Trigger Warning for Modesty Culture B.S. and Benevolent Sexism. Also, I used more swear words than usually because I just can’t even.
When I read the piece on Christianity Today’s women’s blog entitled “Why I Tell My Daughters to Dress Modestly,” my first response was “Because of benevolent sexism?”
I’ve been talking about benevolent vs. hostile sexism on my blog a lot lately, and how often, people who adhere to benevolent sexist mindsets don’t think of themselves as sexists. They look at hostile sexists, think “I’m not like that!,” and justify in their minds their “kinder, gentler” attempts to control women (in fact, they probably don’t even think of their actions as attempts to control women . . . even if these actions do, in fact, restrict women’s lives).
This article is a pretty good example of the benevolent sexist mindset. Peter Chin, the author of the piece, as my friend Dianna Anderson puts it, hits “all the right fauxgressive statements,” making sure to distance himself from those who would blatantly objectify women. Good, good.
Problem is, he ends up doing the same thing, on a less hostile scale. And, as research shows, benevolent sexism hurts women too.
Chin starts the piece by saying “Obviously, I’m not a woman…” The piece probably should have ended there. He tells us that, because he’s not a woman, we can take his opinions with a grain of salt. Again, saying all the right words. But, this is followed directly by his telling us he has a wife and daughters and that he is a fellow human being, “and I think that counts for something.” (hint: in this discussion, it doesn’t)
“I have a wife and daughters” is a favorite phrase of benevolent sexists. It’s a reminder that they do not hate women. How could they? They LIVE with women. A person who hates women would never willingly choose to do that, right?
Benevolent sexists, of course, either ignore or are willingly ignorant of the fact that marriage historically is about ownership of property and that intimate relationships can be fertile ground for abuse. In other words: actually, yes, hostile sexists who want to hurt women and easily get away with it willingly get into close relationships with women ALL THE TIME.
(Note: I am NOT saying that Chin is a hostile sexist who entered into close relationships for this reason. I AM saying that “I have a wife and kids” is not proof that you aren’t a sexist)
Chin claims to be offering a perspective different than the one that is typically used to hurt women. Except, his perspective is exactly the one that is typically used to hurt women: “Your bodies can be stumbling blocks so be modest out of Christian love for your brothers!”
Again, benevolent sexists say they’re different than hostile sexists. They even create a strawman sexist to compare themselves to to prove their difference. Despite what benevolent sexists say, most modest culture proponents are not out there going “Women are the spawn of Satan and the sight of a mere elbow will cause a man to go to hell!” I’m sure people like that exist, but modest culture is not close to mainstream thanks to the Westboro-level extremists.
Modesty culture is as strong as it is because of benevolent arguments exactly like Chin’s.
His piece even uses the particularly dangerous sexist technique of dehumanization, which–as research shows–correlates with mindsets that support the horrific rape culture that we live in.
He uses Romans 14, a favorite verse of modesty culture proponents (again, while pretending to be different somehow) saying, “Although Paul is talking about food in this passage rather than dress, he is illustrating a broader principle.” The broader principal is modesty. To quote Dianna Anderson’s thoughts on this again, “Food rules about what people feel comfortable CONSUMING are applied to female BODIES. …Notice the problem?”
If you don’t see the problem, pick up the book Dateable, by Justin Lookadoo and Hayley DiMarco (or just read my blog post responding to it). Over and over, women’s bodies are talked about as food. They are compared to fish, hamburgers, prey for the animals that (according to the book) are men, meat, over and over. Chin doesn’t have to go to the extent that Dateable goes to (that extent being doodles of female torsos hanging from meat hooks) for this comparison of women’s bodies to food to be dehumanizing.
And dehumanization is violence.
I’m sure Chin would be repulsed by the idea of drawing female torsos hanging from meats to put in a dating book for teenagers. Good. Good for him.
But he still describes us as meat, and that is a fucking problem.
He also takes a page out of the Dateable book by painting men’s inability to avoid committing the violence of objectification as a “weakness.” He says that lust as just a fact of human life, and he defines lust as objectification, which is a form of dehumanization, and therefore a form of violence (leaving no room for healthy, non-objectifying sexual attraction, which is a BIG part of Chin’s problem here. Much of Christian culture cannot conceive of sexual attraction absent of the desire to “penetrate, conquer, and colonize”).
Then he tells us not to go to the “extreme” of saying that those who objectify others as “exclusively at fault.” He says that “bodies are beautiful, and yet they often cause us to think and act in sinful ways.” He says this, right after asserting that he thinks those who say “she was asking for it” are “utterly repulsive.”
I don’t know about anyone else but, it’s an extreme for me to think that I am not responsible when others commit the violence of dehumanization against me? My body is the “cause” of sin, not, you know, the desire of the person sinning to oppress and control me? I’m utterly repulsed as well.
Chin continues by reminding us, again, that he is NOT one of those hostile sexists that are so completely different from him and that totally exist and are the biggest influencers in modesty culture today. He doesn’t think women are “asking for it” when they’re objectified. He just thinks they’re partially at fault. It’s a big difference and if you don’t think so it just means you aren’t nuanced or something.
Toward the end, he switches things up. Suddenly, men aren’t the weak, helpless creatures they were in earlier paragraphs. Suddenly, they are the “strong” ones who need to protect women with their strength (do I even need to say what this is? I’ll give you a hint: B.S., which can stand for either benevolent sexism or bullshit. You choose). His recognition of his privilege as a cis man might be relieving if not accompanied with this quote: “Perhaps it is unfair that an extra burden should be placed upon men to guard their own hearts and resist temptation, but that is the responsibility of the strong and privileged.”
In other words, he’s all talk.
He still thinks it’s just a little unfair that men have to take responsibility for not committing the violence of dehumanization toward people. He, like other benevolent sexists, think of not-dehumanizing-women as a burden they choose to bear to prove their manly strength. They see it as a thing that they must do to protect the weaker vessel. They think women are just as much at fault for the dehumanizing violence that men commit against women and they think that offering to bear most of the responsibility is something honorable and not just WHAT YOU SHOULD DO BECAUSE IT IS ALL YOUR RESPONSIBILITY.
I’m going to try to talk about this more in a future post, but for now all I have to say is I do not give one single fuck whether or not your sexism is benevolent or hostile.
When it’s all said and done, and you’ve voiced your opinion that I’m somehow supposed to “take with a grain of salt,” I still end up feeling dirty and less-than-human. I still end up ashamed and afraid of my body. I still end up feeling guilty when men cross my boundaries.
I don’t care what “kind and graceful” recipe you used. The end result tastes like shit.