Why Modesty Matters for Teen Girls--and why common sense needs to mean something again.

Modesty is such a controversial issue when you pair it with safety. Last week I started another discussion on how we can lower the risk of sexual assault. I was replying to a commenter who was replying to this post who said that I was blaming women who are raped by arguing that they should be modest. Modesty, she said, bore no bearing on rape. I do believe that modesty has absolutely nothing to do with who is at fault, or who is morally culpable, in a rape. And too often the Christian modesty message does shame girls, so I understand where she’s coming from. But I want to explore this a little further.

I said much of what I wanted to say in that post, but a few things remain.

Modesty and Safety: A Real World Scenario

To tackle her idea, I want you to picture yourself as the youth leader for a youth group at an amusement park. It’s a big outing, and twenty youth have decided to go, and you were asked along as a parent supervisor. You have under your care three girls, all aged 14. Two are dressed in appropriate shorts and T-shirts; one has on short shorts and a bikini top, with a halter tied around it. She is showing more cleavage that you ever have.

Who are you going to be scared for? Who are you going to try to protect?

I have been in this exact situation, and it is not fun. I was paranoid all day about the attention the girl in the bikini was getting, because she was inviting it. She would talk the boys up in line. They would leer at her, and she would leer back. At one point I realized she was texting a guy that she had just stood in line with at a roller coaster. She had managed to get his number when I wasn’t looking.

The other two girls started to pull back from her, because they were distinctly uncomfortable with all her boy craziness. I stuck to her like glue and started glaring at anybody who looked at her. It didn’t distract the starers.

How would you have felt?

This girl is under your care, and you know what boys are thinking when they are looking at her. And the boys looking at her are not just 14. They are much older.

I wasn’t scared she was actually going to be assaulted, because I had my eye on her, and I wasn’t worried somebody would grab her. But she was inviting bad attention. She was sharing her cell phone number. And eventually it had to be dealt with.

What was I scared of? I was scared these guys would start calling or texting her, or finding her on Facebook, and they would show up in her life, looking for something (and we all know what that is). But this girl did not know what “that” is. She wasn’t trying to seduce them. She didn’t want to sleep with them. She simply wanted attention; she wanted boys to think she was pretty, and that is what she thought pretty was. She was completely out of her league, and she didn’t know it. Even if she weren’t assaulted–which, of course, most women aren’t–she is still, by acting this way, opening herself up to situations that she just isn’t ready for and won’t be able to handle.

And in the process, I believe she was putting herself in danger. She wasn’t putting boundaries around herself, and guys who were looking for one thing would naturally flock to her, and when they didn’t get it, they might get aggressive. I’m not saying every guy would; but some might. And the problem is you never know which guy is which.

Some Incontrovertible Facts About the Real World–and the Dangers of Sexual Assault

So let’s boil this down to a few key points:

1. Some guys are very interested in having as much sex as possible with as many women as possible.

2. Some women are likewise interested in that.

3. The way these women show that they are interested in that is that they dress to show how sexy they are. They flaunt it.

4. Men, in trying to pick out the women in a crowd who may share their interest in anonymous encounters, will tend to look for the ones who are dressed for it and who are trying to make eye contact and flirt.

5. Therefore, if you dress like that and act that way, you will attract attention that is highly sexual in nature. It doesn’t mean all the attention you attract will be like that, but some will. It also doesn’t mean that you are trying to attract that kind of attention. But you are dressing like those who do, and you are giving out a certain message, whether you mean to or not.

6. A low percentage of the men whose attention you attract will be willing to take things to another level if you say no.

I would think that we can all agree on those points, don’t we?

My commenter said that modest women get raped and immodest women get raped. Again, I agree. But here’s the thing: rape rarely occurs out of the blue. It usually starts with something–maybe you meet a guy, and he seems harmless enough, and you start talking or dancing. And then things go downhill.

