I think I'm going to start posting regular gender-related anecdotes from my life. Heaven knows, I have a lot of them now that I'm back in good ol' Provo.
The other day in concert choir, our conductor suddenly insisted that all the men evacuate the rehearsal hall. This is highly unusual; we never get out early. She did not explain why she had decided to do this, or what we women were going to do once the boys were gone. She shooed them out hurriedly and hollered at the few men who lingered. It was clear that she did not want any man to be present for the unannounced proceedings. Once she was sure there was no man within hearing distance, she proceeded to give us The Talk. No, not that talk. She informed us that a few men in concert choir had come to her and complained about the attire of the concert choir women. They had claimed that they felt the need to avert their eyes at times to keep their thoughts clean. Our conductor then laid down the law as to what manner of dress was appropriate and what was inappropriate; let's just say the words "cleavage" and "well endowed" were used frequently. She assured us that she did not believe any of us were dressing immodestly on purpose; we just need to be sure that the clothes we choose will not shift and expose . . . things . . . as we progress through the day. She insisted that the boys need us to dress modestly so they can fully contribute to concert choir. She brought it home with a plea for us to remember that our musical messages can only be conveyed through the Spirit, and that immodest dressing can detract from that because the boys are less focused and less able to feel that Spirit.
At this point I raised my hand. I said I don't like the idea that our motivation for dressing modestly should be to "help the men"; we all have agency, and the thought that I am the guilty party for another person's sins doesn't sit well in my brain. I then gave my reason for dressing modestly: self-respect. Our conductor agreed with me partly, but still stood by her assertion that the men need our cooperation. I left the hall a bit disgruntled, uncomfortable, and hurt. A strong, thoughtful, accomplished woman I admire had just committed a cardinal sin in my book. She had aligned herself (whether consciously or unconsciously) with the phrase "boys will be boys". That men have certain characteristics that cannot be helped. Needless to say, I was rather disappointed.
The memory of this event festered in my mind all week. The more I've thought about it, the more outraged I've become. I'm not so much angry at our conductor, or even at the men who complained. I'm angry at the prevalence of this misguided viewpoint. It is not a woman's responsibility to keep the men around her from thinking bad thoughts. I realized that when men gripe about the terrible women who don't dress modestly, they are admitting that they objectify the female body. They are essentially saying that when certain physical lines are crossed, a woman inevitably becomes a sex object, and they then hold little responsibility for their unclean thoughts. Herein lies the real problem: the human body is hyper-sexualized. I once heard the tale of a particularly horrifying achievement days modesty activity. During this activity, adult leaders actually drew garment lines on pre-pubescent girls. As if to say, "these are the magic lines that, when crossed, automatically turn you (a child) into an object of lust." What does this tell young girls about their worth and purpose? This also debases men, and robs them of their agency.
Living in Germany was enlightening. The human body is viewed quite differently there. They espouse the Freikörperkultur, or Free Body Culture (Husband and I wanted to participate, but sadly never had the opportunity). Nudity is tolerated in many public places. It is so different from America. It is rare to see a clothed child at a waterfront venue, and many adult men and women also walk around in the buff. The best part is that no one cares. The ones who bare it all do not have "ideal" bodies (because the "ideal" does not exist), but they are not embarrassed. No one is viewing them as sex objects. The general consensus is "hey, we all have one". The human body is fantastic and useful in a number of ways, but for some reason, we here in America focus heavily on only one of those numerous capabilities (even in children, which I believe feeds the pedophilia epidemic).
We in the church are not immune to this mindset. When we insist that women dress a certain way so boys don't have inappropriate thoughts, we are treating the symptoms, but not the cause. I view Zion as a place where every person dresses modestly out of self-respect and practicality, so that modesty need not have such concrete lines associated with it. But more so, I see Zion as a place where respect and equality reign supreme; where, even when someone bares their body, it doesn't matter because no one sees that body as a tool to use for their own gratification. I guess we don't live in Zion. Is it impossible to teach ourselves not to objectify ourselves or others? Are we so fallen that there is no hope of escaping the tendency to hyper-sexualize? Can we not put off this aspect of the natural man? I believe that if we teach modesty to both sexes from this point of view, we can begin to combat one of the wiliest tricks of the adversary and better appreciate our full worth as the children of God.