Mormon Discussion

Saturday, October 29, 2005

I'm a mind-controller!

A recent post on feminist mormon housewives about breastfeeding got me thinking about the whole women's dress and actions and men's thoughts connection.

I remember, as a girl in YW, being told that I how I dressed and acted would make the boys think certain things (although these "things" were not specifically outlined--just spoken of in ominous tones) and that I would be responsible for these "things." At first, I was very confused and didn't quite understand what the heck the leaders were talking about.

And then I hit puberty. Or rather, puberty hit me like a ton of bricks. I went from having no breasts to being a size D in a month and a half. Puberty was a cruel, wicked, horrible joke on me. Nothing fit, ever. I looked ridiculous--if I hadn't been 16, I'm sure everyone would have thought I was one of those girls who'd gotten enormous brast implants, because the rest of my body hadn't grown in yet--no hips, no butt, just skinny girl with a big chest.

I hated every minute of it. I felt like everyone was staring at me, no matter what I wore or what I did. And then I would come to church and inevitably get the speech about dressing modestly. Although, what I was wearing was modest. My chest was just so big I couldn't do much about the cleaveage that inevitably showed or the shirt that was stretched too tightly across it. Since I was still small everywhere else, I was struggling to find shirts that fit over my rebellious chest and still fit around the rest of me. I ended up looking like I was wearing a table cloth, since it hug down just like one over the rest of me. I was so unhappy for a long time. And I kept getting reprimanded all the time.

It was the same reprimand. My "lack of modesty" was going to make the boys think inappropriate things and I needed to make sure that I wasn't making them think that. This is a huge pressure for a girl. How am I supposed to know what a boy is thinking? All the time? Not to mention, the entire YMs? All of them? I have to keep track of all their thoughts??

The worst part about it was that I would be yelled at for things my mother and I would pick out together. Given my awkward frame, swimsuit shopping was the worst thing I've ever encountered. I could deal with a tablecloth shirt--how on EARTH do you find an XXL chest swinsuit with a M body? You don't. You have the XXL swimsuit which sags in the butt terribly and is too loose.

But we had a YW pool party to go to and I wanted to go. So, my mom and I searched and searched for a suit. We found one. It was significantly cleaveage-y, for sure. But, realistically, I was significantly cleavage-y all the time. The suit was a rather modest one-piece, all black, with a simple gather on the side. The chest was the bra-type, since any woman who is larger chested knows that a bra type is the ONLY type there is for us. Since it was bra type, it had the appearance of a bra--lower cut in the front, like any normal bra, and underwires. It was a fuller cup than most bras, but it was bra-like. It was a little tight, because it had to fit over the rest of me and Lycra is one constricting material. But, my mom and I looked through many a suit and decided that this one was a good one. It was pretty, it was the most modest one we could find, and it fit fairly decently given the extreme weirdness that was my body.

And then I showed up to the pool party. And I took off my clothes to join the other girls. And my YW leader pulled me aside and told me that my swimsuit wasn't very appropriate or modest. It showed too much cleavage. Didn't I remember the lessons about being appropriate and what the boys would think?

There weren't any boys at this pool party, anyway.

I was upset. I was angry. I looked her straight in the eye and being the mouthy 16 year old I was, I retorted, "Well, God gave me really big boobs and God gave me a lot of cleavage. He has to take some responsibility for not making the rest of me work out so I can be as modest as I'm supposed to be. And my mom helped me pick out this suit, so she thinks it's appropriate."

And then I went swimming.

This attitude that girls and women are responsible for the thoughts of men and boys is troubling at best. It's scary at worst. It's similar to the mentality that a woman deserves to be sexually assaulted if she's in a certain area, engaging in certain behavior, or wearing certain clothes. We go down a slippery path when we place blame on people for other people's thoughts and actions.

Shouldn't the thoughts of the boys be the responsibility of the boys? Now, don't get me wrong. I don't advocate for complete immodesty. Sure, there are boundaries. A mini-skirt, midrift top, etc are all clearly worn for the express purpose of being seen as a sexual object. But, there are also things, which in my opinion, aren't immodest. That if the men think "things" when they are worn, that it's the men's problem.

For example, I'm still a very chesty young woman. It's not going to change. And women's fashions aren't made for chesty women. So, regardless of what I'm wearing, with the exception of a T-shirt, I'm always showing cleavage. Every Sunday, I put on a nice skirt, a tank top, and a button-up shirt. The problem is, the button-up won't button-up. I've still got the same problem--if if fits on top, it doesn't fit anywhere else. If it fits everywhere else, it doesn't fit on top. So, I put on the tank top underneath. It is a modest tank top on ANY OTHER WOMAN IN THE WORLD except me. Because try as I might, I can't hide the cleavage. I try. I really do. But, the clothing industry hates me and thus has decided to make my life horrible. So, in this instance, I think that my cleavage (and we're not taking MASSIVE amounts here...we're talking just a tiny bit) is fine. And if the young man across the chapel is staring at it, thinking "things," then I think it's his responsibility to keep those thoughts in check.

Should a girl with CRAZY nice legs be forced to wear a floor length skirt, while the rest of us with mediocre legs can wear the church-approved knee-length ones? No, of course not. But her legs might make men think "things." And then what? She's responsible for their thoughts about her? Hardly. I don't think that's a fair analysis at all.

