Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In which I am deeply troubled

I've been thinking and thinking and thinking about how to write this post. I still feel pretty muddled about how to express myself, but I am just feeling so heated that I have to try.

I spent the weekend at Ward Youth Conference. Two days of sand and sun and giggling and dancing and oversharing. I have come to love my young women, each of them. It was a wonderful weekend. Save one thing.

Well, two things really, but they both tie together into one big thing that has me all hot and bothered, and not in a good way.

That thing is the way modesty is taught by many in my church, to both Young Women and Young Men. The message the Young Women are told is that they need to dress modestly to help men avoid impure thoughts. The message the Young Men hear is that they are not responsible for their thoughts or actions. The message the Young Women hear is that they are.

This is a heavy burden of responsibility to place anyone's shoulders, but especially on those of our already-fragile teenage girls. It's not enough that women have to be responsible for their own salvation, but apparently we are also responsible for securing the salvation of the men around us. We are taught that we dress our bodies merely for either the benefit or damnation of men. If we are revealing in dress, it is to arouse men. If we are modest in dress, it is to ensure proper thoughts in men. Must everything we do be because of what men expect or want us to do?

At it's best, this line of thinking completely neglects the teaching of the actual doctrine behind modesty and affirms the notion that women exist for and at the mercy of men. This angers me in so many ways, but what really terrifies me is what happens at the worst of this line of thinking. The worst is the fear I feel for the young woman (women, if we're being statistically accurate) who is sexually assaulted and is then made to feel that she "brought it on herself" by dressing "provocatively." It is the terror I feel that young men are hearing that they are weak and can't be expected to be held accountable when a woman, heaven forbid, shows her shoulders. It is the message that a man just can't help himself when a woman "teases" him, and that what happens as a result is what "she had coming."

And that is not okay.

What's bothering me even more than just that is that when these messages were preached (in a slightly different way but implied and inferred nonetheless), none of the youth hearing them seemed bothered. Which means they have heard it all before. It did not surprise me, as it is something that I remember being told from my days as a teenager in the church (and being angered by it even then), but it does anger me, and trouble me. How can we be doing all this damage? And what can I do to stop it?

I have some other specific issues that are still bothering me that relate to this, but this is the biggie, and it's what's been eating away at me for 2 days. Maybe someday I'll work through my other issues from this weekend, but for tonight I could really use some... something. Insight? Advice? Understanding? Prayers? Revolution? I don't know. Something. I'm feeling the heavy, heavy burden of loving these crazy teenagers and hurting for them and trying to figure out how to teach them and lead them to Christ and help them love themselves. And it's pressing down on me hard-core.


JWJohnsen said...

I just composed a really lengthy response to your post which I chose not to submit, mostly because I think we actually agree on the issue and it sounded too much like a rebuttal. I will say that I think there is a problem with American culture - not church doctrine - which teaches all kids, not just boys, that they aren't capable of controlling the strong feelings they experience. They don't have adults who model self-control and talk about their feelings to their kids and help them work through them. I can certainly sympathize with your feelings on the issue.

As a man, I can say that although you assert that "The message the Young Men hear is that they are not responsible for their thoughts or actions," you have never been a young man. The prevailing theme I got as a young man was that I needed to have absolute control over my thoughts. I never learned to blame young women for them. However, all that did was lead to guilt when I couldn't control them perfectly. It would have been nice to have had a mentor to help me actually work through the struggle of self-mastery when I was young. It would be nice if youth leaders in the church could have more in-depth and realistic talks about what we should actually do with the thoughts and feelings we experience, and how we can use the Holy Ghost to sort through them. It seems like we do a lot of superficial discussion about things, which doesn't really help.

That said, I think it's a bit disingenuous to say that a woman is totally without responsibility if she attracts unwanted attention by dressing provocatively, but I assume that we are talking about mostly modest young women here so we'll leave that argument for another time.

Mickelle said...

1. Totally agree. Loved everything about this.
2. I recently came across this (http://www.the-exponent.com/the-modesty-song/#more-12569) and a line or two of it really reminded me of your post.
3. I guess the meager silver lining to taking girls down this line of thinking is that it at least does teach them that their actions and choices have consequences for those around them, which is an important part of maturity. I'm not saying I agree that it's a woman's job to dress modestly for men's sake (what a joke!) but just that it's easy when we're teenagers to believe that what we do has no consequence for anyone but ourselves.
4. To me, I am truly converted to changing myself when I experience a testimony of the doctrines involved. The line of reasoning used in the ward youth conference was abysmal. What about the sacredness of our bodies, that they are made in the image of God? What about the way that our clothing, music, etc. has an influence upon our mood and behavior? What about how our obedience is directly related to our ability to qualify for blessings, i.e. that lovely BOM phrase "inasmuch as"?

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