Worthwhile Reads: The Modesty Survey

I’d like to introduce you to something called “The Modesty Survey.” It was put together by the Harris twins (brothers of Josh Harris of I Kissed Dating Goodbye fame). It is composed of dozens of questions about every aspect of clothing imaginable – bathing suit strings sticking out from under clothing, purses with straps diagonally across the front – questions submitted by 200 Christian girls and answered by 1600 Christian guys.

The results? We find out things like this: 27% of respondents find a girl putting on lip gloss in front of them to be a stumbling block, 63.6% of respondents find a girl leaning over and showing her lower back to be a stumbling block, and 74.9% of respondents reported that the way a girl walks can be a stumbling block.

I think what this survey highlights is that it doesn’t matter how much a girl tries to cover up, there will still be something that someone will find a “stumbling block.” I mean, there’s even this: 93.8% of respondents reported that a modestly dressed girl can still be a stumbling block because of her attitude and behavior. Lovely.

Nine-Year-Old Sluts and Masturbating Dinner Guests
"Modest Is Hottest" and Girls' Self-Confidence
What's it take to get kicked out of homeschool prom?
It Starts at Five
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • cass_m

    this goes with the picture you posted of the woman in a burka and the boys on the motorbike leering at her.

  • bitwise

    The detail of this survey is so obsessively minute, it’s mind-boggling. A few highlights:
    ~30% agree/strongly agree that “Long necklaces that hang down over or past the bust are a stumbling block.”
    “Shirts or dresses with chest pockets draw too much attention to the bust.” A text response: “If she’s actually using the pocket, definitely.”
    ~35% agree/strongly agree that “Leotards, sheer skirts, and tutus in theatre or dance performances are immodest. ”
    ~40% agree/strongly agree that “Shirts or dresses (long or short-sleeved) with slits in the sleeves are a stumbling block. ”
    ~65% agree/strongly agree that “It is a stumbling block when a girl reaches into her shirt to adjust a bra strap.”

    Under ‘open questions’, the question is asked, “What is the primary difference between something that is attractive and something that is immodest?” I found the first response (by a 24-year-old guy) especially telling: “Something that is immodest is something that is designed to arouse lust within me. Attractiveness is a far more mysterious quality, a mixture of spirituality, personality and physical beauty.” Note: it is something that is designed to arouse lust in me. That’s right. If a woman is wearing something ‘immodest’, it’s not just happenstance. The garment in question was deliberately designed to arouse lust. And not just lust in general; note the use of first-person. A 20-year-old states: “A girl who is immodest presents her body as something that anyone can stop by and partake of. She is selling herself for nothing. A girl who is modest presents herself as a pure and beautiful prize that must be won.” So, either way, the ‘girl’ is a commodity. The only difference is cost (and, implicit in cost, is value). Blech.

    At the risk of too long a comment with too much copy/paste, I should add that the question “Immodest clothing is not a problem (for you) when a girl in your own family wears it” is a goldmine of disturbing comments:
    “Maybe I am alone in this, but my “Hey! Female skin!” radar doesn’t stop to check DNA first.”
    “A young lady, regardless of your relation to her, can be a stumbling block/temptation to a young man. Sort of a disgusting thought, but men, if not walking in the Spirit everday, can be wolves.”
    “I radically disagree. It does not matter if the girl is my sister or not, it is still an assault on godly beauty, and my chastity.”
    “Even my Mom can attract my attention if she isn’t careful.”

    So. There you have it. Ew.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Wow, I missed that one. Could you post a link?

    • thread_of_fire

      for the last bit, while their wording is awful:
      “an assault on godly beauty, and my chastity.”
      “if she isn’t careful.”
      I’m not sure what your “ew” is referring to. Is the sexual attraction to family members “ew”? Often the *act* of incest is considered “ew”, but is mere attraction something that should be evaluated and stopped somehow?

      • Steve

        Christians don’t distinguish between thoughts and actions when it comes to this. Which probably goes back to Jesus who allegedly said that just thinking about another woman is the same adultery. It’s really stupid.

