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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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45 Responses

  1. LauraJMixon
    LauraJMixon May 1, 2007 at 11:26 am |

    THANK YOU. Well said!

  2. zuzu
    zuzu May 1, 2007 at 11:32 am |

    As Kyso points out, “THERE IS NOTHING, NOT ONE SINGLE THING, THAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP A GUY WHO OPENLY ADMITS THAT EVEN HIS MOM CAN DO IT FOR HIM.”

    There once lived a man named Oedipus Rex
    You might have heard about his odd complex
    His name appears in Freud’s index
    ‘Cause he looooooved his mother.

    Ahem. Sorry. Had to get that out.

    The problem with all of this is that there is just no way for women to win. If you try to be modest, there’s always someone who will point out that you’re not modest enough. If you wear a headscarf, someone will come along and demand you take it off. Women as political footballs for men to work out their issues with each other and with themselves.

  3. prairielily
    prairielily May 1, 2007 at 12:46 pm |

    You know, Muslim women don’t have to wear hijab in front of their male family members, because sibling attraction is UNNATURAL.

  4. slythwolf
    slythwolf May 1, 2007 at 12:50 pm |

    You know, I love* how this concept of men’s “visual” sexuality, which women “lack”, means we have to look like perfectly made-up fuckdolls for them all the time–all of us–and they can be ugly slobs and still expect sex.

    *If by “love”, you mean “hate”, and I do.

  5. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe May 1, 2007 at 12:51 pm |

    I’m characterizing their view of themselves as somehow deviant for having perfectly normal sexual desires and urges…

    That’s basically how a lot of religious folks work. They take perfectly normal, ordinary human urges and feelings and turn them into something shameful. If you’re sexually aroused, you’re a pervert. If you’re hungry, you’re greedy. If you’re bored by an interminable sermon, you’re lacking in Teh Spirit. Etc.

    As for the guy who was turned on by his sister and mom (how old is he anyway?), at least he’s honest about it. The Madonna/whore complex, at least according to one theory I’ve read, is rooted in that reaction. When a boy reaches puberty and starts to get aroused by mom, sis or any other inappropriate female, it’s more than his conscious mind can bear, so he starts dividing all females into “good” (untouchable) ones and “bad” (arousing) ones.

    Most guys manage to get past that distinction. Some, as I think most people who come to this site realize, do not.

  6. AllyeCat
    AllyeCat May 1, 2007 at 12:57 pm |

    What a great post. Thanks!

  7. twf
    twf May 1, 2007 at 1:06 pm |

    Zuzu is a Tom Lehrer fan!

  8. Linnaeus
    Linnaeus May 1, 2007 at 1:42 pm |

    Zuzu is a Tom Lehrer fan!

    Smut!
    Give me smut and nothing but!
    A dirty novel I can’t shut
    If it’s uncut and unsubt-tle

  9. Hugo
    Hugo May 1, 2007 at 2:07 pm |

    I’ve said my piece on this many times; it is to your eternal credit, Jill, that you keep wading back into this.

    I’m laughing, though. Good post.

  10. DAS
    DAS May 1, 2007 at 2:18 pm |

    They take perfectly normal, ordinary human urges and feelings and turn them into something shameful.

    That’s exactly the problem — to a Christian (in spite of Jesus talking about knowing them by their fruits) especially, thoughts can be sins, not just actions. If these people simply believed that extra-marital sex or such were a sin, then, obviously, they would know “well, I can think this about X, I just need to resist temptation — and that’s my responsibility”.

    But who among us has not, as Jimmy Carter put it, “lusted in our hearts”? And if you really believe that even catching a glimpse at a hawt gal and your mind drifting to even thoughts of “yawza” is a sin, well then it can’t be your fault you’ve sinned, but hers for “tempting” you.

  11. Hugo
    Hugo May 1, 2007 at 2:42 pm |

    DAS, I don’t think that’s fair. As a Christian, I do think thoughts can be sins (this is not unique to Christianity, but is found in the Abrahamic tradition — it goes back to the final commandment, the one about “coveting”), but I don’t blame the object of my sin. You’re right that many Christians (and Jews and Muslims) have made that mistake, but it isn’t inherent in the theology.

    Sin, as discussed by most theologians, is not “noticing someone hot.” It’s allowing one’s mind or eyes to linger on someone with whon you are not in relationship. If I daydream about having super hot sex with my wife all day long, that’s not a problem. If I daydream about having sex with my wife’s sister — or my colleague — that’s a problem.

    I have no patience with the modesty boys. I accept their essential premise, that we are called to self-control; I disagree with their conclusion that the objects of desire are in any way part of the problem.

