By Krystal Lambert
Modesty culture is a societal norm which places the blame for men’s “uncontrollable” urges solely on women and the amount of fabric they are wearing.
We see this concept played out in school dress codes, religious groups, and the general day-to-day of women as they attempt to roam about the earth without being harassed or raped. Modesty culture is so closely linked to rape culture that it’s appalling so many institutions still force these archaic concepts on women. This double standard is so glaringly loud that to this day, it’s completely normal for boys to go shirtless at church camp or the pool, while girls are required to wear “modest one-pieces.” Women’s breasts and nipples are seen as inherently sexual and forbidden, while men don’t have to think twice about taking their shirt off to mow the lawn.
With summer in full swing, I thought it would be timely to remind everyone that it’s 100% ok for women to wear next to nothing if they so choose. If it’s hot as balls outside and if I want to wear a “skimpy” dress, that has zero to do with the male gaze. (Even if it wasn’t hot out, our bodily autonomy belongs to us regardless.) The concept that women should and do dress specifically for the eyes of men is absurd and flat-out wrong. We just want to be comfortable, and feel good about ourselves. If anything, we will cover up to avoid the male gaze rather than strip to attract it. Every woman I know, myself included, feels a tremendous sense of dread when we are “dressed for summer” and have to walk into a gas station or a Wal-Mart. The harassment is guaranteed, and inescapable. All because men think our skin is sinful and if we expose too much of it, we want their hungry eyes on us.
A few weeks ago a male co-worker of mine was running his mouth about a woman who works with us and how she “needs to wear a bra.” This woman has large breasts and usually just wears baggy t-shirts, I’d never taken the time to determine if she was wearing a bra or not. It never crossed my mind. What women are wearing underneath their clothes is no one’s business. When I explained to this idiot that if he didn’t have to wear a bra neither did she, and that breasts are not sexual, he was dumbfounded. He truly did not understand. He continued to argue with me for a long while about how “some women just need to wear bras.” I finally explained it to him like this: “If you wouldn’t discriminate against a fat man for simply being fat underneath his clothes, you can’t talk shit about a woman for having breasts underneath her clothes.” He pretended not to get it, but I’m hoping I planted a seed with him. It is so disheartening to hear men speak about women’s bodies in such an intrusive, disdainful way.
I was recently listening to a Joe Rogan stand-up special (I’m a masochist, I know) and he compared women having cleavage to men walking around with their balls out. Even for a pseudo-intellectual he really missed the mark. Sexual organs are limited to genitalia. Women’s breasts are not inherently sexual and have always, only been a biological necessity for feeding our young. The fact that men and society choose to sexualize them is not our problem. It’s not our responsibility to adhere to explicitly sexist and oppressive ideals.
As someone who grew up in the church and later went to bible college, I was consistently shamed for showing skin. Even when I was just an innocent chubby little twelve-year old, trying to enjoy my summer, I was often pulled aside at church for showing too much shoulder or leg. Literally not one part of a woman’s body is sexual aside from her sex parts. When we tell women they need to cover up so men won’t lust, we enable men. We let them believe that they have no control over their desires, which is an extremely dangerous thing to teach a man.
The idea that if a woman dresses modestly men will see her as virtuous and want to “wife” her is also gross, because that woman is literally leaning into the male gaze. She’s dressing modest to attract men, which is no different than a woman dressing risque to attract a man. At the end of the day, its male-centric.
Let women enjoy their summer, and keep your mouth shut about their skin to fabric ratio. I’m going to leave y’all with a poem I wrote a few months ago, about what it feels like to exist as a woman in the world.
Area Woman immediately becomes
Upon entering her neighborhood gas station.
Area Woman becomes granite and steel,
A middle finger made of marble
Refusing to acknowledge
This obnoxious curtsy and bow.
She boldly opens a fucking door for herself, as it’s never been a problem for her.
Opening doors is elementary-
Shattering ceilings is par for the course.
Concealing the tenderness
That so marks her sex,
Will even refuse the offer to skip ahead in line.
Once they’ve eyed you from the front,
They love a chance to see the back.
It’s funny how villainy
Masquerades as chivalry
All the warmth and whimsy
Drains from her face
There is no more grace
For these monsters.
Yes Yes I’m wearing a dress
And what’s that go to do with it?
It’s hot outside and I want to feel alive.
I want to not have to apologize
We drudge up
Every ounce of strength
For that long walk
From the pump to the counter
From the counter to safety
No one really talks about it.
How such a casual daily routine
Is pulling teeth
Is a tightrope
How certain danger
Fills our schedule
I’ll see you soon
Right after I cheat death
For the 3rd time this morning