Monday, November 28, 2011

My Response to the “Should Christian Women Wear Bikinis” Video

A certain video has taken the Mormon Facebook world by storm.

What I mean is, it has been posted and reposted by both men and women alike, but they have all been LDS, at least on my Facebook wall.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only Mormon feminist in the world. I know I’m not, it just feels that way at times. Then I remember that, thank God, I know another one-- I’m married to a Mormon feminist. Yes, my husband and I have an egalitarian marriage where we share what we feel is equal responsibility at work and at home—and I’m sure the trend will continue in the future raising of our children. I’m so grateful to have a man who is comfortable enough with his own masculinity to respect decisions I make on my femininity, even if he also, of course, has opinions of his own.

The Youtube video is called, “Should Christian Women Wear Bikinis?”

jason evertIt’s a video given by a Christian preacher to a crowd of high school girls.

When I saw the video for the first time, I left this comment on Youtube, which will give a hint of how I felt about it:

So a one piece swimsuit doesn't cause the same reaction?... Somehow I doubt it. I think Muslims use this same argument on why they should cover. Men telling women what they should wear. Women having to take responsibility for men's reactions. That's so medieval.

I’ve been meaning to do a post on modesty for a long time, because my opinion of it, like so many other things, has been changed by travel. This video, and people’s responses, jumpstarted this post.

So I’m going to deconstruct the video bit by bit, showcasing why I have a problem with it, and why, if you believe in gender equality, you should too.

Issue #1: Because the word “science” was used, people assumed this was proof.

Reality: The science of the study was twisted to be used for this Christian preacher’s purposes. The women’s heads were cut off. This does not imply a real-life situation in any way. There were only 21 men in the study, all from the same socio economic background. This sampling is NEVER big enough to be an interesting study. It’s smaller than a high school class. We don’t know anything about the pictures: the postures of the women, the size of the swim suits, etc. We don’t know if the men were married. If they’d ever had girlfriends. If they were addicted to pornography. Why they volunteered for the survey. If they’d drank any alcohol before the test. If they were carpenters (and therefore with extremely developed parts of the brain devoted to “tool use” -can you catch my irony here?) If the women were supermodel-esque attractive or morbidly obese.

All of that is irrelevant in the end, though, because:

In any event, the speaker completely skewed the findings.


Here are the findings:

"Although men and women were, in general, slightly

faster to pair images of sexualized female targets with

first-person action verbs (e.g., push) and clothed female

targets with third-person action verbs (e.g., pushes) than

the inverse, the difference between the two pairings was

not significant for either sample"

and this seemed to be more frequent among the men who already scored higher in the "Hostile Sexism Score" ...

In other words, the findings were not statistically significant. So, actually, men were NOT more likely to objectify them.


The only ones who had the tendency were the ones who identified themselves as “hostile sexist.”

I sincerely hope that is not most of the LDS men I know. Although an awfully large amount of them seemed to resonate with the findings.

The preacher basically misled people in the video, and the study was flawed. People get so excited when they hear the words “scientific study” that coincides with beliefs they already have that they don’t think to deconstruct it and look at the method of the study. However, although in my mind that’s enough to conclude my case, this is an important subject to discuss so I’ll keep going.

Issue #2: There is often a double standard within religious communities.

I’m only speaking from personal experience here, but:

How many lessons have Mormon men had on modesty?

I’m guessing exactly zero.

How many lessons on how women should be respected as human beings no matter how they dress?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think not many.

How many lessons do LDS young women get on modesty?

Answer: probably weekly.

How many lessons have I been taught that women are in charge of men’s sexuality and it is up to us to say “stop” because men can’t control themselves?

I don’t know-- I’ve been told that on many occasions. 

How many studies have you seen or heard looking to see if women objectify men?

Personally, I’d welcome them. But it’s always the other way around.

How many LDS people would post a video about women objectifying men and men dressing immodestly that would go viral?

Somehow, I don’t see that even reaching most people’s radar.


Issue #3: There’s a reason why so many Muslims loved this video.

If you look at the comments in Youtube, a good part of them are Muslims saying this is exactly why they hijab, or wear burkas.

Countries whose official religion is Islam do not have the best record on women’s rights issues. In fact, the women in strictly conservative Muslim countries are among the least free in the world. According to studies, the worst are Benin, Pakistan, Chad, and Yemen. All practice Islam with the exception of Benin, which practices voodoo. I don’t think that has to be true, mind you. I see it in the world’s future to have much freer women--everywhere.  I love to visit predominantly Muslim countries— and personally I believe that no religion is closer to Mormonism than Islam. Nevertheless, in my mind it’s not a good sign when you have Muslims agreeing that “this is exactly why we tell women to dress the way we do.”

