsibility tied directly to Him.…
Many of the discussions of The Modesty Rules relate clothing choices to lust, but I think that’s a mistake.
Let me explain: I propose we’ve lost sight of what lust actually is.
In fact, we have confused biological sexual attraction with lust and called it sin. This is one reason why shame is so rampant in Christian circles, why we hide rather than confess our reality, why we try to control rather than offer each other the open love and freedom of Christ: We have made into sin something that is not sin.…
Don’t get me wrong. Lust is serious, and lust is a sin. But lust is about control, not just sex.
Lust dehumanizes a person in your own heart and mind.
It is the ritual taking, obsessing and using someone else for your own benefit rather than valuing that person as an equal image-bearer of God.
Lust is forming people in your own image, for your own purposes, whether for sexual pleasure, emotional security or moral superiority.…
Lust certainly can have a sexual component, but when we reduce it merely to sexual reactions, we miss out on God’s heart for all people: infinite value.
In the book of Matthew, when Jesus said, “If you even look at a woman with lust …” he wasn’t condemning a physical sexual response as sinful, he was lifting up the inherent value of all women and men. The Sermon on the Mount repeatedly describes the worth of each person, no matter their circumstances.
I don’t think you dressing according to a set of modesty rules will ever stop another person from lusting.
There’s much, much more. A few thoughts: as I read through Emily’s piece, I felt a mix of emotions. I could relate, definitely. I felt happy knowing someone was finally articulating many of the thoughts that had streamed through my head for many years. I was challenged to approach the entire subject of modesty in a new way. Then finally, I felt conflicted. Although there is so much there that spoke to me, I still felt there were parts that needed some clarification. I agree that modesty standards are going to look different from culture to culture, place to place. There will even be some subjectivity. I just wish Emily had provided some type of idea of how or if modesty should be practiced. After all, she writes, “Before you start assuming I think people should be walking around naked, let me say this: I would absolutely encourage men and women to dress in a socially acceptable manner, but not because they are responsible for other people’s reactions.”
Sexual assault, rape, harassment and even lust, as pointed out above, is about control. Even in countries in which women are required to be covered from head to toe, these things occur. All the fabric in the world cannot mask evil.
*Quote by John Milton