Zelophehad’s Daughters

If A Woman Strips Naked in a Forest and No One Sees Her, Is She Still Pornography?

Posted by Kiskilili

“And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.” (Elder Oaks, April Conference 2005)

This statement raises a raft of thorny issues, several of which have been hashed out elsewhere and some of which I’m not entirely sure how to resolve.

But the aspect of the statement I’m interested in exploring here is the gendered dynamic Elder Oaks sets up between men (subject to sexual urges) and women (able to control men’s sexual urges). To Elder Oaks’s credit he does qualify his statement, not alleging that women are themselves inherent pieces of pornography under all their clothes, but only that they become pornography to some men. Nevertheless, I still consider this a less than felicitous choice of phrasing. The locus of pornography is seen to reside in the object itself rather than in the gaze. The implication of viewing pornography as an artifact of gaze is to implicate the viewer as complicit in its construction–perhaps unintentionally (sexual urges are after all a nearly unavoidable facet of human existence), but a participant in the process nevertheless. Pornography is an image viewed a particular way, not a person.

What exactly is wrong with pornography? I would argue that, at its core it’s the objectification of other people, who are viewed as tools capable of gratifying our own desires rather than as subjects with desires in their own right. It is, thus, the opposite of charity, a willingness to empathetically engage another’s subjectivity.

In the above statement, however, women’s subjectivity has been conveniently elided. Men are potential consumers of pornography, where women are potential creators (even unwittingly); thus, men’s obligation is to eschew viewing pornographic material where women’s obligation is to eschew becoming pornographic material.  Men are sexual subjects where women are sexual objects.

In short, by framing his discussion in this manner, Elder Oaks has replicated and perpetuated the very dynamic which is problematic about pornography to begin with.

71 Responses to “If A Woman Strips Naked in a Forest and No One Sees Her, Is She Still Pornography?”

  1. 1.

    I think Elder Oaks statement should be read as you need to take responsibility for your own actions.
    Women who choose to pose for a porn magazine are making a choice to be put in a pornographic picture. Wearing clothing inappropriate to the setting is also a choice that people make and should take responsibility for.
    Women should not be treated as sexual objects. It becomes difficult if a woman intentionally chooses to act and dress like a sexual object.
    I see Elder Oaks statement as an encouragement to raise our daughters to not dress and act in those ways. We also need to raise our sons to view women as real people, not sex objects. Unfortunately, many things on TV or in movies objectify women. Some people don’t even notice this at all!
    I think girls should be taught to think about why they want to dress in a certain way. It is natural to want to look pretty and attractive. Teenagers are immature and need help thinking things through. It is reasonable to help girls understand why it might not be appropriate to wear a skirt that shows her underwear between her legs when she sits down. She is NOT responsible for what guys think. However, she be aware of what she is showing and understand why she is showing it and if it is “to turn guys on”, understand why that might not be a good idea for her (forget them).

  2. 2.

    I think it can be simply read that if a woman objectifies her own body, she is encouraging pornography. A woman can’t deliberately dress immodestly and refuse to take responsibility for that when a person (man or woman) takes advantage of the opportunity. Her deliberate behavior does not absolve the man of guilt, but does add guilt to herself.

    It is the difference between Jared’s daughter and Bathsheba.

  3. 3.

    understand why she is showing it and if it is “to turn guys on”, understand why that might not be a good idea for her (forget them).

    Good point! I think it’s a good idea to teach women that explicitly acknowledged power in a relationship is far more desirable than the power of manipulating someone through sex.

    As a side note, we seem pretty ambivalent about women’s beauty in our culture (American generally but Mormon more specifically), and thus their sexual attractiveness. Observe that nobody is suggesting women become hairy and flabby so they can wear anything they like without arousing anything other than disgust. But maybe this is just a subset of our ambivalence over sexuality? We’re expected to be thoroughly asexual right until we marry, when we transform. But if this were the case, what would motivate us to marry?

    Also, perhaps we risk obsessing over sex by obsessing over not-sex?

  4. 4.

    SilverRain, in my opinion one of the problems in discussions of modesty is the very fact that we address what women wear solely in terms of its effect on (heterosexual) men. Certainly one motivation for wearing a skimpy outfit is to make oneself sexually desirable. Another motivation might be to cool off, or to engage in athletic activity. A man observing a gymnast working out in a leotard might experience sexual thoughts; is the gymnast obligated to put pants on for his benefit? (Gymnastics, after all, comes from the Greek word “naked” for a reason–it’s easier to do the less restrictive your clothing is.) However we parse it, one consequence of restricting what women wear is restricting their sphere of activities.

  5. 5.

    Also, I’m just wondering aloud what it means to “objectify our own bodies”–does that mean regarding ourselves as potential recipients of sexual attention? Does it include viewing our bodies from the perspective of a Cartesian split–as not fundamentally us? Might it include regarding our bodies as undesirable objects we can’t escape–fat, wrinkled, and flawed?

    And I would add that while it’s not clear how responsible we are for all of our thoughts, we’re completely responsible for our actions. A woman trotting around in her Lady Godiva outfit may be guilty of behaving somewhat recklessly. But if she’s raped–i.e., someone “takes advantage of the opportunity”–she is 100% innocent of being raped.

  6. 6.

    One problem is that we haven’t heard a lot of guidance on how to appropriately appreciate each other’s physical bodies. We know what’s wrong (lust, sexual sin, porn, etc.), and we have a vague notion of things that are neutral (President Hinckley always praised the young women of the Church as “beautiful”), but there’s not a lot of scriptural or prophetic guidance on how to just say (or think), “Wow, you look really nice.”

    Think about it: in a Sacrament talk, it would be okay for me to say “The children in this ward are all beautiful.” Nobody would complain, I think. But because I’m not President Hinckley and/or more than 60 years old, I probably couldn’t say “The young women (and/or) Relief Society sisters we have in this ward are all beautiful,” at least not without a few funny looks.

  7. 7.

    I think I agree. Under the Oaks paradigm, what does immodest dress have to do with becoming pornography to some men? Isn’t he saying, more or less, that pornography is in the eye of the beholder? What is to stop the beholder from viewing a modestly dressed woman in a pornographic way?

    I do think that dressing modestly, appropriate to the sitution, for men and women, is something we do for others. How we behave and dress does affect others–it is a part of good manners. But to couch it in terms of pornography, I agree, maintains a culture that encourages some men to view women as pornography (and even teaches men that it is okay–it’s not your fault if you view women this way).

    The solution, I believe, is somewhere in making the body less dirty and less secret; acknowledging the beauty of the human body. Teaching boys and girls to appreciate the body and understand that there are appropriate times and places for displaying its full beauty; and appropriate ways to acknowledge and respond to the beauty of the human body.

  8. 8.

    And who, does LDS theology tell us, put the first nude woman into a forest, anyway?