If You Dress Immodestly, You are NOT Causing Someone to Become a Rapist

Now, I want to acknowledge that there is a stream of thought that goes something like this: if women dress a certain way, they inflame men’s lust, and thus the woman is responsible for any sexual assault that occurs. Certain Muslim imams, for instance, have said that if a woman isn’t veiled, rape is her fault, because she inflamed the guy. I am not saying that at all.

That insinuates that men are pure, and then a woman topples him over the edge. He never would have done it if not for the woman. Not true. What I’m saying is that there are men who definitely would do it. It’s not that women inflamed them; they had already decided to treat women like sex objects. They had already decided that what they were interested in was not a relationship, but simply a physical encounter. The woman did not cause this decision; it was already the guy’s.

Hence point #1 above: these men exist. It’s not women’s fault that they do; the men have decided to live a life characterized by lust. They’re the kind of guy who would chat up a 14-year-old in a bikini top in line at an amusement park. They have already decided they’re looking for sex.

And how do they find it? They look for women who seem to be interested in the same thing, and the easiest way to find those women is to check out who is dressed like that and who is flirting. So it is not women’s fault for causing the lust; the lust is there. A small percentage of these men may also become violent if they don’t get what they want (most won’t, of course). But you can’t identify who those violent ones are. The only thing they tend to have in common is that they are looking for women who are similarly interested primarily in a physical relationship.

If you don’t want to attract the kind that is mostly just interested in sex, then make sure that you don’t meet this kind of person.

Don’t send out those signals. Even though the vast majority won’t rape you, they may pressure you or make you feel really dirty. I would rather that my kids start talking to guys that they connected with through common interests or experiences, rather than just guys they attract for simply physical reasons. When you connect with someone because of common interests, friends, or experiences, then you know them on a certain level. You know more about them. You know who they know. And because of that, you can make a better decision about how to act with that guy. When the guys that you attract are all basically there for one reason, you can’t make those sorts of decisions about whether this is a good person to be with. You don’t have as much information to go on–and what you do have is not good.

Will that eliminate rape? Nope. Not at all. Often guys that seem perfect–even Christian guys–can turn violent and rape you on a date. Absolutely. That’s why we need to be careful where we go no matter whether we’re modest or not.

But do you really want to attract the kind of man who only is interested in sex? Do you want to attract the partier? Because let’s face it, even if he didn’t rape (and most won’t), you’d still find yourself in a pretty terrible situation if he wanted to take it farther than you did. My little friend had no clue what she was attracting (though I ended up trying to explain it to her). If she actually had been alone with a guy like that, and he wanted to do more than hold her hand, she would have been really quite scarred. It isn’t a situation you want to be in.

So don’t do it. Girls think that “pretty” is what celebrities wear, and so they try to mimic these fashions they see on TV. But TV presents an unrealistic and extremely unhealthy picture of relationships. TV is based on the fact that sex will be the basis for all relationships, and that’s awful. Don’t let your girls give in to that.

Again: I am not saying that modest girls don’t get raped, or that immodest girls asked for it. I am simply saying that when you dress inappropriately, you attract attention you really don’t want, and some of that attention may be dangerous–not because of how you’re dressed, but because of decisions the men have already made before they even saw you. Don’t attract it in the first place and your life will be better, and marginally safer.

I’m not sure why this is so controversial, but if you still think I’m being too mean to women and blaming women for what they wear, before you write a comment, think back to my experience at that amusement park. Would you be equally concerned for all three girls, or mostly concerned for the one in the bikini? If you’d be mostly concerned for the one, why? And when you realize it’s because of how she’s dressed and how she’s acting and the kind of attention she’s getting, then you really believe my point, whether you want to admit it or not.

Sexual assault is a horrible thing. Living in a highly sexualized culture, where men can expect anonymous encounters, is a horrible thing. Why should we not try to fight against it by promoting modesty to discourage such sexual behaviour? I think then the world would be a much better place.

Other Posts in this series:
Actions Have Consequences
Getting Smart About Keeping Safe
More Thoughts on Keeping Girls Safe
Does Modesty Really Matter? (this post!)


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