The radical notion that women are people: part three of a million parts

When I was in Young Women, we had an annual activity which I absolutely despised, which was the box social. Each young woman would make a dinner for two and put it in a box and decorate the box, and then all the young men would bid on the different box and the highest bidder would get to eat the dinner in the box with the young woman who had prepared it. (This was all done with fake money so no one would be reminded of anything unsavory, like prostitution. Not that a box social is anything like prostitution, because it isn’t. I’m just saying, everything was on the up and up.) I refused to participate in this activity for the following reasons (in order of importance):

1. I was no fun.

2. I thought it was unfair that the young women always had to cook for the young men. Yes, the young men were in charge of bringing dessert, but big whoop-de-do. Which do you think is easier to prepare, a portable and palatable dinner or a portable and palatable dessert? I’ll give you a hint: Oreos come in a bag.

3. The whole business of guys bidding on dinner dates was just vaguely creepy to me. Yes, I knew it was just dinner–I didn’t have any idea that they were going to expect something more from me just because they paid (fake) money for me; get your minds out of the gutter–but there was still the basic premise of trying to make yourself attractive (by box proxy) so men could bid on you (by box proxy) and win dinner with you (actually you, not the proxy…although you would consume the contents of the proxy, so…I don’t know, whatever). That doesn’t set off anyone else’s Ew-o-Meter? I guess it was just me.

I’ve described this activity to my husband, who thought it sounded “sweet” and, needless to say, harmless. I think it was probably sweet and harmless, provided you didn’t mind making dinner for some random guy not of your choice and wouldn’t get your feelings hurt if you went for less (fake) money than other girls. I don’t know. I’m not a good judge of things that are fun. I think most of the youth enjoyed it. It was one of those old-fashioned activities that harkened back to more innocent times. (See also: “slave” auctions)

If I were a young woman today, the activity I would be most likely to boycott is the Modesty Fashion Show. For those of you unfamiliar, well, it’s sort of self-explanatory, but this Deseret News article from a few months ago will give you the flavor. The purpose is to demonstrate that one can be both fashionable and modest and show off your daughter-of-God-ness. It’s a fairly common activity for young women and Activity Day girls, and I think most girls enjoy it. I, however, would not have enjoyed it, for the following reasons:

1. I’m no fun.

2. I don’t like people looking at me.

3. The whole business of strutting up and down a catwalk specifically to show off how much of your body is covered and also how attractive you are is just vaguely creepy to me. It just doesn’t seem very…what’s the word? oh, yeah–modest.

I’ve considered writing tirades against Modesty Fashions Shows before, but I never have because I feel like the modesty topic is so overdone in the Bloggernacle and we just keep saying the same crap over and over again, and to what avail? Who isn’t tired of this conversation? Plus, there’s the matter of me not being any fun, so what would I know about wholesome recreational activities? But time goes by, and modesty keeps coming up again and again and again, and I’ve gone from being bored to being angry to feeling defeated and then I tried to feel bored again but that wasn’t working–and then I went to a youth fireside with my daughter last week and I got angry again, and the anger just refuses to go away, so here I am.

The fireside was a “special presentation” on practical and spiritual strategies against pornography. Actually, there were two presentations, one for the young women and a separate one for the young men. Parents were invited. I didn’t think my 14-year-old daughter would want to go because sexual topics tend to make her queasy and church talks about sexual topics tend to offend her feminist sensibilities. I was not optimistic about the content of these presentations when I saw that the young women’s session was called “Warriors of Virtue” and the young men’s session was called “Warriors for Christ.” It’s rarely a good sign when warring for virtue and warring for Christ are gender-segregated occupations. But I try not to judge a book by its title, and to my surprise, my daughter actually wanted to attend, so against my better judgment, we went, and I tried to keep an open mind.

It started out very EFY, all “we don’t usually think of women as warriors, but you must be a warrior because we’re in a war and tonight we’re going to teach you how to be warriors–true warriors…for virtue!” (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.) Kind of cheesy, but basically harmless. Then it went into an explanation of what happens in one’s brain when one is exposed to material that stimulates the pleasure center in your brain. I’m not a neurologist or anything, and I don’t think these people claimed to be either, so don’t nitpick my science because that’s not the point; the point is that your pleasure center gets stimulated and your ability to think rationally and morally is severely compromised, something about the frontal lobe, blah blah. Which was fine. Then the very next thing they talked about was what happens to a young man’s brain when you show up for a date in a dress with spaghetti straps. There were some charts and graphs, but the upshot is that you’ve basically gift-wrapped the boy for Satan, and that’s not nice. These are the nice guys, the ones you want to spend time with–don’t make them run away from you just so they can keep their thoughts properly garnished.

At this point my daughter turned to me and said, “Can we go now? I’m not really learning anything here.” This was impressive because my daughter’s usual response to being fed a load of crap is to get up and yell, “This is a load of crap!” before fleeing the room. So the good news is that my daughter is maturing. The bad news is that we didn’t learn any practical and spiritual strategies against pornography because once again a discussion of human sexuality geared toward young women was co-opted by concerns about keeping our young men safe from temptation.

