I’m going to take a break from the series, for today, because I feel that we need to sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and just chat about something. If you move in the same circles I do, you’ve probably heard about this post from Made in his Image. There’s a lot of good things being said about how destructive the modesty culture can be, so I’m not going to rehash a lot of that here. I wanted to shine some light on the biggest problem with this specific post.
I got sunburned on my ass a few weeks ago, when nothing else on me got sunburned at all. We were only at the beach for an hour, and I ended up having to spread aloe vera all over my butt for a week and sit down funny for a few days. Why did I only get sunburned on my bottom?
Because it’s the only part of me that’s never, ever, seen the light of day.
I grew up in Northwest Florida– the part of Florida known as the Emerald Coast. It is a stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful beach. We rarely ever went– only when family came to visit, usually, and those visits were sparse– because it was considered ungodly to go the beach. And if we went, I wore a t-shirt and culottes. My mother made swim-culotes out of a really light, swimsuit-type material.
Even in college, when I’d left a lot of those childhood beliefs behind, I couldn’t bring myself to wear a swimsuit to the beach. I bought an amazingly cute tankini– I still think it’s cute, even today– and it generously covered my badonk-adonk, but I still felt incredibly nervous wearing it. I ended up wearing cute-off shorts on top of it when I went to the beach with some friends, and faked being asleep when I overheard them making fun of me for that choice.
Yup. “Modesty” is a sacrifice. It’s a sacrifice I made for most of my life, and paid for my standards with humiliation and embarrassment.
But, when I went to the beach with my husband a few weeks ago, I wore a bikini for the first time. It wasn’t “skimpy,” not that it matters, and I was able to take off my cover-up without shame, without the sharp knife in my gut telling me that I was dressing as the “strange woman” from Proverbs. It was a victory for me– a small triumph over the shame and oppression I’d known for over half my life.
That’s the only thing the modesty culture does.
It hasn’t stopped a lot of men from ogling me– not even Christian men. I’ve gotten cat calls, jeers, shouts, obscene gestures, propositions, and whistles all while “modestly” dressed. I’m talking full-blown “modesty.” High-necked t-shirts, a-line and loose knee-length skirts. Sometimes I looked cute, sometimes I looked dumpy. It doesn’t matter. How I’ve been dressed has never made a difference whatsoever in how many men have treated me. I was raped while wearing a knee-length skirt and a long-sleeved, loose and flowing top that covered my collar bone. Modesty has never, in my experience, stopped a man from doing whatever he wanted to do with my body– whether it was physically manhandle it, goosing me or grabbing my vagina through my skirt in the middle of chapel, or simply objectify it.
Let me say it again: men who do not see women as human beings could not give a flying f*** how a woman is dressed. She’s a woman. She has boobs and a vagina, and that makes her public property in a world where I’ve been screamed at, cursed at, for refusing to even acknowledge a cat call from a car.
When I started dressing however I wanted, modesty be damned– when I started wearing shorts and tank tops, for example, none of that sort of behavior increased. It stayed exactly the same.
But, this article, like every other article I’ve read on modesty, emphasizes that it a woman’s obligation to help protect men from our bodies. It’s our duty to make sure that we make it possible for men to forget that we’re a woman– which is, frankly, impossible. I don’t care how loose your clothes are– if you have T&A, there’s no getting rid of it, there’s no hiding it.
So what happens?
We have articles where the author has to stubbornly insist that she’s not “insecure about her body,” and clarify that she is “independent in her swimwear choices.”
We have articles where the author compares women to an ooey-gooey chocolate cake.
And let’s look at that for a second. Rachel has this to say about her metaphor:
Now, let’s pretend that someone picked up that chocolate cake and followed us around all the time, 24/7. We can never get away from the chocolate, it’s always right there, tempting us and even smelling all ooey gooey and chocolate-y. Most of us, myself included, would find it easy to break down and eat the cake. And we would probably continue to break down and eat cake, because it would always be there. Our exercise goals would be long gone in no time.
I’m going to try to be fair here: Rachel was probably, in her head, only referencing masculine lust here. When she wrote out this dandy little metaphor, she was probably only thinking that “breaking down” didn’t mean anything besides a man thinking less-than-platonic thoughts about the woman in the bikini.
However, regardless of what I’m positive were the best of intentions, Rachel has just contributed to rape culture.
Because, in this metaphor where a woman is a chocolate cake, the woman has no choice. A woman, plain and simple, just is a chocolate cake, and the fact is that, as a woman, there’s nothing she can do to change that.* She doesn’t have a say in the matter. She’s a woman. She’s ooey-gooey and smells like heaven, and so she gets eaten. No one asks her if that would be ok. No one asks her if that’s what she wants.
Because she’s a cake.
She exists to be eaten.
*I would like to point out that gender and sexuality are a sliding scale– I’m not trying to exclude transgender people, just dealing with the essentialist and gender binary nature of the article.
*edit: I have changed some of my wording (9/6/13) based on reader response.