    Oh, yeah. God did.

  9. 9.

    In your heart, do you think Elder Oaks would consider a gymnast in a leotard (or any athlete in her uniform) to be dressing immodestly? I don’t think so, but even if *he* did, I’m not sure the Lord would.

    And, speaking for myself, if I become too hot to continue an activity, such as yard work, and the only way to continue without endangering my health is to disrobe to the point where modesty becomes an issue, I think it’s time to take a water break, wait until I’m cooler (or the weather is), or to find a new activity-modesty is that important, even if it is inconvenient.

    I get what you’re saying. I live in TX and I’ve heard friends from UT, where culture often dictates a certain level of modesty (which I think is fine), speak about what they judge to be the moral deficiency of the non-members they see here wearing short shorts and tank tops during the hot summers (not that I think casting judgment on members is a good thing either). I’ve had to tell them, “I think they’re just trying to stay cool.”

    I like our modesty standards. I think people are responsible to control their own thoughts. I also think that it’s important that we don’t deliberately try to make people have sexual thoughts about us inappropriately (ie it’s one thing in the bedroom with your spouse, it’s another at the mall or workplace). I think that’s what Elder Oaks was speaking to.

    I think in our culture, when it comes to modesty of dress, clothing styles for women are a more obvious point of discussion because I think we see the line crossed more often there, but I do make a point of teaching my boys about modesty as well. For example, I think they need to keep their shirts on playing basketball, and wear pants that fit properly on their waists. I also think they should refrain from wearing T-shirts with certain logos or messages.

  10. 10.

    I haven’t made a statement on what I think is “modest” and what’s not. My argument is against the way Elder Oaks framed his talk. Personally, I’m more disturbed by women’s objectification generally than I am by “modesty” restrictions in clothing.

    I appreciate that you regard modesty as entailing more than how much skin women can show, though.

  11. 11.

    The more I read different people’s ideas about what makes pornography bad, the more convinced I am that no one agrees. Since that is basic to the discussion at hand, I feel like we can’t make much progress without sorting out the badness of pornography first.

    Given your definition in the post, it seems that a lot of non-pornographic things should be considered morally equivalent to pornography. As a manager, I frequently look at other people as tools capable of getting something done which I want to get done. Is that the moral equivalent of pornography?

    And in response to the title of the post, I’d just suggest that such a situation would be a shame. A damn shame.

  12. 12.

    Well, I don’t think I phrased it clearly in my post–I don’t think objectification is a definition of pornography; I think it’s what’s wrong with pornography (as opposed to viewing someone with whom you have a romantic relationship and reciprocal attachment sexually). Objectification is a broader issue than just pornography. (In fact, I think the core of my “feminist” issues with the Church lies in what I perceive as various structural and textual refusals to acknowledge my subjectivity as a female.)

    Especially in our culture of “fragmented selves” in which we interact constantly with strangers in the context of “transactions,” some level of mental objectification of other people may be unavoidable. But I think at least our ideal should be to strive toward acknowledgment of others’ subjectivity.

    This is what I find problematic about Elder Oaks’s statement–he’s decrying pornography at the same time he’s subtly underscoring women’s objectified status.

  13. 13.

    hey word up poaching ZD!

    Agree largely with the analysis, but I would tend to think the formulation was unintentionally problematic.

  14. 14.

    “I’m just wondering aloud what it means to “objectify our own bodies”–does that mean regarding ourselves as potential recipients of sexual attention?”
    I don’t believe so. To objectify is to see something as an object, to see one’s body as little more than a means to an end. There is nothing wrong with sexual attention, if it is accompanied by spiritual connection and admiration.

    “pornography is in the eye of the beholder?”
    Yes. And in the intent of the beholdee. That is why naked art, or doctor’s visits are not in the same category as pornography.

    “What is to stop the beholder from viewing a modestly dressed woman in a pornographic way?”
    Nothing, but without the intent on the part of the viewed woman, the sin belongs to the viewer alone.

    See, to me the problem is not that Elder Oaks framed his talk in a way that objectifies women. Women are objectified, regardless of Elder Oaks. (Men are too, but in ways that are not nearly so well understood or uniform, and thus harder to address.) He is addressing those—both men and women—who already perceive the female body as nothing more than a means to an end. I don’t see how he, himself, is objectifying.

    “I frequently look at other people as tools capable of getting something done which I want to get done.”
    Depends. Do you see them as nothing but tools? Is hitting someone the equivalent of murder? I would venture that it may be alike in kind, if not in depth. Arbinger training addresses this very thing in a management/workplace setting.

  15. 15.

    You’re right, you didn’t say what you think is modest-I was just yappin’ about me (great post and spurred a lot of thoughts in my head).

    My argument is against the way Elder Oaks framed his talk.

    Not to threadjack, but it could be another interesting discussion (especially with General Conference coming up). Like with modesty, a lot of it has to do with intention. The way Elder Oaks framed his talk is one thing, but is how someone takes his talk how he intended it?

    I think of how the Book of Mormon prophets ask for forgiveness for their weakness in writing. I realize Elder Oaks has much skill, experience, and education with writing, talks, etc. from being a lawyer and a UT SC Justice, but I’m not sure that makes him immune to misinterpretation. And I’m not saying that you are misinterpreting him. I just think it’s an interesting question:

    Who is more responsible for the way a message is received (whether that message be sent by clothing choices or spoken word)-the giver or receiver?

    Is it more the listeners’ (viewers’) responsibility to figure out what’s intended, or is it more the speaker’s (wearer’s) responsibility to frame it in the clearest possible way? Or, is it the responsibility of both parties?

  16. 16.

    Yeah, it’s a great question, HeidAnn. I appreciate your comments.

    “Poach” is such a negative word, Steve. Shall we say “creative entrepreneurship”? :P Some of us zoo animals are too heretical to be unleashed on the bloggernacle at large; it’s best if we’re confined to our little cages back in the corner.

    I don’t see how he, himself, is objectifying.

    I guess I’m wondering why he didn’t say, for example, “Some men view women pornographically” rather than “you become pornography to some men.”

  17. 17.

    I don’t think the church objects to pornography on the grounds of objectification. Some men leer at women and see them as sexual objects. Some women look at men as meal tickets. It could be argued that the Proclamation encourages this view.

  18. 18.

    Sadly, I think you’re right, Mark, and regarding a man as an ATM machine is a no less problematic form of objectification. In the Church we talk about pornography as though it’s a dangerous substance, as though a woman’s bare shoulder is akin to cocaine, as though the only thing that makes it objectionable is its addictive quality. I wish we’d completely reorient how we think about it.

  19. 19.

    Am I the only one wondering what Elder Oaks meant when he said “some men?” Which group(s) of men would he exclude? Gay men? Elderly men in nursing homes? Men in a permanent vegetative state? Deceased men?

