How the Modesty Doctrine Fuels Rape Culture

I feel a little sick right now, and a little foolish. You know how it is when you see something you didn’t see before, and suddenly it’s so obvious you can’t believe you didn’t see it? I’ve danced around a lot of this, but I’ve never felt its force so bluntly and so directly. Namely, the emphasis on modesty that I received growing up is the food and fuel of the rape culture. Sarah Over the Moon wrote not long ago about how complementarians benefit from and use the existence of rape, but this is something more direct and perhaps more sinister.

Growing up in a conservative evangelical home, I was taught that the way women dress can cause men to “stumble,” i.e. to think lustful thoughts or fall into sexual sin, and that Christian women should dress modestly so as to help their brothers in Christ avoid sin.

Cause. Did you see that word? Cause. It wasn’t a typo. I was taught that I could cause a man to fall into sexual sins by dressing immodestly. In other words, if I dressed revealingly his sexual sin would be my responsibility, my fault. As a teen, I accepted this as a matter of course and was very careful about how I dressed. I never stopped to realize the full implications of this teaching.

Rape culture. The idea that a woman who is raped must have been asking for it, that women who dress scantily are asking for it, that somehow, when a woman is raped, it’s her own fault. This idea that men can’t control themselves, that they can’t help it, that they are innocent victims of seductress females. The idea that when men express their sexuality inappropriately it must have been some woman’s fault for leading him on with her revealing clothing or demeanor.

It was all there, nestled into my neat and tidy little evangelical community.

Let me offer some examples from the comments section of an article by a woman named Emily. (The article is called The Modesty Rules: Is a Woman Responsible for a Man’s Lust?)

So, should women be held “totally” responsible for a mans lust? Of course not. But should there be some accountability? Most certainly!

Totally responsible? No. Partly responsible? Yes!

While one is not responsible for someone’s lust, the bible admonishes us to dress modestly. The way one dress can cause another brother who might be a new convert, who is still trying to overcome the flesh to stumble.

This one is confusing. Women aren’t responsible for men’s lust … but they can “cause” a man to stumble. Cause. Let’s get this straight: Being “responsible for” something means generally means in some way being the “cause” of it.

We should not cause another to stumble.

Notice that word “cause”? You’re going to get tired of hearing it.

While I agree that a rule based approach to modesty is not what Jesus taught, we are members of one another in one body. We are indebted to love one another. Love has many responsibilities. We all have an anointing from the Holy One and should walk accordingly. To walk and stumble others is not to walk in love.

Women who dress immodestly “stumble others.”

As a man when I am confronted by the absolute nakedness of women today I have to fight with my chemicals and bring them under subjection everyday! When Adam first saw Eve the same thing happen to him. He did not think spiritually he thought fleshly, He was created to produce and replenish the earth. He said “Know this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” I believe man was created to only view his wife’s nakedness. When I go out anywhere I will see breast, backsides with tattoos pointing downward saying here it it boys come and get it! belly buttons, skin tight see thru pants maybe with a shirt hiding a little of of what God designed for a wife to lure her husband not 90% of all that see her.

Men and women both have to take responsibility. Men must learn how to control himself and the temptation of the second look. And the women must learn that she only attracts Lust not love when or if she thinks she dressing to fit the culture of her environment. I think that some women think that if they can just catch him with their bodies then maybe they can chance him later down the line, well the opposite always happens, He loses respect for her but he wont say it yet until he is satisfied himself with her body and especially the parts you showed him when he first met you. He will thinks to himself that if you showed the world all of that, then he can not trust you to be his wife but he can trust you to give it up when he decides to come around again at his leisure.

Ouch. Just, ouch. A woman’s naked body is “what God designed for a wife to lure her husband”? And thus, when she goes about without covering it completely, she is intentionally “luring” other men. Here we get the rhetoric of the skimpy seductress and the helpless men who can’t do anything but … well, you know. I mean, after all, women just go around trying to “catch” men “with their bodies” so that they can, what, trap them into marrying them? And then if the woman puts out before getting a ring, the man “loses respect for her” and only wants to “satisfy himself with her body” because he cannot “trust” her “to be his wife.”

It’s not like I haven’t written about this more than once, but every time I read it articulated it hits me again. And, once again, I am struck by how little respect the purity culture has for either men or women!

There is beauty in a woman who knows her power and yes Emily, that power includes influencing thoughts and actions. Our Father taught us to use the power responsibly. Think for a moment about the veil principle. It is originally Jewish, go to numbers 30 and discover how God sheltered a woman from exposure while she was unmarried and even when she is married. Our so called freedom is actually rebellion, defying the law of protection over us. I am against any distortion of truth where females and clothing are concerned and we should not use the world standards to bring the noose in the Body of Christ. Cover yourself…

So, women have “power” that they need to use responsibly. What is this power? The power to influence thoughts and actions by how sexily we dress. Also, when women dress immodestly they “bring the noose in the Body of Christ,” whatever exactly that means. This commenter actually appears to be endorsing the burka.

And also, can I have a new superpower please?

A guy, if he truly loves Jesus, need to learn how to control his lust. A woman, if she truly loves Jesus, need to learn how not to cause the eyes to wander.

Ugh, this again. Why do they always do this? Yes, they say, men do need to control their lust. But women need to stop “causing” men’s eyes to wander! If only those slutty women would just cover up, men wouldn’t be forced into sin against their wills anymore!

Emily for the last ??? years or so Christian men having been falling and failing the Lord in the sin of lust. REAL women of Faith are willing to help us, not throw rocks in our paths to help us stumble. The world already is doing a great job doing that…

So, Christian men have been falling into the sin of lust. Why? Well, see, women who don’t cover up are throwing rocks in men’s paths and “causing” them to stumble!

I could go on. Honestly, this was just a small, small sampling of the comments on that article. It was encouraging to see people responding and arguing against this sort of comment, but a huge proliferation of arguments that women “cause” men to stumble by how they dress were there nevertheless.

Now of course, the argument being made here is not that women through their scanty dress force men to rape them but rather that they force men to lust after them. But really, how much separates the two in the terms of the mentality behind them?

If you’re already decrying women for “causing” men to lust after them by dressing immodestly, how much of a stretch is it to assign some responsibility to women who are raped? Is it really so hugely different when someone says that a woman shouldn’t have made out with a guy if she didn’t want to have vaginal intercourse because how could she expect him to be able to stop, or that a rape victim’s behavior or clothing proved too “tempting” for her rapist to resist? Is it really that different when someone argues that a woman who attends a party with alcohol is “asking for it,” since how could she really wear a miniskirt and expect the men there to control themselves?

This idea that women need to cover up or they risk “causing” men to stumble? Rape culture. I’m boggled by the fact that I didn’t see this as a teen.

In the end, I don’t think it should be hard to see the truly damaging nature of the idea that a woman can “cause” a man to stumble by not wearing enough clothing, and I don’t think it’s possible to advocate modesty without buying into this. It is this idea that women need to cover up because men can’t help themselves, quite simply, that fuels rape culture in our society today. The conservative evangelicals I grew up amongst might not know it, but their ideas about gender and sexuality really do promote rape culture.

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.

  • Lana

    I was told (by a western evangelical) that my clothes were asking for a man to rape me where we live in Asia. My clothes are very modest but never good enough. Done.

  • vitto

    Even if a woman walks around completely naked, that’s no licence to rape her. That’s beyond discussion. Whatever a woman is wearing, this does not remove or mitigate the rapists guilt and responsibility. However, I see nothing wrong with dressing modestly and with encouraging people to do so. I will surely teach my daughters, if I have any, to dress modestly, although I prefer “decently”. Simply because, first, in professional circles, if you do not dress decently, you are not taken seriously, second, socially, when you are not dressed modeslty there’s a much greater chance of being raped and generally of attracting unnecessary attention, espcecially from aggressive macho types. That’s just prudent from the standpoint of self-preservation. It has never been wise to wear a dress code that shouts “take me now”.

    • Charlotte

      Women who don’t dress “modestly” do not have a greater chance of being raped. I honestly cannot believe that you read Libby Anne’s post and then went and posted this comment. It’s full of the exact same victim blaming she was talking about! A dress that shouts “take me now”…ugh.

    • Sara

      So, Vitto, how does a man dress immodestly? What kinds of clothes shout “take me now” for a guy? Because it might be considered inappropriate for a man to go to his office workplace wearing nothing but a speedo, no one ever seems to really think that he will cause all straight women and gay men to rape him.

    • plch

      You know, in fact the opposite apeears to be true: women that dress ‘provocatively’, sexy, etc. are seen by male potential predators as sure of themselves and assertive, not an easy prey at all so they tend to let them alone. On the other hand, a shy mouse modestly clothed can be seen as a very easy potential victim.
      >>In my teenager years I have been molested a few times (mostly on public transportation) and I was *always* dressed unsexy: baggy jeans and sweater (as was the fashion in the 80s’), trainers no make up at all, not even earrings; moreover, I looked younger than my age and I was considered ugly by most of boys of my age, but all this didn’t deterr at all those sickos.

    • Jay

      Manner of dress has little to nothing to do with rape. This is a falsehood that sort of perpetrates the idea that a woman is “asking for it”. And “take me now”? Are you serious? Women are not things to be taken.

    • Lucrezaborgia

      Stranger rape is so rare as to be non-existent. Most rapists will be people one knows and trusts and they don’t care what you are wearing. You can bet tho that they will blame the victim anyways. They always do.

    • Amethyst

      You do realize, don’t you, that women’s business and business casual clothing (pantsuits, button-down blouses, tailored blazers, pencil skirts, shells with a moderate scoop neck, etc.) would be considered scandalous by the people who wrote the article Libby Anne is referring to, don’t you? One person’s modest is another person’s slutty. *People* should dress appropriately for their present environments and occasions. *People* should honor the dress codes of their places of employment. *People* should be mindful of cultural customs and make informed choices about whether to follow them. But this should be a matter of being a socially competent adult person, not a matter of getting through the day without being raped or of proclaiming whether you’re a madonna or a whore.

    • joann

      Please allow me to echo the comment that dress has nothing to do with rape. It has been cited by many men to absolve themselves of blame, and is often cited by women because it makes them feel safer in that they have a way to control whether or not rape could happen to them. Walking down the street in a revealing outfit does not mean a woman is “asking to be raped”. It’s not like going swimming with a bloody cut in shark-infested waters. Men are not animals with no control over their actions, but boy do people love to paint it that way.
      The first time I was raped, I was wearing baggy jeans and a tshirt. I was a shy, quiet person, weighed less than a hundred pounds, with essentially the body of a young boy. My visible “sex-appeal” (or lack there of) had nothing to do with it, and had everything to do with the fact my “friend” was determined to have what he wanted regardless of my resistance and adamant “no”.
      However, having been raised in a similar background as the author of this article, I was of the opinion that the rape must have been my fault because I had “let” him kiss me, “hadn’t been clear enough in my refusal” and thus had tempted him beyond resistance. In fact, he even sited those as reasons that I “had” to have sex with him- I had “turned him on” and there was no going back.
      I think this article strikes upon some very, very important points, and I don’t believe that what we should draw from this is to walk around naked. However, what is taught about “modesty” or “decency” and why it is promoted should be intensely re-evaluated.

      • ScottInOH

        I was of the opinion that the rape must have been my fault because I had “let” him kiss me

        I think this shows how it’s not only modesty culture, but also purity culture, that supports rape culture. A girl/woman is the gatekeeper for sex, and if she’s already demonstrated herself to be “impure,” she has to accept at least some of the blame if she’s raped.

        It’s about a hundred different kinds of sickening, but it’s a depressingly widely held view.

