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Does LDS modesty mantra reduce women to objects?
Question of the Day
Beware the consequences
Elder Tad R. Callister, of the church’s Presidency of the Seventy, discusses what he says is “The Lord’s Standard of Morality” in this month’s Ensign.
Among other issues he addressed in a speech at Brigham Young University-Idaho, Callister takes up the question of modesty.
“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,” the LDS leader says. “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 selfrespect and to the moral purity of men. In the end, most women get the type of man they dress for.”
The Mormon general authority was echoing sentiments expressed by many other LDS leaders.
“It’s very important for us to continue to talk standards, to teach them, and to encourage them, young men and young women, to be guardians of virtue, their own virtue and others because there are so many who say, ‘It is not a young women’s problem if a boy is doing something wrong. If she is immodest, it’s not her problem if the boy does something wrong.’?” Dalton, the former Young Women leader, said at a leadership training meeting last year. “Well, it is! We have to take responsibility for one another, we have to help one another.”
Julie M. Smith, a Mormon writer in Austin, Texas, doesn’t mind the idea of women’s clothing having an effect on men being among the reasons to dress modestly, just not the main one.
Current LDS modesty discourse “doesn’t focus on modesty as something that is important to the woman herself, but rather as something that is important to other people in her life,” Smith writes in a blog post at timesandseasons.org. “(It) tells women that they, of themselves, do not matter . (and) contributes to the objectification of women.”
What about the boys?
Some suggest the approach of Callister, Dalton and others is just as damaging for young men as young women.
“I have heard all my life that it is the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the limits of intimacy in courtship because a young man cannot,” Jeffrey R. Holland, then-president of LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University and now an LDS apostle, said in a 1988 school devotional. “What an unacceptable response to such a serious issue.
“What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability, perhaps even pursue a university education and prepare to affect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of the world, but yet does not have the mental capacity or the moral will to say, ‘I will not do that thing’?”
Jana Riess, a popular LDS blogger, comments on this double standard in a recent satirical post for Religion News Service in which she urged young Mormon men to be mindful of what they wear to keep young women from straying to “lustful thoughts.”
“Away with shoulder-baring tank tops during your pickup basketball games in the church gym,” she writes. “Away with low-slung jeans that drive girls crazy wondering by what defiance of physics your pants don’t drop to your ankles.”
Then, in a twist on Callister’s speech, Riess reminds Mormon men that they will marry “the type of woman you dress for.”
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