Does Mormon modesty mantra reduce women to sex objects?

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When Mormon leaders sense a decline of moral standards in the world, they roll out sermons on modesty. Illustration by Amy Lewis | The Salt Lake Tribune

When Mormon leaders sense a decline of moral standards in the world, they roll out sermons on modesty. Illustration by Amy Lewis | The Salt Lake Tribune

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SALT LAKE CITY (RNS) The church's message remains largely the same: Cover up, lest you cause the males around you to sin.

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  • Frank

    Women reduce themselves to sex objects by the way the present themselves.

  • Matt

    Frank, I think you have a misunderstanding about the definition of objectification. To objectify someone is to act towards them as if they were a “thing”, and not a human being with feeling and depth. It is not possible for someone to objectify themselves. Objectification is something that one person does to another.

    A big part of taking responsibility for one’s own feelings and actions is to accept them as their own and not deflect them onto other people. If you objectify a woman because of her clothing, then that is your responsibility alone. Other people are not responsible for your thoughts, neither are they responsible for how you act upon your feelings. Begin to control yourself and stop trying to control others.

  • Frank

    If you dress yourself up as a sexual object its unrealistic to expect others to see you as anything but.

  • Curt

    I agree with Frank, obviously. If a woman wears clothes that even hint at the fact that she has a body, she is reducing herself to a sex object.

    I think the healthiest thing a woman can do is wear sweaters and sweatpants, year-round. Anything less than that, and, boom, sex object.

  • Conundrum

    Just make sure the sweater and sweat pants are super baggy and frumpy. If they are too form fitting, a woman is still making herself a sex object.

  • Jess

    Other people may not be responsible for my thoughts but they can influence them. A woman can still be very attractive without being immodest. Usually, I can look away if a woman walks into church dressed immodestly. But if she sits down next to me and then it’s distracting and I don’t appreciate it. If women don’t want men to look at them like “objects” then stop dressing like one. I thought my wife was beautiful the first time I saw her but I didn’t think she was sexy, It was her brains, education, refinement, spirituality that I fell in love with.

  • Michael Reddford

    Burkhas for everyone! Wars and genocide and murder have resulted from the effects of the power/influence that women exert over men. Women may by&large be physically weaker that men but they make up for that in other ways… Girl Power!

  • hoffbegone

    Modesty in Mormon culture includes the men.

    “Cover up, lest you cause the males around you to sin.” is spin and focuses away from the wider problem, especially in our current society:

    Cover up, lest you cause the **everyone** around you to sin. A male “stud” is tempting to both men and women and leads to sin just as tight jeans on women is tempting to both sexes these days.

    Come on people, don’t be so stereo-typical and unfair.

  • Rod

    I think most women know where to stop. Just don’t wear an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny bikini at the bus stop. Stay on the beach for that.

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  • EMT

    In Ms. Fletcher-Stack’s article, she quotes church leader Jeffrey Holland, but it seems only enough to make her negative point without revealing the context of his message.

    Here is some of what was missing, starting with the sentence that she did quote:

    “I have heard all my life … because a young man cannot. What an unacceptable response to such a serious issue! What kind of man is he, [who can do many great things], but yet does not have the mental capacity or the moral will to say, “I will not do that thing”?”

    In the next paragraph he says, “… I lay the burden squarely on the shoulders of the young man…”

    Read the talk at:

    The author of this article seems to be practicing biased reporting to support her own viewpoint, regardless of the facts.

  • EMT

    The author of this article quotes various sources attempting to show particular doctrines regarding modesty in dress, suggesting that these are damaging girls and women. But she hasn’t shown any evidence to support that claim.

    While how we teach children about modesty and sex certainly requires great care, the church’s teachings aren’t a major source (if any) of girl’s and women’s image issues etc. Let’s try looking at our culture that glamorizes and idolizes girls and women who are unhealthily skinny and sexually impure. These images and “teachings” are more prevalent than the little bit that girls hear at church or even from parents about modest and chastity.

    Because the influences outside the home are becoming more opposed to decency regarding sexuality, it’s not surprising that the church would also raise a stronger voice against things that are opposed to decency and purity.

    Perhaps we need to do more, not less, to help girls understand the natural biological differences between boys and girls that lead guys to struggle more with images of girls than girls do with guys’ images.

  • EMT

    Modesty in dress is hardly a new or uniquely LDS idea. Catholics and other Christians promote modesty in dress. Jews and Muslims also strive for modest dress.

    In fact, it is in Genesis 3:21 that we read the first account of Adam and Eve being clothed for modesty. Other Old Testament verses mention the shame of seeing someone’s nakedness. Of course this brings up the question of how little or how much can be revealed before we are seeing nakedness.