    • Twist

      “if you do not dress decently, you are not taken seriously, second, socially, when you are not dressed modeslty there’s a much greater chance of being raped and generally of attracting unnecessary attention, espcecially from aggressive macho types”

      Your comment is victim blaming, rape apology, and completely wrong. Rape is not about sex, it is about power and control. A rapist rapes because he is a rapist, not because he’s a normal man who lost control at the sight of a minidress. When you blame the victim, you excuse the perpetrator.

      Modesty culture feeds on itself, and is entirely subjective. In Saudi Arabia, standards for modesty are different than for fundie America, where standards are different to non-fundie America, where standards are different to parts of Europe. The standards change as well, becoming more extreme the more women cover up – and it is always mainly aimed at women, although there may be a nod towards men dressing modestly too. When breasts and buttocks are always covered, it becomes immodest to show chest and thighs. When those are taboo, shoulders and calves become immodest. Then ankles and arms, perfume, jewellery, makeup, even the face itself and you end up in a culture where women walk around in shapeless black sacks with only a slit for their eyes, and even then clerics suggest that the eyes are now too alluring. It is disgraceful. It is reducing women to no more than their bodies, our worth to no more than the ‘purity’ of what’s between our legs. It makes us objects, dehumanises us, which in fact DOES make us more likely to face rape or sexual assult.

      Think about it – you’re a man raised in a culture where you’ve been taught from birth that you’re not responsible for your actions where an ‘immodestly dressed’ woman is concerned. You’ve seen a woman’s worth directly tied to how much of her body she covers. You see her as less of a human. She is objectified. Consequently she is more likely to be harrassed or assulted, because the men involved don’t see her as a human, just a body. Look at sexual harrassment statistics in countries where women traditionally cover up. Modesty culture turns women into sex object as much as porn does, and it’s more insidious, because it’s about ‘protecting’ us.

      And finally, an anecdote. The most terrifying, objectifying and disgusting sexual harrassment I ever faced was when I was 14-17ish, walking to school in my school uniform, which consisted of black trousers and a baggy grey jumper. It wasn’t because of how I was dressed. It was because I was a schoolgirl and obviously scared and uncomfortable and not likely to do anything about it. It is not about sex. It is about power.

  • Sarah Moon

    Man, that article’s comment’s section was awful. Some were comparing an immodest woman who gets raped to a man waving around money in the street. Or a person who gives matches to a pyromaniac and then gets upset when their house burns down. I see those as directly saying that a woman who is raped is responsible if she was dressed “badly.”

    Also, working on my senior capstone, and while doing my literature review I found that religious people are more likely than non-religious people to accept rape myths. I feel like the purity culture has a lot to do with this.

    • Godlesspanther

      Hi Sarah Moon, as much as I abhor censorship — it’s your blog. You are the captain of that particular ship…

      I did read the responses to your article, which by the way, is superb. I was not familiar with any of the religious leader that you discussed, nor “complementarians” in general. I have learned about the purity movement and the modest-dressing groups only through Libby Anne, Vicky Garrison, and other ex-members of authoritarian patriarchy movements.

      I’m a life-long atheist and so the ex-Christians and ex-religious in general are a tour of a culture that is very foreign to me. I find the rape apologists to be absolutely repugnant in a way that is difficult for me to describe. I have found fellow male feminist atheists, such as, those on Free Thought Blogs, Here, and Wearesmrt, as well as women, such as Libby Anne and you, who have helped me to put this stuff in perspective. Thank you.

      So, anyway, back to the comments that you have received in response to your article. I noticed that there are several who just had to jump up and down screaming that not all Christians are like the ones that you were discussing in that article. It’s clear — more than clear — obvious — that you made no such statement nor did you imply such a thing even in a subtle manner. You put the disclaimer at the beginning of the article — and still….

      I have found that same kind of responses again and again in response to the things that I have written. I write about the Christian dominionist/reconstructionist movements and — “Not all Christians believe that!!!!” I write about frauds like Benny Hinn and Peter Popoff and — “Not all christians are frauds!!!!” I write about those who label all atheists as ‘Nazis” and — the same.

      I have also prefaced articles with “I am not saying that these people represent the beliefs of Christians or religious people in general — I am only talking about a specific group/person…” right at the beginning of an article, just like you did, and still, they ignore the disclaimer and rant about how I’m labeling all Christians as such.

      I noticed Liz who kept having to insist — no matter hat — that you were labeling every single Christian in the world as being just like the few you were actually talking about. There was no way that she was willing to accept that this was not the case. I have come across the same thing over and over.

      I do wonder what the psychology behind this is.

      I don’t get it and there is no possible way to actually communicate with people such as that to find out why they get so adamant about it.

      Perhaps — the shoe does fit and they are just having a really hard time admitting that.

      • Didaktylos

        Tell them that a stork that flocks with cranes has no right to complain if they get netted with the cranes.

      • Kiki

        And articles about male behaviour are greeting with “not all men are like that” and boomers say “not all boomers” and lawyers and public school teachers,, etc. There are members of every single group that engage in this particular behaviour.

  • J-Rex

    Sometime I should write in to some sort of Christian advice person about how I lust after men. How I can’t help but look at their muscles, how they make it really hard sometimes to avoid thinking about sex, how much they tempt me when they’re shirtless at the beach…
    Something tells me that no one would say guys should cover their arms more or keep their shirts on at the beach. I’m guessing it would still by my problem because I’m too obsessed with sex or something. It’s constantly about how hard it is for guys to control themselves, as if women just don’t care about sex at all.

    • thalwen

      I suspect the response would be lots of prayer, and maybe some exorcists to remove the demons obviously causing your lust. Masochistic as I am (and wanting a laugh every now and then) I watch the Pat Robertson Q & A segment he has on his show – it seems like a woman having sexy feelings is translated as “sex addiction.” You know, because a woman having a sex drive above “none” must have something wrong with her. (Unless it’s toward her husband because if her sex drive doesn’t match his.. she obviously has something wrong with her.. most likely demons).

      • Twist

        I read something a while back (though I don’t remember where, anyone else see it?) about a group for christian women who were ‘sex addicts’. Some of these women then defined their addiction as masturbating a couple of times a week, or occasionally reading erotic literature. Which is just, so so sad. I really think that a lot supposed sex addiction is just a normal, healthy sex drive through the eyes of someone raised to see sex and sexual thoughts/feelings as something sinful and dirty and something they need to be ashamed of.

      • Jake

        I agree with Twist–it’s just so, so sad to think about these poor young people who guilt trip themselves (in public, no less) for having a sexuality outside of the “approved channels”. Usually the story is the man “struggling with porn addiction” which is sad enough but when you take the porn out of the equation, it sounds like this flavor of Christianity is equal opportunity at guilt tripping both genders on the perils of masturbation.

        Have we regressed to the days of Kellogg and Sylvester Graham, of “graham cracker” fame? The original graham cracker was invented around 1829 by Graham, a Presbyterian minister, as part of a quack diet he invented that was supposed to suppress people from having impure thoughts and therefore masturbating (he really thought that it would lead to blindness) by eating only a bland vegetarian diet, excluding meat and spices. Concentrated essence of American Puritanism right there.

        There was this really sad post on tech site “The Verge” a few months back. One of their columnists is spending an entire year off of the Internet (no Internet usage at all). He’s writing columns and giving them to a coworker to post to the site. His “Offline: Porn” post was all about how he’s such a conservative Christian that it amuses him that everyone immediately asks him where he gets his porn from without the Internet, and he has to tell them that he’s basically afraid of porn, only bought a porn magazine one time in a moment of weakness, threw it in the garbage can later out of disgust, etc., and how he also avoids masturbation altogether to the extent that he’s having to see the doctor over some vague problems he’s having in that region due to getting all backed up “down there” from never whacking it. So so sad!

      • The_L

        I was near-suicidal as a teen over anxiety because I had a sex drive. I felt like something was wrong with me, because nothing in any of the abstinence-only lessons I’d ever had ever indicated that women had a sex drive at all. Sex was something males tried to pressure you into; something women had a responsibility to say “no” to; something a woman was only really interested in because it allowed us to make babies. The idea that women could want sex at all, and that I wasn’t a freak for having sex urges, was completely foreign to me, and since every single “Controlling Your Lust” talk was aimed at male students, I assumed I was the only girl who had them.

    • Karleanne

      I once tried to start this conversation at my Christian high school when, at a school carnival-type thing, girls had to wear “modest” one-piece swimsuits with boardshorts while some of the senior boys (many of whom were in sports and very athletic/attractive) were allowed to wear Speedos and dance to a song in a manner that would have been considered way beyond shocking had the girls been doing it.

      Most people seemed confused when I questioned the policy, and then a so-called friend recommended I drop the issue lest I get a “reputation.” And that was just for SUGGESTING that some females might have sex drives before marriage.

  • thalwen

    There is nothing wrong with seeing someone attractive and “lusting.” If you see someone attractive.. that’s a sign you might want to know them better.. and that might lead to a relationship if the two are compatible beyond the initial attraction. Or you might just look, and enjoy the look and go on with your day. Either way, nothing horrible has happened.
    But there is a huge difference between looking and leering. Leering is creepy, it is a form of harassment and rooted in the patriarchal idea of men being “hunters” and women being objects of the hunt. Women don’t cause men to leer, it’s the way men are brought up – that’s causing them to “stumble” in this area.
    It doesn’t matter how someone is dressed. Attraction will happen even if we had everyone wear oversized burlap sacks. The only way to keep a man from truly “stumbling” is to neuter him and I don’t think the modesty folks want to go there.

  • Angelia Sparrow

    “[Rape] is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear” — Susan Brownmiller (Against Our Will p. 6)

    The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. –Jimmy Carter

    So yes, they KNOW purity culture fuels rape culture. This whole subculture is about control, control of other people lower in the hierarchy and especially control of women. After all, it’s so much easier to control people when the victims think the crimes perpetrated on them are their fault.

    • Didaktylos

      Not only that – it also sets it up so that however bad it is inside, outside is far worse: ” … Always keep a hold of Nurse/ For fear of finding something worse.”

  • Anonymouse

    Remember that infant girls and 80-year-old nuns are raped. Neither of these dress “provocatively”.

    • Sue Blue

      And you never hear about rape being a problem among nudists. You’d think that if men were the helpless, mindless sex machines the rape culture makes them out to be, men surrounded by completely naked women 24/7 would be incapacitated by constant erections and uncontrollable lust, but that’s not the case. This stupid modesty meme is not only insulting to women, it demeans men as well by implying that they’re no better than instinct-driven dogs that hump every leg they see.

  • ronalon42

    I have very direct experience that screams yes to this. It is why I hate hate hate modesty conversations of all kinds (any kind of policing clothing pisses me off) to the point that it can almost be triggering to me.

    Content note: rape, rape culture etc

    I was brought up fundamentalist Church of Christ – not quiverfull but fairly patriarchal and quite conservative. It was very steeped in modesty and purity culture as well. Every act of sexual assault that I experienced I blamed on myself because I believed I must have been immodest. I must have caused it to happen. I had never heard men’s sexuality talked about in a way that made them responsible for their sexual actions and impulses, it was always a reaction to a woman’s body or actions or dress. The idea that each person is responsible for their own sexual thoughts and actions didn’t really penetrate until I was 17 or 18 years old.

    So I was raped when I was 9 and I blamed myself. I was molested by an uncle when I was 12 and even my grandmother admonished me to dress myself more appropriately “or look what happens.” I was 15 when an older man manipulated me into a vulnerable situation and raped me, but the way I saw it my too tight shirt manipulated him and caused him to lose control.

    Modesty is so intimately tied to rape culture, especially from people who seem good and well meaning, people who are trying to take care of you and who say they want you to be safe. The words mean more, and hurt more, because it comes from that place. I believed it to my bone, and it made me so much more vulnerable to abuse and so much more unable to speak out about it and get help.