  12. blucas!
    blucas! May 1, 2007 at 2:46 pm |

    If God didn’t want us to marry our cousins, he wouldn’t have made them so hot.

  13. Roy
    Roy May 1, 2007 at 3:26 pm |

    Jill, I should have sent you a copy of the pamphlet from one of those modesty groups. I sent a copy to Sheelzebub over at Pandagon. It’d make your toes curl. It’s mind-blowing, what some of these people think. Women don’t own their bodies- men do. Women’s bodies were presents from God, to men, and women are just entrusted to care for them.

    From the pamphlet: “A woman uses her body appropriately when she seeks to delight her husband with it. Her breasts etc. are gifts from God to her husband, which she has been entrusted to care for. If a woman withholds them from her husband or if she offers them begrudgingly, she sins.” Which is why it’s, you know, a sin to be immodest around other men- because you’re giving them the pleasure of a gift meant exclusively for your husband.
    *vomit*

  14. syfr
    syfr May 1, 2007 at 3:38 pm |

    SQUEEELLL! Another Tom Lehrer fan tagging in. I only know about 4 of us, total, in real life.

    Jill, this is a good post; you pull together the threads about both sides of “modesty” and emphasize that women-are-not-footballs, which so many people seem to think we are.

  15. Isabella
    Isabella May 1, 2007 at 3:43 pm |

    I get the impression that religious people who think their natural sexual desires are sins spend more time obsessing over sex than people who accept that they’ll feel sexual desire from time to time (and that “from time to time” can be pretty frequent when you’re a teenager).

  16. Stephanie
    Stephanie May 1, 2007 at 3:54 pm |

    Well, we could just go back to when seeing an ankle would have been considered by these people to be a “stumbling block”. For people who think like this, it doesn’t matter how women dress;’ it’s their existence that is the real temptation.

  17. DAS
    DAS May 1, 2007 at 4:16 pm |

    Sin, as discussed by most theologians, is not “noticing someone hot.” It’s allowing one’s mind or eyes to linger on someone with whon you are not in relationship. – Hugo

    You are right, of course … after a certain point certain thoughts do become sinful. Coveting is one example. Leering, as we all tend to agree here in feminist left blogostan, is another example. And this level of obsession clearly is either under the control of the thinker or, if not, a psychiatric condition needing treatment.

    But it seems to me that the fundie crowd does consider “noticing someone hot and the mind drifting to thoughts of sex” to be sinful. Of course, c.f. Isabella’s comment, if your goal is trying to avoid obsessing about sexual matters, e.g. continuously thinking about sex with someone with whom you are not in a relationship, obsessing about thinking about sex is the worst thing you can do. It does seem to me, though (knowing a few quasi-fundie Christians), that they really do think that the mere thought of sex is as sinful as the act itself — so of course, a woman showing an ankle is a stumbling block to them, as it might cause them to think, however, briefly, about sex.

    And that theologians wouldn’t consider a sin doesn’t mean much: these are people who don’t really pay much attention to the details of Christian theology. I’m sure you’ve noticed, e.g., how the supposedly uber-Catholic Bill Donohue is a de facto docetist (which is a heresy) and how many fundies have some rather bizarre Christological ideas unsupported by any educated theologian.

    To be fair, though, I should of clarified of whom I was speaking. I apologize.

  18. Rosemary Grace
    Rosemary Grace May 1, 2007 at 4:17 pm |

    Zuzu…

    oom-pa-pa…

    …maybe we’ll knock off a squirrel or two
    while we’re poisoning pigeons in the paaaaaaark

  19. Hugo
    Hugo May 1, 2007 at 5:10 pm |

    Thanks for the clarification, DAS, you’re certainly correct about the odd theologies of many spokespeople for the Christian right!

  20. Nomie
    Nomie May 1, 2007 at 5:14 pm |

    Get in line in that processional
    Step into that small confessional
    There the guy who’s got religion’ll
    Tell you if your sin’s original
    If it is, try playin’ it safer
    Drink the wine and chew the wafer
    Two, four, six, eight
    Time to transubstantiate!

    …although these modesty whackjobs are probably born-again fundies, not Catholic. But whatever!

  21. Kyso K
    Kyso K May 1, 2007 at 6:44 pm |

    That day’s worth of Modesty Survey recap was so great. In addition to letting guys know that the first step in taking responsibility for their thoughts was letting the women know how exactly they could best take responsibilty for the boy’s thoughts, there was also a rather defensive response to the idea that they do a parallel survey for guys, which amounted to “Well, we’d love to and if God wills it and we have time and stuff, uh…maybe next year.” It was hilarious.

