So today in the parking lot at the grocery store, as I was crossing the parking lot from returning a cart, the van coming at me stopped to let me go past and, as I always do, I waved my thanks and headed straight on. But as I passed the open passenger’s side window of the van, a man’s voice called out “have a nice day!” and I glanced over to see him smiling appreciatively at me.
I was wearing this outfit, minus the cardigan, with flat shoes. Just a regular girl. Oh, and glasses.
And being the person that I am (aka, not rude, and not confrontational), I simply smiled, uttered thanks, and went on my way. But it reminded me of a post on Clear The Way about how female bloggers deal with leering, and progressed to me thinking about how we are treated based on how we are dressed, and the ability we have to influence that.
To me, the guy in the van was maybe slightly creepy, but polite. That’s the worst I’ve ever gotten ever so far as “leering” or anything like that goes, with one exception on a construction site when I was 16 and the dude was high and whistling at me. But other than that? The worst or most invasive comments I’ve ever gotten have been like that — have a nice day, you look nice, your dress is nice, etc. Nothing rude or sexual or pushing in on my personal space.
But I know many women who have gotten worse. Women who are not overtly showy in the way they dress, women who aren’t what you would consider promiscuous or flirtatious. Normal, jeans-and-tee wearing, everyday girls, who get catcalled and eyeballed and groped and completely violated against their will. And then they are told “well, you shouldn’t have been wearing that shirt. Well, your skirt’s too short. Well, you shouldn’t have smiled that way.”
And I want to take a stand.
I want to take a stand for women. I want to take a stand for “no means no.” I want to take a stand for good men. I want to take a stand for modesty. I want to take a stand for misunderstood concepts, freedom of choice, unjustly labeled people, and sadly misused words.
When I was growing up, I was taught to be modest. From the time I was small, in very subtle ways, my mom made sure I knew that as a girl, my body was special. I wasn’t allowed to run around shirtless like my brothers, even as a toddler; I wasn’t allowed to wear ruffly little girl bikinis, or short little girl skirts, or low cut tops, and as I grew… I took these things for granted. I, as a girl, as a teenager, as a young lady, as a woman… what I had was to be protected. What I had was beautiful. It was meant for someone special. It should be kept for that one special person, because my body was a precious, lovely, wonderful thing. And perhaps my parents never said that so much in words, but I grew up knowing that as a woman, I was powerful. And the way I dressed was important.
And I always took it for granted that every woman who grew up with Christian parents, as I did, must have grown up with the same view of modesty. (Edit: I don’t mean by this that I thought people who were not Christians could not also hold the same values, but much like you would assume people who took the same class learned the same thing, I assumed that people with my faith learned about modesty the same way I did.) Modesty was a wonderful thing. Why we dressed the way we did was for a good reason.
But I was heartbroken to learn that so many girls are taught horrible things about modesty by churches. They were taught modesty out of shame. A girl has to cover up because she could cause a boy to think bad thoughts about her. A girl has to cover up because she should be ashamed of her body and what it can do. A girl has to cover up because she’s in charge of men’s thoughts, and if she dresses indecently she will cause them to sin. Girls are being taught that they are the sole person in charge of what a man thinks about their body. That it’s their fault if a man lusts after them. That it’s their duty to make sure men don’t stumble.
Oh, my heart. These girls grow up ashamed, afraid, sad, rebellious, damaged, hurt, and utterly, utterly weighed down by the modesty they are forced to uphold. They grow up with the world on their shoulders. My heart breaks for them.
You see… modesty is not for the man. But then again, it is for the man.
As a woman, I very strongly believe three things:
1. I cannot change the way a man thinks about me, no matter what is on my body. If he is going to lust after me, there is no coverup covered-up enough to deter his thoughts. He is in charge of his thoughts. He is in charge of the respect he gives me. He is in charge of his thoughts, his lust, his sin. His mind, in his body, is something I have no control over.
2. There are good men in the world. Men get thrown into the dirt more often than they should, sadly, and I believe in the goodness of men. I have a good husband. I have good brothers. I have good brothers-in-law, good fathers (father in law…), good guy friends. I know men are not all as lustful and uncontrolled and piggish as most of the world paints them, jokes about, snarks about.
3. Conversely to the first point, it would seem, as a woman, I believe I have the power to influence a man. I have the power to influence what he thinks of me, how he sees me, how he treats me, how he speaks to me. What I wear can directly affect what he does. My body, a woman’s body, was created to be the most beautiful thing to a man’s eye, and the way I dress it can either positively or negatively affect how I will be treated. I have the power.
And with that power in mind, I choose modesty. Not to prevent men from thinking about my body, no. I can influence that with what I wear, but I cannot control it. No, I choose modesty because modesty is my power. Modesty is a reflection of my faith. It is to honor God, and to honor my husband. Modesty is a silent declaration that I am taken, that my body is for the pleasure of one man and one man only, that I am to be respected, that I respect myself.
I choose modesty because it is my way of saying that I value what I have. That it is privileged information what lies beneath, that not everyone gets access every time I walk down the street. I dress modestly not because I am ashamed of how someone might think of my body, nor afraid that I might cause someone to sin because of my body, or because I feel I might be a stumbling block for a man who sees my body; I choose to dress modestly because I know that I am beautiful, and I am protecting that beauty to be cherished and admired by the man I chose to share it with.
And I’m not trying to convince you that you should dress modestly. You can wear whatever you want to wear; your body is your own. Your life is your own. I would love to convince you to agree with my faith and my choices, but your life isn’t my business.
But I am trying to tell the girl who grew up in a church told that she’s responsible for another man’s thoughts: you are not responsible for any man’s sins. I am trying to tell you, the boy who was brought up thinking girls should dress modestly for men: you are in charge of your thoughts and actions. I am trying to tell you, the person who doesn’t understand why I won’t flash cleavage or wear mini skirts: I choose to take charge of my body this way because I know it is beautiful.
Shirt and skirt, Thrifted | Cardigan and heels, Target
I, as a woman, have power in what I wear. I have power in my choice to be modest. You, as a man, have power in controlling your thoughts. You have power in treating a woman with respect. You, as a person, have power in choosing to say yes or to say no. You have power in what you wear and how you act.
So, I choose modesty because I was taught that I am beautiful, and that my choices will affect me positively or negatively, and because they will affect others positively or negatively. I will take charge of what others think of me, in so much as I can, by what I put on my body.* Because I have the power to do so.
And I’m only wearing this cardigan because I thought the outfit looked better with it.
(obviously, I had a different post entirely in mind when I was taking these pictures — I’m sort of channeling a little bit of a Mary Margaret from Once Upon A Time vibe with the cardigan and retro shoes and flowery skirt, and I was totally going to talk about Snow White. But uh… changed my mind!)
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*I feel like I should really clarify: just because a girl is dressed provocatively does not mean in any way that she was “asking for it.” I am not in any way saying that if a girl dresses in a low cut top or a short skirt, it’s her fault that a man takes advantage of her sexually. No means no means no means no. Always. No matter what.