But the church leaders seem to push this on women so frequently. We are responsible not only for our own thoughts and actions, but the thoughts of the boys as well. Well, here's a shocking idea that the church leaders may not have ever contemplated--I love a guy in a suit. Most women do. Men in suits are HOT. SUPER HOT! Really, who doesn't like a well-dressed man in a suit? Yum! However, if I'm sitting there in Sacrament meeting, lusting away at all the men in suits, is that their problem? Not hardly. Would anyone say it is? Not at all.

Men are hot in a lot of different contexts. And women like to look at them in these contexts. But, the same lessons do not seem to be drilled so much into young boys's heads. I was never told as a young woman that boys might dress in such a way as to make me think "things." But you know what? The way men dress DOES make women think things. Whether it's discussed or not, women like to look at men just as much as men like to look at women. So why is there such a responsibility placed on women to control men's thoughts? If I'm lusting away after some guy in a fanstastic pair of jeans and a slim fitting T-shirt (drool), that's MY problem. I've got to check my own thoughts, don't I? Isn't it my responsibility to control my mind? Why is this not the case with men and men's thoughts?

We make young girls feel even more self-conscious and awful about their bodies at a time when they are already at war with them. I hated my body. I hated, hated, hated my chest. In fact, I still do, precisely because of all the problems I had with it as a youth. So why such a wicked backlash against the girls?

As I pointed out before, it's a slippery slope in my mind, leading to the eventual, "Well, she was asking for it" about rape victims. Because she was wearing a mini-skirt and a tank top, she deserves to be raped? Because she somehow was controlling the thoughts of the rapist? It seems like a ridiculous argument. And I think that this is where we are heading if we continue to force young girls to somehow take on the responsibility of controlling the boys' thoughts.


  • Very nice point, Adrienne. For me, it's all about intent. Unless you're just trying to inspire lust, the specifics aren't too terribly important.

    By Blogger D-Train, at 1:09 PM  

  • We just went through a bit of this in my ward. I'm the YM president. Two weeks ago we had a standards night presentation, and the YW presidency asked if one of us guys would do the bit on modesty and dress because the girls were probably sick of hearing about it from them.

    The task fell to me and as I worked on what to do, I kept getting a strong prompting that I needed to get far away from the ideas that you struggled with. I struggled a bit more and finally came up with a presentation around the idea the dressing well for both boys and girls has to do with self respect, not one gender tempting another. So I talked about self worth and value and how that is reflected many times by our outward appearance. The youth seemed to dig it.

    With our 13 year-old daughter, my wife takes the modesty theme in a different direction as well. Basically, she stresses the idea of what would an adult wear after getting endowed and wearing garments.

    I really think you've got a great point. Although, it seems that it's the more local leaders that get the message goofed up. I've only heard any "higher-ups" only briefly mention the temptation thing. Unless things are just different in the Midwest. D-train is also correct, it has a lot to do with intent.

    We're going to see a lot more issues with the youth and sexuality in the future. Boys especially need to know how to think properly about sexuality and separate themselves from the way the most men in our culture think.

    By Blogger Kristian, at 5:51 AM  

  • d-train, i like your thoughts. i do think intention is a big part of it.

    kristian, i think that's AWESOME that you cast the issue in that light! Way to go!

    By Blogger mellancollyeyes, at 9:09 PM  

  • I don't think women are responsible for what men think. However, a woman who has never been sexually active will not understand how differently the male brain is wired.

    If you leave food out at a campsite, you're going to get bears. The bears are attracted to the food, and they're going to come after it. 2+2=4. End of story.

    If a girl is dressed in a way to call attention to female form, male instincts get triggered, just like the bears. The difference, of course, is that most men have their instincts under control. (Teenage boys are learning.)

    I sympathize with your post, but you also need to recognize that anything of that nature is going to trigger male instinct, and this is what church leaders/parents get so worried about and most girls are utterly clueless about.

    I recall a girl from my ward who once (!) wore a push-up bra (or something similar) under a sweater to seminary. Nothing wrong with that. But we noticed. As one friend remarked, "Good lord, where did THOSE come from?!" And we discussed it for several hours, and it popped up in random conversation for several days.

    It has nothing to do with tempting, flirting, immorality, etc. (unless you're deliberately dressing provocatively, which you clearly weren't). It simply has to do with chemicals and understanding the effect they have.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:12 AM  

  • These kinds of things drive people away from the church and drive other people to be ultra-fanatical. I know one woman who's concerned about her baby's "cleavage" (huh?) and having the baby's shoulders showing in a sundress.

    The church can turn people into nuts, but only if you let it. Be proud of your body, and dress it up and show it off as you see fit. It's not your responsibility for others' pubertal thoughts and developments. So what if they ask, "Where did those come from?" Let them wonder. It's a normal part of adolescent growth, not necessarily leering, evil talk. Sheesh. The church needs to separate the two and leave its young women alone.

    Walking pr0n indeed! The leaders should be ashamed of ramping up the rhetoric.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:22 AM  

  • I've read a few of your comments, I like what you have to say, but I do think you need to get out of the States. Despite what the church says, the church is not the same everywhere. (the gospel is the same, but not the church) In the USA mormon = Republican, mormon woman = floral dress wearing mother. Take a trip, go visit Canada, Australia or GB. You will find majority of the members (YSA at least) to have alot in common with you.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:16 AM  

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