Sunday, June 9, 2013
In Which I Weigh In on The "Modesty" Debate
Can we do that?
I have some things on my mind and I'd like to talk to you about them.
I read these articles on "modesty" and I hear many women's stories and something in my heart just breaks. For all of us. Because the one thing I'm seeing as a common thread, no matter if you're conservative or not, Christian or not, is the holding onto of burdens that are not ours to bear. And the pain and the shame and the projection of pain onto other women because of it.
Here are some of the things I've heard come from the mouths of my sisters:
"Cover those boobs!"
"I don't want you wearing that around my sons or husband."
"That much skin showing is disgusting and I don't want to see it."
"You obviously don't care much about the men in your life."
"I dress this way so that I can help men not to stumble."
"Wearing bikinis mean that you are selfish and don't care that men are looking at you."
"Well, she deserved it dressing like a hussy."
"I beg you as one sister to another, cover up your body! Do the men in your life a favor."
"But think about the MEN!"
I have a friend that wore a very long, appropriate, conservative dress to church, and one woman came over in a huff and told her to "cover up" because she had a tiny bit of cleavage showing. The woman made a huge deal about it and was really pushy about it. Another friend was told by her mom that she can't come visit anymore because her dad and brothers need to be "protected" from her immodesty. Another woman I was chatting with said that having lots of cleavage/boobage showing was "disgusting" and another said she didn't want her husband or sons around immodest women. One girl I know was told to put a different shirt on by her mother "for your dad's sake". (Her dad had never said anything about her clothing.) This woman told a heart-breaking story of being shamed by other women because of her body. Many girls I know tell how their mom was the one that made them wear ugly, shapeless clothes when they were teens, while their dad didn't care and often fought with the mom over her standards. I remember one time when I was about 14, walking across the parking lot at ShopCo, and my mom stopped me and started yelling about how my breasts were bouncing when I walked and what if some guy saw me and was "defrauded". (I was wearing a polo shirt that was 3 sizes too big, and a floor-length skirt. But C-cups on a 14-yr-old are hard to hide.)
Overwhelmingly, it is women making these sort of comments to other women. And while our first reaction is usually one of anger or bristling that someone is trying to control other people or that women are being blamed for men's thought problems, I have an entirely different reaction.
All I see in the above comments and stories and the dozens more I didn't write here is Insecurity. Pain. Betrayal. Wounds. Grasping at control. Broken hearts due to infidelity. Women picking up burdens that do not belong to them and trying to force every other woman to do the same.
When I hear something like the comments above, my first thought is this: "How did the men in your life hurt you so badly that you feel the only way to keep from being hurt again is to control their environment? How have you been betrayed by the men in your life who promised to love, honor, protect and cherish you? What caused you so much pain that you can only project that pain onto other women? Why are you carrying the guilt for your man's unfaithfulness and why are you trying to place that responsibility on your sisters? What were you taught about men and sexuality that you would react in such a way toward other women?"
Maybe it was a wife ignored for a porn addiction, or left for a younger, bustier woman. Maybe a daughter who was shown inappropriate attention from a father, and a mother who blamed her for it. Maybe a woman who has had many men reject her to run after other women and many promises broken. Maybe a girl who was used by men her whole life then blamed for their sin. Or maybe it's just a woman who was raised by one of these broken women and brainwashed to believe that all men are sex-crazed monsters that can't keep it in their pants and women must control their urges for them. Whichever it is, whichever one you, my sister, may be, I have just one thing to ask of you:
Let it go.
Let the sins and the choices and the awful, terrible things that the men in your life have done drop off your shoulders. You were not responsible for their actions. This was not your fault. They hurt you, they betrayed you, they caused so much pain, and that pain is your own, but you cannot own their failures. Their sins are theirs to own and carry. By believing that you and your fellow women are to blame for the misdeeds of these men, you have become enslaved to sins that are not your own. And you are now trying to enslave other women, to make them carry the guilt for something you, and they, didn't do. You try to control the environment of every man in your life, even the good men, because you believe this is the only way you can keep from being hurt again. And the cycle of abuse and sin and pain just keeps turning, perpetuated by the victims while the perps get off scott-free. Because the reality is, by projecting the sins of a few evil men onto your fellow sisters, you are allowing those men to walk.
I know the crushing weight of seeing every other woman out there as a threat. I KNOW. I bore that weight for a long time. It took a lot of healing and the love of a good man and the complete re-programming of everything I'd been taught to make me let go of that burden. It took a few good men to show me that most men are decent and good and that good men NEVER blame women for their own thoughts and actions. But it finally happened. I finally said "I will not carry the sins of ungodly men. I am only responsible for my own." And you know what happened? Suddenly I didn't hate other women. I didn't feel threatened by the woman talking to my husband whose boobs were bigger than mine. I didn't feel threatened by the women on the beach in bikinis. I didn't feel the need to control the women around me to protect myself from pain. I stopped resenting and controlling my fellow sisters, and was finally able to love and enjoy them instead. I was free. And I had freed my sisters.
Because they, and I, were not the guilty parties. Do you hear me? We are not the guilty ones. We are not threats to each other. A man's actions are his own and no matter how much we try to control his surroundings and therefore his mind, we just can't. A good man will still be good and an evil man will still be evil, no matter what women do or wear or try to make other women wear.
Women, sisters, I beg you to think about these things. I know what I wrote could dig up an awful lot of unbearable pain and for that I'm so sorry. But I believe it had to be said. Don't let the men that treated you badly be the cause of a life lived in fear and resentment toward other women. Free yourself, free them. And hold accountable the ones to whom the fault for your wounds really belong.