    While I understand that it is difficult when one sees young girls, even prepubescent, wearing clothes that mimic club wear, it is important to not focus the conversation about their clothing on men or men’s thoughts or feelings. Ask them how they feel, what they want. Let them guide the conversation and help them think more about their appearance for themselves. Yes sexuality is often expressed through clothing, but it shouldn’t be discussed from a solely male gaze perspective, especially when talking to young women.

    Young men should also be told that they may get pants feelings when they see pretty women, no matter what they are wearing. And that is okay, but the woman in question isn’t doing it to them, nor do they owe them anything. Men being sexually attracted to women should not be spoken of like an assault upon them. Especially in light of how women actually being assaulted is treated. It is the worst kind of backwards thinking.

    • Basketcase

      This may not help, but I want to slap your grandmother on your behalf for that comment!
      As for your statements on what “young girls” are wearing – I think you have hit the nail on the head. We need to talk to them about why they are wearing what they are wearing, whether they feel comfortable with it etc – I know many teenagers DONT feel comfortable in what they are wearing but it is all thats available in the shops, and that sucks! The most important things we should be teaching our daughters in regards to clothing: They should only wear things THEY are comfortable with (even if it means not being able to buy new clothes as often), and they should find their own style and stick to it.
      Help them find styles that make them look nice, and this will build up their confidence! My parents unfortunately laughed off some of the clothes I wanted to try as a young teenager, and it completely clouded my impression of myself. It took until I was in my 20′s before I moved out of really baggy jeans and t-shirts.
      A strong, confident young woman is a wonderful sight. A strong, confident woman who is also comfortable in what she is wearing is awe-inspiring.

      • Christine

        Unfortunately for teenagers, the time when you’re the most self-conscious about how you look is the time when you have the least choice in what clothes you wear. Not only are a lot of them skinny enough that the only clothes in their shape are the short-short and really form-fitting items, but they don’t have the option of waiting 5 years for the fashions to change. (Me? Bitter about current hem lengths and maternity clothes? Why, yes.)

      • Holly

        truth. A confident woman is awe inspiring. We need to raise up our daughters to think carefully, speak strongly, and stand up for themselves. We need to raise up our sons to be confident, think carefully and to speak well of ALL women. When we have men AND women standing together, being heard that rape is a crime, that it is not due to lack of control of men or in ANY way the fault of the victim, we will have made progress.

      • ronalon42

        My oldest daughter is 5 so it hasn’t quite started yet, but even so I try to be careful in how I talk to her about her clothes. She takes the lead in her clothing choices and I try to keep my advice and opinions to practical issues alone (weather, activity, etc).

        Modesty talk supports rape culture by putting blame on rape victims, but even if a person never experiences that, it teaches girls and women to think about their appearance from a predatory male perspective and that just isn’t healthy. All too often the reasoning behind modest dress (whatever that means to the person) only ends up enforcing the objectification of female bodies.

    • Little Magpie

      ronalon: Thank you for your courage in sharing your story with us. I hope you have found some healing since those days.

    • The_L

      It is NOT difficult to not-rape a prepubescent girl under any circumstances! Only a small portion of people have any sexual feelings towards prepubescent children. We call those people pedophiles.

      Most adults feel uncomfortable about small children wearing “sexy” clothing because it feels weird and gross to see a non-sexual person wearing clothing we associate with sex. We’re uncomfortable because we don’t find the kids attractive, and it feels wrong to see them dressed as if we were supposed to do so.

      I am very sorry that you were molested as a child, and admire your courage in coming forward with your story. It always pains me that there are people who harm children, and others who blame the children, or refuse to believe them, in this world. I hope you have found peace.

  • jose

    My town’s beach isn’t officially nudist or topless, but most women go topless. Noone cares. Or if they care, they deal with it and act like they don’t.

    Don’t believe people who say they can’t control themselves. They can. They just don’t want to control themselves, don’t want to be able to do it, because then they have impunity in their own eyes to do whatever they want.

  • Dave Svoboda

    I’m a motorcyclist. When I ride in traffic, I take personal responsibility for keeping myself safe, all the gear, all the time, and frequent refresher classes with MSF. Why? Because some idiot or homicidal driver could kill me.

    That doesn’t mean it’s *my fault* if I get in an accident, necessarily, that’s for the laws and insurance companies to figure out, and I have no reservations about punishing a homicidal driver to the fullest extent of the law. By the same token , I’ll certainly discuss the accident with others, and see if I can’t come up with a better strategy next time. If I’m still around to do that.

    So, where does the base responsibility fall, if I get in an accident. With me, because I choose a vulnerable mode of transportation, or with the driver because he broke the law with his car?

    It’s a similar issue with women’s clothes. I have a 7 yo daughter. I see a big parallel there. People are responsible for their actions, including a rapist, but she can navigate this world of creeps and misanthropes, and overt sexuality, without being an outlier that attracts the attention of the creeps unnecessarily. But if she would ever get raped, ghod forbid, even if dressed provocatively, it’s NOT HER FAULT, it’s the fault of the cretin, in law and morals.

    • Rosie

      The only reason “provocatively” dressed women are seen as “easy targets” by rapists (if they seem that way at all) is because those women are so often publicly blamed for getting assaulted. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if he wants to get away with something, he should attack those most likely to be blamed by the culture.

      It’s not the woman who needs to change or “be more careful”; it’s the culture. Because “not being an outlier that attracts the attention of the creeps unnecessarily” is a moving target that no woman can EVER hit anyway, no matter how hard she tries.

    • John Evans

      Your analogy is false for several reasons, Dave. Firstly, modest clothes are not protective against rape. Secondly, rape isn’t an accident.

      • Charlotte

        Exactly, a longer skirt (or baggy pants or a veil etc.) are not comparable to, say, a helmet for the very simple reason that they do not protect women (or anyone else for that matter) from rape or sexual assault. When it comes down to it, the only thing that would protect someone is the rapist deciding not to rape.

        Also, your implication that women should take “responsibility” for someone deciding to rape them is disgusting.

      • Steve

        On the contrary. You’d think that the long skirts fundies advocate would make someone easier to rape. I mean strictly physically. Wearing tight jeans won’t prevent anyone from being attacked or raped, but it is probably a bit harder.

    • Isaac

      You’re neglecting to notice that women who dress provocatively aren’t any more likely on average to be raped than those who don’t. Most rape, if I remember correctly, occurs within the family or circle of close friends (ie, the tribe) of the victim, not from strangers. And serial rapists don’t seem to care what someone is wearing so much as whether they can get away with the rape in the first place.

      • Lucrezaborgia

        This! Stranger rape is exceedingly rare. Most rapists are people you know and trust. Clothing has nothing to do with it.

    • ButchKitties

      For your analogy to work, motorcycle crashes would need to be exclusively caused by car drivers deliberately ramming into motorcycles.

      Accidents ≠ deliberate assault

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Thank you. I swear if I hear ONE more dude who thinks he’s oh-so-original comparing rape to road accidents…

    • Bix

      I’m just going to add to to the chorus that clothes don’t make a difference. By most standards I would be considered a “modest” dresser. The worst incident of street harassment I’ve experienced occurred when I was bundled in layers of winter clothing. Which part of my outfit made me an outlier? Was it my North Face hat? My hiking boots? My knee-length coat? My super sexy wool mittens? Should I have chosen a less vulnerable mode of being to protect myself from men screaming sexual obscenities? Should I have chosen not to be a woman, for example? Should I have cowered inside my house instead of walking down my neighborhood street? Because my clothing had nothing to do with it, and my behavior had nothing to do with it. I was simply the nearest female body available for the men to harass, because it made them feel big and strong to roar around in a truck threatening women.

      I would also like to reiterate, because it can’t be said enough, that most rapists are known to their victims. They’re frequently even family members. It’s not about being an “outlier”. Anyone can be sexually assaulted.

    • Sid

      Don’t you also love the fact that this…person…is comparing an accident, something that is unintentional at least 90% of the time, if not more, to a person deciding “you know what, I’m going to objectify/harass/assume idiotic things about/rape/murder this woman!”? It’s absolutely telling of what his real mindset is. Rape is a thing that just “happens”, that NO ONE wants to happen. Sort of like tripping, or rain. An Act of God, if you will. Just a natural part of the Universe, so please don’t look at the rapist behind the curtain.

      And yeah, to reiterate what everyone else has said: modesty could only be considered a defense against rape if it makes you less likely to be raped. Seems like it shouldn’t have to be said, but it apparently does. Statistically-speaking, you’re more likely to be raped while modestly dressed than while “provocatively” dressed so, in the real world of facts and logic rather than the pretty pretend world of “nothing happens to good girls, and men will put you on a pedestal so long as you do what they tell you to” , we’d actually be safer if we ran around butt-naked. It’s bullshit rape apologia/concern trolling, nothing more. It’s based around policing women’s behaviour, and I HOPE no woman ever gives these scumbags the benefit of the doubt and thinks for even a second that they’re trying to help her. Unfortunately, I know some do.

  • Rosie

    Thank you, Libby Anne, for so well articulating something I’ve been seeing for a while, but haven’t managed to put into words very well.

  • Lisa

    Just because I don’t walk around in a bullet-proof west all day long doesn’t mean I’m asking to be shot.
    Just because my windows aren’t secured with bars doesn’t mean I’m asking you to break in.
    Just because I cross the street doesn’t mean it’s ok to run me over with your car.
    Just because I dress a certain way doesn’t mean you can touch me.

    Women who are dressed ‘slutty’ are about as likely to be raped as any other woman. It’s not about dress, it’s about being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, meeting the wrong person. In that situation, no dress will be modest enough for a rapist not to interpret “asking for it” into your dress.

  • perfectnumber628

    Well-said. This is why I always write “cause” in quotes when I write about modesty. It’s ridiculous to say that a woman causes a man to lust/sin. And modesty culture, when taken to its logical conclusion, says that femininity is inherently evil and dangerous.

  • MM

    Great post Libby! For slightly more irreverent take, Lindy West nailed it in a related piece this weekend:

  • Stony

    In addition to what Godlesspanther says above (that there is always the reaction of “not us! we’re not like that!”), there is also always always always the tangent of, “People should dress appropriately for [the workplace, the church, etc]. Because that’s totally the same thing. Oh wait, it’s not, it’s a separate conversation altogether and not at all relevant to this conversation: modesty culture promotes rape culture. No one ever says you shouldn’t dress appropriately for your daily situation, and yet they always try to derail the discussion instead of facing the facts.

    • Christine

      The problem here (and I am putting the blame squarely on modesty culture) is that modesty culture has appropriate the language (and in some cases even the dress standards) used to describe ways people ought to/must dress. Those of us who aren’t familiar with it don’t understand what what’s being complained about isn’t people saying “you shouldn’t wear X because it’s inappropriate for the occasion”. We also aren’t very good at differentiating between things which we don’t approve of (wearing spaghetti strap tank top to work/class) and things which are flat out wrong (wearing a spaghetti strap tank top in the minds of the purity culture).

      For example: it took me ages to realise that the reason my husband had no patience with my insistence that underwear belonged under clothes (ranting about lack of lingerie straps in dresses, etc) was because it was tacky, not because I thought it was overly sexy, or that it was something only sluts did. I hadn’t been exposed to the purity culture as a child, so it didn’t occur to me that people would see that as being overly sexy. And yet, to him, I sounded like I was repeating purity culture lines.

      Speaking of coming from outside of the purity culture: when people complain about encouraging modesty, is it strictly when it is pushed as a woman’s duty? I tend to prefer to cover up more rather than less so that it’s easier for the guys to look in my direction, and I think it’s courteous to do so, but I don’t think that it’s necessary. Have I bought the line? (This was solidified after one meal out where I was the only one at the table willing to make eye contact with the waitress as she leaned over the table, because her cut-down sweatshirt was excessively loose, and the guys weren’t comfortable seeing down her shirt.)