    If he’s referring to gay men, would that be the first time a church official recognized that gay men are truly not attracted to women, and not just confused or rebellious?

    Actually, while I think it’s a lazy and somewhat unfortunate choice of words, I don’t think his statement is worth parsing.

  20. 20.

    I guess I’m wondering why he didn’t say, for example, “Some men view women pornographically”

    Count me as someone who would object to this formulation as well. Why the reference to pornography in the first place? Why can’t we just say directly what is wrong with it? I like Mark Brown’s formulation much better: “Some men leer at women.” Oaks goes beyone this, I think, along the lines of: “Some men who would not normally leer at women will do so if the women are scantily clad.”

    In response to #12, I said “definition” but I shouldn’t have. My comment was focused on a moral equivalence based on your explanation of what is bad about pornography. What you describe is a bad thing about pornography, but I don’t agree that it is the primary reason pornography is bad.

  21. 21.

    One thing to consider is that for many people what makes pornography so bad isn’t the lust, or objectification, or whatever, but the masturbation it is used as fodder for. I tend to think that in this specific quote pornography = “what a man masturbates to.” I’m not sure if that changes anything though.

  22. 22.


    Interesting! Of course, all the folks (at FMH for example) who are vocal advocates of the goodness of masturbation are not likely to agree. Someone really needs to compile all the reasons given in the bloggernacle for pornography being bad. It would be a long and contradictory list.

  23. 23.

    I think masturbation is well and good, except insofar as it involves pornography, actual or imagined! oh well :)

  24. 24.

    Sorry, Jacob–I should have read your comment more carefully. My personal response would be: yes, non-sexual forms of objectification are the moral equivalent of pornography. And I absolutely believe objectification lies at the heart of what makes pornography immoral, but I’m curious what you think “the primary reason” pornography is bad is.

  25. 25.

    To the poster of this article. Hear Hear!

  26. 26.

    Thanks jddaughter–I always love seeing you comment, here and at FMH. :)

    I love it, Steve–it’s an acknowledgment of gay men! The reason I think it’s worth parsing is that it’s not just the statement itself that’s problematic–it’s the entire dynamic in which men are castigated for their behavior and women are only referred to in an aside as potential enablers for men’s wickedness. But the statement itself is problematic in any case; I just don’t think it’s appropriate to refer to people as pornography.

  27. 27.

    Even though no one asked me, the reason I think pornography is bad is because it imbues sex acts with meanings that are not necessarily inherent to the act, and then through operant conditioning makes those meanings erotic.
    So a film portrays a sex act as violent, and humiliating for the woman, men masturbate to this imagery, and then come to believe that a acting violently or humiliating a woman is arousing.
    When this man tries to have respectful loving sex with his wife he will either try to import these sorts of ‘erotic’ behaviors (ie he’ll ask his wife to do things she finds humiliating or painful because she finds them humiliating or painful and that’s what gets him off.)
    Or he will turn away from his wife (and probably back to pornography or to ‘disposable women’ (prostitutes or a mistress)) because he at least sort of wants to respect his wife and knows that having sex with her would ruin his opinion of her.

  28. 28.

    That’s an interesting idea, Starfoxy (and I always want to know what you think, whether I ask or not :) ), that perhaps what makes something pornographic is the association between violence/humiliation and sex–degrading behavior that’s both wrong in the images created, and then conditions people to expect degrading behavior from their partners, which is even more wrong.

  29. 29.

    Why is nudity porn? When nudity is common there is no sexual issue. It seems to me that mormons tend to be more hung up on this than most so it becomes a bigger problem for us. But at least we don’t consider exposed hair as porn like the taliban. Do countries that have nude beaches and parks have a bgger problem than the US where nudity is more controlled? We can easily why we have such a hard time defining this.

    I think this boils down to respect of women in general and not necesarily how we dress. Not saying we should not be modest according to our cultural norms but sexual problems have always been with us regardless of dress standards.

  30. 30.

    So true! This is another problem with how we talk about modesty: we generally fail to take into account the dialectic interplay between what’s taboo/restricted and what’s sexualized in a given culture. We think about the issue as though certain body parts are inherently sexual (such as breasts), and should therefore be private. But the reverse is just as true: breasts are covered because they’re sexualized, but they’re also sexualized because they’re covered. (The same could be said of hair, feet, ankles, elbows, etc., in various other cultures.)

    So we don’t want to fall into the trap of putting the burden of suppressing men’s sex drives entirely on women’s attire, for the simple reason that it won’t work: even if women are covered head to toe this will only result in the sexualization of women’s entire bodies, all of which will be regarded as “taboo,” further reinforcing the perceived need for such severe restriction. Men’s sex drives won’t ultimately diminish, but women’s activities will have been seriously curtailed.

  31. 31.

    Talk about over-analysis!!

    The point was pretty simple:

    Young women, don’t dress immodestly. It is difficult for many men to see immodestly dressed women and not start thinking sexual thoughts. Dressing immodestly makes you a jerk equivalent to someone who eats a cake and cookies in front of a fat person who is on a diet. We have a moral obligation to do our best to help each other become better people.

  32. 32.

    Actually, I’m not sure I’ve analyzed it sufficiently. So for my next parlor trick, I’ll “overintellectualize,” since that’s one of my favorite pastimes.

    What if there are fat people dieting literally everywhere you go (i.e., people “dieting” from sexual thoughts)? Should you live on raw spinach for their benefit (meaning perhaps wear loose-fitting sweats even in summer)?

    Furthermore, what if the “fat people” around you (hypersexualized men?) aren’t interested in dieting anyway? Or maybe they’ve all lost their appetites (or sexual appetites) because they’re ingesting handfuls of anti-depressants. Have we then eliminated any rationale for modesty?

  33. 33.

    First of all, I think it would be very difficult to speak to a large amount of people and be able to word things perfectly in every instance. I can read Elder Oaks statement and get the overall meaning, even if he didn’t word it in the best way.

    The reality is that there are men out there that could see a woman fully covered from head to toe and think degrading, sexual thoughts about her. It is a choice to think in that way about women, just as it is a choice to look away and focus on something else when an immodestly dressed woman walks by. Because some men choose not to control their thoughts, or have not yet learned how to do this, immodestly dressed women can make it more difficult for them. The reality is women can’t control what men choose to focus on in their minds and hearts, but they can help those who struggle by dressing more modestly for obvious reasons. Not only can they help men who are struggling with this but the women who love those men. It can be very painful for a woman to live with a man who struggles with pornography and even more painful to spend time with him and watch him looking at other women.

    I think that is the jist of what Elder Oaks was getting at, even if he didn’t word it in the best possible way. Put yourself in the position of someone always breaking down everything you say and realize that people can take completely different meaning from the same statement and it may not have been the intention of the speaker at all.