The other bad news is that I, a mild-mannered Mormon housewife who actually shares the positively Neanderthal view that men really are much more susceptible to visual stimulation than are women, am so effing sick of hearing about modesty and the female responsibility to keep our young men from turning into sex-crazed perverts that I’m about to throw up all over my cap sleeves.

Of course I can’t judge the quality of the whole presentation based on the relatively small portion that I saw of it, but I do know one thing: When you’re talking to young women about sexuality, you really need to make it more about them and less about the young men. Don’t make your first item of business something that is all about what women can do to keep men’s brains under control. Men have sex-obsessed brains. We get it. But we women have our own brain problems. Can we talk about those instead, for once? Why does it always have to be about the young men?

Obviously, there are many ways women can serve in the church, despite the fact that they can’t serve in priesthood roles. Not having the priesthood doesn’t prevent them from serving others or from serving God. However, the absence of an institutional role for women has not prevented us from imagining that women have a gender-specific role (albeit not an “official” one). Instead of serving in a priesthood capacity, we serve as sexual gatekeepers. We wage war on behalf of virtue so men can do the heavy-lifting for Jesus.

Well, it happens that sexual gatekeeping is kind of important. I get that. But when we imagine the modesty fashion show as a spiritual experience, when the practical strategy against pornography is to avoid provoking pornographic thoughts in men, we are just putting a churchy spin on the same message girls get from the media: Your primary power is in your sexuality. You wield it primarily by withholding sex from men. Yes, that’s a crude way of putting it. Not at all uplifting. But it’s honest.

In theory, we talk to our young women about a lot of things in church—prayer, scriptures, service, repentance, forgiveness, etc. But what do I remember from Young Women? The importance of getting married (in the temple, or you may as well not do it at all!) and having children. What does my teenage daughter perceive as the church’s primary message to her? Get married in the temple and have children. Why? I think there are two reasons: 1. We manage to repeat those messages with tremendous frequency, even when we ostensibly have a different agenda. 2. Being a mother is the only female-specific role that women have.

It may be that, in general, men “need” structured roles more than women “need” them, hence the all-male priesthood. But Mormonism is heavily invested in gender differences, so it should be no surprise that as a people we expect that a male role should be paired with a corresponding female role. Unfortunately, we don’t have revelation on the subject, so we cobble something out of the role nature gave us: to gestate and care for the resulting dependent humans. (As purposes in life go, motherhood is pretty good, but it’s not a corollary to priesthood. See this post by me because I’m not going to talk about it here anymore. And don’t you dare talk about it for me.) So young men prepare for a lifetime of priesthood service, and young women prepare to gestate in the appropriate time and place by not tempting men to impregnate them prematurely. Well, that sounds so passive, doesn’t it? Can’t our girls serve more actively? Hence, the modesty fashion show. Hence, Warriors of Virtue, aka Fighting the Pornographic Culture with Sleeves.

But this is depressing.

As I’m always telling my daughter when she gets upset about lessons on marriage and motherhood, marriage and motherhood are important parts of most adult women’s lives. Most women want to get married and/or have children. Not because it’s so righteous, but because that’s what people do. It’s normal. So it would actually be kind of lame if we never talked about marriage and motherhood at church. I told this to her the other day, and she said, “Yeah, but YOU said that the things that prepare you to be a good wife and mother are the same things that prepare you to be a good person.” (Dangit, why does she pick such inconvenient times to recall my wise teachings with precision?) And this is the problem with our church culture’s approach to young women–not that we talk too much about marriage and family but that we don’t talk enough about women as people, who exist as individuals independent of marriage and family, who are so real that they even have sexual feelings and sexual temptations independent of how boys and men see them. We are not just pretty boxes for righteous men to bid on. Like Soylent Green, we are people. PEO-PLE!

I don’t expect the church to ditch modesty as a value. I don’t even want that. I like modesty. I just want to ditch modesty as a fetish because a) it’s creepy and b) it dehumanizes us. The next time you feel impressed to talk to girls about the importance of dressing modestly, count to 100 and say a prayer. Ask God what nourishment these young ladies need for their souls. And then talk about that instead. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did. Well, I’ll be glad. And so will they.

Comments

  1. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    We had a similar boxed lunch activity back in my YSA days, but with a Jonny Lingo theme. We had a potluck dinner, then the women ran a bunch of silly games where the men had to compete (like eating a donut off a string) in order to win cows. The earned cows were then used to bid for the boxed desserts. I don’t think the desserts were identified with the cooks even, so your bidding and dessert partner was based upon who the box was designed. The activity was designed to be cheesy, but I enjoyed getting to know the sister that I shared the dessert with. It was dreamed up by a member of the bishopric who was trying to boot the men into some direction of pairing off in the hopes that continued pairing off would lead to formation of relationships and ultimately temple marriages.

  2. Struwelpeter says:

    Excluding women from the “Warriors for Christ” category doesn’t strike me as particularly wise, especially where the mission of the church is to bring souls to Christ.