    • Basketcase

      There are situations where certain clothing IS “not appropriate”. But that does not mean you should have to be covered head to toe at all times.
      When at work, you should dress to maintain “professional standards”.
      When at a wedding, you should dress to meet the suggested dress code.
      Visiting an ancient church in europe – keep your shoulders, decolletage and knees covered as requested (its not a big ask for half an hour! I used a pashmina at the Vatican so I could still wear a sundress)
      I, too, tend to dress quite modestly. But thats because as a teenager I was taunted by the boys at school for the size of my chest, so its something I am very conscious of and dont like to feel I’m being looked at for.
      But that has very much become something for ME to feel comfortable about, rather than doing it to “protect” others or stop leering (because it doesnt). I sometimes get nervous if I can see down my own top, and have to get my husband to confirm again how much he can see! (And Christine, I totally get where you are coming from re: straps in dresses, but then, I cant do strapless bras! So I tend to wear shrugs a lot…)

      • Christine

        I find that learning to sew is a great solution. I have issues with strapless bras, so I just go for wide straps & lingere loops. (Or sleeves, but that’s for a different reason).

    • Karen

      So much this. I once worked with a woman whose skirts were so short she would moon all of us when she bent over a desk at all. Seriously, her dresses should have been shirts, but the problem was that such clothing is inappropriate for an office, where we needed to be thinking about legal arguments. This principle applied to the opposing counsel who came to a settlement meeting wearing golf shorts when I was in a suit and stockings. I was four months pregnant at the time, too. The purity people wouldn’t have any problem with Mr. Golf Shorts flashing his ugly knees at me, and insulting me by wearing golf shorts to a business meeting, which was worse than the clueless legal assistant with the short skirts.

  • http://AA smrnda

    Their interpretation of rape is BS – men don’t rape women because their sexual instincts are out of control – men rape women consciously and deliberately out of a desire for power and domination over women. Christians tend to talk about ‘sexual sin’ as an issue of restraint, but it’s not the correct way to view rape, but if they admitted this, they’d have to put rape in a special category and they would also have to start dealing with issue like misogyny and rape culture, and it might undermine their belief that a benevolent patriarchy can solve all problems.

    The whole ‘you’re causing me to stumble!’ is just a way of exerting control over others. Since you never know what might cause some man to stumble, the woman is left in a constant state of anxiety over what she might be doing wrong. Though this makes men seem like the bad guys, they’ve also been wronged in that they’ve been taught that it’s wrong to have sexual feelings and that they have to be off like a light switch. Since they can’t control that but get a guilt trip over it, they’ll pass the guilt, shame and blame onto women.

    Which brings me to the last point, Christians often seem incapable of realizing that you can experience sexual attraction and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with it; a man can find a woman attractive without objectifying her. I know some Christian men on a few blogs I’ve read have said that it’s impossible, but it just seemed to me that their ability to have mature relationships with women had been damaged so the sexual element more or less took over.

    • Nea

      Isn’t a whole lot of this objectifying women, smrnda? We’re the “angels in the household” or the Jezebel or the mother of the children or the little woman to be protected or the temptress or absolutely anything other than another human being just like a guy. The whole culture objectifies women and then blames women for being anything other than the object defined. Rape — and the ability to blame all testosteroneal urges at all on women — is just the ugliest side of the same thing.

      • smrnda

        You’re totally right – purity culture pretends it isn’t objectifying women the way that say, pornography might, but it still reduces women to a few stock roles, where the only way a woman can be something worthy of respect is through a relationship with a man. I mean, the whole idea ‘don’t lust after another man’s wife’ is almost like saying if a woman isn’t some other man’s wife, then lust away. It’s like a woman doesn’t get an identity of her own.

    • The_L

      You’re missing the word “patriarchal” in front of Christians. Liberal Christians most definitely DO NOT view rape in this way–I’ve known plenty of them.

      Not every Christian is a complementarian. ;)

  • Courtney

    I’ve been meaning to comment on this for a few days. I find the emphasis on dressing immodestly very interesting when it’s contrasted with Debi Pearl’s story about the Ugly Hillbilly Woman (sorry, don’t know how to link, but you blogged about it a few weeks ago.) In her anecdote, this woman was really ugly but since she acted cheerful and flirtatious at the hardware store, all the men thought she was so cute and they loved her. So, in this anecdote, men didn’t notice physical appearance at all. But according to the modesty doctrine, which I’m sure the Pearls endorse, physical appearance is all the men can see. Which is it? They can’t make kup their minds!

  • Lucrezaborgia


    I DO NOT DRESS FOR ANYONE BUT MYSELF! I am not dressing sexy or whatever. These are simply clothes to me. So tired of people making it about attention for men. Even in high school when my uniform was skin tight jeans and low cut tank tops, I dressed for myself. Girls are not imitating styles of older women to attract men, they do it because they want to be women! Why is womanhood so connected to a willingness to be penetrated?

    • Christine

      You make a very good (but terrifying) point. I’m guessing it’s that it’s because clearly every woman wants to have babies, otherwise how could she be a Real Woman, instead of a feminist?

      • Lucrezaborgia

        Words on the butt? She must be looking for sexual attention and have low self worth! *rolls eyes*

      • Carys Birch

        Ohhh you just quoted me five years ago. /ashamed of self.

        Of course I still don’t like words on the butt, but mostly because I don’t like my clothes to have words or pictures on them – anywhere. Period. It has become a matter of taste not morals for me what kind of clothes I wear.

      • lucrezaborgia

        They are tacky. Sometimes I want to look tacky :D Sometimes I don’t. Either way, I don’t dress for the male gaze.

      • Carys Birch

        I don’t even like print, tbh. I love solid colors. :) It’s incredibly freeing to dress for me.

    • Rae

      Yes. I’ve heard it say that women don’t dress for men, they dress for other women. It’s true that, once in a while, a single woman might try to wear something because she knows she’s going to see a specific guy she likes. But the rest of the time? The kind of woman who tries on four different outfits before leaving the door isn’t dressing because she’s concerned about whether or not straight men will think that her shoes go with her top, or whether any man on the street will think that her skirt is soooo six months ago, but whether or not her female friends will think those things. Because as much as our culture is centered around the male gaze, women are also expected to be comparing themselves to and competing with other women.

      • Christine

        In my (admittedly limited) experience of the matter, even a woman who is intentionally dressing in a sexy manner is dressing so that other women will see that she’s dressed in a sexy manner, not for men.

  • Marnie

    I am so confused by how much focus evangelicals place on lust but not on any of the other sins. They don’t walk around telling me that my eating a cupcake is causing other people to be gluttonous or that my nice smart phone is driving others to be envious or greedy. No one accuses me of sitting too comfortably and enticing others to sloth. And of course, not a single person has called on Idris Elba to be less dreamy so I don’t lust after him.

    Of course, the obvious inequalities of christianity is what started me down the road to atheism, back in grade school. I couldn’t understand why bad things were my fault and good things were god’s doing. That all seemed really silly to me. I am clearly not cut out for this line of thinking at all.

    • Lucrezaborgia

      Christianity never made sense to me either.

    • thalwen

      Yes. This.
      I’ve heard them say that sexual sin is somehow worse than other sins. But why? It isn’t in the Bible. It doesn’t make sense. Even if you accept that there is such a thing as sexual sin – is that really worse than killing someone? Or stealing money from an old lady? Or beating up a baby?
      The “sin”/evil part of rape and sexual abuse isn’t that it is sexual – it is evil because it is a non-consensual violation of another person in a way that will cause them physical and mental trauma.

      • Steve

        A lot of the Christian core doctrines – like original sin – aren’t in the Bible. Much of the really important stuff was made up during the first few centuries.

      • smrnda

        Sexual sin is emphasized since it’s an easy way to control people. Sexual feelings just happen, they’re beyond your control, and if the church can make you feel ashamed of them then they can control you by selling you some sort of absolution.

    • Nebuladance

      When I was a child I actually asked my mother why we had to dress up for church. She told me it was to show respect for God. But when I pointed out, with all my seven-year-old logic, that THEY had told me God looks at the heart, I was told not to be sassy.

      I guess the logical inconsistencies have been bubbling through my brain for a while now…

      • The_L

        My question was similar–”Why do we have to go to church every Sunday?” “To remember the Lord.” “But…isn’t he supposed to be everywhere? How can you forget somebody who’s everywhere you go?”

        I still haven’t gotten a satisfactory answer to that one.

  • SophieUK

    I got a round robin email about how to keep yourself safe from rapists (the kind that lurk in dark alley ways). Most of the advice was fairly sensible – don’t walk home alone in the dark if you can help it, tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll be back and that you’ll call if you’ll be late etc. One thing was that men who rape strangers are far more likely to choose a victim who has long hair, because he can grab it and hold it easily thus restricting the woman’s movement. And yet you never here religious people decrying long hair and telling women to have short hair in case they get raped. Why is this?

    • Rosie

      That kind of advice is so problematic, because it ignores the fact that *most rapes are not perpetrated by the stranger in the bushes*. You’re far more likely to be raped by the guy-friend you asked to walk you home in the dark so you wouldn’t be alone.

      I guess that doesn’t answer your question, but it looks kinda rhetorical to me. ;)

    • Ali Tobin

      We had a Self Defense class in High School, and the very first thing they told us as far as avoidance goes, was to walk straight; hold your head high; and at the very least, appear confidant. An opportunistic rapist is more likely to target a girl in baggy clothes and sneakers with her head bowed and her shoulders slumped, than a girl in a short skirt, tight tank top and 4-inch heels, walking the image of full confidence. Simply because the former is likely to be meek, submissive, easily frightened and, more importantly, silent.

    • PetraLorre

      This email, or some version of it, has been going around since 2000. Snopes does a fair takedown of it.

  • emjb

    RAPISTS CAUSE RAPE. Nothing else does! Women in burkas get raped. Old women. Children. Men in prison. Rape is an act of humiliation and power-lust, it is not deterred by modest clothes or being a good person or staying away from parties. A friend of mine was attacked in church when she was 10, by a churchgoer, a man she knew and respected. She had to fight to be believed.

    Nobody and nothing causes rape but rapists. What does help rapists is our belief that women’s clothing or behavior has anything to do with why they rape. They rape because they are sick people who want to hurt others and because too many people let them get away with it or blame their victims.

    • smrnda

      It couldn’t be phrased better than this.

  • Lana

    You know, now that you say this, I remember the ATI wisdom booklets teaching that David killed Bathsheba’s husband because Bathsheba was naked on the roof.

    • MM

      I brought up David with my fundamentalist/evangelical mother as an example of how the bible presents some effed up examples of holiness, marriage, and sexual purity. So David pervs on a lady taking a bath, has her husband killed, has an illegitimate son with the woman, and what is his punishment? Oh yeah, becoming the ultimate biblical super-bro. My mom’s counterargument? “But Bathsheba’s kid died and Absalom was rebllious.” Seems fair.

      • Christine

        One of the best forum signatures I’ve seen: If God wanted us to behave he wouldn’t have made King David.

  • Nurse Bee

    I see this really as two different issues. First off, rape is absolutely a horrible thing. There is no excuse for it. It should have no place in a conversation about modesty or clothing choices.

    Now I do think modesty has it’s place, but perhaps not as fundamentalists wish to define it. I see modesty as dressing appropriate to the situation ie. a bikini at the beach, not in the grocery store, no low-cut tops in the workplace, etc. It’s a matter of being taken seriously and not distracting people from your purpose, not protecting yourself.

