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Monday, July 23, 2007

Common Ground--Various (Non-Muslim) Religious Views on Modesty

I was intrigued by a religious, conservative, Pentecostal American family shown on a TV program. It was mentioned that the females followed a dress code, which really interested me. They described their modesty as dressing with feminity, meaning no pants and displaying long hair. This seemed different than the Islamic dress code, I thought to myself, since Muslim women are taught to cover their hair, not grow it long for all to see. And I think Muslim women can wear pants, although, some would disagree, still, the pants-vs-skirts issue is not so clear-cut in Islamic dress. It reminded me how the definition of modesty can vary not only from person to person, but from religion to religion. Still, I admired that family very much for their dedication to their religous values. I felt a common ground with them. I did a quick internet search on the internet and found:

1. "Our church teaches us the value of modest, appropriate dress. Men should dress like men and women must dress like women! The girls and I do not wear makeup, jewelry or nail polish. Pants are for men, so the girls and I only wear skirts to the knee and dresses. We wear our hair long and uncut because it represents modesty and shows our respect for both God and for Steve [the husband]. The rest of the world might call this strict or old-fashioned. To us, it is our way of life…Women should dress modestly! Girls must wear full length skirts and never pants. Shirts must cover the shoulder and not reveal their neckline. We never cut our hair because we believe that long hair for women shows respect for our husband and God."

2. "I cut my hair ! Big deal, it really is. In plain churches the Bible means what it says. Simple as that. And long hair is said to be a womans glory in 1 Cor.11:15. So in the world I walk in I just cut off my glory. It will grow and so its not the end of the world for me, but now my fickle mindedness will be remembered every time I look in the mirror. For those not walking in this "plain" world, this stuff must seem to silly and so strict. And there are things that when your heart is not right, and spoken about in a bad tone, seems so old fashioned and so old world. Dark ages type behavior, but it isn't...I am part of the United Pentecostal Church, so I also believe that your hair is your glory. I am 27 years old and have never cut my hair in my life. Believe it or not, I have never been tempted, but I know that others struggle with this."

3. "I live near the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama. The Shrine is rightly strict about modesty in dress. But I see an unhealthy number even of elderly women who visit here wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes. As a young person I was exposed to this all my life. I thought nothing of it until I started reading books on femininity and masculinity and experienced what a good Catholic family should be. I married into such a Catholic family.
Not only women but children are dressing immodestly today, both in public and often at Mass where our Lord is present in the Holy Eucharist. It is difficult for a young man to stay focused and pure even at Mass when a young woman walks into church wearing immodest clothing. They have lost the sense of modesty. Both young and older parents need to monitor at all times what their children wear. Men and boys should also dress modestly when attending Mass. Sundays should reveal our best dress of the week. Dressing modestly and well for Mass reflects our faith that Jesus is present in the Eucharist and that He perpetuates His Sacrifice of the Cross.
If the President of the United States was coming to town and speaking at a convention dinner, to which you were invited, would you wear shorts, a T-shirt or a mini-skirt? I don't think so. Yet, in the house of God many ignore His Real Presence by the way they dress. Why do people act this way? It is because faith in the Real Presence of Jesus and the perpetuation of His Sacrifice of the Cross at every Holy Mass has been lost, or has been seriously weakened. G.K. Chesterton would say to this: "What's wrong with the world!"

4. "The 23-year-old author first heard of "modestyniks"--Orthodox Jewish women who withhold physical contact from men until marriage--while a freshman at Williams College. She was initially fascinated by the way in which they cleave to old ideals, especially amid a sexually saturated contemporary world. But more so, Wendy Shalit was aghast at how modestyniks are dismissed as sick, delusional, or repressed by the secular community. "Why," asks the author, "is sexual modesty so threatening to some that they can only respond to it with charges of abuse or delusion?"
In her thoughtful three-part essay, the author reveals an impressive reading list as she probes the cultural history of sexual modesty for women and considers whether this virtue may be beneficial in today's world--if not an antidote to misogyny. In an age when women are embarrassed by sexual inexperience, when sex education is introduced as early as primary school, and when women suffer more than ever from eating disorders, stalking, sexual harassment, and date rape, Shalit believes a return to modesty may place women on equal footing with men. She yearns for a time when conservatives can believe the claims of feminists and feminists can differentiate between patriarchy and misogyny and share in the dialectic of female sexuality."