  3. “Modest” is one of the most misused words in Mormonism. It’s right up there with “Reverent” (assumed to mean silent, instead of respectful) and “Appropriate” (assumed to mean non-offensive instead of befitting of a given situation). When we lose sight of the true meanings of these words, or seek to redefine them for the purposes of our culture, I believe we risk going completely off the rails. Misunderstood terms can turn a perfectly good concept or ideal into a very damaging form of judgmentalism very quickly.

  4. Ultimately, my fear is that our focus on the “modesty” of the young women becomes a deflection of responsibility and self-control for our young men. The young men have an equal responsibility to not … gawk. They need to be taught the skills to “bounce” their eyes away from a ‘questionable scene’ (look momentarily, quickly process that this is not a scene they want to internalize, then “move along” mentally to another thought process). No surprised look, no wide eyes, nothing beyond a passing glance. It’s a simple but important skill that, if done correctly, is hardly noticed by anyone else. And no one is better suited to teach this skill than a father or respected father-figure.

    Sometimes it seems however our words unknowingly shift the responsibility entirely to the young women’s choice of dress (“well it’s no wonder the boys stare …”). Seriously?

  5. I’m sad to report that the boxed dinner activity is alive and well in my niece’s ward.

    Jim–I would like to add “Virtue” to your spot-on list of misused words in Mormonism. I would love to ditch the virtue=chastity notion, which was apparently rampant in the “Warriors of Virtue” session. I get that chastity is important, but Virtue can be rooted in so much more.

    Rebecca–I loved this post in so many ways. My favorite line: “The other bad news is that I, a mild-mannered Mormon housewife who actually shares the positively Neanderthal view that men really are much more susceptible to visual stimulation than are women, am so effing sick of hearing about modesty and the female responsibility to keep our young men from turning into sex-crazed perverts that I’m about to throw up all over my cap sleeves.” Nice work!!

  6. Thank you Jim Manning #4, you summed up the problem perfectly. I raised four boys and ultimately the responsibility for their thoughts was theirs and no one else’s. My daughter would tell you the same thing and wears what she wants.

  7. This post is fantastic and all the moral teachings aside, with which I disagree, my only problem with it was this: “It may be that, in general, men “need” structured roles more than women “need” them, hence the all-male priesthood.” What the heck happened here? It MAY be the case just as much as it MAY be the case that men like to eat apples more than women do. What reason do we have to believe either and why mention such speculative ideas? Studies into gender differences are consistently reporting that men and women are far more similar than we thought, in math, in sexuality, in many things. Yes, there are brain and physiological differences but not enough to extrapolate that men need more structure than women do.

  8. Amen and amen. Thanks, Rebecca J.

  9. Rebecca. I <3 you, and this post. Very nicely ranted.

  10. Rebecca, I love these. I really hope there are three million of them. (And I wish there didn’t need to be.)

  11. A very enjoyable read. Certainly I agree that overemphasis on modesty, and on women’s roles as mothers and sexual gatekeepers can be annoying and detrimental to young women. Although I think the amount this is emphasized must surely vary from ward to ward — I don’t remember it being emphasized all that much when I was a young woman — and as a feisty feminist-leaning investigator I was hyper-focused on looking for such things. What I do remember was much more about testimony, and scripture reading, and our relationship to Christ, and so on.

    I also get the idea that we want to make sure we see women at church as people, but it seems to me that young women get plenty of that message from the world. “You are special!” “You are an individual!” “You can do anything you want and have it all!” People of both sexes are highly individualistic these days, and see themselves as very special people. And what I see in some non-Mormon women I meet is a lack of interest in getting married or having kids. They want to, but it’s not a big priority, and not as important as following their own career and life goals. They’re very independent. Nothing wrong with those things in balance, but that balance seems lacking in some. I’ve met more non-Mormon guys who are eager for marriage and kids, than women, actually. So while I used to be very frustrated by what I saw as the sexist emphasis on marriage and motherhood for women, I’ve come around to seeing that, in moderation, it can serve as a useful balance to the world. Which is to say, looking at it just in a Mormon sphere, it seems too cloying and heavy, but seeing it as one force butting up against a countervailing message from the world, which collide and (hopefully) balance out into a happy medium, it makes more sense.

  12. You poor souls who allow feminism to govern your every sensibility. Let go and make room for a broader esthetic. You’ll enjoy life a lot more.

  13. Meldrum the Less says:

    About 10 years ago our YW didn’t just auction off box lunches.They intended to auction off the girls for dates to boys from another ward to pay for girl’s camp. My wife got wind of this nonsense about 15 minutes before it started and went over there all fired up and put a stop to it. She wrote a check for $1000 for everyone to go to camp and we really don’t have money like that to throw around. And my daughter didn’t even go to camp in the end. Fun times.

    The compromise was for the mothers to make the boys give a 3 minute description of themselves in front of everyone and then the mothers met privately and paired the girls off with the boys as they collectively saw fit. My daughter got set up with the high achieving son of a millionaire. Sort of a 16 year old version of Mitt Romney. Prostitution to arranged marriages? Pretty good progress.

    How about an exercise to help boys practice “bouncing” eyes away from immodesty? Have the girls strip down to nothing and parade around in front of the boys. Then the boys can practice not looking at them! Then switch. See who “wins.” Makes about as much sense in the opposite direction as some of the other idiocy floating around.