Issue #4: Women only wear bikinis or other kinds of similar dress to try to become a sex object.

Reality: This is a myth.

Women may wear bikinis because they are more comfortable to swim in, because it’s the style, because that’s the cultural expectation where they live, because that’s what their husband likes them to wear, because they love their bodies, because they are beautiful and look good in them, because it is difficult to find another swimming suit that fits correctly, to avoid tan lines, or many other reasons. If we all understand that, then we don’t all have to have a whore complex when we see women dressed differently than our standards.

Issue #5: It is bad for a man to find a woman sexually attractive.

Reality: This is wrong. It is completely normal for a man to find a woman sexually attractive. And vice versa. Weird idea, I know. What is not okay is to treat a woman or a man disrespectfully because of the way they are dressed. Fact: Women are beautiful beings. There is nothing shameful about that.

Issue #6: The video only mentioned women in bikinis. Not women in one piece swimming suits.

one pieceReality: Do you think men are still sexually attracted to women in one piece swimming suits? Let me drop a hint—they are. There are plenty of Swimsuit Illustrated editions of sexy women in one piece swimming suits. Does that mean that it’s still okay for men to objectify women, and that it’s the women’s fault?

Issue # 7: One piece swimming suits are also revealing.

Reality: They are as revealing as some lingerie. So, do men who agree with this video believe women should stop wearing one piece swimming suits, which look like lingerie? If they do…then they can go hide their heads in the sand. Women, in this day and age, should not be expected to swim in jeans and a t- shirt.

Issue # 8: The message of this video is not the best way to get girls to be modest.

Reality: Many women will like the idea that they can be empowered by making men in their control by using their bodies. The most important part of modesty, for both men and women, is to teach themselves to respect their bodies and the feelings of those who are around them. To teach them that being comfortable in their own skin in the most important lesson of all. Guilt is not needed to do that. Shame is not needed to do that. Blame is not needed to do that. Teaching appropriate clothes for appropriate situations will do that. Teaching appropriate and modest behavior given the situation at hand will do that. A bikini is not appropriate to wear to the office. I believe it can be appropriate to wear on the beaches of Europe when 2,000 other women and girls are all wearing the same thing (or less, for that matter). The message of modesty is not bad. Of course it isn’t. The way it is taught, though, is often demeaning and unfair. The emphasis on external, clothing-oriented modesty is just another form of sexualization.

Issue # 9: Women (shocker) get sexually aroused by men as well.

men's adReality: If this were not true, there would not be so many ads with shirtless men on them. I’m not so naïve as to not know that -overall- men are more visually stimulated than women. Although I have known my share of very sexualized women. But that leads me to my next point:

Issue # 10: Men who are attracted to other men are never considered.

Reality: Can you imagine a religious lesson in which boys were taught: be careful the way you dress or homosexual men will lust after you? It would disgust and shame most men. Yet women have to listen to lessons like this on a regular basis. What if a woman told men, “Don’t take your shirts off, or you will become walking pornography to struggling homosexual men.” It is never said, but is it not equally true? Women don’t deserve to be made to feel dirty for being attractive and sexy. Or, put another way, if they deserve it, men deserve it too.

Issue #11: This idea is behind “rape culture.”

It’s harmful to young women to be saddled with not only their own growing and changing bodies, developing sexuality, and insecurities, but also with the responsibility not to tempt boys and men. Not only responsible for lustful thoughts, but for rape. It’s harmful for young men as well. Males should not be taught they are helpless victims simply responding to messages they think females are sending by their choice of clothing. Taken a little further, this kind of psychology leads to the justification of sexual assault. We should take care to steer clear of this kind of thinking in society. This, sociologists would agree, is part of rape culture.

Issue # 12: Modesty is cultural, and it changes over time.

Reality: Modesty, and how it is enforced, is not an eternal truth. Ankles used to be scandalous. If you sexualize arms and say they always have to be covered, arms will become shocking if exposed.

Issue # 13: Sexuality’s perception is cultural.

davidThere are many examples of women within indigenous societies that wear even less than what the bikini covers; if there were a study on their men's brains as well I think the response would be completely different for how they view near naked women compared to extremely conservative religious societies. Many other societies compared to the US allow women to breastfeed in public with no outrage because it is not sexualized to feed a baby. Concepts of sexuality are entirely dependent on society. What if we were all raised to look at human beings with an artist’s eye, appreciating their beauty without sexualizing them? Maybe we should all take a “life drawing” class where we have to draw women and men naked. I don’t think it would take too long to learn to control the primitive response and just get to drawing. Even BYU, amazingly, has a class where women pose in bikinis and students draw them.