    • Jaimie

      We are on the same page. Misogynists will find any excuse for rape, and blaming the victims is a moldy oldy.
      I think the rest goes round and round because there are so many different types and reactions to not only modesty but the word “modesty”. Modesty is a trigger word, a word that provokes an emotional response.
      Personally I dress appropriately for the occasion. I don’t dress as a reaction to how I think men will view me.
      Modesty in religious circles has a different meaning. It refers to the group’s own specific dress code and uniform requirements for women. Like a burka, jumpers, or Little House on the Prairie dresses. If you don’t wear the uniform, you can be labeled immodest, or heck, just plain slut.
      But then you have the opposite.
      I also know women who let it all hang out at inappropriate times and then are mad for not being taken seriously. Women who get passed up for promotion and lose opportunities because they can’t stop showing cleavage or wearing short skirts to work. We all know them. It shouldn’t matter what I wear, they say. They refuse to take advice or warnings. In this type of case, conforming to dress protocol and policies is a mature decision.

      • Karleanne

        “I also know women who let it all hang out at inappropriate times and then are mad for not being taken seriously. Women who get passed up for promotion and lose opportunities because they can’t stop showing cleavage or wearing short skirts to work. We all know them. It shouldn’t matter what I wear, they say. They refuse to take advice or warnings. In this type of case, conforming to dress protocol and policies is a mature decision.”

        So much this. The way a woman dresses is never responsible for whether or not someone else decides to rape her. But that doesn’t free women to start wearing mini skirts and low-cut tops to the office any more than a man should be able to walk into a business meeting in boardshorts and be taken seriously. It’s not about lust or modesty in the way purity culture uses it; it’s about respect for social norms and modesty in the sense of “my sole purpose here isn’t to draw attention to myself.”

        I have made a conscious effort in recent years to keep my necklines a bit higher in the office because I know it could be a distraction to my colleagues (not just male ones). It’s about courtesy, efficiency, and professionalism. I believe the way I dress says a lot about me, and what I want it say is that I am aware and detail-oriented–and that care about the work, not making you look at my boobs.

      • Anat

        In this type of case, conforming to dress protocol and policies is a mature decision

        But it is also giving in to cultural norms that equate women with their looks. Because men can get away with breaking protocol in ways that women rarely can.

        I wear jeans and sweatshirts almost everywhere I go. I’m fortunate that my field (molecular biology) is not much into dress codes (except for wearing a lab coat when handling dangerous substances).

      • Twist

        I’d just like to add that some women, depending on body shape, have a harder time dressing ‘appropriately’ than others. My chest, for example, is pretty prominent no matter what I wear, and clothes that would be a-ok as office wear on women with, say, a B cup would be perceived by some as ‘letting it all hang out’ on me. Some people, particularly the more modesty minded will think that prominent big boobs are ‘inappropriate’ and ‘distracting’ no matter what the person with them is wearing and nothing short of surgery will fix that. It’s just another way in which women can do nothing right, and whether or not our bodies conform to what society thinks we ought to look like is largely out of our control. Small boobs? You look like a boy and are unsexy. Big boobs? Obviouly a slut.

      • The_L

        Okay….where are the XXXL business blouses for women? Because I’ve never seen them, and a lot of my larger female students get busted for dress code violations all the time. (My school dress code is “business.”)

        Where are the professional-looking tops for women that actually let you button them all the way up? Because I only have a C cup, and I still have to wear a cami under some shirts to avoid showing cleavage at work. Every single Oxford-style women’s blouse I’ve ever worn only buttons up to about 6″ below the collar. On some people, that covers everything; on others, it’s Cleavage City.

        And don’t get me started on slacks–I’ve spent 6 hours in clothing stores before, just trying to find ONE pair of slacks that doesn’t accentuate my already-plenty-big-enough curves. The same exact pair of pants can make my mother look like she has no butt at all, and make me look like an extra from the “Bootylicious” video. I’ve been known to wear control-top pants, not because I have too much tummy, but because they were the only pants that were loose enough around the butt and thighs without having a massive waist gap.

    • Nurse Bee

      Please note that I am a Christian and probably even an evangelical and always have been.

  • JJ

    I grew up wearing short-shorts during the summer. I liked to feel the sun on my legs, and being a barefoot girl I loved walking on the hot concrete: the way you could feel it radiating up at you. Sometimes I would cut through the high grass and it would be cool and a tall and tangle at my calves. It made me feel alive.

    It wasn’t until I was older that I started realizing some guys have egos the size of the sky and think every girl everywhere is dressing for them. Like there would be no reason you would where short-shorts except to show off for a guy :P

    • JJ

      *wear* (spelling gets me every time)

  • Sarah-Sophia

    What annoys me is that many people believe that being against modesty means being pro-dressing like a porn star, because both ideas use dress codes to promote gender roles. Believing that women are suppose to wear mini-skirts/high heels/make-up is just like saying women are suppose to wear full-body burquas. Most women don’t stop and think “Why do I have to do/wear this is the same thing is not required of my male peers?”

    • Sarah-Sophia


  • Emma

    I think that, if you insist that women cover up more, men just find ways to lust over the parts that still show (I think you discussed this in a post about a picture showing a woman in a Middle Eastern country walking in a burka-like outfit, with two men leering at her ankles).

    My modest proposal, then, is that we innoculate everyone by making all women (and men too, I suppose) walk around stark naked all the time (or wear see through clothing if the climate’s cold). And for good measure, make them look at pictures of hot naked people everyday. No more lustful thoughts!

  • AztecQueen2000

    So, when is it wrong? When can we say “hands-off”?
    Is it when a 19-year-old babysitter in baggy clothes gets manhandled by her boss?
    Is it when a creep wolf-whistles me as I’m walking down the street with my covered hair, high neck, long sleeves, calf-length skirt, stockings, closed-toed shoes, baby stroller, pregnant belly and wedding ring?
    Men who lust will lust after a woman whether she’s in a bikini or a burqa. If we focused more on respecting women, we wouldn’t have this problem.

  • TheSeravy

    Even if you dress modestly, you then have a whole slew of guys who think its ok to openly call you “unfeminine” or “a dyke” or “manly” or whatever else they can think of. You just can’t win.

    I recently saw a documentary about sexual assault and harassment in the US military called the “Invisible War”; rape culture at its puriest form and thriving within a male-dominated, insular environment. One in three women are assaulted in the US military and the vast majority of cases just get swept under the carpet precisely because of the rape culture.

    You should see the comments that get posted on articles on female rape in the military. It makes me so angry when people flippantly say that this is the “natural” consequence when you put men and women together, or that women shouldn’t serve in the military, or that the women were all lying about it because she had one too many drinks and made herself easy prey to the extra-macho military men. But the truth is, the rapist was always someone the victim knew and trusted or someone of higher rank.

    The military has a “awareness campaign” regarding sexual assault; their strategy? have a buddy when you walk around alone. the message to the guys “Ask her when she’s sober”.

    The rape culture also ignores male victims; in the US military, men being sexually assaulted is not uncommon. While women are more likely to be raped, it is estimated that the actual number of raped men vastlty exceeds the number of raped women due to the male to female ratio, homophobia and the extreme pressure to remain silent among men. This issue gets so little attention, it’s shocking (the article about female military rape got over 2000 comments… the one about male rape in the military… 11 comments)

    At the end of the day, a patriarchal culture seeks to control those they deem as weak like women or “lesser” men. It is really important that male rape victims be included in the dialogue as well as it sheds light to the violent nature of rape that is DEVOID of lust. Maybe then people will take it seriously and not some hogwash that the “crazy feminazis” are making up. The link I posted summed it up really well; rape is a way of putting someone in their place or simply force them out where they don’t “belong”.

    • Christine

      “rape is a way of putting someone in their place or simply force them out where they don’t “belong”.”

      And this is why there are some circumstances where what you wear can have an affect on your safety. There are places where it is socially acceptable to violently “punish” a woman for not wearing the “appropriate” clothing. Maybe that’s what the purity culture warnings about rape being a function of what a woman wears are about – they want to be able to punish women who don’t conform to their standards. (I, for one, am not getting rid of my skirts just because they threaten me with violence.)

  • Mulberry,Mulberry Bags

    Well that’s really great and I appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.

  • Maddie

    Ah, the old “causing me to stumble” gambit. Used by evangelical gits everywhere to remind women of their place. I had a friend back in my evangelical days who was publicly berated by one of our male peers (we were 18 or 19 at the time) because she work a formal dress that had a fitted sleeveless bodice that was apparently “causing people to stumble”. She was really upset, but no one (except me) could understand what the problem was with him doing that, because, hey, she was causing him to stumble! The subtext was that she was a really beautiful girl who all the boys wanted, no matter what she was wearing, and it pissed them off that they couldn’t control their desire, despite being regularly lectured on lust being the same as adultery.

    Of course, this is the same church where the minister said from the pulpit, in a sermon on marriage and how to have a good one, “if your wife’s unhappy, buy her a frock”, and no one (except me and one friend) could see the problem with that either. WOMEN LIKE FROCKS, DON’T THEY?? WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?

    It took me an awfully long time to unravel afterwards, but that place was really the beginning of the end for me and Christianity.

    • Nebuladance

      This reminds me of the time at church camp when another girl was told her dress for the last night’s dinner was too short. It was the only one she brought and she had worn it without comment to church, so she assumed it was fine. Another girl loaned her a longer dress, but she was still humiliated and hurt. The guys in our team were all really bothered by this, and to show support they all hiked up their shorts making them shorter on them than her dress had been on her. It was hilarious, yet sad that it took the guys actions to help the counsellor who had ordered the change in outfit to see the silliness of her actions. She did eventually apologise to the camper and hugs and tears were shared all around.

  • JW

    Both sexes have a responsibilty when it comes to sexuality. A woman should understand and be aware of what she wears in public because it can and will create a negative or positive image of her to others. It can be accentuated by verbal attitude and physical attitude. Men are very visual and many times even if woman is dressed very conservatively yet if she is pretty to look at it will make almost no difference what she wear she will get the stares.
    Men, on the other hand have a responsiblity to keep their thoughts in check. Even I have to consciously do this myself. Even if I see a HOT looking lady I allow my own thoughts to go so far and no further because I can burn in my own lusts for the image. This doesn’t lead to rape though. Men are not as astute about their own personal character/image as women are so men don’t always discipline themselves away from potential lusts. It feels to good not to allow the lusts to cultivate and the younger the guy the worse it gets, at least I think so.

    • smrnda

      There are plenty of men who can keep their thoughts in check regardless of what a woman is wearing. They might *notice* or *experience attraction* but it stays at that, because they don’t happen to be misogynists and don’t believe that women simply exist for the male gaze and male pleasure. It’s about believing that women are human beings deserving of being seen as human beings first rather than eye candy, regardless of what they might be wearing.

      Shit, I get negative attention from men no matter what I wear in public. I never wear anything shorter than my ankles and I tend to wear long sleeves, in addition to a hat and sunglasses most of the time, and I still get guys yelling comments about specific body parts that there’s no way they could evaluate based on what I’m wearing. It isn’t about attraction or lust, it’s about men making sure that they let women know that they *own* public space and that no matter how you dress, some guy is going to make an obscene remark. Sometimes I think they do it more when women do dress modestly just as a way of signaling that no matter how you dress, you’ll get harassed anyway. You’re right, it makes no difference what you wear, men will harass you regardless.

      The word ‘lust’ doesn’t really have any meaning to people outside the Christian scene. There’s sexual attraction, and then there’s being a misogynistic a-hole, and I don’t see them as being connected at all.
      So I agree that men need to stop this, but given that men do this regardless of how women dress, can we please stop blaming women?

      • Carys Birch

        Thank you for pointing out that the word “lust” doesn’t mean anything outside of the Christian sub-culture. That’s a thread I hadn’t chased to the end in my own head yet.

        The lightbulb moments with escaping Christianity just keep coming.

    • Charlotte

      Women do not have a responsibility to random guys on the street. And as a woman, I don’t care what men think about my choice of clothing as long as they don’t act on them.
      And really, has anyone ever done a study on this whole “men are more visual” thing? What does that even mean?

      • Twist

        “Women do not have a responsibility to random guys on the street.”