    I ain’t no neurologists neither but I have this theory. Since sex is such a preoccupation of the human brain some people turn off their entire brain to keep their sexual impulses under control. Some people who plan cheesy church activities.

  14. When I was in YW about 20 years ago we had a boxed dinner activity, although I think the boys-to-girls was assigned by drawing a number from a hat. I thought it was a silly activity, but my mom made me go to activities regardless of how silly I thought them to be. My boxed dinner? A Domino’s pizza. It was dinner. It was a box. I fulfilled the parameters.

  15. I love this: “we women have our own brain problems. Can we talk about those instead, for once? Why does it always have to be about the young men?”

    It is my observation (and experience as a former young woman) that young women DO have sexual/relationship tendencies that can be problematic. Teenage girls tremendously want to be desired by boys/men. Just as problems can result because of how much boys desire girls if their desire is not controlled, similar headaches/heartaches can result from not recognizing and managing the intensity with which girls desire to be desired by boys. [I know, of course, that both genders desire AND desire to be desired, but at this age--speaking broadly--there does seem to be a difference. Biological facts (e.g., age of peak sex drives, etc.) backs this up. And there is the old truism, "Boys use love to get sex. Girls use sex to get love."]

    I feel like a lot of damage can result when we don’t recognize and consider the implications of girl’s own issues. We need to talk about how sex and relationships feel for girls, not just for boys.

  16. “. . . I’m about to throw up all over my cap sleeves.” Best line in a very long time. Nice.

  17. Thank you J and Kate, I appreciate what you said. It has been a long time since I attended any of these kinds of activities. Once when I did I was in college and we spent our money on fried chicken and the stuff to go with it. It was silly and fun because everyone thought we could cook. I understand that the materials provided for the YW are very old and the people who use them must do a lot of thinking and creating in order to make things work well.

    The post was a pleasant read.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    Great stuff, as always. I love your posts, and I also love your daughter’s feminist sensibilities, even (especially?) when she screams in church.

    I don’t recall any activities quite like this in my Mormon youth. I agree with your sense that they are at least faintly creepy.

    And the soylent green line was FTW.

  19. Amen to #15! And wouldn’t it be nice if, for once, the lessons on Modesty and Chastity went the other direction? Boys being instructed on how not to damage girls emotionally? It seems like a fair counterbalance to how often girls have lessons on How To Keep Men Happy And Righteous.

    I also have long felt the emphasis in the church is still far too heavy on how a girl looks–you’re still supposed to be really hot, but with cap sleeves.

    I also agree that the pro-motherhood message is there to counterbalance the strong anti-motherhood message in the world. And sometimes I feel like–and I am already ducking as I say this–motherhood really isn’t appreciated in the church as much as we say.

    For all that there may be pressure to become mothers, sometimes it feels like just lip service. Plenty of work is dumped on moms regardless of whether they have time or energy or desire for it. I have been told more than once that if I couldn’t handle a church calling along with kids, then I needed to stop having kids, OR someone saying the stress of church callings contributed to a desire to not have more children. But that’s an OT rant for another time/place.

  20. Natasha (7) – I said “it may be, blah blah,” because that’s a common argument for male-only priesthood, and I wanted to acknowledge it before I went on to say that it doesn’t matter. Not for the purposes of my argument here, anyway.

    Julie (15) – Thank you for making that point.

  21. In addition to expressing appreciation for this post, I wanted to say that I love your daughter and that she is fortunate that you are her mother.

    Also, box dinner auctions are abominable.

  22. So discouraging. I’m glad my kids are involved in activities in the community that keep them from regular attendance in YM/YW. They are developing skills and talents with energetic peers of all stripes and led by adults with passion for the activities. And no one, ever, talks about modesty, dress codes or pornography. They are treated like the intelligent, multi-faceted people they are. If you don’t want kids focused solely on their sexual selves, make sure they have something to DO that is equally fascinating. Finding those things takes effort.

  23. Bless your little heart, Jack (#12).

  24. Elle, FTW!

  25. And Ruth in #22 makes pretty good sense too.

  26. As the father of a primary aged daughter, I see that offending YW leaders is going to be a significant part of my future. This was a very nice post, but I did find it curious you called the lack of revelation “unfortunate.” If we do believe God to be all-wise and all-loving, how could we view his decision to not tell us something as unfortunate? But that momentary cognitive dissonance was more than made up for by the cap sleeves reference and the screenshot from the Simpsons. It’s said in other ways, but I want to add my voice that many of the young (and otherwise) men in the Church find the cultural approach to sex maladapted. I once attended a single’s ward where for several months EQ consisted of two lessons offered on alternate weeks: 1) Don’t have sex before you’re married or you’ll go to hell. 2) Get married quickly so you can have sex without going to hell. That’s also about the time I discovered a renewed sense of joy in watching Sunday afternoon football.

  27. I went to the beach with 3 of my teenage grandsons, may wife and daughter (the boys mother) . It being school holidays there were plenty of young people on the beach. Most of the girls in bikinis, and their mothers too. As the boys go to the beach regularly they were not all that bothered. They have not been bought up in the church so don’t know they are incapable of controlling their sexual urges.

