I am sad.
I live in Southeast Asia, and there’s a “massage parlor” a few blocks down the street. In fact, there are several. “$2.50” is what the sign reads. And then there are the KTVs (“karaoke bars”) with rows of plastic chairs holding property: young women in skimpy cocktail dresses waiting for clients. Several of them within a mile of my house. One’s called Dubai, one’s called Las Vegas, and one’s simply called J. I know the names because they’re on the main streets. They’re not hidden.
I see it everywhere: men trampling women.
And then I get on my computer and read about Ashley Madison and Josh Duggar, and my worlds collide. I grew up under the same teachings as Josh. Same home school group. Same emphasis on modesty and purity and playing the violin.
But my parents weren’t “all in.” I was much more into it than they were, actually. As a young teenager, I was upset because my dad wouldn’t sell his dental practice so we could move into the country to be more holy. I stopped listening to “rock music” and even left a Christian concert once out of my strong conviction. My parents stayed.
My parents still took us to the (agh!) public pool, but when I decided that was too dangerous for me, I recused myself from that den of iniquity.
So yes, I did grow up under the same teachings. Sort of. But because we had friends outside of the movement, and because my parents were very loving and “too compromising,” I was spared much of the devastation.
It’s from this vantage point that I’d like to speak about modesty culture.
A lot of people talk about modesty. A lot of people talk about purity. I never have. But I can’t take it any more; I must talk about it, and so I will. I will talk about the lessons I believe modesty culture teaches men. This is not about Josh Duggar specifically, although the current news cycle certainly has made me think a bit more deeply about this topic.
Also, I have daughters. And sons.
I have a bunch of younger sisters. And brothers.
I have a wife.
That makes this all very, very personal.
What modesty culture teaches men: Lesson 1 — Women Are Scary
All of them. All the time. Yes, you should “treat them like sisters,” but really, you should be terrified of them. They could “reduce your life to a loaf of bread.” It’s really best to domesticate them. We don’t want any wild and free women roaming the countryside, luring unsuspecting holy men.
Women are powerful, a force to be reckoned with, and if you’re not careful, they will ruin you. That’s why women need to dress modestly, cover their power.
So be cautious. Keep them at a distance, lest you be snared.
The result? Men who are scared to interact with half of the human population. Men who must look at the dirt when a woman walks by instead of looking her in the eye. That cannot be right. These men grow up so scared of women they never develop healthy relationships with any of them; they don’t actually get to know a girl as a co-equal member of the human race.
What modesty culture teaches men: Lesson 2 — Men have a responsibility to not look, but women have MORE responsibility to not be looked at.
I grew up learning of the guy’s responsibility to not look, and that’s great, but what I really heard A LOT about was the girl’s responsibility to not be looked at. Practically speaking, this is just really stupid. And it’s offensive, because it’s basically saying that guys can’t help themselves and we need women to save us from our own animalistic urges. “Please, ladies, put this blanket on.”
Seriously, men? Give it up and guard your own heart. Not.Her.Job. You cannot blame your lust on a woman. Ever. Period. If you walk down the street by her house late at night and “fall into temptation,” that’s on you, man. I don’t care what she was wearing or if she came after you buck naked. Man up and run away.
Furthermore, let’s assume for a second that EVERY.CHRISTIAN.WOMAN on the planet agrees to dress modestly (however you define it) in order to help you stay pure, what are you going to do about the rest of them? The ones who don’t know Jesus and don’t care about “protecting your heart”? The ones Jesus still calls you to love and serve?
Modesty culture shifts blame; I’d like to shift it back.
Because I can’t really imagine Jesus saying, “Don’t lust, but if she’s really hot and she’s not wearing much, then I totally get it. And really, if she’s pretty at all and is walking in front of you, it’s not really all your fault. She doesn’t follow me or care about you, but she should know better than to dress like that. I’ll assign her some of your guilt. Carry on.”
Women Are People Too
So much of modesty culture dehumanizes women. It reduces their complexity and unique personhood to their sexuality. In an effort to guard sexuality, it actually makes it ALL ABOUT SEXUALITY. In our strong reaction to the “sexualization of our culture,” we’ve done a pretty good job of turning women into sex objects. And our men have lost the ability to have healthy, close relationships with real women.
But women are people too. Image bearers. They have their own voices, their own relationships with the Father, their own hopes and dreams.
And actual prostitutes? Turns out, they’re people too. In fact, as he often does, Jesus comes along and ups the ante by HANGING OUT WITH THEM. Oh my! How could he do that and stay pure? Wasn’t he afraid his disciples would follow his example, hang out with “bad people,” and fall miserably into the abyss of sexual sin? I don’t think so.
In fact, I believe Jesus wasn’t afraid of the “bad people” because he saw their humanity. And he knew that their humanity desperately needed his divinity. To love people is to be with people. And people don’t always follow the rules or dress appropriately.
If we can’t figure out how to deal with that, we’re going to have a heck of a hard time sharing Jesus with folks who don’t know him and act like it.
And that just might be the saddest thing of all.