Is this not why we can look at great, classical art of nude subjects and not feel that it is pornography? It’s because we’ve desexualized them, and reemphasized their beauty and the talent of their creator.

Issue # 14: Gender equality has a long way to go in the US.

Reality: We are ranked #17 in the world. #19 in other studies. Not bad overall, but terrible for developed countries. We moved up from #31 just this last year. We must be making progress. Of course this doesn’t have to do with bikinis directly, but it does apply to gender equality overall. One of the first cultural differences I noticed when I lived in Europe for the first time as a 20 year old college student was how Europeans found violence shocking and no clothes acceptable, whereas Americans find no clothes shocking but violence acceptable. European women have more freedom and less crime perpetrated against them than American women as a general rule. I prefer their mode of thinking.

Issue #15: Here is a response from someone on Facebook, I will address his questions in red:

I found some of the comments interesting. I'm sorry, but some responsibility is on the woman as well as the men.

Totally agree. I think in issues like these, it’s fair to give 50-50 responsibility. This video did not give 50-50 responsibility. It was 100-0.

To suggest that it's completely the man's fault, is like demanding someone not to swear around you when you, yourself, continuously expose them to foul language. Also, please realize that what you wear does have some effect on how you act.
I'm some what astounded by the cry of sexism, though. If the study demanded that all women must not wear bikinis and men are at no fault what-so-ever, then sure it's sexist. 

It is a man telling a large group of teenaged girls they *should not* wear bikinis if they are true Christians, shaming women for a personal decision. I could find nothing in it that said men had any responsibility. So yes, it is sexist.

But if it comes across as a warning that wearing such outfits may arose certain thoughts in men, then where's the sexism?

It doesn’t come across as a warning—it is stated not only as science, but as an inescapable conclusion. Men—all men, not just “hostile sexist ones” which technically was the findings of the survey, will not be able to help themselves.

Especially today when so many women are taken advantage of and when society--sadly to say--paints women as objects.

If women are taken advantage of, it is in societies which women do not have equal freedoms, equal rights, and which shame women into being modest. In societies where women are completely free, they have less crimes perpetrated against them, they experience less violence, and they are happier. Think Europe versus the Middle East.

And as Carric pointed out, they said women might be effected the same way as well and they plan to do the same study with women.

Great. I hope it goes viral like this one did within the Mormon community. Of course, if the findings were the same the findings would be that there was not statistical significance, which would be quite boring.

Would you find the findings more truthful--or not complain--if they came from women running the same experiment?

 I certainly think that the video—forget about the experiment, which was flawed anyway—would have been more truthful if both genders were being examined, if a woman was giving the lecture as well, and if men were present as well. 

Should I cry sexism, if a women tells me how a man should treat women?

You should cry sexism when genders are not treated fairly, one way or the ugly woman

Would you be okay with a man getting scantily clad women tattoos? He's "wearing" what he wants.

Yes, I would be okay with a man getting those tattoos. Why would I care? It has absolutely nothing to do with me. Just don’t tell me it’s my fault he got the tattoos.

I guess I'm tired of quick cries of discrimination, when there might not be any.

What makes you assume the cries are quick? I ended up reading every comment on every posting of this video, researching the man who made the video, and reading the entire survey which is more than most people did who have posted this video.

Plus, I don't expose any part of my male organs, so I think it's fair for me to say that women probably shouldn't expose themselves.

Wearing a bikini is not “exposing female organs” any more than wearing a Speedo is. Or the fact that men swim shirtless. I’ll be waiting for the shirtless and/or Speedo Study. An unbiased one.


CONCLUSION: Until I traveled, I thought it was fair to think of girls who wore short skirts as skanks. Why? Because I was socialized that way. Then I lived in two different extremes. I spent about six months in the Middle East. I’ve spent nearly a year in Europe. The difference of being a woman between these two is so incredible I can’t even begin to explain. I was verbally assaulted in Egypt just because I didn’t have a headscarf on. (I was already very conservatively dressed.) Probably, to be honest, just because I was a woman. I was followed around and told: “I want to f*** you. How much do you charge?”  I was told by fellow women that they are used to it over there and you just have to learn to put up with it. I didn’t like walking alone there because I got far too much attention. Women in these kind of places have to cover their skin from head to toe. I did, while I was there. And these ideas reinforce themselves. Women think they have to dress that way or men can’t help themselves; they’ll molest them—and it will be the woman’s fault. And men feel justified that if a woman is dressed differently than what he is used to, she is asking for trouble.

beachIn Europe these days, a woman can wear whatever she wants and she won’t even get a second glance. No one will bother her. Men and women are free to dress according to the dictates of their own conscience. And I can tell you there that a large majority of women, LDS or not, wear bikinis and a large majority of men, LDS or not, wear Speedos. And guess what. People get over it. It’s fine.