  34. 34.

    Everyone is pornography to somebody. Clothed or not.

    An example from my personal experience: there’s a group of folks out there that get off on women with disabilities, specifically women with missing limbs. My amputee body is porn to them whether I want it to be or not, no matter how I clothe or cover my body. I have absolutely no control about how they feel about me.

    I see no reason why I should feel responsible for someone else’s lustful thoughts. I see no reason why a young woman in a sundress should bear the burden for that, either.

  35. 35.

    #16. I suppose I don’t really see much difference between the two statements, except grammatical simplicity in Elder Oaks’ original.

    #31 and #33—thank you!

    I think that when we turn this into women taking responsibility for men’s thoughts, we are putting more into it than is there. It is not women taking responsibility for men’s thoughts, it is women (and men) taking responsibility for the way they act and dress within their own culture. You can’t take it out of context and into another culture for comparison without comparing it against another culture’s context. (How’s that for a confusing sentence).

    A girl can’t absolve her own responsibility by highlighting another person’s. Like the example above, it is both the speaker’s and the hearer’s responsibility to try to say/understand the real message. It is the responsibility of both parties to send and receive the right message in modesty, as well. Just because some hearers don’t hear the right message, does not mean that the speaker does not have to pay attention to their wording. Just because some hearers don’t hear the right message, does not mean that the speaker did not do all they could to convey the right message. The speaker can’t control what the hearer hears, but he or she can do their best to help the hearer hear the right thing.

    Funny how that can apply to Elder Oaks’ words here, as well as to the modesty issue.

  36. 36.

    It’s striking to me that we’re construing modesty quite narrowly as something that women do for men, which is fascinating for a number of reasons.

    (1) So women can run around naked among themselves?

    (2) I think one of the functions of “modest attire” is that it serves as a social fence demarcating “us” from the “world.” But if controlling men’s sexual urges is our explicit primary rationale, how do we deal with those worldly women over whom we have no control (and, truthfully, we want to be different from)? Most Mormon men are going to encounter a non-Mormon woman at some point in their lives. Many are going to encounter several dozen on a daily basis. How will they cope? Using women’s attire to keep men’s sex drives in check just isn’t practical in a democracy.

    (3) We’re eliding the issue entirely of whether women have their own sexual urges.

    I think we need to broaden our understanding of modesty considerably.

  37. 37.

    Jen, #33,

    I think that is the jist of what Elder Oaks was getting at, even if he didn’t word it in the best possible way.

    I agree. And I agree that if that is what he meant, there are better ways to say it. We can all understand that we say things wrong sometimes, but what should we Mormons do then, when we are encouraged to listen to every word our leaders say and then obey with exactness?

    Modesty is such an interesting concept. In the course of 24 hours, I can go to church, go swimming, play tennis, and visit the doctor. In each case I would dress appropriately. But assume that the doctor is a member of my ward and also my tennis doubles partner. she sees me in a suit, in shorts, and naked. What is it that prevents her from becoming a veritable Vesuvius of lust at the sight of my undraped form? Well, aside from the sight of my undraped form. If I wore my tennis outfit to church, it would be out of place, and she would recognize it as out of place, but it would still be no excuse for her to lust after my body.

    I would like to suggest that if we are willing to accept the idea that women can damage men by the way they dress, we also ought to accept the idea that general authorities can damage members with their words. In the case of “living pornography” there has been some real damage.

  38. 38.

    Mark #37-

    Well, first of all, I think the odds of your doctor being a woman in your ward as well as your tennis partner are pretty low, but I will go with it. You are right, she would have no excuse for lusting after you and the odds are frankly, she probably wouldn’t be. Women don’t work the same as men, it takes more work for a woman to be sexually aroused and it typically doesn’t happen quickly by just looking at a man, naked or not. In fact, some women can see a man and wish he would put more clothing on (I am thinking of speedos right now) haha

    There is no excuse for a man OR a woman to lust after another person’s body. For men, it is harder, (as many of us know) but not impossible to learn to control what they think when they see a woman naked, scantily clad, fully dressed, etc.

    My answer to this question: “but what should we Mormons do then, when we are encouraged to listen to every word our leaders say and then obey with exactness?”

    Pray about it if it doesn’t feel right or you don’t understand it. Our leaders teach us to do that as well and to come to understand what we need to know through the Spirit. I know that I have heard things in conference that have been difficult or hard for me to understand and I have had to take it to the Lord. The bottom line for me is we need to use our common sense. Obeying with exactness doesn’t mean we ignore our feelings or lack of understanding. General authorities are human beings and we have to understand that part of being human is not always understanding what another is trying to communicate. I feel it is crucial that we take our struggles to the Lord, and who knows, maybe that is part of the reason we are struggling, so we DO need the Lord.

  39. 39.

    Jen, Without lust for men there would be far fewer children and families. I agree with your comment though very well said.

    Two things strike me One every single year someone at BYU in Provo and in Rexburg comes out and asks the girls to not sunbathe. Two the boys are turned on and excited by the girls whether they do or not. I don’t think you can stop it by putting on clothes or by telling young men not to be interested. They are attempting to keep the level of sex down and that is why these statements come out every year. I really don’t think they think that putting a loose tshirt on will stop boys from looking at girls and does anyone really think girls in bathing suits either one or two piece is really porn? It can be presented this way but it is not automatically porn.

  40. 40.

    Nice comparison, Mark (#37).

  41. 41.

    Jerry- “Without lust for men there would be far fewer children and families”
    In response to your comment :

    To me there is a big difference between lust and love, just as there is a big difference between sex and making love. A man can look at a woman and think she is attractive without “lusting” after her. Likewise, a man can view a women as nothing more than body parts that are there to turn him on. When a man views a woman as an object, breaking her down into body parts (great boobs, nice legs, etc) that is his choice to view her in that way. There are a lot of men out there who choose to view women as much more than just body parts. I would rephrase your comment to say “without lust for men there would be far fewer UNWANTED children” When a man loves a women as a whole person and with respect, it is much more likely that he will want to have children with her AND vice versa for the woman. Lust does nothing put bring heartache and pain to many.

    In America (which is where I live) our society objectifies women everyday in magazines, ads, on TV, etc. If you stand in line at a grocery store you can see on magazines how this is the case. Boys and girls are both “taught” early on in our society that women need to look a certain way to be attractive. The saturated exposure of women to men is not something that has always been the case in society. Men can compare women all over the world to one another now….and they do. The normal attraction that is built within men becomes overworked and overstimulated when men consume women over and over in these ways. I think the intention of BYU and Rexburg in asking girls not to sunbathe is to try and help young men see girls as more than sexual objects to be viewed and enjoyed. You have to admit that in our society it takes a lot of work to teach men and women about healthy sexuality and how to view one another in ways that will bring joy and not heartache and pain.

