I wrote an article last week on modesty. It has been my most popular article to date. However it’s also provoked a storm of very angry reactions from a few women. In short, the article shared a list, written by men, of 10 ways women dress that nearly all men seem to struggle with and find indecent. The list can be summarised as clothing that is skin tight, reveals our underwear, shows cleavage or reveals too much flesh. Along with the list was an explanation of how a man’s mind can work when he see’s such clothing. The men were real and raw in what they shared.
Here are a few of the negative reactions I got from Christian women: ‘I hate this article’, ‘No man is going to tell me how to dress. That’s between me and God’, ‘This article is disgusting’, ‘Men need to get on their knees and pray. We should be able to wear what we want’, ‘This article promotes rape culture’, ‘Such draconian thinking should be banned’ and ‘Girls, let’s start wearing islamic burka’s…that’s the only way to keep men happy’.
The force of the reactions were a shock to me at first. Why would such a list make women SO angry? I had forgotton my own battle with modesty. I had forgotton my own past anger surrounding the issue. Here are a few of my thoughts on why the list caused such a reaction. Please feel free to share yours below.
Some women got angry because they…
1. Lack knowledge about what modesty is.
Some of us have been under the misconception that modesty is simply a matter of conscience. We think dressing modestly is between us and God and has nothing to do with other’s opinions. The Greek word for decency (in the context of women dressing decently) used in 1 Timothy 2:9–10 means: ‘a sense of shame or honour, modesty, bashfullness, reverence, regard for others, respect’. Thus to dress with decency is to dress in a respectful, modest, reverent way with regard for what others think. It’s not immodest for us to walk around in our bedroom in our underwear. It is however immodest if we walk around in our underwear on a public street. Why? Because modesty is not about us. It’s about dressing in a respectful way in public…in mixed gender company. Modesty is about caring if we discover most of our Christian male friends find a particular item of clothing indecent. I think the list angered some women because they believe male opinion has nothing to do with biblical modesty. Yes, men don’t always get things right…but their opinions in this area matter.
2. Don’t understand a man’s struggle.
Many of us women may have hardly ever had to fight against the desire to lust after a man’s body. We have assumed that men are just like us. If a particular man is not, he must be ungodly or abnormal. When we read the article we were angry that a group of men, who in our mind must be immoral perverts, were telling us how to dress. How dare they! However, if you speak to the most godly Christian men you know, you will most likely find that lust is something they have to constantly battle against; that immodest clothing is a non-stop struggle for them. Men seem to find our bodies far more appealing than we find theirs. Thus their temptation to lust after our bodies is far greater than our temptation to lust after theirs.
3. Have been treated badly by men.
Some of us have been treated terribly by men. Men might have sexually abused us, beaten us up, pretended they loved us to sleep with us, broken our hearts etc. They might have then blamed us for their wicked, sinful behaviour. The wounds are deep. Jesus is healing us but there is still incredible pain. When we read the list it horrified us because it reminded us of our abusers. If that’s you I want to say…I am so sorry about what you have been through. If it helps, God is even angrier at such sin than you are. He loves His precious daughters. When Jesus died on the cross he bore the wrath God has towards sin because God takes sin very, very seriously (Isaiah 53). What you have been through grieves God’s heart. But I also want to add: not all men are like that. True Christian brothers seek your good. They desire you to dress modestly out of love and care for you, not out of a desire to control or manipulate you. They want you to understand the male mind so as to protect you. They are not blaming you for their lust, but they ask for your help.
4. Thought the list was an excuse for bad behaviour in men.
Some of us thought the list was excusing licentious, lustful behaviour in men. We feared it justified rape and this horrified us. Men are called by Christ to not lust (Matthew 5:28). Lust is 100% wrong. There is no excuse for it. There is never a reason for a man raping a woman (Deuteronomy 22:25). Men are called to treat us as sisters in all purity (1 Tim 5:1-2). The men who wrote the list were not blaming women for their lust. They were instead saying (if you listen to the full sermon the article is based on) that lust is a struggle for them, God has designed men to find our bodies attractive. A naked female form is a magnet to a man’s eyes…it turns him on. In marriage this is healthy and good. When we dress immodestly in public and expose our bodies, the temptation for a man to desire us sexually is greater. They agreed however that immodest dress is still NO excuse for lust.
5. Are concerned such a message could put off women from coming to church.
We all know women who are new Christians. The content of their wardrobe is the least of their problems. They have major issues in their lives and God is helping them slowly deal with those issues one by one. We want to encourage such women to keep coming to church. We don’t want them to think, ‘I don’t have the right clothes to wear, therefore it’s better if I stay at home’. Jesus hung out with prostitutes (Luke 7:36–50). I am sure the first thing he told them was not ‘you are indecently dressed’. I think some women were angry because they thought this list is the last thing my new Christian friend needs to read. Amen, I agree! I have updated the original article to clarify.
6. Don’t value themselves. Male attention has become a crutch.
For the first few years of being a Christian I really struggled to understand my value as a child of God. I believed my value came from male attention. If no man found me attractive, I felt worthless. Thus I purposely wore sexy clothing to get attention. Attention became my idol and my drug. My identity was based on the degree to which men found me attractive, rather than on my attractiveness to Christ. When someone once told me what I was wearing was immodest, it got me very, very angry. I hated them. They wanted to take away my idol. How dare they! Some of you, like me, were angry because the list exposed an idol, an idol that I needed to repent of and put to death (Colossians 3:5).
7. Have issues with men.
Some of us have issues with men. We are angry and suspicious of them and hate it when they tell us what to do. Men are the enemy/oppressor. We think we should have the right to dress how we want without being challenged by them. We feel we have been controlled by them for quite enough of history already! When challenged about the way we dress we got angry. We mistook the attempt of godly, kind men to share with us their struggles, how their minds are wired and what clothing they all find indecent, with an attempt to dominate us. Instead of feeling love and empathy towards our brothers, we felt rage.
8. Grew up in a sexually repressive environment.
Some of us grew up in a Christian environment where sex was not considered a gift from God to be enjoyed in marriage (Ephesians 5), but rather an evil word. The feminine form was something to be ashamed and embarrassed of. Women were blamed if men lusted. It was their fault. Church people could not have open, candid, honest discussions about sex. Even Song of Solomon apparently had nothing to do with the topic! When women from such a repressive environment read the list, it reminded them of their past. The list brought up a lot of pain and anger as they assumed the men who came up with it were also trying to repress them. They misunderstood the motive of their brothers.
9. Struggle with body image.
Some of us hate our bodies. The media’s portrayal of women and what it means to be attractive has deeply affected us. We may be bulimic or anorexic or might have struggled with such disorders in the past. Some of us have scars from head to toe from self-harm. Any topic to do with the body and men can trigger deep emotions. The list caused such a trigger.
10. Are very attached to their clothing.
Some of us are fashionistas. We are passionate about clothes. We have an extensive wardrobe we adore. We believe in dressing modestly. We thought we were. But if the article was right and basically all Christian men find skin tight clothing and cleavage immodest and indecent, our favourite slinky little red dress would have to go. We love that dress. That dress has history. They might have well suggested we throw away BoBo our childhood teddy bear. We were enraged. No one, I mean NO-ONE is taking away BoBo and NO-ONE is having that dress! Not even Jesus Christ Himself!
So those are my thoughts on why the issue of modesty, and specifically men’s opinion about what is immodest, can bring up so much anger. Do you think I got it right? Are there other reasons why the list or modesty angers women? Let us know by commenting below.