5. "Nancy Leigh DeMoss challenges Christians to ask themselves tough questions: Who decides what I will wear, and why? What message does my clothing communicate? And, how can I reflect the glory of God in my wardrobe?
Biblical, practical and motivating, "The Look" challenges women (young or older), parents, and teens to discover the Truth about clothing and modesty, and to make choices based on God's eternal perspective."

In a vast majority of Christian churches - Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox - common sense prevails. Something a little nicer than jeans and sneakers is the norm, and a nice suit for men or dress for women is quite tasteful, but even something a little more casual is perfectly fine. Some churches are intentional about "come as you are" worship, jeans, sneakers and all; some affluent congregations "dress to the nines." But otherwise, assume anything from casual dress to a suit or skirt is acceptable.
Having said that, however, there are some kinds of churches with a more stringent "dress code":
Men - In Conservative and Orthodox Jewish congregations, men are expected to wear a yarmulke (skullcap) and prayer shawl. These are often available for use in the synagogue itself.
- In United Pentecostal Churches, men are expected to wear long sleeves, and no jewelry - not even a wedding ring.
Women - In some very tradititional Catholic and Orthodox churches (these are few, outside the mainstream of their own tradition), women are expected to wear dresses with skirts below the knees; heads are to be veiled (hats can be worn instead; veils are sometimes available for use in the narthex, or entryway, of the church); shoulders are not to be bare. In Mormon churches, women are expected to wear very conservative dresses with ankle-length skirts.
Again, these stricter guidelines are exceptions. In the vast majority of Christian churches, common sense is the prevailing guideline. It is best not to look slovenly, and one should avoid clothing with offensive or suggestive messages; beyond that, don't sweat the dress code."

7. "The BYU Honor Code
Dress and Grooming Standards
The dress and grooming of both men and women should always be modest, neat, and clean consistent with the dignity adherent to representing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and any of its institutions of higher learning.
Modesty and cleanliness are important values that reflect personal dignity and integrity, through which students, staff, and faculty represent the principles and standards of the Church. Members of the BYU community commit themselves to observe the standards, which reflect the direction given by the Board of Trustees and the Church publication For the Strength of Youth. The BYU Dress and Grooming Standards are as follows:
A clean and well-cared-for appearance should be maintained. Clothing is inappropriate when it is sleeveless, revealing, or form fitting. Shorts must be knee length or longer. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extreme styles or colors, and trimmed above the collar leaving the ear uncovered. Sideburns should not extend below the earlobe or onto the cheek. If worn, moustaches should be neatly trimmed and may not extend beyond or below the corners of the mouth. Men are expected to be clean shaven; beards are not acceptable. Earrings and other body piercing are not acceptable. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas.
A clean and well-cared-for appearance should be maintained. Clothing is inappropriate when it is sleeveless, strapless, backless, or revealing; has slits above the knee; or is form fitting. Dresses, skirts, and shorts must be knee length or longer. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extremes in styles and colors. Excessive ear piercing (more than two per ear) and all other body piercing are not acceptable. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas.

by W. John Walsh
What is immodest attire? Immodest attire is that state of dress (or undress) which flaunts a person's body and sexuality. There are four questions one can ask to determine if a particular outfit is immodest:
(1) Does the outfit create greater interest in the wearer by potential sexual partners? Most of us know that girls in two piece swimming suits (i.e., "bikinis") are more interesting to men than girls wearing modest suits. (See footnote 1) If more potential sexual partners pay attention to you because of your dress or undress, then you know you are being immodest. No one except a spouse has the right to arouse sexual feelings in someone.
(2) Does the outfit make members of the same sex more conscious of their physical inadequacies? If your dress causes feelings of inadequacy in others, then you know you are being immodest. It is not Christian conduct to make other people feel bad because they were not blessed with your physical bounties.
(3) Why are you wearing or buying the outfit? In reality, most of us know what is immodest attire. When we choose a two piece swimming suit over a modest one piece, we know why we are doing it. We want attention and appreciation for our body.
(4) Would the outfit cover temple garments, if you wore them? One of the purposes of the temple garment is to protect our modesty. If your outfit would not cover a temple garment, it is by definition immodest. Sometimes, it may be appropriate to wear such an outfit in special circumstances. On the other hand, wearing the exact same outfit outside of those special circumstances would be imodest. For example, it may be acceptable to wear a modest swim suit to swim, even though the swim suit would not cover temple garments. But it would be immodest to wear your swimming suit to go shopping at the mall or to a party.
(1) It should be noted that two piece swimming suits (i.e., "bikinis") are not allowed in the swimming areas of Church-sponsored colleges like Brigham Young University and Ricks College."

