A note: Two nights ago I came across Is This Modest?, a Christian website that is evidently designed to help young women figure out whether or not what they’re wearing is going to make men stumble. I immediately put together a blog post about the site, because it was one of the most horrific examples of the Myth of Modesty (http://persephonemagazine.com/2012/05/07/the-myth-of-modesty-part-one/) that I’ve ever seen. Since originally publishing that series on Persephone in May, I have seen numerous Christians come out to criticize the idea that women are to dress modestly in order to keep men from sinning. (https://lizboltzranfeld.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/challenging-the-fundamentalist-view-of-modesty/) I’ve been critical of the idea of modesty ever since a friend in college was told she shouldn’t remove her sweatshirt in the company of men because it might “cause them to stumble,” but only recently have I started speaking out against this screwed up theology. Others seem to be starting to do the same. In fact, others were taking note of the Is This Modest? site at the same time I was, and it has gotten so much attention that the servers have crashed, making accessing the site unreliable. I have some theories about why people are finally starting to call bullshit on this modesty thing, but I think the biggest thing is that feminist discussions about rape culture are working. Although sites like Is This Modest? might be totally disgusting and disturbing, we should be encouraged that so many people–especially so many Christians–are starting to stand up against the status quo definition of modesty.
I honestly don’t even know where to begin with a website I just discovered.
Is This Modest? is a collection of some of the most judgmental, ridiculous writing I’ve ever encountered on the topic of modesty. I always thought the Rebelution Modesty Survey was pretty bad, but this? This is absurd.
Is This Modest? is full of “advice” for young women who want to be dress modestly. The website is difficult to navigate, but here’s what their about page says they do:
- We present relevant articles on the topic, discussing modesty from religious and practical points of view.
- We have authors that write articles that discuss how to make outfits that seem immodest, modest.
- We show images of outfits and discuss whether or not we find the look or the outfit modest.
- We have an open forum for anyone that has a question.
- We have male and female writers for differences in perspective.
The “open dialog” that ITM? claims to make room for people to discuss what modesty looks like. Their range of definitions for modest? “For some, modesty means that they need to wear something that covers all flesh all the time. For others, it means that private parts are kept private, and the clothing choices that are made are on the conservative side.” Wow. What range! What freedom of dialog to interact with ideas within an extremely narrow, limited definition of a loaded term!
They take that perspective and then analyze/criticize photos of young women, deciding if their clothing is appropriate, inappropriate, modest, immodest, causing people to sin, fashionable, unfashionable, good, bad.
It’s basically a religiously-themed burn book where people collect photos of strangers from the internet, post those photos, and then debate amongst themselves just how slutty they think the women in those photos are. Earlier tonight, blogger Rachel Held Evans got into a Twitter discussion with the website about whether or not there are any copyright issues to be raised for the young women who have been unknowingly featured on the site.
How is this okay?
Whether or not there are copyright issues, there are definitely some icky ethical issues being raised here, like whether or not it is okay to take girls’ senior photos and do a “quick review” of whether or not they’re revealing too much by letting the photographer stand above them for a photo. The “quick review” section is full of things that make me feel voyeuristic and uncomfortable, like when an author calls a photo of a young woman on some stairs “borderline modest” because it’s not quite clear whether or not the jeans are “too tight.” Most of these posts are written by a 36-year-old father of five, which adds a whole new level of ewww to the situation. Why is a grown man spending this much time looking at pictures of 17-year-old girls to decide whether the pictures they post on social media are modest enough for his approval? If Chalupa were doing that, I’d be seriously weirded out by his interest in the clothing choices of teenage girls.
The website doesn’t just limit itself to criticizing photos of young women for their perceived modesty or immodesty. It also takes the time to shame women for their clothing choices. At one point, the same author who does the teenager clothing critiques takes the time to ridicule a woman who dared to wear sweatpants to the doctor’s office. They “do nothing for you” is his argument. He said, “The woman coming out of the doctor’s office”¦ Her pants were extremely baggy, and just looked awful.”
This is the definition of objectification! Of the real-world male gaze being the most important thing in the world! Why does this young woman who is LEAVING THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE need to look good for you? Why does it matter to you that you think she looks bad? She isn’t dressing for you, dude. She’s dressing for a trip to the doctor! You don’t get a say whether she was dressed for the doctor’s office or the mall or the movies or to pick her kid up from school. It doesn’t matter if you think women in sweatpants look either “dumpy or trampy,” because WOMEN. DON’T. DRESS. FOR. YOU.
By the way, you can’t win with this guy. While sweatpants make you look either trampy or dumpy, leggings are not an option, either. “Frankly, leggings are about as good as if you took a black paint can an painted your legs and called yourself dressed,” our author says. He also wants to ask women who are wearing leggings, “Do you really feel that you have the body to pull them off without looking awful?”
This guy reveals time and time again that this isn’t about modesty for him. It’s about him wanting to control exactly what women wear so that they can be perfectly attractive and acceptable to his preferences, but “safe” enough that he’s not going to to get into trouble for lusting after them.
Maybe I should send him a photo of my jeans and sweater before I leave for work tomorrow to make sure it’s, you know, modest and appropriate and not trampy and not dumpy and not slutty and yet feminine. I’m sure he’s the kind of guy who could also give me some weight loss tips.
This post originally appeared on Liz Boltz Ranfeld.