The Mormon modesty wars: No more “slut-shaming,” please

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Kerry Washington at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, USA on September 20, 2015.

Photo courtesy of Tinseltown via Shutterstock

Kerry Washington at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, USA on September 20, 2015.

Viola Davis at the Primetime Emmy Awards Press Room at the Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, Calif.

Viola Davis at the Primetime Emmy Awards Press Room at the Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, Calif.

This time last week I was bracing myself for the inevitable: multiple LDS websites and blogs writing up the 2015 Emmy awards in terms of which female stars had most stylishly covered the most flesh.

That’s because for the last several major awards shows — the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys — the Mormon world has been quick to criticize those stars who showed too much.

Always in a nice way, mind you — singling out the actresses who, for various reasons, chose independently to honor our strange Mormon habits of covering shoulders, backs, and thighs. (In many cases, they did this because they were old, pregnant, or trying to hide a body that Hollywood considered to be “unforgivably” overweight. But whatever.)

But this time, the onslaught never came. I have been watching the news for a week now. It has not happened.

Has the tide shifted in the Mormon modesty wars?

I am cautiously optimistic.

It is a good sign when Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks is able to write sensibly and compassionately about modesty and have it carried in the uber-conservative LDS online magazine, Meridian.

“When we reduce the concept of modesty to what females wear, we are reinforcing the very thing that modesty is supposed to help avoid: the sexual objectification of women’s bodies,” Hanks wrote last month.

Amy Schumer at the Primetime Emmy Awards Press Room at the Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, CA

Amy Schumer at the Primetime Emmy Awards Press Room at the Microsoft Theater on September 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, CA

It is a good sign when LDS Living publishes stories like “What We’re Still Missing about Modesty,” which took a careful look at what modesty means in scripture, and “5 Ways to Help Youth See Modesty Differently.” The magazine noted that while those five ways focused on dress, modest principles could also be applied to speech, attitude, and our approach to consumerism.

Amen to that. That’s progress even since last spring, when Elder Tad Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy placed the responsibility for men’s spiritual integrity squarely on the primly cap-sleeved shoulders of the Church’s women:

The dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men. If it is too low or too high or too tight, it may prompt improper thoughts, even in the mind of a young man who is striving to be pure.

Men and women can look sharp and be fashionable, yet they can also be modest. Women particularly can dress modestly and in the process contribute to their own self-respect and to the moral purity of men. In the end, most women get the type of man they dress for.

Elder Callister’s cringeworthy comments about female dress standards reflect a malingering LDS focus on women as potential jezebels who need to be restrained lest they corrupt male virtue.

As the Salt Lake Tribune reported in the wake of those comments last spring, Mormonism’s undue fixation with female dress unwittingly reinforces the larger culture’s sexual objectification of women:

“The current discourse on modesty undermines women’s relationship to themselves, to their sexuality, and to men,” LDS sex therapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife writes in the most recent issue of Exponent II. “Far from protecting females from seeking male approval, the rhetoric on modesty unwittingly reinforces it. At the same time we are taught that pleasing men through sexual availability is not necessary, we are taught to please men and God by covering and suppressing our sexuality.”

Either way, women are sexual objects.

It’s possible that the absence of the once-ubiquitous “modest gowns from last night’s awards” story is just a fluke, and that they’ll be back with a vengeance come Oscar time.

I hope not.

If nothing else, we have seen that the world will continue happily rotating on its axis even if the Mormons don’t take it upon themselves to comment upon what women wear.


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  • Terri

    I thought it was perfectly acceptable for women to comment on what other women wore. Unfortunately men are best advised to stay silent which is also wrong but necessary. I do think the gowns are too much flash and not enough elegance. I am also Mormon.

  • Az Nephi

    Why would anyone watch the Emmy and the Oscar shows to comment on modesty?

    These shows are of course the opposite of modesty (definition of modest: unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities or achievements).

    That would be like someone who watches Duck Dynasty and comments on hating people who pray.

  • Pete

    While Meridian Magazine may have taken a baby step forward with the modesty article, they just took a kangaroo leap right back to the 1950s with this one, Helping our children choose heterosexuality.

  • What “slut shammers” fail to realize is that the practice does more to reinforce the false idea that women only exist to procreate or please men sexually. Why do women hide their bodies? To trick men in to not thinking about having sex with them. Why do women show off their bodies? To trick men into having sex with them. This idea uses the false notion that men aren’t thinking about sex in the first place. I stopped dating LDS girls back in high school because the ones I dated wanted to go too far, sexually. And you know what, they all had their shoulders covered. We shouldn’t judge others, period (Matthew 7: 15) yet if you are going to ignore Jesus, why no judge people for who they are, rather than what they wear.

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    “… definition of modest: unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities or achievements…”

    When it comes to boasting about their unique and special status, Mormons are among the least modest people in the world. Let’s see a little humility from the Mormon community, and then they can lecture women about hemlines.

  • MarkE

    Doesn’t say much for us guys, does it? If we can be so easily manipulated in our emotions and “base desires” by what a women exposes or hides in her clothing (also: make up, hair, jewelry, hats, etc) then we are the weakest of the genders! Which explains the Original Sin – Adam was right there when Eve ate and he must have known that it was wrong, but ohhhh, that power of the feminine wiles!

  • Inquiring Minds

    “I stopped dating LDS girls back in high school because the ones I dated wanted to go too far, sexually. And you know what, they all had their shoulders covered.”

    Please tell us more about these LDS girls who had their shoulders covered and wanted to go to far, sexually.

    Don’t skimp on the details.

