Does Modesty Promote Rape Culture?
Written by Phylicia Masonheimer | June 21, 2016
Several years ago I stopped wearing my bikini.
Since then, my story has been a hot topic here on Project Inspired. Modesty is an issue with many layers of controversy in our culture. As I juggle my roles of wife, mother, leader, and employee, I find myself struggling to strike a godly of biblical feminism and the call to modesty.
Modesty, Feminism, and Balancing Them Both
Some in our culture project the idea that “covering up” promotes rape culture. This term refers to a society where sexual objectification and victim blaming pave the way to an increase in the occurrence of rape. Media outlets indicate that by teaching men to see women’s bodies as sexual objects, religious modesty feeds rape culture and intensifies the desire to sexually assault. This pressure on women to “protect men” from viewing their bodies as objects, according to secular media, insinuates women are responsible for their own rape! But there is an important fact missing in this argument: it assumes all religions pursue modesty for the same reasons. It assumes all religions are the same.
Christianity is the only religion in the world in which mankind, unable to earn God’s favor by his own good deeds, is brought into a living relationship with God, by God. In other words, Christian women have been pursued by a loving God, choosing to dress modestly because they recognize the great value they bear in the eyes of God. As Christians, our bodies are walking testimonies to the glory and goodness of Jesus, and as such we do not dress below our dignity.
The grace that saved us is humbling. Modesty is humility worked out in what we wear—a heart attitude that reflects a soul embracing her intrinsic value in Christ. But some churches have departed from the biblical motive for modesty. Instead of dressing with dignity, they promote dress codes that are regulatory and restrictive, crossing over into the man-made world of legalism that secular feminists use to justify their accusations. But legalistic modesty is not modesty at all: Legalism is an outward action, often done under compulsion, to earn God’s favor or appear more spiritual than the rest of society. Neither of these motives reflects the humble spirit that characterizes biblical modesty.
True modesty is simply humility in action. So if we say we “don’t agree with modesty,” we’re basically saying we don’t agree with humility. The Christian walk is meant to change us; it’s meant to be a continual journey of sanctification from the inside out. It should change how we talk, think, work, live and, yes, how we dress. Modesty, in its biblical form, is not the cause of rape culture.
Is Modesty Ever Responsible for Rape Culture?
In the past few decades, modesty has been used to guilt women in the mutual battle against sexual sin. While both men and women are responsible to fight against lust, it is the responsibility of men to guard their own eyes and hearts regardless of what the women around them are wearing. This important truth has been largely ignored in the modesty conversation.
That said, just because men need to control their eyes and urges doesn’t mean Christian women should bare it all. Nakedness was part of God’s original design for a perfect world. Our world is not perfect, but affected by sin. As I wrote in my post You Can’t Shed Shame by Shedding Clothes, “…when sin entered the world, nothing was the same. It was no longer a safe place for the magnum opus of God’s creation; Woman, her beautiful body in all its glory, had to be shielded from the shame of sin. So God Himself made a covering. Nakedness would now be reserved for the only place where it could once again be pure and holy: marriage. Shame did not come from modesty. Modesty—the covering—came to deflect shame. God Himself clothed man and woman to shield their beauty from the evil of this world.”
Modesty has been used for negative purposes. It has been twisted and misinterpreted, taken out of the context for which it was designed. But when we embrace modesty according to its biblical purpose, we see that—contrary to our society’s lies—it exalts women to a position of incredible value and honor.
Modesty Is for the Strong
We need to recognize that this is a spiritual issue. There is a spiritual battle being waged over women. If the enemy can deceive us into thinking modesty is “limiting,” “self-conscious” and “objectifying,” he can continue persuading women to devalue their beauty, objectifying themselves without any idea they are doing so.
The irony is this: When we reject modesty, we become dependent on our bodies for our value. Physical appearance becomes our source of gratification, a crutch for confidence, promoting the very culture we claim to hate. We replicate the sexual icons of society, but claim we are not objectifying ourselves. We imitate the culture’s idea of freedom—and shackle ourselves to the approval of men. This is not the calling of Christian women. This is not the way to honor our value.
Sin—not modesty—causes rape culture. Legalism—not modesty—perpetuates it. True, biblical, grace-motivated modesty arms women with an inner confidence that cannot be taken away. Modesty exalts us; it does not blame us. Modesty glorifies us; it does not shame us.
Our beauty is a small mirror of the glory of an Almighty God. God covered that glory in the beginning to preserve its magnitude and shield its power. Women who embrace their God-given value and recognize their inner dignity create a culture of confidence unmatched in our world. Modesty is not for the weak. It is not for the self-conscious.
Modesty is for the strong.