8. "Much is added to Redekop's analysis throughout the valuable essay by Marlene Epp, "Nonconformity and Nonresistance: What Did it Mean to Mennonite Women," in Changing Roles. Epp notes that women carried much of the burden of Mennonite separateness and nonconformity. She points out that the Mennonite doctrine of non-resistance affected women very differently than men. Mennonite women were not conscripted into alternate service during the Second World War; they were left on the farms and in the villages, where they often had the sole responsibility for their families. They were compelled to enter the work force. The war began a process that encouraged Mennonite women to break down the traditional barriers of separation and become more fully integrated into Canadian society. The most often cited symbol of this acculturation was the increasing use of English in the Mennonite community. An equally visible symbol for women, according to Epp, was the decline of Mennonite women's symbolic dress. Women were required to wear a bonnet and plain dress. The bonnet, in particular, was a symbol of separation from the dominant culture. No such dress code was imposed on men. Resistance to traditional dress began in the 1950s. By the 1960s traditional dress was in decline. Epp links this rebellion from traditional Mennonite culture to the "gradual secularization," or acculturation, of Mennonite society after the war."

9. "Other scholars in this section examine women's resistance to patriarchy and the impact of shifting gender roles on Anabaptist communities. Taking restrictive dress codes as their focus (as many of the contributors do), these authors note that dress codes frequently serve as a source of conflict. Steven Reschly argues that anxiety about the "flood tide of American individualism" in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led male community leaders to tighten dress codes and familial roles for women, establishing what he calls "preservationist patriarchy." Kimberly Schmidt's study of a conservative Mennonite community in the 1930s and 1980s reveals how social anxiety over the Great Depression and Reagan-era farm crises challenged the community. While the economic hardship pushed Mennonite women into the public workforce, the move often led to an abandonment of the traditional cape dress and prayer covering. Women who worked "off-farm" found themselves at the center of a struggle between economic necessity and religious tradition and were often scapegoated as troublemakers. Both essays emphasize how communities invest their cultural identity and security in the plain dress of women."

So there you have a brief look into the religous views on dress from a few Non-Muslim individuals and groups. I'd welcome any comments from members of such religions.

And again, although our definitions and applications of modesty of dress differ for various reasons, I admire those groups that advocate modesty of dress, and I wish we could all see the common ground we stand on, instead of viewing each other as strange and alien and misguided. It's a big world full of billions of people. WOW.


The OxymorMon said...

I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as LDS, or, often, "Mormon" for our belief in the Book of Mormon along with the Bible. My wife wasn't LDS when we got married (later converted), and bought a swimsuit that I thought looked great. It wasn't until we got in a hot tub with my family, that I realized it was more revealing than I would like it to be. She hasn't worn it since, but half-jokingly asks me if she can wear it as she gets trimmer from exercising. No way. I don't want other men looking at my wife and thinking anything more sexual than, "she's a nice-looking lady".

We also encourage our children to dress modestly. It's hard enough to make it through teenage years trouble-free, without adding tempting dress as well. I can't think of anything worse than my daughter getting into a situation she would regret for the rest of her life. Dressing modestly will help in that regard, and also lead boys to think of her more as a person to value rather than an object.

Scarf Ace said...

thank you for your comments. one of my very good friends is a mormon and i very much respect her values and lifestyle which are a result of her religious beliefs.

Scarf Ace said...

NOTE: There was another comment left on this posting. Sadly, I somehow lost it and can not find it to post. If you are reading this, please post your comment again. (Re: The thing work up the ladder...). Thank you for your comments, InshaaAllah I will be able to publish it in full.

Anonymous said...

(Here is the additional comment, left by SAFA...thank you!)

Assalaamu alaikum.....

The thing work your way up the ladder. Today you wear lipstick with ur hijab...tomorrow you may not. The same with the clothing. The most important beginning is to cover your hair. Thats an absolute must. After that, just keep pounding away at it, and the rest will come. Allah is merciful!

Posted by Safa to Scarf Ace: Wearing a Headscarf in America at July 26, 2007 1:12 AM

Anonymous said...

Its great that everyone is discussing the issue of modesty and the hijab