      • bitwise

        In reply to thread_of_fire,
        Tentatively, I would say that my ‘ew’ reaction wasn’t specifically targeted at the men who feel attraction to their family members, which is something they can’t help. Rather, it was a reaction to the way they take these feelings and announce them in a tone that throws all the ‘blame’ back onto their mothers and sisters.
        I would also note the implication of “Sort of a disgusting thought, but men, if not walking in the Spirit everday, can be wolves.” ‘Men’ are here lumped together, as a group, and the implication is that, if not for a rigorous application of this brand of Christianity, will prey on their family members. (The ever-popular wolf analogy is, also, not only kind of squick, but also a very unhealthy paradigm to frame sex and attraction within).

    • minuteye

      It must be a very lonely experience to believe that the teeniest actions performed by half the world’s population are ‘designed’ to cause you harm.

      Because clearly, adjusting a bra strap is all about forcing others to sin… nothing at all to do with underwire or personal comfort.

  • http://dream-wind.livejournal.com Christine

    Oh, how nice. You’re allowed to show a bit of cleavage if you are wearing a swimsuit. See, they are leaving concessions for big-busted girls who are going to be immodest 99% of the time!

    And oh, they aren’t telling girls what to wear. They’re just telling us what they have to guard against. Well, dears, there’s a name for this sort of passive-aggressive behaviour. It’s called BLACKMAIL.

    Honestly, the stupid makes my head explode. I wonder how many of these boys have secret stashes of X-Men comics so they can paw over the pictures of Emma Frost…

    • thread_of_fire

      “they aren’t telling girls what to wear”
      unfortunately it said the girls were the ones who submitted the questions. I think the insights of the whole project are probably expected to create standards to be followed.

      Hopefully even some of the true believers will see how ridiculous so much of it is, and decide to reject it or something.

  • Noelle

    Do boys and men believe women dress nice for the purpose of stirring up lust? When are we going to tell them we dress to look good because it feels good to look good? Has nothing to do with them, though thanks for noticing if we’ve gone through the trouble to pick out something cute and get purty.

    I found it a stumbling block when a buttoned shirt was worn with sleeves turned up to reveal sinewy forearms. Wire-framed glasses would make me hold my breath and focus on nothing else. As a GenX teen in the 90s, long hair pushed over an ear or falling partially across a face could stop me in my steps. But I didn’t kid myself that the young men were at fault and slutty whores who needed to protect their lesser sister’s lusty heart. No, I’d prefer they continue to present themselves in an attractive manner and not cover up.

    • http://dream-wind.livejournal.com Christine

      Cover up LESS, perhaps? ;)

  • Sue Blue

    The real problem here is that boys are not taught to respect their sisters, mothers, or females in general as equal human beings. Instead, they’re raised from birth to see women as objects that exist solely for their pleasure and comfort., and to see themselves as the axis around which all else must revolve. I rarely see a mention of “self-esteem”, “independence”, “academic excellence” or “aspirations” in any Christian post which deals with women’s roles or issues. It’s all about appearance and behavior, because that’s all Christian men think are important.

  • Rae

    This survey also has a pretty strong bias in the inherent design – by talking explicitly about whether or not the way that certain items are worn *could* cause a man to lust is going to basically encourage them to start thinking about the items in a sexual sense. For example, the post about the necklaces, the fact that it’s worded “long necklaces that hang down over or past the bust…” is going to get a reaction of “Well, I’m thinking about breasts now, so it obviously must be immodest”. Whereas if they posted a photo of such a necklace on top of a modest shirt laid out flat, or being held by someone’s hand, or whatever to get a sense of the size, and asking “are necklaces that are this long a stumbling block?” I’d guess that most of the young men in question would probably change their response to something along the lines of “WTF? Why is this even on here? I don’t understand half the questions on this survey.”

  • smrnda

    Something I’ve always found astonishing is that Josh Harris got his start as a ‘writer’ when he was pretty young and somehow the guy is taken as an expert on marriage, dating, and relationships. Seriously, this little twerp must have an enormous ego by now with all the people who think he’s somehow the preacher of the new enlightenment.

    It really is absurd – no matter what a woman does or wears, some guy is going to say that it’s a ‘stumblingblock’ (I love evangelical-ese.) The whole idea that women are doing it on purpose strikes me as similar to the hostile attribution bias (look it up.) Women are doing it all On Purpose To Make The Menz Stumble. I’m sure there is some guy out there who has a burkha fetish.

