I don’t know, why do you tell your daughters to dress modestly?

I don’t know, why do you tell your daughters to dress modestly? July 26, 2013

Trigger Warning for Modesty Culture B.S. and Benevolent Sexism. Also, I used more swear words than usually because I just can’t even.

I don’t know who made this but I got it from @Quiara on the Twitters

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.

Click for source

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.




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  • When he says that lust as just a fact of human life, I wonder if that includes lusting after his sisters or his daughters or his mother. I would certainly hope not. And yet, that points directly to the problem. If I view you in my heart and soul as a sister, if I truly love you as a sister, there is no room left for lust. The whole idea of it is so disgusting that it doesn’t even enter into the edges and boundaries of our relationship. I don’t need any strength to fight off Eros … because I am not conflating it with Agape. Agape love will consume our hearts in a relationship if we would only allow that to happen.

  • This article did get me thinking, would I rather be a nice cold beer? Or a glass of Pepsi? So many options! Oh, to be a woman today!

  • I have trouble with his framing: “why I tell my daughters to dress modestly” would be fine if he left it there. But he seems to be using his daughters as the gateway through which he gets to espouse authority for how ALL women should behave.

    Also, it really bothers me when men have to imagine their “sisters, mothers, daughters” before seeing women as human beings.

    • Megan – Can you expand on your last paragraph a little? All my closest friends are female. I want to understand what bothers you. Some of my friends are like the kid sisters I always wish I had. Some are like daughters. Others I honestly relate to without gender — or maybe more accurately that I treat a friend’s gender much like I would their eye color. It’s an attribute, a trait. It is not a lens through which I filter them in any way.

      In the Kingdom there is no longer male nor female. I try to live that in a culture which appears to have little desire to head in that direction. Big issues in a short post. I pray you hear a whisper of what is in my heart.

      • Nebuladance

        It was her last paragraph that made me like her comment. Have you never seen those posts on Facebook, or in blog posts where a terrible situation experienced by a woman is described? I’ve seen many of these and they are good in that they call attention to unjust situations experienced by people simply because they are female. BUT many, many, many begin with or end with something along the lines of, “just think if this was your sister, mother, daughter! wouldn’t you be upset?” The trouble is, people should be upset by injustice because it is wrong to treat anyone in this way, not because they have to ‘imagine’ this was their own female relative. What’s worse is the problem that beside not being upset at a human being being mistreated, they can be even less concerned because it’s only a woman – UNTIL you remind them that their own relatives are women.

      • katiehippie

        You should be able to treat them as people without having to think about being related to them. That’s just saying they aren’t important unless you know them. They don’t have value unless connected to a man. Women should have value apart from their relationships.

      • Liz

        I can see your good intentions and I admire that, but I am a woman, and some of my experiences are unique to my gender. “Woman,” whether I like it or not, is a part of my identity. Please don’t erase that.

      • Lots of great perspectives. Liz’s comment help me realize that I don’t consider “man” as part of my identity. It’s more of an insignificant and minor attribute of who I imagine myself to be. Stereotypical “male” stuff (interest in sports, possessions, status, job, competition, talking more than listening, making statements rather than asking questions, …) do not hold my interest. If my name was “Jamie”, I would hope you couldn’t tell for sure whether I was male or female. My avatar is a Giant Swallowtail butterfly pausing briefly on my finger, after all. Tender. Gentle. Providing a resting spot for a symbol of rebirth, transformation, and grace.

        … and a symbol representing the path that way too many of my friends have had to travel to escape from verbal, spiritual, and physical abuse.

        OK. Now I’m crying. I have to stop. Thank you all for your responses.

        With all His Love,