Do you ever read something or watch something on TV that so disturbs you that you’re filled with anger and you feel the need to tell someone about it? That happened to me yesterday.
I read an online post about the 2018 Golden Globe awards and the writer criticized these stars for wearing black, thereby protesting sexual assault/harassment, while still dressing “immodestly” and “allowing themselves to be objectified.” She went on to say that women of Christ should dress “modestly” because it “respects and loves our brothers in Christ.” Jesus said that whoever looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28). Essentially, by covering up our bodies, we help our brothers in Christ stay away from sexual sin.
I’m hesitant to dive right in to this topic because there are so many layers and different opinions. I can’t say that my opinion is absolute truth. I’m sure there are areas that need to be illuminated by someone else with a wider view of the issue, but I must share my thoughts on this because this type of rhetoric is incredibly damaging.
Growing up in a semi-Christian environment, I was taught that my body needed covering. If I wanted to be a “good Christian girl”, I needed to cover my breasts, thighs, and butt. Why? Because Christian men might become aroused by my tight dress or pants. I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts that came above the knee. Because I developed breasts at such an early age, my mother was hyper-aware of how I dressed. There were many shirts that would fit my body normally if it were not for my breasts. Everything I wore was deemed borderline inappropriate. I never put two-and-two together and realized that the clothing wasn’t in the wrong; my body was. If I were thinner and smaller chested, would my clothing choices be such an issue? Absolutely not. So essentially we are saying that curvy women should hide their bodies because men will be attracted to them because of their curves.
I grew up with the mentality that my body was naturally sexually suggestive and would always need careful guarding. I was bustier than every other girl I ever knew and would therefore have to cover up a little more. This way of thinking was further enforced by a staff worker on my India trip. In India, I was thrice sexually assaulted by strange men on the street. My breasts and butt were touched against my will. What was I wearing? Not American clothes, that’s for sure. I was dressed in Indian clothes. I was “modest”, according to Indian social rules. But, I was still touched. In fact, I was touched the most out of my team of ten women. While thinking about and mourning these assaults, I decided to rebel a little. No longer did I want to wear my dupatta over my breasts, after seeing how my female teammates neglected to wear them before leaving the apartment. If they could go without one, why couldn’t I? I asked my staff worker and she grimaced a little. I could see what she was thinking. She said, “Gabby, they don’t really need to wear one. But, you really should…” My eyes probably gave away my initial angry reaction. She followed up with, “Because they work in the city and you’re more in the suburbs, the slums. Things are different there.” Okay, she was right about that. I’ll give her that one. But, I also know that I was initially forbidden to go without a dupatta because of my breasts. But, even when I wore a dupatta, which was every day, I was still looked at and touched. Did the dupatta actually do anything for my protection? Absolutely not.
Let me just say it here once and for all: A WOMAN’S CLOTHING DOES NOT INVITE SEXUAL ASSAULT OR JUSTIFY A MAN OR WOMAN’S ASSAULT ON THAT WOMAN.
It also does not disqualify a woman’s protest of or thoughts on the topic of sexual assault in the workplace. A woman could stand in front of a crowd stark naked, speaking out against sexual assault, and her words would still be valid. Why? Because her worth and contributions to the discussion are not determined by her clothing. She is valid because she is human.
Let’s go back to what Jesus said about looking at a woman with lust. He said it equates to having sex with her. That’s pretty intense. The Lord knew that men are visual and will easily engage in mental fantasies with an attractive woman. But, let’s be honest, men can sexually assault a woman, a man, a child, an animal…anything. We’ve seen this. We’ve known this. Many of us have personally and painfully experienced this.
Note that Jesus did not mention that women should cover themselves in order to avoid the male gaze. Not once did Jesus talk about anything remotely related to the whole “Modest is Hottest” movement that has been so strong in our churches. In fact, the only mention of women’s dress in the New Testament, which is the new covenant that we are under, is a mention of women dressing modestly in terms of expensive clothes.
“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (I Timothy 2:9).