    I understand that boys will get excited to see girls no matter what, but what is being fed into that excitement can create a disassociation in him that will make it harder for him to relate to a woman and have a deeper relationship with her. In the long run it can create falsehoods within him concerning women that will affect any future relationship in negative ways. This can rob him (and his partner) of the deeper joy that comes when love and respect are involved.

  42. 42.

    The more I think about Elder Oaks’s talk, the more I wonder what he means on a practical level. Is the statement something along the lines of, “Men should never have sexual thoughts (outside conjugal contexts), and seeing women’s skin could provoke this: therefore, the sight of women’s skin is illicit”? Because if so, we need to think through the dimensions of our utopia. If our ideal is to eliminate “sexual” attractiveness, however we define that and however we think that possible, why will people marry? I’m not understanding either what our ideal is or even what I think it should be.

    On the other hand, if what he’s saying is that men in the habit of viewing genuinely pornographic images might, as a result, inadvertantly fantasize inappropriately when they see a little skin, then I just can’t believe the solution to that problem is for women to cover up.

  43. 43.

    I think intent on the part of the beholdee gets tricky. If three women walk by in bikinis, for me it would be impossible to tell that one did it to turn me on, another because she simply thought it was too hot outside, another because she had a skin condition on her abdomen that caused clothing to cause severe pain, and one under threat of death.

    If I’m going to leer and lust after one of them, it will be the one I find most attractive, not the one with the worst intentions. If I leer or not has to do with me, and the decision I make. That’s my responsibility, not the women’s.

    I really like J Jacob’s statement in 20… “Some men who would not normally leer at women will do so if the women are scantily clad.” That seems to me to sum up what Elder Oaks is getting at.

    That said, I’m not sure it’s a very good argument for modesty. As I’ve said, it’s up to me to look without lusting. And it is possible. I’m in the medical field, and will soon (well, seems like forever sometimes) will be a doctor, going into rooms and examining people naked. From my experience so far, I absolutely can look at naked women and not be aroused by it. I can see them partially or fully uncovered. If I let myself be aroused, that’s my own fault. Not hers.

    If we follow this argument, what’s the difference between a girl dressing immodestly and showering in a locker room (or for that matter even just undressing in front of others)… there could be a gay man there that I would “become pornography” to. (well, maybe not me, but someone more attractive)

    I think if we follow it to far, we’ll be living in a Taliban-ish society with women covered head to toe. Which, I suppose is a logically tenable position, but I don’t think it fits well with most people’s ideas of what God wants for His daughters.

  44. 44.

    Oops, I can’t count. That’d be four women.

  45. 45.

    I really think that Elder Oak’s talk is to help us look at our lives and see if there is anything that we might be able to do to be more like daughters of God. It doesn’t have to be taken to extremes. Men will choose to think what they think about women, but women need to be willing to show respect for the body that God gave them and if you believe that God is leading the LDS church and want to do His will, then you can take the talks of the prophet and apostles to heart, pray about what it means for YOU, and then apply it.

    There are PLENTY of women out there who dress immodestly just to get the attention of men. I think that is quite obvious. I think Elder Oaks is trying to get the attention of women who are doing it intentionally. I know enough of those type of women that it is silly to argue they are doing it because it is hot outside.

  46. 46.

    I live in Louisiana. I know enough women who wear shorts and tank tops in August that are doing it because it’s hot outside than to assume they are doing it to attract attention.

  47. 47.


    You can wear shorts and shirts that keep you cool without having to be immodest. I have done this plently of time in 115 to 120 degree weather. Try being in Iraq in Army gear all day. It is just an excuse really. I understand all those who haven’t been taught in a different manner, but for those who have, being “hot” is just an excuse (no pun intended).

  48. 48.

    Jen, I don’t think my example is far-fetched at all. Let’s look at it another way.

    Assume I am an M.D. in a small town in Utah or Idaho. I am the physician for most of the people in my ward. I am expected to control myself when sister Johnson comes in for a breast exam, why should I not also be expected to control myself on Sunday at church and on Tuesday when I drive past her house and notice her working in the yard in a bathing suit or shorts?

    I learned recently that some men have a kink for female authority figures. Should we forbid women from being teachers, managers, principals, bosses, professors, etc., because it causes somebody’s little factory to work overtime? Should we forbid Van Halen from singing Hot For Teacher?

  49. 49.

    And I guess it all comes down to defining immodest. Somewhere along the line, we defined “covering garments” as requisite for modesty. I say that’s nonsense. I have seen hundreds of lovely modest Baptist women who wear sleeveless tops and shorts at mid-thigh who are far from immodest. And yet the same attire on an LDS girl is considered inappropriately seductive. If you were to suggest to one of those lovely (Godly, Christ-serving) Baptist women that they were leading men to lustful thoughts by their attire, they would be rightly insulted.

    And that’s what the problem with this whole conversation is for me. Nobody wants to define immodest except, like porn, “they know it when they see it.” And one super-righteous horny guy’s immodest is a Godly Baptist woman’s perfectly acceptable summer clothing. All we have to do is have ONE guy claim that she’s inappropriately dressed, and the modestly police are out. You’re all so defensive about what Elder Oaks said – my problem is that he didn’t say anything useful, such as defining “modest” in measurable and objective terms. As it is, his vague admonitions to “keep sweet” have become grounds for horny boys to freak out when a young woman wears a backpack with straps that cross her chest.

  50. 50.

    #48 Mark-
    I am not sure how your response applies to what I said in my comment? I have stated that I think men are responsible for what they think about when they look at women….at any time.

    I also think that you are taking what I have said in my comments to the extreme for some reason because I have not talked in extreme terms. There are men AND women out there who have a so-called “kink” for all sorts of things….children, beasts, you name it. I am well educated on the way pornography affects men and the road it leads many of them down. I also never said anything about censoring music or other types of entertainment either so enlighten me on your Van Halen comment.

    Let’s say for a moment that YOUR daughter likes to dress in a more scantily clad way. Her date comes over and you can see him looking her up and down, exicted to take her out. Would that be good and fine with you if she dressed that way as opposed to a more “modest” approach? And why?

  51. 51.

    I had a teacher at BYU who told us one day that the women needed to stop wearing their bags and purses crossed over their chests because it accentuated their breasts. It made me sick. Here was a 40-year-old married man who was blaming young women for his inability to keep his eyes off their chests (well-covered chests, I might add–this was winter).