  • The more that unbiased science is done to study these issues, the more we will find that modesty is something that we should really pay attention to.

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/02/19/women.bikinis.objects/

  • Fred M

    So are you a fan of all scientific studies, or only the ones that support what you already believe?

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  • Bret

    Nice dodge, Fred.

  • Fred M

    Dodge? I have no issue at all with that study. Like the article says, it makes perfect sense. I just find it crazy hypocritical when members of our church point to scientific studies that support their beliefs but ignore all the ones that don’t. Science is like the gospel–it’s not there for us to cherry pick. If we’re going to trot out a scientific study and say “Look at this!” we’d better be ready to accept the scientific consensus on everything else. And most members of the church that I know are not. But maybe I’m misjudging Az Nephi–I’m still waiting for his/her response.

  • Nancy

    That is a fantastic article. You should try to look at things outside the lens of your prescriptive ideology. Regardless of how we feel or are inclined, it is ultimately our choice in how we act.

  • Allen

    This is why discussion is such a good thing. Personally, I had never considered all the issues surrounding this, because it didn’t affect me and no one ever said much about it. I have learned and thought about it and continue learning and considering what modesty is and what words about modesty actually communicate.

  • Snuffy

    Sluts should be ashamed. Despite what Jana thinks

  • Pete

    Hmm, looks like they reconsidered and took it down. Maybe not such a great article after all, Nancy?

  • Pete

    I read this article 2 or three times to attempt to determine the real story. It’s simply boils down to another rant, quoting the über anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune, and full of sarcasm. There is no treatment of either side of the story, just one woman’s opinion. I am a man, and I know I’m responsible for my own thoughts and actions. But when I see a woefully underdressed woman in the grocery store, I can’t help but wonder about her motives. I could say the same about men in the same situation. There’s a time and place for everything; modeling latest skimpy fashions in the local Albertson’s is not appropriate. Period.

  • hagoth

    Not… Mormons are the least modest… Give me a break. You do not hang out with Mormons do you?

  • hagoth

    Right on Nancy

  • Inquiring Minds

    I guess Learn About Christ had more “game” than you. 🙂

  • Larry

    Actually everyone cherry picks Gospel, but they only claim they do not. Every sect claims others are just “cafeteria versions” of the one true word. Its fairly easy to do, since interpretations are entirely subjective and goal related.

    Science on the other hand requires one to build on prior work and concepts. Making cherry picking a far less useful endeavor.

  • Larry

    “I can’t help but wonder about her motives.”

    These clothes are really comfortable, comes to mind.

    “Underdressed” is context related. What one wears to the office and what one wears to a gym are far different. Someone doing their shopping is obviously not dressing up to impress crowds.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    Some of the “gowns” worn at Hollywood red carpet events are clearly meant to convey the message that the person wearing them is almost naked. The people who wear such clothing are often known for nude scenes they performed in movies. They make, in some cases, millions of dollars by making themselves the object of lust of millions of men worldwide. But it is supposed to be an affront to women as a whole to conclude that the people who dress like that are doing it to promote lust?

    If you are a woman who does NOT want to promote the maximum possible lust among the men you encounter, why would you dress more toward that end of the spectrum of clothing options? Or are you lying to yourself about your own motives?

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    According to the definition posted by Az Nephi, modesty is being “unassuming or moderate in the estimation of one’s abilities or achievement.”

    So how do Mormons and the LDS Church stack up? They claim:

    1) To be the only true church
    2) To have the only true gospel
    3) To have the only true priesthood
    4) That their prophet is the only prophet through whom God speaks to the entire world
    5) That God does not recognize any other ordinances (including marriages) performed by any other “priesthood,” than the Mormon priesthood.

    That sounds like a lot of boasting and very little modesty. In fact, when it comes to being unassuming or moderate in the estimation of their (and their church’s) abilities or achievements, it seems to me that Mormons are very immodest.

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    Nancy wrote: “It is ultimately our choice in how we act.”

    Would you mind explaining when you choose to be a woman, and when you choose to be heterosexual?

    Nancy wrote: “You should try to look at things outside the lens of your prescriptive ideology.”

    It’s better to leave ideology out of the mix entirely and use science instead. There is a great deal that we’ve learned through science about human sexuality — and much of it is in full conflict with LDS doctrines about fixed/binary gender.

  • Debbie Snowcroft

    Snuffy wrote: “Sluts should be ashamed. Despite what Jana thinks.”

    You might consider re-reading what Jana wrote, Snuffy. Jana’s comments weren’t about anyone being a slut or not — it was about not calling (or inferring) names, like slut, when someone doesn’t follow your particular dress code.

    It’s impolite to call a woman a slut for wearing a short dress, or baring her shoulders, just as it is impolite to call someone a moron for believing in a farm boy who used a magic rock in his hat to write a comical fiction about ancient America.

  • fred

    What we wear is a form of advertising.

    Even though I am responsible for my thoughts, your advertisement places a seed of a thought in my brain.

    I am responsible for the growth of my thoughts, responsible for what I do with the seed that began the thought.

    You are responsible for some of tbe seeds .y thoughts grow from.

    Where do you what my thoughts about you to start from?

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  • “…our strange Mormon habits of covering shoulders, backs, and thighs.”

    I appreciate your article, but thought this comment was, well, strange. Of course you (but perhaps not all your readers) know that the “strange” habit comes about because once someone is endowed they will need to cover those areas to cover their garments. So I’m not sure why that would be said to be “strange.”

    Do you apply the same terminology to other religious groups who cover particular parts due to religious devotion?