        Exactly. It is not my responsibility to protect the religious sensibilities of some man I’ve never met. If someone feels that looking at my bare legs is equal to committing adultery and will make his god mad at him, he is free to look away.

    • Noelle

      Oh JW, we ladies are visual creatures too. Even a conservatively dressed man, if smart, good-looking, and confident, may find himself the object of side-glances and silently-mouthed “wows” by women-folk as he passes by. Now, I know we women have to keep our thoughts in check too, even with the HOT ones. But it’s puzzling y’all didn’t know we think just like humans too.

      • Christine

        Conservatively-dressed men tend to be a lot more visually impressive… The first day of interviews on campus was always a “yum” moment for me.

      • Carys Birch

        Seriously, give me a slightly loosened tie any day! :D

      • Hayluh

        You don’t see a lot of women reacting to attractive strangers in the street with entitled shouts of “HEY BABY, SHOW US YOUR COCK”etc either. xD I’d be quite happy if guys kept it to silently-mouthed “wows”.

      • Noelle

        Agreed. That is what we need to teach the boys too. Appreciation with socially appropriate constraint.

    • Amethyst

      Thanks. None of us have ever heard it explained quite like this before, but now that you put it this way, it all makes sense. Glad to have been enlightened.

    • Christine

      Let me add to the voices saying women can be EXTREMELY visual too. There’s no other way to explain the hoots of apprecation when I watch The Avengers with my female friends and Chris Evans appears in the Captain America costume.

  • Gos

    Great article!

    I would take it a step further, and say that not only does the Modesty Doctrine fuel the Rape Culture, but also the War/Terrorism Culture. (I use “war” and “terrorism” interchangeably here because they’re the same thing, with one exception: When white men commit mass murder, it’s called “war”, and when brown men do it, it’s called “terrorism”.)

    When Christian men go to war, they take with them pin-ups, whatever pornography they can get away with, and suggestive USO entertainment designed to “remind our boys what they’re fighting for,” (which, let’s face it, is a euphemism for putting them into a testosterone-fueled rage by inducing sexual frustration.)

    If taking a critical look at Christian culture is more than you can stomach, then let’s switch to Islam:

    Every Islamic suicide bomber grew up in a culture in which women were customarily and by law forbidden from showing their faces in public.

    For those of us who live in Western cultures, it’s easy to take for granted our ability to casually enjoy the beauty of a woman’s face. Imagine if you grew up in a culture where you could never enjoy the simple pleasure of the beauty of a woman’s face.

    I grew up in a culture where women are forbidden to show their chests or pubic regions, and as a red-blooded man I have to admit that this all by itself keeps me in such a repressed state of rage that if an Imam told me that I could be rewarded with 72 virgins for strapping on a bomb vest and blowing myself up in a shopping mall, I’d have only one question: “Do I get to LOOK at them, Achmed? I don’t even need to f— them, I just want to know, am I gonna spend eternity staring at a bunch of f—ing burqhas, or am I going to see their noses and their toeses, their nooks and their crannies, their nipples and their ‘nads, and ALL FOUR cheeks! Can I LOOK at them, Achmed? I CAN??? Well sh–, Achmed, can’t you buckle this thing on any faster? Pardon my impatience, but I have a date with 72 beautiful naked ladies, and your fumbling with the straps is making me late.”

    Now, put that guy in the shoes of a man who grew up in a culture where he is not even allowed to gaze unashamedly upon a naked female FACE.

    Y’see, what I’m saying here is that the Modesty Doctrine is not only fuel for the Rape Culture, but for war and terrorism as well. There should be no law governing what a man or woman chooses to wear (or not), beyond taking whatever necessary measures to protect public health. Not only is it silly to have such laws, but it is a recipe for a culture that openly sanctions rape, war, and terrorism, all the while struggling with such Great Moral Conundrums as whether it is obscene for a mother to breastfeed her infant in public.

    • Daughter

      Every Islamic suicide bomber grew up in a culture in which women were customarily and by law forbidden from showing their faces in public.

      That’s not true. Islamic suicide bombers have come from a number of different countries – all of whch have different laws about the burqa. Only a small number require the full burqa (which includes the face covering); many only require head covering, but the face is exposed. Many Islamic countries, including Indonesia with the world’s largest Muslim population, have no laws about women’s clothing at all, and some Muslim countries forbid it (yes, they do!) because it represses women.

      I grew up in a culture where women are forbidden to show their chests or pubic regions, and as a red-blooded man I have to admit that this all by itself keeps me in such a repressed state of rage

      Then the problem is you. Basically, you’re saying what the patriarchal folks are saying but in reverse: that you can’t control yourself due to women’s bodies being covered, as opposed to uncovered.

      • Gos

        “Basically, you’re saying what the patriarchal folks are saying but in reverse: that you can’t control yourself due to women’s bodies being covered, as opposed to uncovered.”

        That’s not true at all. I’m doing a pretty good job of controlling my rage so that it surfaces as comedy rather than a suicide bombing. My rant was at least partly in jest, after all.

        But the larger point is that HUMANS cannot control themselves where human sexuality is concerned. You may THINK it’s under control, but human sexuality, when repressed, has a tendency to resurface in the most perverse ways imaginable, more often than not in some violent fashion. Why do you think it is that the most warlike and violent nations are also by some strange coincidence the ones with the strongest sexual taboos?

      • Rosie

        Gos, you don’t seem to be making any distinction between sexual feelings and “sexuality”, but I think there’s a big distinction to be made there. The feelings come up for everybody to a greater or lesser degree (having nothing to do with gender, but something to do with personality), but actions can indeed be controlled without dangerous repression. If nothing else, men and women have the option of using their own hands, while alone and in a private place, to give themselves at least a little satisfaction.

        It’s true that certain religions AND warlike cultures seek to take away even that outlet, because both are about *controlling people* in ways that I think are really unhealthy. You can’t have a war, after all, if the rank-and-file soldiers think they have any choice or bodily autonomy.

      • Gos


        I agree with what you’re saying, but you don’t seem to understand what I’m saying. You seem to feel that I’m implying that sex (including rape) cannot be controlled.

        My point is actually quite a bit different from what you seem to perceive. Sure, we are each responsible for our own actions, and the urge to rape is one of the things that certainly *should* be controlled.

        But I am talking about the larger issue of the Modesty Doctrine as a means of controlling *ALL* human sexuality, which includes A LOT more than just sexual feelings. For example, breastfeeding is tangentially related to sex, but there are probably no sexual feelings involved in the act. Yet, many consider it “obscene” under the Modesty Doctrine for a woman to breastfeed where others might see, because it might “tempt” a man.

        And my larger point is this: Social measures designed to repress human sexuality MAY succeed in suppressing sexual expression, BUT that repressed sexuality WILL resurface in some other form, such as in the will to support and/or participate in wars and/or terrorist acts.

  • Colleen

    Rape is an act of violence taken out in a sexual manner.

  • Tracey

    If a store owner displays his wares out in the open for me to see, I am most certainly not justified in stealing them EVEN if I claim they were tempting me by being out in the open.

  • JethroElfman

    Okay, so I had to go look up “rape culture” to find out what you are talking about. Most of the references are back to the 1970′s. Do you really think the term applies today? Haven’t the rape-shield laws, no-means-no campaigns, and December 6 vigils brought us beyond such a black-and-white concept? Rather than feeding a rape-supportive culture, the puritan culture panders to it. They need an evil to be shunned in order to promote their fear of sexuality.

    • smrnda

      Um, no, as you can tell because we still have people who think that women get raped because of the clothing they wear, or the advice given on how to ‘not get raped’ always focuses on the statistically unlikely stranger lurking in the bushes, and women and even girls are still getting blamed for being victimized. We still have people who somehow think that even if a woman didn’t say yes, her clothing or behavior might have indicated that she was *asking for it.* Sexual harassment is still an issue and is still frequently trivialized. We’ve still got male comedians making jokes about rape and a double standard where a women aren’t believed or their rapes are trivialized because of their sexual history. No, rape culture is still going strong, regrettably.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Not to mention we still have a lot of WOMEN GETTING RAPED! So no, people aren’t just making shit up.

  • Isaac

    I also notice that I, as a male, don’t have to submit to these standards at all, and never did, even though males are raped too (especially in their childhood and teen years).

    There’s so many inconsistencies in this argument that it’s staggering when you think about it. The only things that keep it from being outright laughable are the archetypes, written deep into our culture, of the “slut” and the “horny male who just couldn’t help himself”.

    This is usually how rape is portrayed on TV and in media and art, too. No wonder people believe this kind of thing. Rape is rarely, if ever, anything like that, and yet our entire culture has labeled this archetype the default, so written into our collective unconcious that we all take it for granted in formulaic TV shows, cheap adventure novels and apparently even serious discussions about rape. Something has to be done to raise awareness of how rape actually occurs, who does it and why, beyond the pathetic misinformation we have now.

    This is something I forgot to mention earlier- apologies in advance if it’s already been discussed in the mountain on comments this post has generated.

  • wren7

    @emjb: RAPISTS CAUSE RAPE. Nothing else does! Women in burkas get raped. Old women. Children. Men in prison. Rape is an act of humiliation and power-lust, it is not deterred by modest clothes or being a good person or staying away from parties.

    I couldn’t have said it better. Quite a few years ago, I was on a criminal jury for a rape case. During voire dire, the D.A. asked the jury pool if we thought only attractive women could be raped. I immediately thought that the victim would not be considered attractive by societal standards. I, and a few others in the jury pool, replied when called on that rape had nothing to do with how attractive a woman was or what she was wearing; it is a crime of domination and control. (I should note that others said that “ugly women aren’t raped.”)

    I was chosen to be on the jury, and the victim was a young deaf, blind and mute woman who was overweight. She was raped by the driver of the city bus for special needs riders who picked her up from the School for the Blind. He altered his route that day to drop her off last, not the norm. I will never forget the interpreter the court had for the victim signing into her hand, like Helen Keller’s teacher Annie did, because the victim could not speak intelligibly — asking her what she did when she realized what was happening. She screamed out “NO!!!” so clearly that anyone could understand what she had said. The perp tried to claim that the sex was consensual. How does a deaf, blind, mute woman give consent??? DNA evidence proved that sexual intercourse had taken place. We found the defendant guilty and gave him the maximum sentence, 20 years.

    This perpetrator was like most rapists – he did not choose a beautiful, sexily clad woman as his victim. He chose a vulnerable woman whom he thought made an easy victim.

    Also, it occurred to me while reading this post that the CP/evangelical emphasis on purity culture and dressing modestly and women “causing” men to rape them because they weren’t covered enough or modest enough or removed from the world enough, that this line of thinking is taken to the extreme in fundamentalist Islamic cultures where women who are raped in spite of being covered head to toe are blamed for somehow enticing the rapist by showing a glimpse of ankle or whatever nonsense. These women are often thrown in jail *for being raped* because it had to have been her fault, because men can’t control ther sexual urges; they are blamed for bringing dishonor on their families; some of them are even murdered by their male relatives. It is the ultimate “blame the victim” mentality and an extreme example of what can happen when women are told by society that they “hold the honor” for all of their society.

  • Sarah

    I sometimes worry that I’ve become part of the problem in my “old age.” (I’m 27) After growing up in Mainstream Godless America, wearing a strappy gown for my Bat Mitzvah party, dressing any damn way I pleased until the age of 24, and then marrying a controlling man who demanded sex 4 times a day, I’ve come out the other side of the looking glass in clothes left over from a Little House on the Prairie casting call. I divorced the sex fiend, luckily, and I’m in a great relationship with a respectful guy, but now I’m hyper-aware of my body and I try to hide it as much as possible. Ankle length skirts, long sleeve shirts, jackets, and a scarf over my hair are my daily attire.

