Sunday, February 26, 2012

Modesty and Feminism

I recently found the blog The Aspiring Homemaker (I honestly can't remember which blog directed me to it now...) but I was enthralled by her simple tales about life at "the cottage" in Georgia. She discussed how her mom had always worn modest outfits and she and her sister eventually decided to as well, stressing how it was never forced on them and they chose it for themselves. Her family eventually decided to become "homesteaders" and chose to move out into the country and grow more of their own food. I find this lifestyle truly interesting and I'm making my way through her entire blog as quickly as I can.

The photo above from Mia over at aspiring homemaker.

Between finding Mia's blog and just randomly searching modesty on tumblr (just one of the many things I randomly search for on Tumblr to see whats out there), it got me thinking more about modesty.

In recent years I've dressed more modestly (or conservatively whatever you want to call it). Its mostly just a matter of what type of clothes I'm comfortable in. I love to wear skirts and dresses, but I'm never comfortable in very short ones or extremely low cut ones. I'll usually put a tank top under low cut ones and just not purchase short ones. I don't like constantly having to worry about whether I'm exposing myself. This is mostly just based on practicality and comfort for me personally, I definitely do not judge anyone for the clothes they choose to wear. I feel like thats a big part of feminism, to not judge other women for their choices. I don't always succeed on this front, but I'm trying.

While reading different blogs and posts on Tumblr I was examining my ideas of modesty based on many other women who choose to dress modestly. I'd say by and large the main reason women (and some men) choose to dress more modestly is because of their beliefs or religion. While I do attend church, pray daily, etc, etc... My decision and love for dressing modestly does not come from my religious convictions.

Once again, I try very hard not to judge women whose decision to dress modestly does come from their religious ideals. I believe that if they're happy and enjoy what their wearing then great! One of the main reasons I don't choose to dress modestly because of religion is the seemingly inherent idea of the way a woman looks causing men to "stumble" as it is often phrased. I don't feel that I am responsible for being anyone's keeper. The way I dress is for my benefit alone, I'm sorry if you feel differently.

I think that men should be responsible for their own behavior and not try to place the blame on someone else (i.e. a woman and what she was wearing). This is my personal (mostly feminist) conviction. I am not saying that you need to believe it or think its right. I see so many, mainly conservative Christian, blogs talk about how they're so happy to dress modestly and that its their duty to their Christian brothers.

For instance, I love this tumblr that features daily inspiration for modest women based on fashion bloggers or readers submissions. These girls have awesome style and dress more conservatively! On their sister blog, where they include many more text posts I was a little dismayed to find that they spout the hardcore conservative Christian line. Not because I think there is anything wrong with being a conservative Christian... whatever floats your boat. But their main focus is on dressing modestly for God, but also for men, so that they (men) won't lust after you and you can help them remain pure for marriage (although purity is highly regarded for both men and women, it seem to be mostly the woman's fault if the man "stumbles"). I hesitate to blog about this because there are so many differing views on how religion, feminism and modesty relate and I honestly don't want to step on anyone's toes.

Another section of women that often choose to dress modestly is Muslim women who don the hijab. Hijab is really a complete way of dressing, rather than simply the headscarf that many Muslim women wear. It is a way of covering one's body usually from the head to the wrists to the ankles, including the headscarf to cover one's hair. (I minored in religion in college and focused a lot on Islam and Muslim women).

The above photo from this website.

I love the hijabi fashion websites because they come up with some great outfits! The usually involve maxi skirts or dresses, or longer tops with wide legged jeans. I greatly admire all of the Muslim women I see wearing the headscarf, I know it must be hard to do sometimes. I think that it looks lovely and I am slightly jealous of how wonderful it looks. This is another example of religious reasons for dressing modestly. They believe that in order to please God they should cover their head and most of their body. Once again, I think thats a wonderful reason to dress modestly! I just don't personally hold it as true. But then again I'm not Muslim. Theres a whole other side to the hijab (and its other versions like the burqa, the niqab and the chador) issue about women not being allowed to wear them in some European countries when they want to. I'm not opening that can of worms.. That would be a whole 'nother post. :)

[Sidenote: I am aware that there are more conservative Jewish women as well, but I'm not as knowledgable about them, nor have I read any blogs by Jewish women. Although I'm sure there are great ones out there!]

