The young woman laments the whole campus landscape of alcohol-soaked hookup sex. “Women are encouraged to do it, which ignores all the risks for us,” she says. “You get embarrassed and ashamed, so you try to make light of it. Then women get violated and degraded, and they accept it. Who does this culture benefit? Alcohol predators. It doesn’t liberate anybody.”

Emily Yoffe

I would be my brother’s keeper;
I would learn the healer’s art.
To the wounded and the weary
I would show a gentle heart.

Lord, I Would Follow Thee (LDS Hymnal #220)

About once a month or so, I see an article/blog post like this one appear on my Facebook feed.  Every month the same argument is made, and each month it makes less sense to me.  As you can see, it’s now bothered me to the point where I blog about it.

First things first: I don’t like the phrase “Modest is hottest”.  Simply because I don’t like slogans in general.  They are far too reductive and people have a tendency to take a slogan and behave like it is self-evident truth in itself, when it is merely a mnemonic summary of a larger concept.  I understand why people use them, and can even accept that because I’m strange and most people aren’t like me that what I think isn’t actually relevant on this, but it doesn’t stop me being annoyed.

But that’s not what this post is about.  I want to talk about this strange backlash going on these days against the concept of modesty, more specifically the idea that part of modesty’s value (at least, the part of modesty that concerns dress) is that it reduces possible temptations for others (and this is typically referring to men).  Moore has written a fairly standard criticism of this for the most part, I think,  so it seems like a good post to examine.

Moore writes:

The second Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins…” Constantly telling a girl that a man’s thoughts and actions are her responsibility is doctrinally incorrect.

Leaving aside the seamless shift from the earlier ‘occasionally hear[ing]‘ to ‘constantly telling’, this subtly distorts the second article of faith, and obscures the scriptural fact that we do bear *a* (as distinct from *the*) responsibility towards others’ attitudes and actions.   Jacob, son of Lehi,  spoke of the duty he and his brother Joseph felt towards those for whom they had a stewardship to teach:

And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.

Alma the Younger’s guilt during his incapacity was centred on the effects his words and actions had had on others to the point where he considered what he had done as tantamount to murder:

Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.

Yea, and I had murdered many of his children, or rather led them away unto destruction; yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.

In an even more analogous case, Paul sought to avoid situations where his actions could be misinterpreted by those without sufficient gospel knowledge:

Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.

But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse.

But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak.

For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols;

And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died?

But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.

Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

The concept of immodesty as temptation even pops up in General Conference from time to time, most explicitly in recent times by Elder Oaks, I believe.

The idea that the concept of interpersonal responsibility is undoctrinal is false.  Indeed, it is specifically refuted in scripture.  Yes, there are fundamental limits to that responsibility, but it exists nonetheless, and it stems out of the intention that we regard each other’s welfare as our own.

Moore continues:

It also translates closely to the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to maintain the sexual standards of a relationship. Elder Jeffery R. Holland said, “I have heard all my life that it is the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the limits of intimacy in courtship because a young man cannot. What an unacceptable response to such a serious issue! What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability, perhaps even pursue a university education and prepare to affect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of the world, but yet does not have the mental capacity or the moral will to say, ‘I will not do that thing?’ No, this sorry drugstore psychology would have us say, ‘He just can’t help himself. His glands have complete control over his life–his mind, his will, his entire future.’… I refuse to buy some young man’s feigned innocence who wants to sin and call it psychology.”
[emphasis in Moore]

[First, an aside, the transcipt of this talk (which is definitely worth reading in full, btw) that Moore refers to has been edited (I think for reasons of translatability).  In the original talk, the sentence "What an unacceptable response..." above was actually "Nothing I have heard on this topic makes me want to throw up more than that!", which is much more like Elder Holland language!!  Anyhoo...]

The irony here is that this passage actually makes my point for me.  What is it about male irresponsibility that disgusts Elder Holland so much?  That it means women end up taking on more responsibility, ie that male actions and attitudes makes the female’s life harder.  So Elder Holland chews the guys out.

Now consider how the address would have been different had the issue been that most women spent their life dressed for a slutwalk, while the men were showing excellent restraint.  Would he *really* have spent his time telling the men how they needed to keep on showing restraint and not said a word to the women?  The point is if we can reasonably adjust ourselves so as to be supportive of another’s efforts at righteousness, should we not do so?

As context for Elder Holland’s remarks, some Elder Christofferson:

There has long been a cultural double standard that expected women to be sexually circumspect while excusing male immorality. The unfairness of such a double standard is obvious, and it has been justifiably criticized and rejected. In that rejection, one would have hoped that men would rise to the higher, single standard, but just the opposite has occurred—women and girls are now encouraged to be as promiscuous as the double standard expected men to be*. Where once women’s higher standards demanded commitment and responsibility from men, we now have sexual relations without conscience, fatherless families, and growing poverty. Equal-opportunity promiscuity simply robs women of their moral influence and degrades all of society. In this hollow bargain, it is men who are “liberated” and women and children who suffer most.

*and this is something I’ve blogged on before.

It turns out though, that Moore does not, in fact, believe her own position:

I know in my own life, I have always been meticulously modest. However, I have constantly been at the receiving end of some of the most degrading comments. “Wow, you can tell you have a huge rack even in that sweatshirt!” and “You’re a solid 8, except for your boobs. They’re a 10,” probably come in as most memorable. I had FHE brothers admit to me that they assumed I was not a very good Mormon because of the way I’m built. As sweatshirt man pointed out, there is really only so much I can do, short of wearing a giant bag to hide the fact I look like a woman.

For a long time, when I would hear these things, my mind couldn’t but help think that it was somehow my fault. I clearly wasn’t a very good person, or else I wouldn’t be having men say things like this to me. My value as a daughter of God was being degraded, and instead of demanding to be treated like a human being, I shrunk back, thinking I had been the one in the wrong. [emphasis mine]

I get it.  Those guys were douches.  But the whole point of the post was that it should be irrelevant what other people are doing; we should be able to act and think rightly, regardless.  Why does Moore suddenly claim victim status, blaming the douches for her loss of self-worth?  Suck it up, kid.  After all, your feelings are not their responsibility…

This is what irks me the most about this concept.  If we really were completely self-contained agency modules, we could have just been plugged into our own personal (and personalised) instance of some kind of Matrix-style simulation and got things done.  Yet we are here with each other.  We are meant to be together.  What we do affects each other, and we are meant to care about that, because we are meant to be helping.


PS – One final thought which, strictly speaking, isn’t on modesty but was actually what motivated me to post in the first place. Moore writes:

Someone once told me that when you are teaching women to change what they do to prevent being assaulted or raped, what you are actually doing is saying “Make sure he assaults someone else.” You are not fixing the real problem, which is the man’s problem.

I thought I had heard everything on this topic, but it turns out I was wrong, and it also turns that this is what makes me want to throw up most!  I’m astounded first at the utter naiveity of it, as if no-one had ever considered/tried telling rapists not to rape before, but what filled me with disdain most was the realisation that if ‘teaching women what they [can] do to prevent being assaulted or raped’ is equivalent to saying ‘make sure he assaults someone else’, then not teaching women would be equivalent to saying ‘You need to take one for the team’.

And if that doesn’t make you want to throw up, then you and I are about to have a falling out.