    Modesty is not a true principle it is conservative culture and has no positive effects, and is nothing to do with the Gospel. It does not reduce, for example, the rate of teenage pregnancy, which is 5 times higher in Utah than enlightened countries.!

    Can anyone point out a benifit?

  28. Geoff (27) – Yes, I can point out several benefits to modesty, but as Jim (3) points out, modesty is so much more than cap sleeves and knee-length shorts. Modesty is about humility, and also about charity (in that it “seeketh not her own” and “is not puffed up”). It’s about seeking to glorify God rather than to draw attention to oneself. The way a person dresses may be an expression of modesty, but modesty is more than just a dress code. The benefits of modesty – in its truest form – include a closer relationship with God, greater compassion for other people, and sense of self-confidence that is rooted in more than just the perceptions of other people.

    I believe that modesty is hugely important, and it makes me sorry to see it trivialized and reduced to a set of dress standards to attract “Worthy Young Men” while keeping them from the precipice of sin that they are apparently constantly teetering on the edge of. I wish we could teach our young women and our young men that modesty is not about their relationships with their peers, but about their relationship with God.

  29. Also in response to Geoff (27), but on a separate topic – The teen birth rate in Utah is actually somewhat lower than in the United States as a whole (based on this report from the Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db46.pdf). Since the overall rate in the United States is so much higher than in many other countries (not really sure how you’re defining ‘enlightened’ – the US rate is slightly lower than Bulgaria’s, but much higher than Germany’s), I don’t think the comparison between Utah and ‘enlightened countries’ really says much about the possible impacts of conservative dress standards. In Qatar, cultural expectations about women’s dress are even more strict than in Utah, the teen birth rate is much lower than in any state in the US.

  30. I enjoyed this post–particularly the last few paragraphs.

    Like most, I agree strongly that a boy/man is equally responsible for engaging in extramarital sexual relations as a girl. Still, the gatekeeper concept is strongly supported by social science. Cohen and Shotland (1996) found the correlation between when a man wants to have sex and when the couple does: r=0.19. Correlation for women, r=0.88. The overwhelming conclusion: women largely decide when sex will occur. It is a fact (as much as there are facts in the social sciences).

    But this is merely consistent with the very well supported notion of sex as a female resource (see fascinating article by Baumeister & Vohs, 2004) which essential sets up a broader market phenomenon. This phenomenon appears to be brought about by three factors: 1) sex implies much greater long term involvement for the woman 2) men desire sex more than women in general–men score, on average, higher on every single metric conceivable associated with sex drive (Baumeister, Catanese, & Vohs, 2001). 3) women have historically had unequal access to resources. i.e., repression of women in society. These factors combine to create a situation where women exchange sexual favors for resources, and market forces dictate the going rate.

    In the end, although some facts of nature are just that, we are collectively responsible for how we treat sex and our attitudes influence those around us.
    I would suggest that girls don’t like the idea of sex as a female resource. Girls are PEOPLE, and using sacred gifts to obtain resources or the attention of boys is demoralizing (depression in sexually active teens, for instance, is well documented).

    So, what is to be done? The antidote, I think, comes from applying gospel principles directly to the 3 causes of the phenomenon:
    1. Each person is responsible to reaffirm the sacred and committal nature of sexual relationships–sex *should* be for marriage, and we should expect boys and girls to be committed to a long term relationship before engaging. If a man expects to be in a relationship for his entire life before he has sex; and he is committed to providing and nurturing his offspring; the “cost” of sex is somewhat more balanced (still not the same, of course).
    2. Men are responsible to stop treating women as sexual objects and to treat them fundamentally as humans, regardless of how women treat themselves (e.g., stop looking at porn, which dramatically increases men’s objectification of women, well documented by Zillman and Bryant) Women are responsible to treat themselves as humans. i.e., they should not treat themselves as sexual objects (people who are also sexual beings within a committed marriage, fine; sexual objects, no).
    Modesty, like it or not, is indeed focused on girls/women. This stems from the well-supported notion of sex as a female resource, as discussed above. However, women and men share equally in the responsibility to encourage dress that emphasizes personhood rather than sexuality.
    3. Continue working to ensure that women have similar access to resources as men.

  31. The question is, how to make this kind of discourse more prevalent in LDS thought? As cathartic as blogging is, BCC and FmH are probably a way off from entering the LDS mainstream… yet I feel there are people who would be receptive to a change in emphasis on things like modesty; maybe not the staunch FEMINISM=WOMEN COMPLAINING RAWR or ONLY PROPHET MAKE CHANGE NOT YOU crowds, but there has to be more moderate-to-conservative-ish Mormons who don’t necessarily love how things are but don’t feel the urge to speak out or lack the vocabulary to voice their concerns. As nice as it would be for such changes to come from the bottom-up we’re so dang hierarchical as a church that a few General Conference talks would go a long way. Who knows if that’ll ever happen?

