Thursday, June 5, 2014

A modesty meme

I saw this on Facebook recently:

It says, for those who can't see the image:
Dear Girls,
Dressing immodestly is like rolling around in manure. Yes you'll get attention, but mostly from pigs.
Sincerely, Real Men
It made me a little angry. "Dressing immodestly is like rolling around in manure." So, according to this meme, if you dress "immodestly," you're dirty, and may as well be covered in feces. Gee, isn't that just the most respectful thing you've ever heard?? Don't show too much ankle, or by golly, you may as well be covered in stinky cow poop.

All right, let's see if I can do this without more sarcasm. First off, who decides what's modest, and what's immodest? Western culture really did consider showing too much ankle to be indecent (read: immodest) at one time. Even a knee length skirt would've been considered scandalous. And right now, some Muslims believe that a woman must wear a burka in public, or it's considered immodest.  So, what standard are these so-called "Real Men" using to determine who's dressing immodestly?

But that's not the worst of it. What this meme asks us to do is place a value on women (or "Girls"; just what age bracket were they aiming for with that salutation?) based on what they are wearing, and to consider those that are dressed immodestly as less valuable. Yet the value of a woman (or anyone, for that matter) is not, or should not, be based on what they're wearing. When you devalue someone, whether based on clothes or not, you encourage feelings of disrespect for that person, which in turn makes some people think that the devalued person deserves whatever they get. That is the real "manure" behind modesty.

Respect for self (and some modesty advocates claim that modesty is about self-respect) shouldn't be based on one's wardrobe choices and completely arbitrary standards of modesty. Instead, let us base it on our character and actions. How do we treat others? Are we seeking ways to empower each other to our fullest potential? Do we strive for appropriate fairness in the way that we treat each other? And so on.

As far as clothing, just wear what makes you feel comfortable, or happy. If you want to dress in a way that makes you feel sexy, go for it. If you want to dress in a way that makes you feel powerful, go for it. You can, if you want, treat your clothing choices as an art form, as self-expression. Or you can treat them as a simple utility. Whatever it is that you think is going to be most comfortable, and help you flourish the most.

But for goodness sake, stop thinking that your respect is based on how modestly you do or don't dress.

For more on the manure of modesty (because there is more that can be said), I recommend reading Love, Joy, Feminism by Libby Anne. She's written a lot on the subject.

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