    I really feel for those who struggle with pornography, but I am so sick and tired of blame being placed on women. As the wife of a recovered porn addict (who thankfully didn’t get so deep into it that he couldn’t come out) I can tell you that real-life women had nothing to do with it. It is completely his choice whether to look at a women in whatever state of dress in a lustful way. And he chooses not to. If he is made uncomfortable, he can choose to look away. I get that for some it becomes less of a choice and more of a compulsion, but in those cases it has become a disease which isn’t going to be eliminated by young women being covered completely. I object to the phrase “you are magnifying the problem by becoming pornography.” Of course girls who dress sexy are trying to attract boys, but they aren’t trying to drag men down into their own personal hell. I am going to teach my girls modesty by emphasizing the sacredness of their body, not by emphasizing the potential evil that others could wrongly blame them for.

  52. 52.

    #49 Ann-
    In relation to your comment: ” You’re all so defensive about what Elder Oaks said – my problem is that he didn’t say anything useful, such as defining “modest” in measurable and objective terms.”

    If you look in the For The Strength Of Youth pamphlet the definition for modesty is set forth clearly by the church.

    I don’t think that covering garments is a nonsense approach to modesty. If you truly believe the Lord is the one who set those standards then there is purpose behind them, even if we don’t understand them all right now. I also don’t think you can compare a Baptist woman to an LDS woman because they have been taught differently in relation to this issue.

    I have stated clearly in my comments that men are responsible for their own thoughts and actions towards women. If men choose to get involved in pornography they are completely responsible for those choices. On the flip side, women have to be responsible for their choices. If we believe that God speaks through prophets and has set standards for modesty then we are responsible to follow those standards, for whatever reason. If we choose not to, then we are responsible for being given the knowledge and ignoring it. Let’s leave the effects on men completely out and just look at it from that perspective. It all comes down to whether we believe the Lord or not.

  53. 53.

    To the editor of the Daily Universe:

    I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to address the young lady who slipped on the ice and fell on the steps in front of the WIlkinson Center yesterday morning.

    As you sprawled out on the concrete, dazed from the impact, with your dress up around your hips, lips slightly parted, legs akimbo, and hair tousled, did you even stop to think what unwelcome thoughts you caused to enter the minds of the men who saw you? Many of them are preparing for missions and temple marriage, but because you were in too much of a hurry to watch where you were putting your feet, they were forced to look at England and France. I daresay that David did not see as much of Bathsheba as you willing displayed to all and sundry.

    You may claim that your fall was accidental. Oh Kontrare. Everybody else managed to stay on their feet. Your carelessness causes you to lose sight of who the real victim here is, and that is yrs. truly. If you think there is a chance you might fall, why don’t you wear a pair of sweat pants or nice capris under your dress, just in case? I know, I know, the World might not think that is fashionable, but since when do we here at the ‘Y’ care what the World thinks? We are proud to have a style of our own. A little preparation and care on your part would make the brethren around you feel ever so much more at ease. Priesthood holders do not like to have to walk around campus wondering when they will be assaulted by the sight of a woman doing a pratfall.

    As you fell, I was sorely tempted by the adversary to walk over and help you get up. But then I realized how wrong it would be for me to put my hands — hands which partook of the sacrament on the Sabbath — on a woman who is not my eternal companion. Even worse, if I had put my hand on your back to help you up, I might have brushed against your bra strap, accidentally of course. Even worse, what if I had lost my balance as I was helping you and fallen down next to you, or even on top of you? No, I am glad that I escaped all those snares, and passed by on the other side.

    Your body might be sore for a few days, but it will recover. But the image you forced upon all the men around you has been stored in the memory banks of the wonderful computer we call a brain, subject to instant recall. It is just like pornography.

    How do you think your future eternal companion will feel if he ever finds out how many other men have seen your underwear? I hope you feel very cheap, then maybe you will take stock of your life and repent.

    If you feel that I have spoken harshly, please know that I am doing it in a spirit of love. I am concerned about you.


    A concerned brother

  54. 54.

    I love the foregoing open letter!

    Here is a proposal to deal with this issue from the other end:

    Our great Mikado, virtuous man,
    When he to rule our land began,
    Resolved to try
    A plan whereby
    Young men might best be steadied.

    So he decreed, in words succinct,
    That all who flirted, leered or winked
    (Unless connubially linked),
    Should forthwith be beheaded.

  55. 55.

    #43 CoriAnton—You’re right, your thoughts are your own responsibility. But in the woman’s head, her thoughts and intents are her responsibility. Your guilt or lack thereof does not affect hers.

    For example, let’s say that a woman dressed provocatively with the intent of eliciting sexual desire in men. However improbably, let’s say she walked into a group of men who failed to be turned on by her dress for whatever reason. Maybe she was unappealing, maybe they were gay, whatever. Their lack of reaction does not absolve her of guilt for dressing with the intent to elicit sexual desire. The two sins are independent of each other.

    And, like with all sin, those who sin in ignorance will not be held accountable for sin. But, also like with all sin, there is a responsibility to educate where possible and directed by the Spirit.

    #46 Thanks, Jen. You hit it on the button.

  56. 56.

    I really think that Elder Oak’s talk is to help us look at our lives and see if there is anything that we might be able to do to be more like daughters of God.

    Jen, I appreciate your commitment to modesty as a principle; I also think there’s something important to it, but I don’t feel that I’ve adequately thought through how it should be understood. What you wrote above is a charming idea–I’m just not convinced it’s what Elder Oaks said in this particular talk (after all, he barely addressed women, and then only in an aside). As I read Mark, he’s not suggesting we censor music or anything else; he’s using these examples to illustrate a principle, which I would phrase as the dangers of placing the burden of keeping ourselves pure on others (obligating them to create a pure environment), and thereby restricting their freedoms, potentially severely. No doubt each of us would be a lot more righteous if we lived in a utopia, but I don’t know the degree to which we should demand others create that utopia for us so it will be easier for us to be righteous. As I said on the BCC thread, there’s a trade-off between “freedom to” and “freedom from.” If we want a world heavy on freedom from (such as freedom from the erotic sight of women’s anklebones), we–or worse, another group entirely–have a lot less freedom to.

    One rationale for modesty is authority, and I think you’ve articulated that position well here (we do it out of loyalty and respect for Church leaders), and there may be something admirable to that. Some of us around here just like to question compulsively what the more ultimate rationale might be, and how modesty is and should be presented. :)

    Concerned Brother, you go! Purifying the world one soul at a time, and mine last of all–that’s my motto!

  57. 57.

    Some general thoughts:

    If we understand modesty as a limit on sexual attractiveness, then we’re left trying to understand where sexual attractiveness begins and ends. In the Middle Ages people were “modest” by refusing to bathe, not doing their hair, and deliberately making themselves ugly, and this was a viewed as a virtue specifically because they made themselves sexually unappealing. I guess I’m left wondering why spending three hours on your hair and make-up for sacrament meeting is modest in our model–not saying it should or shouldn’t be, just trying to understand. (On the other hand, if modesty is strictly about covering up, maybe women shouldn’t be allowed in public without make-up?)