  32. I adored this post- to the point I read it out loud to my husband who chuckled all the while. I particularly loved the point about modesty being about NOT flaunting your stuff- covered or no.

  33. So many good points, Rebecca, and so well-said. I feel the same about how much modesty comes up in the Bloggernacle, but until the problem is fixed, we just need to keep talking about it. Thanks for a great addition to a much-needed conversation.

  34. Hear, heart, Rebecca! If anything this is not worded nearly strong enough. And it does come from the very top of the hierarchy. In other words, we desperately need women in the leadership of the church to act as a modulator for this kind of stuff.

    Johnny Lingo is prostitution. Is there anyone who doesn’t understand that? Grooming young women to be purchased by their husbands for higher prices is prostitution. Very similar to slave auctions, as you mention. We must stop teaching young women these toxic messages.

  35. Sharee Hughes says:

    I watched “Wheel of Fortune” last night. Vanna White was wearing a gown that was either strapless or with spaghetti straps (don’t remember which–it’s pretty much the same thing, anyway). Vanna White is an attractive woman–girl next door attractive. She doesn’t try to look sexy. So she doesn’t, even in a strapless gown. It’s all in attitude, folks. Now maybe I don’t think Vanna looks sexy because I’m a woman and other women don’t turn me on, but I think I can recognize when a woman is trying to turn men on and when she s just trying to look pretty. It’s all attitude and it’s time or leaders learned that and maybe talked about attitude instead of about covering up. I agree that modesty is about not flaunting your stuff–covered or no. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I have seen plenty of girls covered neck to floor who looked more slutty than Vanna in her strapless gown.

  36. Great post. Made me think about this post I read yesterday: http://www.beautyredefined.net/modest-is-hottest-the-revealing-truth/ The Beauty Redefined blog isn’t LDS-specific, but I believe the authors are LDS. Their discussion really is on point–our church “modesty” ethic perpetuates the message of female objectification so prevalent in our wider western culture.

  37. gatoraidemomma says:

    I wish we had a report of what was covered or uncovered in the girls sessions after you left. Also, I wish you had been a fly on the wall to report what the Warriors for Christ were learning on the subject.

  38. “However, the absence of an institutional role for women has not prevented us from imagining that women have a gender-specific role (albeit not an “official” one). Instead of serving in a priesthood capacity, we serve as sexual gatekeepers. We wage war on behalf of virtue so men can do the heavy-lifting for Jesus.” Ha ha and amen!

    I remember a boxed dinner in the musical ‘Oklahoma’ with Jud outbidding everyone and then Curly selling everything he has to outbid him and be with Laurey. Later Jud tries a 1950s version of sexual assault and Laurey cries out for safety. With this as a precedent, how exactly do the YW leaders expect these evenings to end?

    A favorite speech of mine was by Elder Holland where he reminded men they were in charge of their own virtue and not the YW they are with. I loved it but can’t recall the actual talk. Anyone?

    As always, Rebecca J, fascinating post!

  39. This may not be as much the case now,but there was a time when teenage boys would tune in to Wheel of Fortune, just to see what Vanna was wearing.

  40. alice herzog says:

    When I was a teenager in Mutual there was an annual meeting on chastity for the young women. A gardenia was passed around and handled by all women and girls present and by the time it came full circle it was brown and wilted. You get the point. Nothing was ever mentioned about repentance. I remember years later thinking, “that was a lie”.

  41. Hahahahaha! “Like Soylent Green…” Heh.

  42. Rebecca, loved every word. Have been serving in YW for two years and have grown so terribly weary of this topic. You hit every salient point. Thank you!

  43. While Jack’s point may not apply to everybody, I think it’s still valid.

  44. Just Thinking says:

    I think a problem (at least for me) w/ sexual gatekeeping, is it tells young women that they do not / cannot have sexual feelings/drive. For example, in college I dated quality LDS guys–responsible, considerate, smart. But not once, my dh included when we were dating, were those young men the ones to put the kibosh on a makeout session. It was always me to draw the line. And this is even after having explicitly talked about where that line was. Always me.

    At the time I remember it feeling like my responsibility, and thinking, “Oh, well, boys just have a stronger sex drive” etc. I am sure much of my thinking was cultivated by the warped messages I got in YW.

    I wish someone had told me more explicitly that YES! you, YW, have a sex drive and that’s okay, in fact, it’s fantastic! And you are only responsible for your own.

  45. Thanks for the rant! I’m an angry thinker in general and wish I did not portray the “unenlightened” lemming that Jack #12 has exposed in me. If only I could partake of the bliss that he offers, by merely choosing it. By genetic design, I’m not wired as a happy person. Ironically, angry, articulate rants make me happy. :)

  46. Rob Perkins says:

    Around here the Relief Society has had a “service auction” with a similar structure to this box social, and we’ve also had the modesty fashion show go around from time to time.

    I think there are ways to do both without triggering the problems you see, and I’m relatively confident that my stake and ward has done so. Even so my ward’s new RS President was uncomfortable enough with the auction that she nixed it.