    I think this leads to the debate about modesty: no one seems to be able to define the line regarding what is too much or too little. For us more conservative people, it seems that the lines keep shifting toward revealing more nakedness. How far will people go before they finally say, “okay, that’s too much, we need to start covering up”? Will we eventually dress like people in the jungles of Africa? Some women’s swimsuits just about achieve that.

  • EMT

    In your last sentence, it sounds like you want to control others too. We all have to recognize that our own actions can affect other people. In that sense, what you do or say may be my business.

    I suppose it is typical logic in an individualist nation like ours to think that all that matters is the individual. If the individual fails, it’s his fault. If someone can’t make enough money to live, well nobody needs to help him. And if I dress or act in a way that I know may stir sexual feelings in other people, well it’s their problem if they don’t want to feel that, not mine.

    A higher moral standard would consider how our actions affect ourselves as well as others. A higher moral standard would lead me to want to help you rather than ignore or discount you.

  • EMT

    My comment was to Matt (5 Mar comment).

  • DHRogers

    Women are usually considered exploited when they are viewed as sex objects. Exploiting women in this way usually involves immodesty of dress and/or pornography and/or presenting an exaggerated atypical image of women in magazines, art, movies, and other media. This is done by showing actresses with breast implants and/or other body enhancements or air brushed photos etc… These images don’t represent the average woman and they emphasize physical appearance and de-emphasize other traits such as talents, ability, intelligence and other areas that make women of great worth. This actually belittles most women and sends the message that if you don’t look like the image you are less of a woman.

    Therefore, it is so ironic that when God’s Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, protects and defends women by upholding God’s standard of modesty and when the Church emphasizes the other traits of women that make them precious and of great worth, the Church is accused of exploiting women??????? That’s just propaganda.

  • MizDottie

    So where are the articles aimed at boys and men? Where are the lectures for them to cover their shoulders? 99.9% of this message in the church is directed at women and girls. While other reasons are discussed almost every single time it is also made clear that this level of modesty is to keep men from lusting after our flesh. How many basketball games have I seen in cultural halls where guys take their shirts off or show up in tank tops and go totally unchallenged? I have seen youth leaders literally use a ruler to measure girls sleeves and hemlines before allowing them to go into a dance! This is an issue completely aimed at women with only a cursory knod at the men.

  • MizDottie

    This is part of the problem. Women in the church who dare to wear a sleeveless top are treated as though they are flouting themselves sexually. Exposing shoulders and knees will get women scorned, ridiculed, gossiped about and labeled as ‘slutty’ in LDS culture. Frank’s comment perfectly illustrates this mindset. A woman showing a shoulder or a knee is ‘asking for it’? What about men who fetish a woman’s throat, ankles or even her hair? Why not cover those up too … lest we put ourselves out there as ‘sexual objects’? I can’t take my modestly dressed 15 year old daughter anywhere without adult men gawking at her because she is gorgeous with flowing wavy hair down her back. Maybe we shouldn’t allow our girls out of the house at all … or even cover them up from head to toe in burkah’s. Maybe shave their heads? Where does it stop?

  • MizDottie

    Curt, they just need to make sure their sweater and sweat pants are at at least 2 sizes too big for them so that none of their figure is ascertainable under there. Any hint of a curve or ‘bump’ of any kind and … sex object. These women really do need to be more careful.

  • R. Art

    Your response seems to me to be a most sensible response. It would be nice if more people considered this matter just as you have done.

  • R. Art

    You claimed, ” If they are too form fitting, a woman is still making herself a sex object.”

    It is not that any woman, nor is it that any attire (or any amount of attire) that any woman wears (or does not wear) “makes” any woman a sexual object, but is – instead – the IMAGINATION of whomever sexually objectifies any woman that ONLY SEEMINGLY makes her little to nothing other than a sex object.

  • Angie

    The mormon obsession with dressing modestly really gets to me. I don’t wear short things or show my shoulders but I am shall you say well endowed. So while not having cleavage it is still quite obvious, I am one of those girls. If a guy finds me attractive in a t-shirt it must be immodest. Its rediculus. I would like to go to church without feeling I have to wear a jacket.

  • Al Begin

    Let me get this straight. Is there a feeling in the church that men are not inherently ethical enough to control their desires? But – women are expected to?
    If so why are men given the leadership positions? Why are men allowed to propose how women should conduct themselves. Do the men have an obligation to behave respectfully, ethically as women are expected to? Why would any self respecting woman seek the attention a a man who cannot control himself?

  • Brandon

    This is such a lie. The Mormon church promotes NOBODY as a sex object. This “lds” psychiatrist perverts the teachings

  • Heather

    This is basically teaching rape culture. If a someone can’t control their thoughts because someone is showing a bit of thigh that is their fault, not the person wearing shorts because it’s 30 degrees out.

  • Chad

    Because a woman in a bikini can’t run a business meeting?