    I don’t want to sound too anti-male here – these males have been told that feeling sexual attraction makes them terrible people – they haven’t been taught that you can both feel attracted to women/ a woman and still respect her as a person, and that you can’t shut of sexual attraction, that it’s normal, and that the best way to deal with it is to learn to regard women as human beings.

    The responses I read in this post were clearly from males who have no ability to relate to women in a mature fashion. I”ve noticed that kind of goes hand in hand with contemporary fundamentalist/evangelical culture in the states. Guys I know would never look at a woman as nothing but a body that can either be modest or is somehow trying to make a guy ‘stumble.’ The egotism in a response like ‘when a girl adjusts her bra strap it makes me stumble.’ What if a woman said that she would ‘stumble’ unless men went around wearing ninja outfits?

    I’m sure the Harris boys wouldn’t feel that men were least bit obliged to avoid stuff that might make women stumble, they would call a woman who says that a head case.

    • kagekiri

      Yeah, the stumbling block thing is pretty messed up. Basically, Paul says you shouldn’t do anything that might make others stumble even if you’re saved and can technically do anything, and these purity nuts use that verse to blackmail people into not doing anything that harms their precious and delicate sensibilities.

      “Oh, even if you’re okay with dressing like that, you’ll make people stumble, and that’s on you!”

      “Oh, rock music reminds me of my troubled youth, you’re making me stumble, turn it off!”

      “Oh, drums are based on African spirit worship, and stir up base emotions in your soul, you shouldn’t ever use them lest you make others stumble!”

      “Oh, this kissing scene in a movie makes me aroused, you’re making me stumble, turn it off!”

      “Oh, these cartoon is Japanese, and they’re Buddhists, so obviously it’s idol worship, don’t make others stumble because that Buddhism obviously going to worm its way into your heart!”

      It’s basically holding everyone hostage to the most self-victimizing, self-absorbed, and self-righteous jerks in a group.

  • Steve

    This could all be solved if they were just allowed to masturbate. Instead they are inadvertently taught to sexualize everything, but have no outlet. It’s almost a positive feedback loop

    • http://dream-wind.livejournal.com Christine

      It might help the women if they could, too :).

    • kagekiri

      Ugh, I remember my old church saying that you should even be able to stop wet dreams by praying before you slept. Us teenagers were So. Freaking. Repressed.

      Yet the pastors still made jokes like “95% of men masturbate, and the other 5% are lying”. Hypocritical assholes.

      • Steve

        Sex is really the best way they have to control people. On some level they know that people won’t stop having sexual thoughts. So by making up thought crimes, they can be sure that people will keep “sinning” and thus continue to heap on the guilt.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    As an insightful young man once said: “I’m seventeen — seeing linoleum makes me think about sex”.

    • ArachneS

      Pretty sure that is Xander Harris. Buffy FTW!

  • http://terelatimer.blogspot.com.au/ Tere

    That Modesty Survey got me very irked – had to go and write my own blog as a response!

  • Anon

    Dear all the boys who answered those questions and posted responses.

    That low cut shirt I’m wearing, those shorts etc. are not being worn to make you ‘stumble’. I am adjusting my bra strap, not to make you ‘stumble’ because it has become twisted and therefore uncomfortable. I’m not wearing a particular type of swimsuit to make you ‘stumble’ either, I’m wearing it because I like it. My chest is bouncing when I run because my boobies are made of fat and they have to obey the rules of gravity and I’m running because *insert important reason here*.

    See the thing is, not everything every girl ever does all the time is meant to arouse you. Most of us have no idea that we’re arousing you, in fact we’re just trying to go about our daily lives wearing clothes we like and performing actions that are necessary. Most of you are young adults, your sex drives are likely through the roof anyway and it doesn’t matter what it is that I’m wearing if you absolutely have to sexualise me seeing my wrists and ankles is probably going to be enough if you try hard enough.

    In short. The world does not revolve around your sexual arousal and I am not changing what I wear because you’re oversexualising things.

    Liberal Feminist Atheist

  • Elizabby

    Actually, this is the 2nd time I’ve seen this survey – the first time it was linked from an evangelical board where it was *also* trashed as being complete rubbish. One thing I remember noticing is that nearly all of the men/boys answering the survey are very young (teenagers to mid-20s). Most of the women who were discussing this survey agreed that it is not the task of women in general to pander to the imaginations of any teenager who walks past. A friend of mine was once told that wearing red is immodest! Seriously. This stuff can make people crazy – it is doing them a favour to tell them to get over themselves. The part that worries me more is that teenage girls were encouraged to ask teenage boys these questions in the first place – presumably in order to modify their dress/behaviour to please the teenage boys in question…

  • victoria

    The most disturbing one I’ve found thus far is that over half of respondents disagree with this statement: “Immodest clothing is not a problem (for you) when a girl in your own family wears it.”