    I see two things going on myself:

    1 — We know our youth are distracted by a fashion culture which attaches esteem for women to styles of clothing. Co-opting it is likely seen as a way to steer the distraction onto the topics we want discussed. I agree that what you’re describing is the ham-handed approach. I promise you that where it’s done elsewhere, it’s done better at times without evoking the absurdities Meldrum gave.

    2 — We’re still steeped in post-Civil-War martial themes, which used to pervade American culture and got refreshed during the two world wars. Warriors for virtue and all that. If the lack of world wars can continue, I don’t believe my grandchildren will be persuaded at all by “armor of God” metaphors, because they won’t really understand them, and thus co-opting that culture for anything will always fall flat. Well, I can hope that’s the trajectory, at least.

  47. Mike,
    You may think that, but its because you are quick to think ill of others. Also, you’re being a jerk. Just so you know.

  48. John C: Uh . . . pot meet kettle???

  49. Fair enough, Mike. I’m a jerk, too. But I’m a known jerk, whereas you are a driveby internet troll. Jerk.

  50. And your point is?

  51. Primarily, my point is that you are a jerk. And this threadjack, specifically regarding your jerkitude, has gone on long enough. Finally, go away, Jerk! Have a terrible day!

  52. It’s nice to see such tolerance for those who have different opinions. So, playing your game, I guess I should just admit that God hates women, that Pres. Monson hate women, and that every single person who has anything to do with a church program that seems cheesy or smarmy or with which you disagree also hates women.

    How’s that? Hyperbole is not so becoming, is it?

  53. I’m actually not a feminist. I’m a Republican. I appreciate Jack’s sympathy, though. I have had a hard week.

  54. Gee whiz, Mike. It’s a wonder that you are a Mormon with thoughts like that. Maybe you should talk to your bishop.

  55. And how do you know I’m not the bishop myself?

  56. That’s an interesting question. What does a bishop do when he needs to talk to himself?

  57. Rebecca, he does what Elder Hales suggested a few years ago in a training broadcast. He plans plenty of time, and then asks his wife what he could be doing better. And then he listens.

  58. Rob Perkins says:

    And here I was, hoping for a continuance of an interesting conversation.

  59. Looking at your IP address has confirmed that you are not a bishop Mike. There are no bishops at the penitentiary. Q.E.D.

  60. This was such a fantastic post–thoughtful and hilarious. And Rebecca–we would have gotten along fine. I was a “no-fun” YW when it came to nonsense like this. Did they not think about the fact that some YM might show disappointment when they got matched up with their box lunch dates, which could crush a YW’s fragile adolescent ego? Or vice versa? It’s a socially awkward teen’s worst nightmare, not to mention pretty lame as an activity. And I flat-out refused to have a Modesty Fashion Show when I was YW President.

  61. The box lunch scene is actually not one of the most problematic parts of Oklahoma.

  62. Well, MCQ, while I have been inside a penitentiary on a few occasions, I do not live in one. Thanks for playing, anyway.

  63. Absolutely stellar post, Rebecca!

  64. John Mansfield says:

    A hat race like in “The Quiet Man” would be more fun. Any courting rituals based on John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara movies would be more fun, although my wife felt a lecture for our sons was in order after McLintock ended.

  65. I actually know the people who presented the “Warriors” firesides. I’ve sat in on the lessons and thought them to be very good. There was some very useful information there. The basic premise of these presentations has been developed by a licensed councilor who helps young men and married couples deal with the hurt and pain that pornography has caused their lives. (www.sonsofhelaman.org)

    It’s a fact that our modern lives are hyper-sexualized and many of our kids are woefully unprepared for it or are not capable of dealing with the emotions that come with it (Church and parents can be blamed for this to a degree). To be honest I’ve only sat in on the Warriors for Christ session and found it amazing. The chemicals that are stimulated in a mans brain as he views pornography are compared to the effects of taking cocaine ( http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/science/articles/THE-CHEMICALS-BEHIND-THE-ADDICTION/ ). This stimulus gradually decreases blood flow from the frontal lobe (where rational thought occurs) into the central or ‘animal’ brain that seeks only pleasure and satisfaction. As this blood flow changes a man looses capacity to think rationally. At this point the LDS council to ‘sing a hymn’ or to ‘just stop’ doesn’t really work and usually a man will get release only through masturbation or having sex. After this ‘release’ rational thought returns and is accompanied with guilt (ingrained by culture) and a sense that he’s worthless because he can’t control himself. Solace usually comes from returning to the porn to soothe himself. Thus is born addiction.

    This “Warrior” method teaches ways for men to cope with this. Teaching specifically that they are responsible to get control and manage their thoughts. They are taught that there is a chemical antidote in their brains (mostly adrenaline) that can stop the flow of these other chemicals and return them to the ability to think more clearly. This isn’t trying to excuse what is happening, just trying to help them understand how to counter it…how to FIGHT. This notion of “Fighting” and being Warriors (D&C 105:16) is sort of off-putting to some in the Church who see it as not being ‘Christ Like’…but nothing could be further from the truth because a key element that is taught to the YM…to be Warriors…involves not only stopping yourself from destructive behavior, but then follow that with service to others and seek out ways to treat women with dignity and respect (the opposite message from what porn tells them). Then you seek to establish righteous patterns in your life to ‘Put on the Armor of God’ on a daily basis. Real world warriors are used as metaphors for fighting spiritual battles and the amount of training required to gain those victories.