All of this goes back to my reasons for dressing modestly. It's just how I'm comfortable and I like not feeling incredibly exposed. Regardless, I still wear bikinis, but at the beach or the pool, where they are appropriate. Is this hypocritical of me? I don't think so... but everyone is entitled to their opinion. I enjoy swimming and sunbathing so I'm not going to give up swimsuits.

So often I see in feminist discussions that women have fought for the right to wear what they want without being forced to wear something by certain rules. For instance, when my mom went to school they had to wear skirts or dresses to school every day. If it was below something like 25 degrees out they could wear pants under their skirts but they had to be taken off as soon as they got to school. This dress code was common even for college women and women in the workforce for a long time. The feminist movement fought for women's rights to wear what they want, pants if they wanted, miniskirts, belly shirts, whatever. I fully support this! I would never want to take away this right. It's just that the clothes I choose to wear are more modest.

In my opinion, this is a feminist choice. I'm not following society's demands that women show as much skin as possible, that they be incredibly toned, have huge boobs and the desire to show them off all the time. I don't judge women that dress like this, because it obviously makes them feel good! But I don't really appreciate society trying to tell me what I must do, simply because I'm a female.

Because of the implied reasons that I dress the way I do, I often wonder if people think I'm uneducated or brainwashed into wearing long skirts. I feel that this is often the idea when you see groups of women usually with long hair and wearing long skirts. "Oh they must be those crazy fundamentalist Christians!" I wonder if people can tell by looking at me that I'm not in fact dressing the way I am for religious reasons, nor am I being forced to dress that way by my family, nor am I uneducated (I have a Bachelor's Degree. In Women's Studies no less!) I am a feminist and proud to dress however I want.
Photoset based on this article about a BYU student.

Find the info about this outfit and blogger here.

This great style from here. See Casey's blog here. I love pencil skirts but I'm not sure I could pull them off this well.

This photo from here.

Some photos of me:

This is a super old picture of me (above). I always loved this skirt and was super sad when it was too small.

When I go out I pretty much always wear some sort of sweater over sleeveless and spaghetti strap shirts/dresses. I'm just more comfortable that way.
More current style. My favorites right now are maxi skirts and sweaters.
Sorry about the horrible camera/mirror quality. I was being too lazy to set up my tripod.
From last summer. I love this skirt. It's so swishy. (Worn paired with a white cardigan)

I guess I wanted to write this blog because the issue has been weighing heavily on my mind lately. I've been thinking about the way I dress a lot and I've gone back and forth in the past few years with wearing only skirts/dresses all the time and then wearing jeans often. Mostly because sometimes its just easier to throw on a pair of jeans.

With my perusal of modesty websites I just found myself wondering if anyone else dresses modestly for similar reasons to mine. That is, not for religious reasons. If you've got any links to likeminded blogs or whatever, shoot them my way!

What are your views on modesty as a feminist choice? What about women's choices to dress however they want, is that any less feminist? How are you most comfortable?

1 comment:

  1. I'm Mormon and (as you can tell from the BYU story) we're fanatics of modesty. We have a codified set of modesty rules that purports to be "the Lord's standards." But I've slowly come to wonder if God really cares as much as Tim Gunn and Joan Rivers about fashion.

    But since I kind of have to follow the code to remain an upstanding member of Mormon culture, I've been trying to justify it in my mind. So I've been thinking over lately what the moral case for modesty could be. I am also wondering if there's a feminist case for modesty.

    A couple thoughts:
    Being sexy is supposed to be empowering. We're shattering patriarchal restrictions and owning our formerly repressed sexuality. But isn't it also deference to the male gaze, giving men what they want without them even having to ask? Is there a big difference between Lucas Films forcing Carrie Fisher into a sexy slave outfit and society's more subtle way of telling us if we cover up too much we're dowdy and overall less valued? Sexual power is historically all a woman had in the sense that alluring and therefore aligning with powerful men was our only access to real power (I'm overgeneralizing a bit). Beyoncé and Rhianna (nothing but love for them) are comfortable displaying their goods, but at the same time they are part of a culture where a woman's talent is insufficient in the absence of her ability to arouse men.

    I don't need to cover up for guys, but I also don't owe them a show. By withholding visual access to me, am I telling men they haven't earned that kind of intimacy with me? That's kind of a slippery slope to virginity being a prize you owe the man you marry, but I'm not willing to dismiss the idea altogether. Is it un-feminist to view my sexuality as a bargaining tool for male commitment?

    Also, modesty frees me from some worry over how good my body looks, because it's not on display.

    Just some random thoughts. Cute outfits, by the way!