  22. Nomen Nescio
    Nomen Nescio May 1, 2007 at 6:49 pm |

    it is to your eternal credit, Jill, that you keep wading back into this.

    similarly to how Hercules was given credit for doing king Augeas that little favour.

    ditto on the laughs, too.

  23. JW
    JW May 1, 2007 at 8:28 pm |

    Our visual nature first forces God to call women to modesty

    Force the who what now? These little jesusy boys are “forcing” their god to do stuff? I may have missed that chapter and verse, but I kinda thought–according to them, anyway–god was The Almighty. “Male and femlae created He them,” right? So god created males to be so easily visually stimulated, so easily “stumbled,” that he has to hamper females to compensate? Does not compute.

  24. Tobes
    Tobes May 1, 2007 at 8:39 pm |

    Okay… soooo creepy. Unbelievable creepiness. This tidbit from them stood out: “Sort of a disgusting thought, but men, if not walking in the Spirit everday, can be wolves.” A veiled threat against the bad whores who fail to fall in line with the modesty plan. If you don’t dress modest, you’ll be raped by the evil wolves… but it’ll be your fault.

  25. Rosasharn
    Rosasharn May 1, 2007 at 8:39 pm |

    I see they’re continuing the “men” and “girls” thing.

  26. Neko-Onna
    Neko-Onna May 1, 2007 at 10:08 pm |

    Wow. The boys at Rebelution must have a pretty low opinion of the intelligence level of their readers. I had to chuckle at the “Approaching the Results” how-to-read-statisitics bit. And they say homeschoolers are so advanced!

    In reading through the survey, you might have trouble finding a single item of clothing that someone, somewhere, doesn’t have a problem with. So where do we draw the line?

    Yeah, really. Where DO we draw the line? Ironically, they make fun of Burkas in the same paragraph, but you’ve gotta believe the “modest” dress they are so keen on would have to resemble that. That isn’t terribly surprisng from the folks who posted such blogfare as “Ruining Our Lives with Fun” and “A Lesson From The Vikings”.

    Oh, and I’m sad to report that God never once called me to be modest. God never calls me at all, as a matter of fact. Should that worry me? Is it because I’m not hott enough? ‘Cause I could definately start lifting my skirt to my knee a little more often when I step over things, or start wearing “suggestive” sweathshirts with words printed on the …boobie area… Oh, there I go again *sheepish grin*. Why can’t I get it through my Original-Sin addled head that being ignored by the Big Man is a sign of His deep and abiding love?

  27. mythago
    mythago May 1, 2007 at 11:15 pm |

    The problem with all of this is that there is just no way for women to win.

    From the point of view of the Rebelution boys, that’s not a problem–that’s a solution.

    Gavin de Becker talks about how a common strategy used by (human) predators is to keep the victim off-balance with a mild insult that she then works to disprove. This is intended to get the victim to comply and to establish control. The modesty freaks are doing the exact same thing with their no-win game: controlling women by making fear of men’s disapproval (and, not so subtly, violence) their central concern. Since women can never ever get it right, there is no way for them to say “There, I no longer have to worry about offending the Lord / being raped / tempting a man, now that my dress is modest and Christian.”

    It’s the paleo-Christian version of being an asshole to get girls.

  28. little light
    little light May 2, 2007 at 3:47 am |

    Oh my–and then–and–augh. augh. augh.

    There’s a common thread I’ve seen here, and elsewhere. It’s the “this is the way my brain works so it’s how everyone’s brain works” thing.

    “I lust after my sister and mother. I mean, what guy doesn’t? They look like women, right? I mean, every guy must notice his teenage sister is hot at some point–we’re just restraining ourselves.”

    “I (and this was–God, can I find the interview? Fred Phelps? One of the superfundie politicos? anyway, this is a close paraphrase) grew up on a farm. And you know, when you’re young, you want to have sex with everything that moves. If it’s got a warm hole, you want to put your dick in it.” (interviewer splutters.) “Look, son, you just don’t understand because you didn’t grow up on a farm. You’re just a citifed snob. Everyone does it.” (more sputtering, actual managing to ask The Question.) “Yes, I had a special relationship with one of the donkeys.”

    “Don’t all men desire other men? We all have that sinful desire. There’s just those of us who can resist it and those who can’t. Any ‘straight’ kid could be tempted by hearing about homosexuality.”

