'Judgments', Vancouver student Rosea Lake's powerful photo from last year depicts how women
are judged solely on appearances. Via Tumblr
I grew up in a middle class home somewhere between Lagos and Ogun State, Nigeria. I still live in that house when I’m broke or miss my old man’s face. One scene I will probably never forget from my childhood was my mom prepping for the gym in yoga pants and a t-shirt one bright Saturday morning. My preacher dad’s lower jaw was slack when he saw her in pants for the first time and he tried to get her to wear something else (preferably a skirt). Somehow my father let her work out in her fitting pants much to my delight.
Another amusing memory was of the time I was to graduate from primary school and as head girl, I was expected to give a speech. I was awake for most of the night practicing my walk to the podium, reading and re-reading my speech. You can imagine the look of shock on my face when my glorious morning finally arrived and the head mistress said I couldn’t give my speech because I was wearing pants. She spat “She can’t give a speech dressed like this” as if I “knew” that 7-year-old girls wearing pants were seductive and would distract the male audience. I would have you know that I eventually gave my proud speech after much groveling and unnecessary drama. This was my first lesson in modesty culture. From then it’s been one not-so-subtle-message after another along the lines of “Cover up your body so you won’t tempt men to harass you sexually.”
I risk being called a heretic for writing this article but I figured it’s worth the slander from fellow Christian evangelicals. It’s about modesty culture and the way it conditions us to believe horrible things about femininity. Let me state first of all, that I strongly believe women should always dress appropriately and comfortably within context. I strongly believe that the female body, like many things in this life, is beautiful and should be adorned, protected, not thrown as pearls before swine. I believe that, as women, our choices in clothing should always reflect that. I believe that we should dress like we know our true worth and do not need to endure uncomfortable suffocating clothing to receive validation from the opposite sex.
But I fear that modesty culture has conditioned me to believe that if a man brushes my bottom, it is because I am wearing pants and not because he is uncouth and crude. Modesty culture says that if a group of men brutally rape a 16-year-old, it is because she was “asking for it” and “she finally got what was coming to her”. Modesty culture gives men courage to fondle a female thief’s breasts in public as punishment for her crimes (and eventually drive her to commit suicide). Modesty culture makes generous excuses for misogynists and teaches women to be ashamed of their bodies. Modesty culture says that if women are molested, harassed, raped, it is because they were wearing pants/fitting blouses/high heels/make up/flared skirts/clothes. Modesty culture is flawed.
All I’m really trying to say is modesty culture needs to die or evolve into something that doesn’t make women feel there is one more sexual crime to be committed in the world because they were born female. As if by being female, they are already guilty of something and need to hide underneath layers and layers of sack cloth (and even that does not guarantee safety from harassment).
Something is deeply wrong with the world for someone to be raped every 26 seconds in South Africa and it’s not because shorts are selling faster than maxi skirts. It’s not because female bodies aren’t covered up enough. It’s because more men are getting away with animalistic tendencies in our patriarchal societies. Modesty culture is the Band Aid that needs to give way for doctors' hands.