The title of this post is a play on Julie’s recent post over at T&S. I have been stirring up trouble over there so I figured I’d use this unusual lapse in my blogging apathy to continue over here. [Update: Because I was mirroring the title of Julie’s post in my title people seem to be jumping to wild conclusions about what this post must mean. Please read the actual post and at least my comment #2 before concluding you know what position I am taking here. The title probably would more accurately read “Tell the YW to Be Modest because of the nature of men”. But that would not have been as fun so I didn’t use it.]
I actually don’t disagree with everything Julie says there. But I think the headline and much of the premise is misguided.
Here is the fundamental question: If there were no sex in the world would there be any reason for modesty?
Actually our scriptural stories answer this one pretty clearly in the Adam and Eve story. Before the Fall and before sexual reproduction began Adam and Eve reportedly roamed freely in The Garden as naked as jaybirds. There is no indication that God minded this one bit. It is only after the couple was cast from the Garden and sexual reproduction became part of their world that modesty suddenly started to matter.
So the obvious fact is that modesty in the way we dress is all about sex. Which means young men (YM) are asked to be modest for the young women (YW) and the YW are asked to be modest for the YM.
Now the normal cry at this point is “I’m not responsible for anyone else’s sexual thoughts or behavior!!”. True enough. People are accountable for their own thoughts and actions. But we are responsible for what we say — both verbally and non-verbally. And how we dress communicates with others. In every society some ways of dressing say “I’m interested in attracting a sexual partner today” and other ways of dressing say “I’m not interested in attracting a sexual partner”. The former way of dressing is sometimes called “sexy” or any number of related things. The latter is often called less flattering things like “buttoned-down” or at worst “frumpy”. (I am imagining how my point about clothes communicating these things will freak some of you out… we’ll see I guess.)
Anyhow, every society has its own standards of modesty. The US is different than a tropical island nation or a strict Islamic nation. So clearly there is no universal standard. But I think it is pretty universal that when a person dresses more modestly than average for their culture they are sending the message “I’m not looking for a sexual partner today”. And of course that is the very message we Mormons want our unmarried young people to be sending out to all the potential sexual partners they encounter every day at school or wherever.
So the reason for YW to dress and behave modestly is indeed to communicate with the YM they encounter daily. Not just the Mormon young men but all of the men they encounter. The same is true for the YM dressing and behaving modestly — for them to communicate that they are not in the market for a sexual partner.
Of course I understand the complaints that YW are saddled with unnecessary guilt complexes at times when these reasons are poorly spelled out. To remedy that I am all for explaining things explicitly to people. My own YW daughters certainly get clear explanations. It seems to me that it is far wiser to fully embrace the sexual reasons behind our modesty standards rather than trying to invent other explanations for the practice.
So when I say YW should be modest for the YM, I really mean the reason for all people to be modest (or not) is to communicate intentions and proximate plans and desires to the opposite sex (aka potential mating partners).
[NOTE: Be sure to read at least the first few comments below. Kristine’s excellent question elicited some responses from me in comment #2 that that I wish I had incorporated here in the original post.]