    There’s this notion that everyone has the hidden desires these guys do, and they’re just not honest about it, and that some people are just weak enough not to resist sinning. It reads as so…desperate, from the outside. ‘It must be everybody. Everybody must feel this. And I should prevent anyone from having it, because I can’t. Because it’s wrong.’
    Not everyone finds their siblings and parents hot, kiddo. You know? My little brother is a heck of a hottie, but I don’t ever, ever think of him sexually. I never had any sexual feelings for my mother as a growing boy. I’m sorry.

    “I can’t resist attempting to jump on and hump everything that moves without massive constant effort and telling myself that all desire is unnatural and sinful. Can’t you? Isn’t it just that they need to cover up, because we’re all this way, and it’s just the way boys are?”

    I know some really, really horny boys. And even they manage just fine.

  29. Michelle
    Michelle May 2, 2007 at 4:14 am |

    The only thing that will be achieved if girls follow these instructions is that the standards for what’s considered modest clothing will shift, and boys who are surrounded by girls who show nothing but a bit of ankle will be aroused by a bit of ankle. Or their own mother.

  30. antiprincess
    antiprincess May 2, 2007 at 8:03 am |

    we are the folk song army, every one of us cares…

    ready, aim – SING!

  31. Moira
    Moira May 2, 2007 at 11:43 am |

    Which reminds me, I need to steal the Tom Lehrer vinyl from my grandmother at some point. And acquire a turntable.

  32. Starfoxy
    Starfoxy May 2, 2007 at 2:23 pm |

    Mythago said:

    The modesty freaks are doing the exact same thing with their no-win game: controlling women by making fear of men’s disapproval (and, not so subtly, violence) their central concern. Since women can never ever get it right, there is no way for them to say “There, I no longer have to worry about offending the Lord / being raped / tempting a man, now that my dress is modest and Christian.”

    I think the women for whom these things matter feel this in a rather substantial way, and can tell, at least on some level, that it is needlessly cumbersome. I read through several comments from women that preceeded the modesty survey results. Most of them had a tone of immense gratitude that they were finally going to nail down what ‘dressing modestly’ means so they wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. I have a strong suspicion that most of the women who were initially excited for the survey results to come out were bitterly disappointed that *nothing* was nailed down at all but is instead more vague than before.

  33. Morningstar
    Morningstar May 2, 2007 at 2:51 pm |

    Absolutely fantastic post, Jill.

    Love it.

  34. Morningstar
    Morningstar May 2, 2007 at 3:03 pm |

    I am curious about one thing though, and maybe you’ve already explained your position in previous posts:

    How do you reconcile your tolerance of hijab with your belief that the modesty movement “puts the onus on women to prevent men from regressing to their supposed ‘baser instincts’ “?

    Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with voluntary hijab either, but how do you evaluate it as something other than putting the “onus on women”? Isn’t there some sort of onus implied with the hijab (and in fact, with any modesty movement)?

    Is it just with the way these Rebelution guys have phrased their goals/concerns?

  35. Alex
    Alex May 2, 2007 at 3:42 pm |

    There may yet be some good to come from these modesty weirdos. For one thing, we coudl totally co-opt the phrase ‘stumbling block’ as some awesome slang fro attractive clothing. Sample conversation:

    “Do you like this dress?”

    “I love it. It’s a total stumbling block.”

  36. Elizabeth C.
    Elizabeth C. May 2, 2007 at 3:46 pm |

    I showed this to my boyfriend and he said, “They should make a magazine for them called Stumble with their moms and sisters in suggestive poses. . . like, you know, standing. Or sitting.”

  37. preying mantis
    preying mantis May 2, 2007 at 4:19 pm |

    “and this was–God, can I find the interview? Fred Phelps? One of the superfundie politicos? anyway, this is a close paraphrase”

    The mule-fucker is Neal Horsley, an anti-choice whackjob/terrorist. I think he was on the Alan Colmes show when he started insisting that anyone who grows up on a farm gets around to fucking animals at some point in their youth.

  38. little light
    little light May 2, 2007 at 8:06 pm |

    That’s exactly the one, preying mantis, thank you. I had the interview linked in a blog post somewhere and didn’t want to go digging.

    Morningstar, it’s a pretty easy reconciliation. “Modesty” is value-neutral, as far as I’m concerned, and I think as far as Jill’s concerned. The problem is movements to make it obligatory. If a woman wants to cover her body or expose it, that’sher business and her right. If someone else wants to force, coerce, or shame her for doing so–either to convince her to cover up more or to get nakeder–that’s where we get into problems.

    Therefore, women choosing modesty, hijab or otherwise, is their business. Women being told they have to or it’s their responsibility to in order for men to not behave like drooling degenerates, not okay.

