Thursday, 29 March 2007

Plea for Forgiveness: I'll Never Post on Postmodernism Again.

I'm sorry Baudrillard made you all hide in your blogging shells. Here's to opening things back up for discussion!

Have any of you read Reading Lolita in Tehran? I am reading it right now for my Brit Lit class. (We, the students, can't figure out why it is Brit Lit. She wrote it in America and she is from Iran. Oh well. I am happy to read it.) A topic in the forefront is, obviously, women's rights. So, I had to write a response paper for my class today. After I read the paper to my class, discussion ensued about modesty, Dallin Oaks's famous "walking pornography" line, etc.

Here is part of my paper:

Part of this question revolves around the dress required in Iran and some other Islamic countries. These requirements are based on the Hijab, the Islamic dress code. Though interpreted very differently by different groups of people and countries, the Hijab is religious in nature. The chador is relatively liberal, when compared to the burqa, but every interpretation of the Hijab, be it a headscarf or the burqa is meant to be religious. I would imagine there are many women who follow the Hijab to varying to degrees who feel their interpretation of the Hijab is very personal, and a manifestation of their commitment to Islam. So, if this is a religious manifestation, why do I feel angry when reading about it in Reading Lolita? In my reading I found that it was the Iranian dialogue which made me angry: “Veiling is a Woman’s Protection” and “My Sister, Guard Your Veil. My Brother, Guard Your Eyes” (27). Maybe this makes me angry because it sounds all too familiar. [These were signs on Iranian streets.]

As Mormons we understand the significance of religious dress. At BYU, we understand the meaning of a dress code. Though I don’t intend to literally compare Mormon standards of modesty to wearing a burqa, I find a comparison of attitudes appropriate (i.e., I am referring to how the dress code is represented in Nafisi’s novel compared to Mormon culture). From a religious standpoint, what is the point of modesty? Mormon modesty for women is often stressed because young women should not make young men think dirty thoughts. While this is a perk of dressing modestly, (encouraging clean thoughts) it is not the doctrinal reason for doing so. How does this faulty reason for modesty undermine agency? How is modesty undermined if it is enforced based on grounds of responsibility for others’ thoughts? Should modesty be considered a social issue, rather than a personal one? Would the chador, or other interpretations of the Hijab, infringe on women’s rights if it were not enforced based on the effect of women’s sexuality on men?

Also, these women, obviously, rebel and question the laws. They take little liberties here and there to show their fight for freedom-- showing a little more hair, wearing colorful fabrics for their chador, etc. Is this kind of questioning acceptable-- in general, and for Mormons? Why or why not?

Now . . . discuss!

P.S. The picture says, "a woman modestly dressed is a pearl in its shell."


Emma said...

OK, very quick and not well thought out post, as I'm leaving for Spain in a few hours... but this issue has come up lately on a lot of blogs I read. Selling female modesty from the standpoint of protecting male thoughts does nobody any favors. The reason to dress modestly is to show respect for your body, and therefore to show respect for the one who gave it to you. To me, it seems that the problem with dressing immodestly to attract sexual attention is that you've basically reduced your body to a commodity - which, as a son or daughter of God, is selling yourself pretty short.

I think putting the burden of male virtue on women also feeds into the myth of male weakness - that men are essentially animalistic in nature, and that it's up to women as the "better angels" of humanity to protect them from themselves. How condescending to men, how oppressive to women, and how far removed from what we believe human nature to be! I find this attitude particularly insidious because it represents either an appropriation or an abdication of agency. To say that our thoughts or actions are dependent on someone else seems like a pretty good Satanic lie.

Courtney said...

Yes! Emma I totally agree with you. Not only does it objectify women, it is degrading to men.

Monica said...

I think immodest dress includes a lot of things besides simply showing off your body inappropriately (there is humility involved in dressing modestly as well), but considering the discussion here, I'm going to focus more on that aspect of immodest dress. I do agree, Emma, but I think there is a difference between "making" someone else think something and providing temptation. Obviously, women are never "responsible" for men's thoughts - that's ludicrous. All of us are responsible for our own thoughts regardless of what we see in the world on a daily basis. However, part of respecting your body with modest dress is linked to the sacredness of intimate relations with a person of the opposite sex. Thus, dress is linked to certain temptations related to intimacy, including lustful thoughts. Teaching women to protect virtue by dressing appropriately is very important - how that is taught is another matter. I think that the "walking pornography" Dallin Oaks spoke of is someone who has been hardened to the Spirit and, as Bruce McConkie would say "overcome by a spirit of vanity and pride" so that they are less concerned with virtue and more concerned with looking trendy and attractive. The "pornography" of their dress is a consequence of a lack of virtue and propriety in their dress.

I believe that too often, young women in the Church do not initially realize what kinds of things immodest dress communicates. In Mormon Doctrine, Elder McConkie states that "Modestyin an aid in preserving chastity and an outward sign that the modest person is imbued with humility, decency, and propriety. Immodesty in dress is worldly, excites passions and lusts, places undue emphasis on sex and lewdness, and frequently encourages and invites petting and other immoral practices." I know that I never really understood this until I had a couple of disturbing encounters with young men at school dances while in high school. For instance, once I was wearing a dress to a dance that was completely modest in the front, but the back was quite open. Of course, I thought I was modest enough. While dancing with a friend, however, he commented on the skin I was showing while he held my back - and not in a caring, warm and fuzzy sort of way. I felt degraded, and violated by the thoughts he seemed to communicate with his words, tone and the look in his eyes. I decided afterwards that I would strive to never dress immodestly again. Something that I thought had been harmless had not only given him the opportunity to demonstrate inappropriate behavior, but it left me feeling more like a piece of meat and less like a daughter of God. After that experience, I had a greater understanding for the teachings of leaders who encouraged young women to dress modestly not only for its own sake, but to help safeguard virtue for the young men with whom they interact. Now, this is not to say that men are inherently weak and will have inappropriate thoughts whenever an immodestly dressed woman walks by, but immodest dress DOES communicate certain things, and part of the reason for dressing modestly is to keep our bodies holy - including safeguarding chastity. While we might not be responsible for the thoughts of others, we are responsible for how we dress and what we communicate with our dress.

If more women had the respect for themselves that they should, and understood some of the deeper and more sacred principles behind modest dress, I feel it would not be as necessary to teach them about the effects of their dress on others - especially men. Unfortunately, I do not believe this is the case. After entering the MTC, all of the sisters were called in for a special meeting after a broadcast. The MTC president's wife began to address us on the importance of sister missionaries' dress in sharing the gospel. She began to speak of immodesty - what was appropriate and what was not - and chided that many sisters were not demonstrating propriety and virtue in their dress - as sister missionaries no doubt! What a shame it would be, she said, to be trying to share the gospel with a family and to distract from the Spirit by dressing in a way that pulls attention from your message to your body. I looked around the room at the sisters that were there, and she was right! While many may have looked cute and trendy, they did not look like humble servants of the Lord. To some extent, I feel that women have to acknowledge the different ways in which some react to visual stimuli, and learn to understand how their choices in dress may affect others.