Some years ago, we at Vox Nova had a variety of posts on modesty as a Christian virtue, and also on the abuses of this virtue in support of patriarchal or even misogynist values. You can read a couple of my contributions here and here. Though I have not written about it in a while, I still pay attention to it (on Facebook and elsewhere) because I find it intrinsically interesting and as a way to monitor the Zeitgeist: “modesty” is often used as a proxy for broader concerns about gender roles in the Church and in society.
Towards this end I try to read posts from FemCatholic, though given the vagaries of social media algorithms, there a long periods where they do not appear in my feed. However, recently an interesting article from them popped up that I wanted to share: It’s Pool Season: A Swimsuit Designer’s Advice for Deciding What to Wear. The author frames the discussion in terms of intent and context, which is quite refreshing, given the tendency (which I have criticized) treat modesty as being a set of universal rules (mostly applying to women). One quote, but I encourage you all to read the whole thing:
Our intentions matter when we decide which swimsuit to wear. We can ask ourselves questions like:
What is my purpose in choosing to wear this swimsuit? Is it for function? Is it so I can look my best? So I can feel my best? So I can show up as my best self to those around me? Am I trying to look sexy for the men around me? Am I hoping others might feel jealous? Am I ashamed of my body? Am I being overly concerned and therefore wanting to cover up more than is necessary in this context?
Some questions that come to mind as I read this: how do we define context? Is it simply a specific time and place (going to the beach vs. going to mass) or does time and place depend on broader social and economic contexts (e.g., class position or racial and ethnic identity)? And, though this article is from a website specifically addressing women on women’s issues, I come back to a question I have asked before: why is modesty always a women’s issue? I am hard pressed to come up with real examples of men being criticized for being immodest and I think this is telling. Not sure where to go with this, but it is something I keep thinking about.