    In a broader context, “modesty” means refraining from flaunting what you have. This has already been asked on the thread, but if you’re not that appealing, physically, or the people around you aren’t attracted (you’re a female among gay men, heterosexual women, etc.) can you walk around naked? It doesn’t seem like our rationales are explaining why this would be inappropriate.

    The Taliban gets referenced almost inevitably in these conversations, and obviously the Church isn’t proposing what some extreme Muslims propose. (The problem is, even if you cover women up almost completely, literally whatever is visible might seduce men. How do you stop that? It seems like the obvious solution would be to cover the men’s eyes instead.)

    This is what I’m wondering: do we think we differ qualitatively or quantitatively from such a position? If we differ qualitatively–we don’t think women’s behavior should be restricted in the interest of controlling men’s sexual urges–then how do we understand modesty? Because talks like that quoted above lead me to suspect we only differ quantitatively–meaning we believe the exact same thing but we’re arbitrarily drawing the line at a different point, at women’s knees rather than at their eyes.

    Furthermore, in a global age how do we apply modesty standards that were crafted on the basis of American norms to cultures that sexualize the female body differently? Should the Bushmen in the Kalihari cover up? They’re not sexualizing the sight of a woman’s breast. On the other hand, should Saudi Arabian women strip down? In their culture, the sight of women’s hair might be obscene. It seems like we need a better theoretical model for understanding what modesty is about. Is it about covering up certain body parts in public specifically so that we can sexualize them in private, and doing it to a slightly greater degree than everyone around us?

    Another point of interest: we have numerous scriptures about the importance of “modest dress” in the sense of non-ostentatious attire, but very little about sexualized attire. It’s the fine twines in the linens that are of concern in the Book of Mormon, not their length.

    What all this means: I have no idea.

  58. 58.

    #56 Kiskilili-

    I need to point out that in my comment you referenced I should have said Elder’s Oak’s comment, not talk, because I was referring strictly to the comment he made IN the talk, not the talk itself…sorry for not making that more clear.

    To clarify, I feel it is our responsbility to keep ourselves pure. I would never agree with forcing a “clean” environment on anyone. My point is in that there is responsibility in those who have learned what the Lord expects of them as sons and daughters of God. They still have the right to choose (which is key) whether they obey God or not, but they also have to face God someday about those choices and I really believe that we will see what our choices did to affect those around us, for good and bad.

    I want to mention that I don’t choose to live the way I do out of loyalty and respect for Church leaders, but for God. There is a difference there for me.

    To look at things in a different way, I feel that it is an adult’s responsbility to give a child opportunity to learn HOW to be pure, then they can choose for themselves as they grow whether they want to be or not. For example, if a child is exposed over and over to material on TV that is inappropriate for a child, it will make it a lot harder for that child to learn about healthy sexuality, attitudes about women, respect for life, etc. In that, I feel we should place the burden on others to protect children and yet I see that happening less and less in our society.

    I am not one to advocate forcing anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, but I am one to advocate seeking God and finding out His will. If He has clearly established modesty standards for all who seek after Him and desire to do His will, then those who love Him will desire to do as He asks and will do it. God is no respecter of persons, but there are plenty of people who don’t respect God.

    One more thing. I think if you want to understand what the ulitmate rationale is for modesty….ask God….not a bunch of bloggers! :)

  59. 59.

    #55 – SliverRain: In your example, the woman trying to elicit sexual desire in the men around her would absolutely be responsible for that… but that doesn’t mean that the clothes she’s wearing are inherently sinful. Her sin would be one of trying to elicit illicit desire, not immodest dress. I’m just saying that if we take intent into consideration, it makes defining modesty as “covering everything above the knees” tricky.

    #57 – Kiskilili: I really liked that comment. Especially that there are so many scriptural references to modesty, and I can’t think of one that refers to revealing too much skin (correct me anyone, if you know of one). It’s all about the fine apparel.

    It seems to me that Elder Oaks is most easily interpreted that we diverge only quantitatively from some extreme muslim positions. That seems to be his take on it.

    I also think that defining modest as what covers garments is a rather unreliable definition, considering the way that garments have changed over the years…

  60. 60.

    Just because you can look at another culture or time and say “they define modest clothing differently”, it does not follow that it is without value to define modest clothing in this culture and time.

  61. 61.

    Good point, CoriAnton. We sometimes laugh (inappropriately, I think) at FLDS fashion, like wearing pants underneath a dress. But they’re wearing 19th-century-style one-piece garments from the time they’re children; their clothing choices have to accommodate that.

    All: I’m not trying to justify any particular behavior–I genuinely haven’t decided what exactly I think about modesty. Personally, I’m most comfortable wearing long sleeves and pants in virtually any weather; I don’t know whether that’s good or bad. My comments are just trying to better grasp what modesty is about.

    The Church is attempting to go global right this minute, so thinking on a global scale isn’t irrelevant. Let’s imagine a community where women traditionally cover everything but their eyes in public. Some of them are baptized. Should we tell these women they shouldn’t ever show their noses in public, for the reason that this will incite lust in the men? If men in their culture don’t see women’s noses outside of sexual contexts, noses very well might incite lust.

    I don’t personally know how to answer this question, but I think the answer is anything but obvious.

  62. 62.


    Is it possible you are making the issue of modesty more complicated than it needs to be? If the Lord has set standards for modesty (and you actually believe it is the Lord’s church and His standards for modesty) shouldn’t EVERYONE adjust their standards to His whether they are covering up too much or not covering up enough? There are extremes on both ends, but I don’t think the Lord works in extremes. We are supposed to adjust our lives to His standard of modesty, not the other way around. It seems pretty simple and straightforward to me and I sincerely struggle to understand what confuses you about this issue.

  63. 63.

    Well, Jen, I think we just view the Church from very different angles. It’s hard for me not to see human involvement in the way the Church formulates and frames its standards–if nothing else, those standards were designed for humans. And even if I did believe every word issuing from Salt Lake was authorized directly by God, I would still want to deconstruct it.

    So I hear you offering two rationales for the Church’s current position on modesty: the first is an appeal to authority (which I dealt with in the preceding paragraph), and the second is an appeal to the ideal of a “golden mean,” more or less, yeah? The idea is that what’s moral can be found at the midpoint between extremes. But in general, I don’t think this model fits Mormon standards at all. We propose that appropriate behavior on issues of alcohol, chastity, obedience, what we should sacrifice for the Church, etc., is basically an “extreme.”

    I think everything is more complicated than it seems to be. :)

  64. 64.


    When I am referring to extremes in my comment, I am specifically talking about modesty such as covering your entire body, compared to barely covering it. I wasn’t referring to alcohol, chastity, etc.. And no, I don’t see what is moral as what can be found at the midpoint between extremes. I see it as what God says it is…..that’s really it.