    As a father of teenaged boys who are surrounded by sexual stimulus everywhere they go, I found it helpful to teach them how important it is to control themselves. I’m odd in that I’ve had very open discussions with them about this kind of thing already.

    That said, I also know that my sons have said that it’s a lot easier to have fun on a date when the girls they are with are not ‘flaunting’ themselves. They find it easier to focus on the person, not the cleavage, and they both have a lot more fun together. It just makes it easier.

  66. Heretic! I call Heretic! Don’t you know you can’t get on this blog and claim that there might be some merit to these presentations without being called on it??!!

  67. Not the first time I’ve been called a Heretic…likely not to be the last.

  68. Tony (66) – I can’t speak to the quality of the presentation overall. I didn’t stay for the whole thing. I didn’t see any of the young men’s presentation. I can only comment on what I did see. I’m sure the people who do these presentations are good people with good intentions. (They are, in fact, friends of friends of mine, though I have never met them personally.) But they lost my daughter 15 minutes in. She didn’t leave angry. (I was the one who was ticked off, though I didn’t communicate this to my daughter.) If she’d been angry, she probably would have acted out. Instead, she was just depressed. I’m sorry if I missed the most valuable portions of their presentation, but my criticism of the portion I did see still stands.

  69. madhousewife (69) to be honest, I can see where you are coming from. It gets old for people to point fingers at the girls and say “whore” when she is showing some skin. Ultimately it’s up to the boys to learn self control. That is the message that I got from the YM presentation. Like I said, I have not sat thorough the girls part.

    Personally, I think that the consumption of Porn among LDS men is an enormous problem (one that is well hidden). Men need to be taught in plain terms to deal with it. I think that is where this presentation (at least the boys part) is of high value, at least that is the overall message that I get from it…to man-up, take responsibility for yourself and your thoughts, understand where those thoughts are coming from, learn to evade them and fight back…that it is a constant and ongoing battle and we need to combat it on a regular basis.

    I’m also very dismayed at the misuse of the word “Virtue” in LDS culture. It’s a great word that has meanings well beyond mere chastity.

  70. Incidentally, I don’t have a problem using war or military metaphors. That sort of thing doesn’t bother me at all. (As I said earlier, I am a Republican.) I don’t like that they divide the young men and young women as being warriors for different things. In theory and practice, shouldn’t we all be warriors of virtue AND warriors for Christ? I don’t like that we seem to be defining “virtue” as an exclusively female domain. I understand that they have different presentations for young men than they do for young women and therefore it seems only logical that they should have different names, but I would prefer names that didn’t imply that women are the sole guardians of virtue while men are really the ones out there doing Christ’s work. (I don’t think that is what they *mean* to imply. It’s just what it *does* imply.) Anyone who doesn’t think this is a problem should imagine a world in which the presentation for young men was called “Warriors of Virtue” while the presentation for young women was called “Warriors for Christ.” Go ahead and imagine it. I’ll wait.

  71. Tony, I posted before I saw your comment #70, so my last comment was not in response to that. I appreciate the points you made.

  72. vir·tue – [vur-choo] Show IPA noun
    1. moral excellence; goodness; righteousness.
    2. conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.
    3. chastity; virginity: to lose one’s virtue.
    4. a particular moral excellence. Compare cardinal virtues, natural virtue, theological virtue.
    5. a good or admirable quality or property: the virtue of knowing one’s weaknesses.
    6. effective force; power or potency: a charm with the virtue of removing warts.
    7. virtues, an order of angels. Compare angel ( def. 1 ) .
    8. manly excellence; valor.

    Maybe (according to that last definition) having the boys part called “Warriors of Virtue” isn’t such a bad idea…

    You bring up excellent points, and I fully intend to pass them along to the people who did the presentation. I think that it can only make it better.

    Imagine that…using feedback to improve teaching…what a novel concept!

  73. I think it would be an improvement if we started using “virtue” in the context of “manly excellence.” (Actually, I just think the term “manly excellence” is awesome.)

  74. I think we’d want to talk to boys about virtue with respect to all of those definitions, not just the last one.

  75. Tony,

    Can I just say that my gut tells me that one of the big problems with the modesty rhetoric and practices we are enforcing on girls reinforces rather than helps the problem we have with boys/men and pornography. As many people have pointed out forever on this debate, we are sexualizing girls bodies for boys and girls by treating innocuous body parts as sexualized. Shoulders, knees, some leg. We are in essence teaching boys they are expected to be aroused by girls in tank tops and mid-thigh shorts creating a situation where they then find themselves constantly exposed to a “sexualized” female body wherever they go, even if its just girls wearing normal clothes. So another angle to attack the problem is to help boys desexualize more parts of women’s bodies. We do this by teaching them to see women first as people – friends, peers, mentors etc. The focus on clothing teaches them first to see women as sexual objects. But to do this we need more than one good presentation. We need to change the whole approach to modesty that has been taken in the last decade.

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