The next time you see a woman dressed in a way which you feel is scantily, say a quick prayer to God thanking Him you live in a free society where women aren’t killed, raped, or stoned for not conforming to unequal laws that men have created.

I could keep going, but this post is long enough. I’m going to breathe easier after I post this, though. It’s distressing for me to see so many LDS people reposting this when its message is damaging, unfair, and dishonest. Let me know: do you agree?

And by the way, although this disclaimer isn’t necessary, I personally don’t prefer to wear bikinis. (Although I do at times because my husband likes me to-- he thinks I look good in them.) But I’ll defend my right to wear them with every feminist breath of my modestly dressed body.

I welcome your comments. Just so you know, my husband agrees with me. So this isn’t just a woman talking on this subject. Smile


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this! I've felt very alone in having these opinions--expressing them in Church. I always get shot down when I say modesty isn't about keeping men's minds out of the gutter, it's about respecting our OWN bodies. Men do not figure into my modesty equation! If they did, then I would hide everything. Always. And that would be a sad life because no shirts quite reach my wrists and ankles--I am just too lanky! hehe

I agree that traveling was what opened my mind to a new definition of what modesty really is. Two girls can wear the same outfit and one can be a skank and the other can be modest--and it depends on the woman and her attitudes and not on the clothes. That's so novel a concept that...almost no one agrees with me.

I was wearing modest sister missionary clothes in Armenia and was treated like a whore on a regular basis. I wore a hoodie and baggie, casual American clothes in France as opposed to the nice, sleek French clothes and was treated like I was a challenge. Men with minds in the gutter will still have their minds in the gutter. Their mind shouldn't dictate my mind, my body, my clothes, my relationship with myself and my relationship with God and with others.

Anyway, thanks for posting! It's good not to be alone. <3

Heather said...

I agree with a lot of what you have say. Thanks for saying it!
I remember on my first Sunday in Young Women's, my bishop came to speak to us on modesty. He said "If a young man is unworthy to serve a mission, it is all our fault. And you are to be held accountable for all of the souls that they were unable to save." I was thinking a) I am 12 years old and I've never so much as held a boy's hand let alone done something that serious and b) if I did I forced said boy into nothing. He has his own free agency and is least 50% of the problem. I really hate the whole 'it's the girl's fault for being immodest' idea. Why do LDS women support and tolerate such nonsense?
I will disagree on one point though. Sometimes men are given lessons on modesty and chastity and I've even sat through a combined Priesthood/RS meeting on the matter. Some leaders in the Church are not clueless on the matter.

Jacob and Kalli Hiller said...

I agree, Laura, modesty is an attitude more than the kind of clothes we wear. That attitude can include dressing for the occasion. For example, I didn't have a problem dressing more conservatively in the Middle East to respect the culture. However, I would have liked some respect in return.

Thanks for the insight, Heather. I'm glad that it's becoming a mutual sort of lesson. That's an awful story when you were 12! I think sometimes LDS women hear these things the most when we're young and don't know any better. Oh well, if the attitudes of people are changing that's a good sign.

Joe Vasicek said...

Fascinating analysis, especially about how this type of rationalization creates a "rape culture," where women are seen as responsible for the behaviors of men. It's sickening, because it buys into the decidedly worldly premise that men have no capacity for self-control. If you accept that, how much easier is it to rationalize immorality? We run the danger of falling into the same rut as those pervy guys in the Middle East (though to be fair, it's not just a gender thing--it's an American thing as well. When I was over there in 2008, plenty of Arab guys assumed I was sexually active just because I am American).

The truth is, I suspect most of these assumptions about how men and women view each other are based on culture, and are often completely false. In ancient Greece, the prevailing belief was that real men exercise self control, whereas women can never help themselves (remember Helen of Troy?). Ultimately, men and women should both take responsibility for their own actions without blaming the other for tempting them.

Anonymous said...

I agree with some of what you say, but when it comes down to it, shouldn't what a prophet of God says be enough to dress modestly? You can do scientific studies or ignore them, you can travel the world or stay in one place, you can philosophize and argue, but when it comes down to it, if you believe that the church is true, then when the prophet and other inspired leaders INCLUDING the female leaders in the church say that we should dress modestly (I have heard this preached to both men and women alike) then we should probably dress modestly.