    To me, things are as complicated as you want to make them. You could think this issue into the ground and still not come up with anything that satisfies you. But…to each his (or her) own. :)

  65. 65.


    but I’m curious what you think “the primary reason” pornography is bad is.

    It’s gracious of you to ask. After considering this for a few days, I think there are two main reasons I can’t respond effectively. First, we use such imprecise language that we’d have to spend a long time making distinctions and defining terms before we could make any progress. Consider, for example, that when we say “pornography” some people think of violent abuse of women to gratify someone’s sadomasochism while someone else is thinking of any media that includes nudity. These things are wrong for different reasons, in my opinion (or if they share reasons, the intersection is small). Lots of other examples arise quickly, such as is found in the word “lust” which we don’t spend any time nailing down even though the meaning is not clear. We can’t even agree on basic stuff like whether the identification of something as pornography is fundamentally objective or subjective.

    The second problem is that as a consequentialist, I think things turn out to be wrong for different reasons depending on the person and the situation. This doesn’t, of itself, prevent us from talking about why pornography is bad, but it makes the investigation involved.

    For me, I think the main reason pornography is bad is that it makes me want to have sex more than I would otherwise and my wife already wants to have sex less often than I do. To fan the flames of this incongruity is immoral since it negatively impacts my relationship with my wife. But, when I say “pornography” above I have in mind something tame on the pornographic spectrum. If I were attracted to other kinds of pornography, I would likely have additional answers.

    Utlimately, I think this is one of the primary problems with all of the rhetoric about pornography in the church, with this example from Oaks being just one minor example. That’s why I don’t think he should have used the word pornography at all.

  66. 66.

    I appreciate your response. I have no idea how we define pornography, and maybe we can’t even define it without, sort of, creating it?

  67. 67.

    Kiskilili, I have taken 400-level Feminist Critical Theory and Sex in the Cinema courses, and I have never grasped these concepts like I did through your explanation. Thank you– and I mean that. The terminology (object/subject, the gaze, etc) is all familiar to me, but in reading your analysis it finally all made sense.

    I’m sorry I don’t have anything more profound to say than “thanks,” but I feel enriched.

  68. 68.

    Wow, thanks for your comment, Rebecca! I don’t know what to say. I’m flattered. :)

  69. 69.

    I know this thread hasn’t been active for quite a while, but recently something got me curious again about the issues brought up here.

    A friend of a friend (she’s an orthodox LDS expat living in Saudi Arabia) mentioned the restrictions on dress that she is required to live under, and commented on the fact that when she goes out shopping she is surrounded by Saudi women whose faces she never sees. (This is because women only unveil in front of other women or in front of their own husbands/male members of their nuclear family, and only then when they are in private, closed quarters.) She commented that, based on the clothing she sees on sale in the malls, these women dress less modestly underneath their abayas than she does.

    I thought that was an interesting comment – the idea that a woman could be viewed by an LDS member as immodest beneath her abaya and niqab, and therefore immodest when she removes them in front of her husband, hadn’t really occurred to me before, and made me curious about the limits of modesty in LDS culture. What are the limits of modesty? Can you be immodest if you are stranded on a desert island? Can you be immodest alone? With your husband/wife?

    Especially given the recent clarification in temple recommend interviews that states explicitly that endowed members should not remove the garment for things like yard work, I wonder. Is that a modesty issue? i.e. if there were no people to see you doing your yard work garment-less, would it still be an issue?

  70. 70.

    @ Galdralag #69 I assume that your acquaintance was using the word modest to describe how much/little said clothing agreed with typical western/LDS conceptions of modesty, rather than using the word to describe the psycho-physical state or correctness of the clothing or it’s wearer. In other words, “immodest beneath her abaya” probably meant “wearing less clothing than is typically described as modest, beneath her abaya”. Obviously, to LDS an Olympian in a skin-tight swimsuit or a wife (or husband) in lingerie during sexually-intimate moments with a spouse are not considered immodest, though under different circumstances the same clothing would be. If you’re stranded on an island, immodesty depends on what you have to clothe yourself, who you’re with, and the practical/health implications of various options; it’s not black and white. If you are trying to be immodest, you probably are being immodest. If you aren’t trying to be, it’s much less likely, even in the exact same clothing. So modesty is both an objective set of standards for typical living (the LDS version of which your acquaintance was likely referring to) , which comprises 95+% of most people’s lives, and also a state of mind for wearer and beholder, mixed with intentions, which you seem to have in mind but I think your Saudi acquaintance didn’t. Hopefully this makes sense. Modesty is clearly not black and white or explicitly definable by metrics exterior to individuals.

    Garments, while largely connected with modesty, are a different issue altogether. The garment is a symbol of a covenant, and is itself a covenant of sorts; namely, garments wearers covenant to wear the garment throughout their lives except when circumstances prevent it’s intended use; eg swimming, sex, and super-sports (intense physical activity, but that doesn’t start with “S”). Yard work is often sweaty but less often intense, and because it’s a common activity that a few members would doubtless wonder and possibly argue/judge each other about, it would make some sense for a leader to clarify the issue. However, I have no knowledge of yard work being mentioned in temple recommend interviews, and I’ve had access to what I believe is the most recent version of the recommend guidebook. It’s quite possible, then, that the yard work line was a myth or rumor. If it was actually said by a leader, the reason would be to clear up confusion more than to define modesty.

    Garments are much more black/white than modesty overall, because they represent specific commitments. They also help remove ambiguity for LDS of modesty during typical living, because if clothing covers garments and isn’t overly tight it is almost always considered modest for typical circumstances.

    I’ve gotten far off the original question of whether modest dress is in the wearer or the beholder; of course it is both. I somewhat disagree with the author; the way I see Elder Oak’s statement isn’t as an unintentional framing of the issue as men=subject women=object, but rather advice/teaching to younger sisters that what may be innocent for them can also needlessly worsen circumstances for some weak and or overwhelmingly-visually-stimulated men. If we all saw with the eyes of young women, modesty would hardly need to be taught; many girls have little or no sense of visual lust until male-oriented culture teaches it to them. That’s not making women into objects, it’s warning them that in many men’s minds such an evil has already be done, and girls can contribute to solving the problem by keeping it in mind when choosing clothing.

  71. 71.

    Oh my goodness, why don’t we all just get a grip!
    Let’s face it, we are all sexual beings. We’re meant to be that way. Nature couldn’t care less how much we agonise about modesty and appropriateness. Men like to look at youthful, goodlooking women. Women like to look at youthful, goodlooking men. It always has been and always will be that way, whether we all wear burkas or bikinis.
    (See, even the word “bikini” might inflame some people.) If men can’t learn a modicum of civilised self-restraint, then may I recommend a hairshirt worn under their temple garments, or perhaps a little daily flagellation if they find the “scene on the street” just too much to handle?

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