    I see girls dressed the way I used to dress, going about their business – going to a club, grocery shopping, eating dinner with friends, and I fear for them. Intellectually, I know the objectification is bs. I know rapists cause rape. But that’s a hard pill for me to swallow when I can still hear my ex-husband blaming me for looking so good all the time that he just had to have sex with me until I was bleeding.

  • Judy L.

    Men must be held responsible for their own behaviour. If they find the sight of women too distracting to the point where they simply cannot help but assault them, then they need to cover their eyes. A blindfold for a man requires considerably less fabric than a burqa, niqab, or hijab for a woman.

    All this patriarchal nonsense is simply about controlling women and men abdicating responsibility for their own actions. It’s yet another facet of a discursive strategy that frames rape as a natural phenomenon, a force of nature, something that ‘happens’ to women rather than something that men actively do with agency and choice, where we talk about the percentage of women who are victims of sexual assault but not the percentage of men who are perpetrators of sexual assault. Wearing revealing clothing in mixed company isn’t like going out in a lightening storm with a metal rod attached to your head. A man raping a woman or girl is not a natural consequence of what the woman or girl is wearing. A man raping a woman is not a mindless force of nature and thus a woman’s choice of dress does not mitigate the ‘risk’ of a man raping her.

  • mary

    Another thing I find interesting about the article you quoted, Libby- it almost seems like the author (s) think that “women dressing immodestly” or “men lusting” is somehow a “new” phenomena. I’ve seen this idea a lot- basically that the present culture/time is somehow more “decadent” than others past. Um, really? Have these folks read the bible? Taken a cursory glance at the excesses of the Roman Empire? =) News flash- men (and women) were lusting and raping with gusto back when culturally appropriate dress was long tunics. Modesty is COMPLETELY culturally relative, and showing a certain amount of skin has NOTHING to do with whether a person is raped. If anything, dressing/acting like you may be alone/vulnerable/compliant would be the most dangerous, I think. Rape is about control, not sex, and I can see where someone who looks like “Easy pickings” might be chosen over someone who is confident and aware… but then behavior would be more important than dress.

  • Christine

    One thing that might help is if we, as a culture, stopped mocking standard Christian ideas like “custody of the eyes”. Sure, it might be overly prudish and old-fashioned. Yes, it can be done in harmful & insulting ways. But it’s a heck of a lot better than claiming that people need to be careful about what they wear. And if done properly no one else even notices. My Father-in-Law made a big deal of the fact that, when I was nursing my daughter at her baptism (I was wearing a nursing top, so I was flashing more breast than normal), the priest quickly looked to the other side of the congregation when he saw what I was doing (I was in the front per), but honestly, I wasn’t aware, and my FIL is very quick to see stuff.

    • Anat

      As someone who was not raised Chrisitian. nor English-speaking, can you please explain what you mean by ‘custody of the eyes’ and how is this expression used?

      • Mogg

        It means that a person should take responsibility for what they look at for themselves, so as not to be tempted or distracted from what they ought to be doing. It’s not actually a phrase in common English usage – it’s mostly a Catholic term, and an old-fashioned one at that.

      • Christine

        I agree that the phrase is mostly very conservative (and that the idea is mocked by progressives), but the idea of “you should not look” is still common. It’s presented as being courteous. I’m not saying it’s necessarily correct, but it’s certainly worlds above this purity culture.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Is it really? Seems like PART of purity culture to me–the idea that there’s something dirty and wrong about looking at anything that might cause you to think a sexual thought. As long as people have that idea, they’re always going to feel a sense of shame about their own feelings and always going to feel tempted to blame other for causing them.

      • Christine

        Like I say, it’s prudish. But I don’t see how it can fuel rape culture. I’m not saying that it should be left alone because it’s good, just that it should be left alone to encourage mitigation of harm. (Kind of like how condoms don’t make sex safe, but you don’t say that teenagers, because you want to make sure they use them for the very many benefits they do provide. But less so.) The explicit message of “she can wear whatever she wants, grow up” is still there. I think that expecting Christianity to give up the concept of “you should not be dwelling on these thoughts nor seeking them out” is a bit much, and this is a much healthier way of managing that concept.

        It’s also a very mainstream concept, not that that makes it correct. There are many circles where it’s considered polite, not rude, to look away when a woman is nursing. Heck, that’s part of why LLL has all-woman meetings. Heck, if we can get this adopted then we can transition it to the very similar “it’s rude to stare”.

  • Karen

    I commend you for taking a stance against this grossly misogynistic viewpoint. In a society where women are held accountable for men’s sexual acts and desires, they are ultimately subordinate to men. Rape is an act of violation, control and violence. When rape is induced by lust of the flesh, I wonder how proponents of such a tenet account for elderly women being raped in their homes.

  • Marianne Paul

    I had a rather hilarious experience a few months ago while I was in line at the grocery store. I was staring at the covers of the magazines when a man behind me very ostentatiously picked up one of the magazines and turned around so that it’s cover was no longer in sight. Pink was on the cover with the promise of an article about her secrets for keeping romance alive in her marriage. The man went on a long rant about how he did not want the image of Pinks sexual positions running through his brain and what an awful society we live in and.. and… Sadly I was so taken aback that it did not occur to me to inform this man that the question of Pink’s sexual positions had not come into MY head until he spoke up. I have no idea what was in the actual article because I looked at the magazine cover and thought “Oh Pink has blond hair; the last time I was in the supermarket all of the women on magazine covers had brown hair and look here’s another magazine with Marilyn Monroe on the cover. Isn’t amazing that she is still making the cover of supermarket magazines after all these years…” Sadly this so moral man corrupted my thoughts and I got in my car with images of Pink’s sexual positions dancing in my head. So clearly the real problem was not the outside of a magazine but the inside of this man’s brain!

    • Gos


    • Christine

      This reminds me of a visit to a zoo a few years back. I was in the Big Cats section, admiring the jaguars, and with me were two mothers with small children. The jaguars were palying chasies, and then one, the male, caught the other, a female, and they started to mate. One of the mothers freaked out and dragged her children away (they were very small). Of course the children fought her, crying “we want to see! We want to see the cats!” and the mother was replying, “no, that’s disgusting, I’m not letting you see that!”

      One of the children with the other mother asked what the jaguars were doing. She replied “oh, they’re just playing.” So we watched the jaguars finish, and then lick each other.

      • caroline851

        Why not say ‘they’re mating? That’s what makes baby jaguars happen’? I’m glad my kids had lots of David Attenborough videos to watch when they were little – pretty well took care of that side of things.

  • Optimistic Agnostic (facebook)

    rape is a crime of violence and negative power that happens to females and males and it is completely the responsibility of the violator. It has nothing to do with the modesty of the person but everything to do with the particular pathos of the sociopath who commits the crime AND THAT is what should be addressed and clamped down on.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      I agree with you accept most rapists are NOT sociopaths and that’s actually a very harmful idea.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      I agree with you except most rapists are NOT sociopaths and that’s actually a very harmful idea.

  • Christian Vagabond

    I have two thoughts on this. One is that I realized long time ago that women dress primarily for themselves, and secondarily for other women. Dressing for mens’ attention seems (to me) to be a distant third. This might seem obvious, but it’s a world-shattering revelation for most guys. Most men – even nonchristian men -sadly hlive by the assumption that how women dress reflects their interest in sex at that particular moment. They don’t realize that a women might be wearing a dress because it’s a nice dress, irrespective of what others think of it or how self-centered guys interpret it.

    A second point that I thought of is how fetishes complicate the modesty movement. Year ago I knew a women who was committed to dressing modestly, and she wouldn’t even wear heels. The problem was she was dating a Christian guy who finally confided to her that he had a sneaker fetish. So all those days of wearing running shoes were driving her boyfriend to distraction. Ironically, if she had been wearing heels, he wouldn’t have stumbled. But it just goes to show that women can’t win even when they’re trying to be modest. Let’s not forget that in Victorian days w woman showing a bare hand in public was considered scandalous.

    • tsara

      …seriously, guys actually think that women dress for them? What sort of thought processes do they imagine go into picking out clothing? For me it’s mostly ‘is this clean?’ ‘does it more or less match’ ‘will my mother say it makes me look like an old woman with too many cats’ ‘would I get looked at funny for walking around the mall like this’ ‘is it comfortable enough to wear all day’ ‘is it situation-appropriate’ ‘is it weather-appropriate’ ‘does it reveal the fact that I haven’t shaved my armpits/legs in way too long’ ‘is my hair going to get caught in the zipper/buttons’ ‘is my bra visible through my shirt’ ‘do my pants stay up without a belt’ ‘do I flash people when I bend over’ ‘where did that nice shirt go — why can I never find anything’ ‘these pantyhose have a run in them — can’t wear a skirt’ ‘this shirt is getting see-through — why are girl-clothes so flimsy’, etc.
      Girl-clothes are complicated. I, personally, am not a particularly ‘on top of things’ sort of person and just getting dressed in appropriate clothes requires way too much thought to add the variable of ‘what will dudes think of me in this’. Mind you, I’m also asexual and things like that just don’t (usually) occur to me. I will think of ‘will this make people stare at me’, but sexual attraction-related thoughts tend to come somewhere after clothing-related doomsday scenarios.
      Also, I will sometimes say ‘I give up’ and go with, I don’t know, sweatpants and a corset because I like sweatpants and I like corsets and I sometimes just don’t have the energy to think of everything.
      (Seventeen years of school uniforms, plus ADD and sporadic depression, in case you’re wondering.)

      In Victorian days, (female-gendered) ankles/legs were so sexualized that lifting one’s skirt out of a puddle was a bad idea if you cared about what people thought of you, and they also put skirts on furniture, because apparently the legs of tables are too sexy for people to handle.

  • Randy

    This is very confused. People keep repeating the same mantra over and over. It does not make it true. Are modestly dressed women less likely to be raped? Sure. It does not reduce the chance to zero but it does reduce the chance somewhat. Is that the reason to dress modestly. No. It might be one minor reason but I don’t know anyone who dresses modestly primarily to avoid rape. It is more about lust. It is to avoid having men think of you in a degrading way.

    You object to the word “cause.” You seem to feel that thinking about cause and effect relationships involving the way a woman dresses is just out of bounds. That is just anti-reason.

    Really you need to do some thinking about why people don’t have sex in public. Everyone just knows not to do it but why? People pretty much know what you look like naked. I mean human anatomy is not that hard to predict. People also know you have sex with your husband or wife. So why not do it in public? There is something about the human body. Something this post is completely, totally and utterly missing.

    • smrnda

      There’s massive amounts of empirical evidence that how women dress has zero effect whatsoever on whether they get raped. Is it anti-reason to dismiss claims for which there exists no evidence?

      If you are the same Randy who usually posts here, I know that you do not believe it is possible, within the mind of a man, for sexual attraction to a woman and respect for her to co-exist, unless they are married. You use the word ‘lust’ which is a term that has no meaning for anyone except those who speak Christian-ese. I mean, men are probably going to sometimes find me attractive. I can live with it. Big deal. If I decided to dress immodestly and a man complimented me on how I looked, whether I find it degrading depends on lots of other things, like whether or not we share interests and values (of course, I’m not heterosexual so this is all hypothetical.) I mean, sexual attraction happens, let’s not ask men to deny feelings they can’t help having, let’s teach them how to respect women no matter how attracted they feel. Believe me, it can be done, mostly by teaching men that women are something more than just something you might feel attracted to or not – we have minds, personalities and interests and opinions of our own.

      I think religions, particularly Christianity, teach men to degrade women. The idea that sexual attraction and respect for a woman can ever both happen at the same time is thrown out the window, so it creates a state of anxiety in men where they constantly worry what sexual feelings women might inspire in them. In the end, just like porn, it teaches men that the most salient feature about a woman is what sexual reaction she’s triggering; it becomes such an obsession that they can’t pay attention to anything else. Women get reduced to either ‘she’s a stumblingblock for me’ or ‘she’s being nice and modest.’