The code for modesty is explained well in the "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet, which is a guide for youth, but the standards (with obvious exceptions that take place after marriage) do not change when we are older.

Just a thought.

Jacob and Kalli Hiller said...

Although this has LDS references, I really meant this more as an article that addresses the fact that, (because 99.9% of the world is not LDS and will not read the For Strength of Youth pamphlet), there will be different standards of dress that both men and women have to be around. Learning to control our thoughts and even more the way we respect and respond to others is a better solution than to try to give prescriptions to others, like this man did, on how they should dress, which is a matter of choice and which varies based on the cultures that you live in. For example, stomachs are not sexual in India and women wear stomach-exposing saris to church. That was scandalous to me for about two Sundays and then I got over it. Societies that wear bikinis are better places for women than societies that wear burkas-that’s my takeaway message :)

Steven said...

Finally someone who is using the brain God gave them about this whole issue. Everything, and I mean everything, that you went over in this post flashed through my mind the first time I saw this mindless video hit my Facebook feed. Having been schooled extensively in feminist thought, I am constantly shocked by Mormon men who seem to think that women who dress "immodestly" deserve to be treated like objects. If a man has any integrity--any at all--then he will treat all women with respect, regardless of how the woman dresses or otherwise behaves. When I was single, I went on dates with girls whom I could tell would have gone along with anything if I had applied some pressure. Funny how I did not see that as a free pass to impose my fantasies on these girls as if they somehow deserved it. I watched as some other guys I knew went out with the same girls, and later bragged about how these girls "deserved" to be fondled, etc but were not "marriage material." And these guys were and still are active Mormons.

Unknown said...

For some reason, that I can't explain, when I saw this video pop up on my feed I thought, ehh, that doesn't look like something that is worth my time. I didn't realize it has become such a big deal. Still probably not going to watch it.

We had a similar discussion to this at our book club after reading "Cinderella Ate My Daughter"- Have you read it?

I also keep meaning to ask if you have read "The Heart and the Fist- The making of a humanitarian and a navy seal". Curious about your thoughts.

Merry Christmas!

Unknown said...

Hi Kalli!

I don't know if you remember me from Choir, but I just added John Dehlin as a friend after finding the mormon stories podcasts and I saw that you were a friend. I thought: Yay! More mormon feminists! So, I hope you don't mind that I found your blog from your FB profile.

Anyway, modesty for me is an interesting subject and I wanted to share a link with you. Since my upbringing was not-so-nice or respectful towards women (from neither my father, mother, nor my 4 older brothers), I'm slowly learning to except and respect my own body in non-sexual terms.

Also, I'm of the belief that we shouldn't just believe everything we're told by others, but rather think about it and to ask the Lord what is right and good for us individually. Everyone on this earth is so different. What may be right for one person, may not be right for another. We also have free agency.

If you haven't seen this already, I recommend giving this article a read. I really like the points it brings up about sexualization and modesty:


Jacob and Kalli Hiller said...

Of course I don't mind if you found my blog.

I like the Exponent and I've read several of their articles on modesty. It's nice to know we're not alone :)

I think it's interesting that there's a sort of hammering in the teaching of pornography for guys (which is not only a guy problem) and modesty for girls (which is not only a girl problem.) Utah has the highest porn use in the States and I don't think it's because the girls in Utah are the most immodestly dressed.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Not that this is a scientific study, but . . .

Yesterday while I was working on my computer for about two hours I saw a lot of pop up advertisements. The only one I remeber, and the only one that popped into my head when I laid down to go to sleep was the ad for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.

I'm a 33-year-old Christian man who strives for righteous living and a pure mind, but distactions and temptations abound.

Jacob and Kalli Hiller said...

Anonymous, I'm guessing that would be true if the woman had been sexy and wearing a one piece swimming suit. Perhaps she even was--you didn't clarify. No bikini necessary. No need to feel guilt about that. Women are beautiful, appreciate it and accept it and don't shame us or yourself for it.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I have not watched the video and I have no desire to.. Being a convert to the church for 3 years now and changing my ways in all aspects of my life was fairly easy with the exception of figuring out how to still dress trendy and modest. I just ordered my swim suit for the summer, which I had customed made since I am very endowed and thin (I'm not bragging, it's just the way I was made, I have jiggle and stretch marks too). My point is I like bikinis, I can wear an underwire top that way and make sure the girls will stay put, I do prefer a retro high waist bottom to cover the baby wounds. But it's always discouraging when I'm around other LDS women and I get the looks or comments. It's nice to know I'm not the only LDS women that wears a bikini, although I have yet to see one in person. I can relax a little in my bikini now. I will share this post, thanks for all the insight.

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