    • kagekiri

      You could take that in a less creepy way: brothers not liking their sisters “being on display” for other boys. I know I was more like that when I was a fundie Christian, and I might have responded the same way with no intent of suggesting incestual attraction.

  • Minnie

    A christian boy raped one of my mothers friends daughter a few months ago at church, the church got mad at the fourteen year old girl and begged her parents not to call the police on the church going christian boy. I am shocked the girls parents did press charges.

    My mother was a tomboy, she never wore makeup, or nice clothes, but she agreed to go horse riding with a fourteen year old boy from her church when she was twelve, he tried to rape her.

    I hated going to church when I was little, one of the many reasons was because the church boys were so hateful and disrespectful, these are boys raised to believe and repeat that the female race was created for their service and pleasure, that everything wrong in the world is womens fault, and that women are to be submissive to men.

    My own father who was a southern baptist preachers son, a deacon, and sunday shcool teacher, he went to church tree times a week, and read us the bible every night, he went mad when my best friend started going through puberty, this was a little girl who had been coming over to his house to play with his litle girl ever since she was six years old, my father told my twelve year old best friend that she was sexy five times before he dropped her off at her house on our way to sunday morning church.

    Christian men are more sex obsessed then any other group of people in America. They are sexually immature, they NEVER grow up sexually, from my own experience I consider christian men and boys to be very dangerous and abusive sexually.

  • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

    Is it bad I found reading that survey a sort of “how-to” for seducing young Christian men? I could do a Mrs. Robinson thing…

  • Nurse Bee

    Even as a Christian, I find this survery incredibly disturbing and wrong on many levels. One of my “favorites” was the question about a girl/woman wearing a purse across her chest. Never mind that it helps keeps her hands free or might discourage purse snatchers…it’s apparently immodest!!

  • AnyBeth

    Scariest to me is under General/other: over 75% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “You have less respect for an immodest girl than for a modest one.”
    To that, we get a boy of 16 saying, “When I see an immodestly dressed girl, I am forced to think of her as an object rather than a human being created in God’s Image.” A man of 23 said, “Immodesty says, “take me to bed, it won’t cost you anything.” Modesty says, “respect me, win my heart, protect me.”” A guy of 18 commented, “I often comment to my buddies when we see a man disrespecting a scantly clad woman in a movie or even or in real life “how does she expect not to be treated like that, wearing something like that?”
    Rape culture, anyone? Evidently we immodest women force men to see us as objects, we’re advertising we’re to be taken for sexual purposes, and we ought to expect all that because of what we wear. Scary stuff.

    • smrnda

      Combine this with guys who think a front pocket on a shirt is immodest and you can see that they get an easy justification for refusing to respect women period, except the submissive ones who agree that it’s their job to prop up men’s fragile egos and to take the blame when men not only can’t control themselves, but when men WON’T control themselves.

      I add won’t control themselves since sexual predators don’t have self-control issues – they do what they do consciously, deliberately and go through lots of planning and justification-making beforehand .

      This one is horrible;
      “To that, we get a boy of 16 saying, “When I see an immodestly dressed girl, I am forced to think of her as an object rather than a human being created in God’s Image.” ”

      Sorry I can’t get quotes to work right, but nobody is FORCING they guy not to respect an ‘immodestly’ dressed woman. He’s decided that women can only be respected for being modest and submissive, so that any other qualities a woman might have are just irrelevant. Maybe that woman who he’s unable to respect because she’s wearing shorts or a necklace that goes down too low has lots of great qualities, she’s intelligent, talented, kind, compassionate but all that matters to this self-righteous shit is that she’s wearing something a little too short or tight.

      The whole deal is just another means of female subjugation. And the whole ‘don’t make people stumble!’ I mean, given that damn near everything has been declared a potential stumbling-block it’s an impossible task. If a guy can’t stop thinking about sex, he needs therapy, not to tell me what to wear.