      On why people don’t have sex in public, well, sometimes they do. The idea of what we do in public and what we don’t is just a social convention, and like all of them we should debate whether or not it’s basically good or bad. I mean, there are nudist colonies where the rules are a bit different. I’m sure you can find places where people have sex in semi-public settings. We regulate behaviors that seem worth regulating – it’s the same reason why we have rules about where you can consume alcohol. I can drink in a bar, I could actually drink at my workplace, but I’m fine with a restriction being placed on whether or not I could drink on the train or bus. I feel I could be trusted to not cause a scene, but I respect that people don’t want to have to contend with more drunks on mass transit than they have to.

      Also, whether men think about women in a degrading way has nothing to do with how women dress, but with how men view women. I’m sure plenty of men think of me in a degrading way even though I’m rarely even showing my forearms. Why? Because some men don’t feel like women are human beings.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        I think “a degrading way” to Randy means “a sexual way.” As in, if I dress in a sexy way, men may wonder what it’s like to have sex with me. (Of course, they’ll quite likely do this anyway if they find me attractive and I don’t know any men for whom a skirt length or a neckline is the difference between “attractive” and “not attractive” in a woman. The last guy I attracted–who I was quite happy to attract, btw –met me when I was wearing a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt at a traditional Irish music session at a bar. I apparently incited his lust by–singing a traditional ballad very well. I know, I’m such a whore!) Well I don’t really give a shit if they do think about that, Randy, if they keep those thoughts to themselves. A man’s private thoughts are his own business. I can’t feel degraded by something when I don’t know about it. I would feel degraded if a guy started telling me his sexual thoughts about me without any indication from me that I am sexually interested back and want to know about these things, because that would show that he does not respect my boundaries and feelings. But the actual thoughts? None of my business. Any more than any sexual thoughts I have about a man I find attractive are anyone else’s business. And yes, Randy, women have them too.

        I do feel degraded by men who deny that my sexuality exists and that I’m just a thing to be desired and never to desire, who think my primary purpose in life is to get a husband that I must defer to because of his maleness and crank out loads of babies for, with minimal control over when I do so. I’m far more concerned about what the pope in his celibate fortress thinks about me every day than I am over what some dude who thinks I’m cute thinks about me. And the pope doesn’t keep his nasty thoughts to himself, either.

        And no, Randy. The way a woman dresses has nothing to do with her likelihood of being rape. Piles of evidence shows this. Hell, I’ve had police officers in major cities come into classes of mine and EXPLAIN this. Everybody who knows anything about rape knows this. Seriously.

    • lucrezaborgia

      Maybe men shouldn’t be trained to think that my showing of skin means that I am deserving of being degraded?

      I dunno dude, I don’t struggle with lust because I was never taught that it was an issue. Maybe the problem is the teaching and not womens clothing?

    • Rosie

      Randy, you must have a pretty dim view of men if you think it’s impossible for them to respect a woman who’s showing a little more skin than you approve of. And I am so over dressing “modestly” to avoid getting raped; it didn’t work and I got raped anyhow. By my “good Christian” boyfriend no less.

    • Anat

      Are modestly dressed women less likely to be raped? Sure.

      If you are so sure, how about some evidence in support of your claim? Not ‘that’s what everyone says’, not ‘it is a well-known fact’ – hard evidence. Of women who dress ‘modestly’ what percentage are raped? Of women who dress ‘provocatively’ what percentage are raped? Women who dress in various stiles and have been raped, was the rape when they were dressed ‘modestly’ or ‘provocatively’? Women who dress in various stiles, do they get harassed more often when they are dressed ‘modestly’ or ‘provocatively’?

      I quoted ‘modestly’ and ‘provocatively’ because these are subjective words that mean different things to different people, different cultures and in different contexts.

  • Omorka

    I spend a little over a week out of every year at a private campground that is clothing-optional. While I’m certainly not going to claim that there is never any sexual harassment or assault at these events, it’s rare. And we’re all Pagans, so it’s not the love of Jesus that’s keeping our menfolk from running wild with lust at the sight of a dozen topless women dancing around the bonfire. It’s that they have the basic home-training to not be jerks. (And possibly some enlightened self-interest – after all, if they go around sexually assaulting people, they won’t be invited back, and thus won’t get to see all the titties around the next bonfire – but mostly it’s not being a jerk.) So I call bull on the whole modesty excuse.

  • Katherine A.

    The attitude that it’s women who cause men to fall into sexual sin reminds me of Frollo’s song from the Disney version of “Hunchback of Notre Dame”. In
    “Hellfire” he calls Esmeralda (the pretty gypsy girl) a witch and blames her for his lust and making him sin. He didn’t ever think that he was at fault for anything he did even when it truly was his fault.

  • pagansister

    Read some of he posts above, and haven’t much to add except IMO—–There is no excuse for rape—none what so ever.

  • Jeremy Shaffer

    Personally, I think their bible has the solution to the problem of men stumbling from the path of rightousness because some women dress “slutty”:

    Matthew 18:8:

    8 “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.

    I think that men scooping their eyes out would be a permanent solution to the problem; they’d never have to worry about seeing a woman and having their lusts aroused again, reagrdless of how she is dressed.

  • baal

    “This commenter actually appears to be endorsing the burka.”<— yes
    Censors fail at judgment and are prone to slip sliding all the way down the slippery slope – it's inherent in the activity. Once everyone is only wearing long pants, the censors start to notice bare arms. So they censor that and then they start to notice ankles and then it's hair. The burka does represent something of a rational end point for the folks who are obsessed with temptresses.

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  • Ukn0wnU4SSKM3

    I think, and this just my opinion and not fact, that some make these comments with the understanding of a sin nature involved. I can have a pet snake and train him and nurture him yet if the snake bites me, provoked or not, I should not be shocked of his nature. There are numerous examples of this and I think that when this happens there are two wrongs to every crime. The first is the justification and the second is the act. Someone mentioned it’s like comparing a guy waving money in the street as the same and I don’t that’s accurate. He’s is wronged if he is robed but most would agree he was foolish to wave his money in the first place. A girl/lady/women who is raped and a boy/man who is raped are wronged. However, I feel sorry for those who think that we live in a world without sin and wave their money in the streets.

    • Anat

      How about you look up facts about rape? How do you explain all those modestly dressed people that are raped? What about prepubescent children that are raped? Elderly people that are raped? Rapist choose their victims based on accessibility and vulnerability, not sex-appeal. As for sin, it is a meaningless concept outside of specific religious doctrines.

      • Ukn0wnU4SSKM3

        I think, and this just my opinion and not fact, that some make these comments with the understanding of a sin nature involved. Modestly dressed people that are raped: there is sin in the world. Immodestly dressed people raped: there is sin the world. I never said rapist choose a particular person I only pointed out that, in the example I used, that the justification for someone being robbed was because they were waving their money around. This doesn’t make the robbing okay but there is this particular justification being used. He was wronged for being robbed but foolish to wave his money around. People don’t say or maybe they do however to some extent it is known that this is not wise to do or there is a certain risk involved. There is a factor there that is not addressed right and those who commit these crimes abuse this. There are precautions but sin, crime, whatever you want to call it is not new and to not take precautions or to not care is one thing. This doesn’t mean that the one who takes every precautions is safe but I feel sorry for those who take “unnecessary” risks and are taken advantage of. Basically, we need to think more of prevention and get away from conviction.

      • Christine

        Your comments imply that you think that people who dress in an “immodest” manner are more likely to get raped. I’m glad you recognise that this isn’t a fact, but why would you say it when you know it’s a lie?

      • Anat

        Yes, crime exists. Taking evidence-based precautions against crime is a good idea. Dressing modestly isn’t such a precaution because rapists do not select victims based on being immodestly dressed. If anything, they prefer victims who appear vulnerable. So tactics to diminish the chances of people around you suffering rape should include building up their self-confidence.

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  • The_L

    The weird part, to me, is not that I didn’t see this as a teen, but the weird way in which I rationalized it.

    I remember hearing, over and over, “If you are raped, it is not your fault. It is his fault for not respecting you when you said ‘no.’” I also remember hearing, over and over, “preventative” measures to avoid being raped. The idea I got was that some things, like locking your doors to avoid being an easy target for theft, kept you from being an “easy target” for rape in exactly the same way. Some people, like me, tended to beat themselves up over past slips in vigilance, and that’s why they had to be reminded that it wasn’t their fault–because otherwise, they’d be like the person who said “If I hadn’t forgotten to lock the door, the thief might not have taken my grandmother’s earrings!” Because everybody else knew that it was really the rapist’s fault, not theirs, and they just needed to be reassured from time to time.

    It wasn’t until years later that I realized that other people were blaming rape victims for being raped, or claiming that they were lying about sex that had actually been consensual. It honestly did not occur to me that anyone would lie about such a thing, or suspect others of doing so, nor that people would seriously go up to a person who had just been so deeply violated and say “If you hadn’t been wearing that outfit, this wouldn’t have happened.” I’d always been a very compassionate person, and a lack of compassion in others has always been hard for me to understand.

  • Armstrong Bolt

    From my own view of point, being addicted to sex from the opposite sex or same sex is a thing that has cause much problem in human emotion, it has cause much controversy between many lovers, but the earlier we realise that sex is much enjoyable when opposite partner are into it, the better the motion will be appreciated. I need more view on what I just said. Send your reply via… I will be excited to hear from you. Thanks.

  • Jasen

    An analogy I heard when I was a christian was that women dressing immodestly was like drinking beer around an alcoholic.

  • Wayne Borean

    Wonder if anyone has stats on the number of rapes/sexual assaults that occur at Nudist/Naturist Resorts? I’m willing to bet that the stats would be so low that they surprise the Purity Advocates.

    Maybe that’s the answer. Make the entire world a Naturist Resort! I know. It wouldn’t work. Naturists have a far more healthy view of the human body than most people, and the vast majority of people I know would freak at the idea of appearing in public unclothed.

    And of course the Control Freaks would still exist. What we need to do is make being a control freak socially unacceptable.


  • Martha

    I’m reposting this comment that I had made on Facebook, about this subject:
    Although we Christian women should not dress in sleazy or suggestive clothing, extreme modesty is damaging because it excuses men’s free choice to lust or not, puts the blame on women, and it’s also legalistic. To the commenter Renee, not all Christians think that way, but there are certain groups of Christians who unfortunately have hang-ups about modesty, which leads to a lot of legalism, which then causes them to become judgemental toward others, self-righteous and prideful. My church is not like that, but I’ve encountered the “extreme modesty” Christians, who think they’re better Christians than you are, just because their women dress like 17th century Puritans – it’s ridiculous. I love your point, Catherine, that men are going to imagine what they want to, no matter what women wear, so extreme modesty is pointless as well as harmful. However, going to the opposite extreme can sometimes be equally harmful – when women dress seductively, it actually can be a form of trying to tempt men to lust after them.

  • Bo Peep

    burkas for everyone, all the time. even in the shower.

    • evodevo

      You jest, but in some uptight Catholic households a girl actually wore a garment in the bath so she was not exposed to her own nudity.

  • Robert Hopgood

    About 15 years ago I received some VERY important advice. At any time and under any circumstance, the only one responsible for a man’s erection IS THAT MAN. A woman, girl friend – wife – 1 night stand – MAY CHOOSE to participate, bit IS NOT RESPONSIBLE for doing anything about the man’s erection. Since receiving that bon mot I have learned that may react to sensuality/sexuality of women around me but I do NOT have to do anything about it. Even if I do get an erection, it will go down on its own after a bit.

    I think it is past time that societies stop allowing men to remain emotional teenagers.

  • Go!@#$yourself

    A man touches a woman, she screams rape/sexual harassment.
    A woman touches a man and he’d probably laugh it off.

    I love justice and equality.

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