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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The First Time I Heard About "Locker Room Talk" Was When the Church Taught Me About Modesty

Katy Perry, looking totally awesome and not one bit "modest," performing the song "Dark Horse." Image source.
[content note: rape culture]

A few days ago, a 2005 video surfaced of Trump bragging about how he likes to grope women and can get away with it because he's rich. During Monday night's debate, Trump repeatedly said that he's embarrassed by those things he said but also that "it's locker room talk." As if it's totally fine and normal for men in locker rooms to discuss raping women, and the problem was that Trump's words were recorded for a wider audience to hear- not that he had said (or even thought) those things in the first place. (Note: no, Trump was not in a locker room when he said them.)

The idea that men are secretly always thinking about raping women, and that's just the way it is- where have I heard this before? Oh, in all the churchy talks about "modesty."

They taught us girls that "men are visual." At first I didn't understand what that meant- but after enough time in modesty culture, I got it. It meant that if a man sees an attractive woman, he will think about her naked. The image will just pop into his head, he can't help it. And he will think about having sex with her. And nope, he won't think about whether she consents or not. It's about using her for what he wants- it's rape. That's what they taught us girls in church. Most of the time they didn't say it so explicitly. They just said "men are visual." And "that's how they're wired." (Modesty culture doesn't believe gay or asexual men exist.)

Back in college, at a leadership meeting for the Christian campus group I was in, one of the guys lamented how so many girls in our group didn't dress "modestly." He said, "If only they knew what was going on in a guy's mind when he sees that, how she's being devoured." And of course I believed him. Modesty culture had taught me that men are the authoritative voice on women's clothes and women's bodies. Women always have to take men's opinons and weaknesses into account when choosing what to wear. Otherwise we "cause our brothers to stumble."

Because yes, they taught me, it's totally normal for guys to imagine "devouring" women. Especially when a woman's clothes "draw attention to" her body.

Online, I found "The Modesty Survey." It's since been taken down from the internet, but you can read about the effect it had on me in this post: The Story of Me and Modesty. (Here's an article with more information about it.) It was a survey where men would answer questions about what types of women's clothing (or behaviors) were or were not "a stumbling block." (Some Christians have since criticized it for being "legalistic", but those same Christians then turn around and say yes, modesty is important, but it shouldn't be about rigid rules. Umm. No. That's logically inconsistent. If women need to "help" men by dressing "modestly," then OBVIOUSLY the logical thing to do is survey a group of men to try and define what exactly that means. The entire premise of modesty culture is that women just can't understand what men are going through.) Anyway, the survey participants were also able to leave comments on each question, and reading those comments terrified me. About how women's clothing invited them to imagine more and more. How clearly, when a girl leans on a couch in a certain way, she's enticing good Christian boys to come to bed with her. How they see "immodest" women as objects unworthy of respect. (Dianna Anderson has a post specifically about this.) Here's what I said about it, in "The Story of Me and Modesty" linked to above:
For every single question, there were a few [guys] that thought that the item in question was "immodest." And from reading some of the comments that explained their answers, I found out what that meant. As it turns out, no matter what I wear, some minority of guys out there is raping me in their heads.

No longer was I worried about "causing a brother to stumble." I was horrified at the idea that no matter what I wore, it was going to "cause" some guy to think about raping me. That is completely evil and offensive and 55 levels of NOT OKAY. No longer was I interested in modesty because I wanted to "help" the guys- no, I wanted to save my own dignity and not be thought of as a sex object.
I was horrified. But yes, that is the message of modesty culture: Men are always thinking about raping you. Especially if you dress "immodestly." (But the modesty survey showed me, there is literally NOTHING a girl can wear and have 100% of survey participants say it's "modest." Note: wearing "literally NOTHING" is ALSO "immodest." Just can't win.) Now, of course they shouldn't think about raping you, that's a sin, and that's totally their own fault. But really, they can't help it. That's just how men are. "That's how they're wired."

Donald Trump said it was "locker room talk" when he bragged about sexually assaulting women. He's saying it's not polite, it's not something that should be said in public, but that yes, it's totally normal for men to say things like that to other men. That's just the way it is.

Years and years ago, the church taught me the exact same thing.

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