Clearly Paul is saying that women should not arrive for fellowship time dressed in the finest clothes with the most decadent jewelry and elaborate hairstyles. Oh wait, this actually sounds like most of our churches today. Don’t women try to look their best on Sunday? This means the best clothes, the nicest jewelry, and every hair in place. Have we misunderstood Paul’s words here and actually behave like this during our church services? Many church women who are decked out in designer clothes have looked down on a woman whose skirt was ‘too short” or whose dress was “too tight”, unaware of the fact that she herself is offending Paul’s cry for modesty in dress by how expensive her clothing is.
Also, cultures greatly differ on what’s appropriate and inappropriate. When I was in India, I could’ve rocked a sari every day, showing my stomach and back. That was appropriate. In my culture, American and Puerto Rican culture, that is absolutely not modest at all! I remember watching some Indian women work one day and thinking, “My God they’re showing so much skin. But, that’s modest in this culture.” I swear my mind was blown to Mars and back at the thought that stomachs and backs are acceptable but breasts, butts, and legs are not. Indians take great lengths to cover the breasts with a dupatta and their shirts are loose and are as long as knee-length dresses, effectively covering the butt and legs. In American and Puerto Rican culture alike, showing cleavage or wearing a tight skirt is not inappropriate. See how the cultures vary? There is no such thing as a standard way of modest dressing. In fact, in some cultures, women can walk around topless and that’s the norm! What do we do with women of those cultures when we evangelize? Do we tell them to put on a bra and a loose t-shirt after they’re saved? No we don’t. That’s a colonialistic way of thinking. Tear it down.
If we keep this rape culture narrative going, it will spiral. If a woman is assaulted or cat-called, she’s asked:
“What were you wearing?”
“Why did you go out that night? Why did you go alone?”
“You knew men would be attracted to you, didn’t you?”
“Why did you accept the drink he offered if you didn’t want him?”
“Why did you drink so much?”
Readers, a woman’s behavior is no justification for a man’s actions. We firmly plant all of the culpability on a woman’s shoulders by repeating this lie to ourselves and each other. Countless Christian and non-Christian women have had shameful coals heaped on their heads by family members, friends, and church leaders in this way. Stop it. This is evil.
A woman can wear whatever she wants, but a Christian woman should honor God with her clothing. She should honor God in all she does. When I get dressed, I ask myself a few questions that I hope are helpful to other women who want to dress in a God-honoring way:
- Why am I wearing this?
- Am I wearing this to attract men/use my femininity to get something from them?
If my answer to the latter is “yes”, then I either change my outfit or rewire my thinking. I remind myself that I like how this red dress fits my curves. I like the way this red lipstick makes my lips look. I do it for myself and not for men.
I’m going to close out this brief glimpse into Christianity and Rape Culture by including my comment to this person’s blog post:
I think if a woman chooses to wear a dress that’s see-through in certain places or has a slit, that’s her choice. How a man reacts is his choice. Yes he will immediately be drawn to her, but what happens next is on him. Our brothers in Christ can literally be attracted to anything. Some men get turned on by feet, for example.
Also, regarding cultural sensitivity, there are certain cultures where dressing in fewer garments is actually the norm. In India, for example, women show their midriffs and backs every day. Here, that would be considered “slutty.” There, it’s modest. In Korea, wearing miniskirts is totally normal. Here, it’s seen as “slutty.” So if we should dress a certain way to help our brothers in Christ, then how should we dress? Because I don’t think it’s the same all around.
Regarding the women, each woman has an individual story and belief system regarding her femininity and what that means/how to express it. We can NEVER judge people who behave in the way they’ve been taught to behave. This is what women are taught. I can guarantee that 99% of the women on that Red Carpet do not know Christ. Why are we expected to hold them to the standard of a woman who has been walking with the Lord for years? It is unfair to judge them in this way.
The fact is, a woman could be walking around naked and A. be dressed appropriately in some cultures and not asking for it or B. if it’s not appropriate, still not be asking for it.
Asking women to cover up their bodies before talking about sexual assault is giving in to the patriarchal mindset and rape culture narrative that women are indeed asking for it. Why don’t the men cover up? Bulging muscles and tight pants draw attention to their bodies as well. Why are women blamed for being women and having curves? This just plays into the old rhetoric of the female temptress.