Has there been an increase in modesty rhetoric in the Church in the past few years, or are we just imagining things? I wrote a post a few years ago to try to answer this question by counting articles in Church magazines by year that used the word modesty in discussing dress. I found that yes, there had been an increase, particularly in the New Era and the Friend.
The question is one that I’ve seen come up a lot in the Mormon-themed Facebook groups where I participate, so the post still gets linked to now and again. I’ve wanted to update it, though, to make three changes: (1) add 3 more years of data, (2) improve my counting of mentions of modesty, and (3) count separately for modesty discussions aimed at women/YW/girls and men/YM/boys.
I was recently listening to the awesome feminist mormon housewives podcast episode in which Lisa Butterworth talks to Brad Kramer about what it means to be a male feminist. I particularly liked his discussion about modesty and sexuality and how he wants to frame those issues for his children. There are many, many parts of this discussion that I wholeheartedly agree with. For example, I really like his discussion about how the current modesty rhetoric in the church reinforces the idea that girls and young women are primarily sexual instead of sexuality being only a part of who they are as a person overall.
That being said, there were a couple of statements within this discussion that brought me up short. Continue reading
Likely everyone has come across the following internet/facebook meme, but just in case you’ve been backpacking in the Andes for the last two weeks with no wifi, or don’t have well-meaning conservative facebook friends, or have blocked all the well-meaning conservative facebook friends, or just aren’t on facebook precisely so you can avoid things like this, here you go:
Over at Doves and Serpents, Heather Olsen Beal recently blogged about a Friend article in which a four year old girl learns the importance of not wearing clothes that show her shoulders. The article was also discussed at fMh, and Heather, Erin Hill, and Chelsea Fife were guests on a Mormon Matters podcast, where they used the article as a jumping off point for discussing how modesty is taught (and could be taught better) in the Church.
In the discussion, following Heather’s post, she raised the question of whether this focus has changed over time, whether the practice of drilling even prepubescent children on modesty of dress is a new thing:
I think the rhetoric we were getting from church leaders and publications 20 years ago was much more sane and reasonable. I feel like it’s gotten ratcheted up to the nth degree. It’s no longer a modest position; it’s extreme.
That modesty is being pushed harder and with more detail now than it used to be is my impression too, but I wondered whether I could find any data that would support or refute this conclusion.
A recent post at Pandagon by Amanda Marcotte clarified some concerns I’ve had for awhile now about certain (but not all) discussions of modesty in our church discourse. Now, while I’m guessing that many of the readers of our blog would dismiss some of her stronger claims about modesty and “compulsory femininity,” I primarily wanted to highlight one passage:
Modesty exists mostly as a reason to obsess over what women are wearing and remind them non-stop that no matter what else they do with themselves, they’re just sex objects in the eyes of the patriarchy. The end result is women are given twin messages to be sexually appealing and not to be sexually appealing all at once, and that at any point in time they are in danger of being deemed sluttily or prudishly dressed.