  39. Keely Rew
    Keely Rew May 2, 2007 at 9:19 pm |

    Gavin de Becker talks about how a common strategy used by (human) predators is to keep the victim off-balance with a mild insult that she then works to disprove. This is intended to get the victim to comply and to establish control.

    I’ve seen this advocated as a useful technique in dating books. *shudder*

  40. Beta
    Beta May 3, 2007 at 1:54 am |

    The thing I’m curious about is how the religious people who put together the modesty survey feel about women being “forced” to wear the hijab?

    Perhaps this is not the normal feeling but I personally know a very religious person who constantly goes on and on about how women (except he always says girls) dress nowadays. While in other conversations he denigrates the Islamic religion and talkes about how they (said in a menacing tone) make women wear the hijab.

    Have you run across this belief in other people, or is this guy exceptionally obtuse? Personally I lean towards obtuse because I have explained that the religion does not force them to wear the hijab it is generally their choice. However if it not a choice I agree that it most definitely sucks!

    And now for more Tom Lehrer!!

    Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics
    And the Catholics hate the Protestants,
    And the Hindus hate the Moslems,
    And everybody hates the Jews.

    But during National Brotherhood Week,
    National Brotherhood Week,
    It’s National Everyone-Smile-At-One-Another-Hood Week.
    Be nice to people who
    Are inferior to you.
    It’s only for a week, so have no fear;
    Be grateful that it doesn’t last all year!

  41. firecracking
    firecracking May 3, 2007 at 8:08 am |

    Morningstar, it’s a pretty easy reconciliation. “Modesty” is value-neutral, as far as I’m concerned, and I think as far as Jill’s concerned. The problem is movements to make it obligatory. If a woman wants to cover her body or expose it, that’sher business and her right. If someone else wants to force, coerce, or shame her for doing so–either to convince her to cover up more or to get nakeder–that’s where we get into problems.

    little light: Of course, I agree that it’s a woman’s business and right to wear what she likes, and so I would support the right of any woman to voluntarily wear hijab. But I’m not entirely sure that “modesty” is as value-neutral as you make out. As far as I can see, the concept does imply that there’s an onus on a woman to keep her body hidden from men. Modesty, it seems to me, is mostly about not attracting sexual attention from men – it’s not the man’s responsibility not to look, it’s the woman’s responsibility to not present a temptation to look. So inherent in the idea of covering up your body for religious reasons is the implication that it automatically stirs up lustful thoughts in men… and therefore you have to change your behaviour. Which seems to me a fundamentally dodgy concept. (Though I am not saying this is the reason why all Christian women who dress “modestly” do so, nor am I saying it’s why all Muslim women who wear hijab do so).

    Is this sort of “don’t present temptation to your brothers in Christ” idea found in any other area of sin? That isn’t meant as Christian-baiting, I’m actually interested. I’m trying to think of an analogy but can only come up with analogies that imply women are like money, so I will perhaps not make them.

  42. Lorelei
    Lorelei May 3, 2007 at 9:21 am |

    What I want to know is where the fuck is Rebelution’s, uh, leaders? Or whatever they are? There are men on their website saying that they’d easily rape a woman, and it seems that no-one’s coming out and say, ‘Hey, listen man, relax, you can’t just up and rape someone because of the way they’re dressed, that’s your business,’ or something, ANYTHING.

    what the fuck..

  43. syfr
    syfr May 3, 2007 at 10:55 am |

    Moira, there’s a box set of 3 CDs with a lyrics book of everything, and I do mean everything, that Tom Lehrer has recorded, including some that were not released on albums, like some of his work for the Electric Company TV show.

  44. PG
    PG May 3, 2007 at 8:09 pm |

    Oh, the conservative idea that Muslim women have no right to live in Western society while adhering to traditional dress is hardly new, nor peculiar to the UK — it surfaced in the U.S. some time ago.

  45. little light
    little light May 5, 2007 at 3:11 am |

    firecracking, I think we’re just crossing wires a little. “Modesty” as you define it, I definitely don’t see as value-neutral. If you’re covering because you don’t want to “incite people to sin,” or because you’re taught to see your body as shameful, and so on, I don’t see that as value-neutral at all.

    At the same time, I think there are other motivations for covering up. I know that, culturally and due to body-image and public comfort levels, I tend to show less skin than a lot of women my age. It’s not because I see immodest dress as in any way immoral or shameful–honestly, I barely blink at full-on nudity, for other people. When it comes to my own clothing, though, it comes down to personal comfort level. I get blushy.

    I guess that’s what I was getting at–that there might be enough potential motivations for “modest” dress that the fact of covering up, or nonrevealing clothing, can itself be value-neutral. It’s the values we build around these signifiers that get to be problematic.

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