You don't have to signal a social conscience by looking like a frump. Lace knickers won't hasten the holocaust, you can ban the bomb in a feather boa just as well as without, and a mild interest in the length of hemlines doesn't necessarily disqualify you from reading Das Kapital and agreeing with every word. --Elizabeth Bibesco

Monday, May 30, 2011

Modesty and SlutWalk

So I'm going to Chicago's SlutWalk this coming Saturday and I'm totally pumped about it. If you haven't heard about SlutWalks, an explanation for them can be found here. The gist of it is, though, that a police officer was giving safety tips to law students in Toronto and said that women could avoid sexual assault if they stopped dressing like sluts. Understandably, this pissed a lot of people off, so SlutWalks started in Toronto to reclaim the derogatory word and to protest the police force's treatment of female survivors of sexual assault.

I think the movement is important, so I'm delighted to be going. It will also be my first (and, let's face it, probably last) time in a niqab, so I'm excited about that too. To recap, yes I am going to SlutWalk Chicago in a niqab.

So, now I'm going to address a couple of concerns I can see coming up in the blogosphere. 1) Is modesty the opposite of sluttiness? and 2) Should a modest woman (or man!) go to SlutWalk and why?

First question first. Is modesty the opposite of sluttiness?
Right off the bat, I'm going to remind you all, that I don't think God is necessarily a proponent of one or the other, so I'm going to keep God out of this and just talk about what I think (which is necessarily informed by my religious views), but my point is, I don't think God "sides with" the slut or the modest woman.

Okay, in order to see if modesty and sluttiness are incompatible, we have to know what both are. Slut, according to this dictionary, means "a person, especially a woman, considered sexually promiscuous." Modesty is defined as: reserve or propriety in speech, dress, or behavior.

You could argue, then, either way. If we are talking only about modesty in dress, a slut could be modest. If we are talking about behavior, you could say a modest woman could not also be a slut, because sexual promiscuity isn't, by definition, reserve in behavior.

However, check out some of urban dictionary's definitions for "slut." Or, don't, if you are squeamish. The point is: is a website where people contribute their own definitions and many of these definitions say: "a woman who likes to have lots of sex." Now, even if you are a monogamous, sex-after-marriage kind of woman, by this latter definition, you could be a slut. And it could be a good thing.

Next question. Should a modest woman (or man!) go to SlutWalk and why? or Allie, why are you wearing a niqab to SlutWalk?
 I figure these two questions can be answered in one fell swoop.

SlutWalk is a protest about the fact that society still thinks that the women who get raped are the ones wearing the "slutty" clothes and thus, if you don't want to get raped, you shouldn't wear those clothes. This is an affront for every kind of woman (and man). It totally denies the existence of modest rape survivors. It also implies that our men can't control themselves when they see a woman in a short skirt. Never mind the idea that being a woman who enjoys sex is a bad thing.

So, who should be at SlutWalk?
  • Modest Rape Survivors
  • Immodest Rape Survivors
  • Sluts (of all kinds!)
  • Men
Meet me at SlutWalk Chicago (Thompson Center Plaza, June 4th at 12noon) if you agree!

Source: SlutWalk Chicago's SlutWalk Guerilla Street Performance that happened this past Saturday.
 By the way: now that you know what I'm wearing, what should my sign say? Any ideas?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Big Boobs, Short Skirts and Modesty

I don't have a forum to discuss these things with other modest women in real life, so I'd like to post a couple of complications I've had.

Ok, so I may have mentioned this before, but I have big boobs. They've always been that way. As a pre-teen, I showed about as much of them as possible. It was a pride thing for sure-- I had something very few other girls my age had.

As I've gotten older, it's been hard to find appropriate clothing, especially working with kids.

Here are my requirements for "appropriate":
  • Doesn't show lots of cleavage, even bending over
  • Not too tight
  • Also, not a bag.
Here's a hint:
  • For women with my breasts, they don't exist.

Also, at first I didn't understand why the tzniut requirement called for skirts below the knees, except that they are an easy line for delineation purposes.

After a week in a job where I have to wear formal clothes and with a traditional business skirt that hits just above my knee, I have different opinions.

I take the train and then the bus to work. On the train, the only seats available by the time I get on are on an upper level, often facing people on the lower level. How do I keep them from seeing up my skirt? Mostly, I've been contorting my legs in all sorts of ways to remain modest. Crossed at the knee, crossed at the ankle, crossed at the knee and then at the ankle, just pressed together, stretched out and pressed together. I must look like I have ants in my pants, skirt, whatever.

Any ideas? On either matter?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Job Interviews

So I just graduated from college and I've been doing a lot of job interviews. It's interesting how it has made me analyze my own modesty and head covering practices.

I have to ask myself: do I want to be noticeably religious? I'm still not sure. Is being visibly religious like being the light on the hill or like being the pharisee on the street corner? And is being blatantly modest analogous with being visibly religious? (To this last one: I think it depends on context. At work, modesty is not inherently religious; at the pool, it might be.)

I've been debating these questions the past couple of days.

Today, I was on my way home from the temporary job I just acquired, and I read The Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila (the only book recommendation I've ever taken). She had two points that I think help with this whole light on the hill/pharisee on the street corner question. And, because I like quotes, I shall quote her.

I warn you: abandon yourselves [to acts of devotion] only under the condition that you harbor no illusions about the Beloved being under some obligation to repay you for your sacrifice with divine favors. [...] What can we offer such a generous Beloved, who died for us and breathes life into our being?

She's speaking to her sisters in the convent and talking about, in particular, giving up worldly goods. I think she probably also intends it to cover other acts of devotion as well. If you are doing anything, really, because you think God should reward you for it, you aren't "walking humbly with God."

I've never really thought of of tzniut or head covering as something that should bring repayment from God. Isn't everything we do supposed to be repayment to God? God loved us and created us and then we blew God off. God came to down to earth to teach us the way Home and we killed God. God has done everything for us and we, as a whole anyway, have been brutally unreceptive. So I think all our lives should be repayment back to God-- mind you, that's hard to remember even on my best days.

That's where the head covering comes in, I think. I, as a human full of faults, don't always remember to live my life as an offering to God. The head covering is my reminder. If it acts as a label to identify me as Christian or religious, that's fine, but it is first and foremost for me.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Walk Humbly with Your God

I teach Sunday School to 5th and 6th graders. They are a very intelligent, very energetic group.
Today, we were studying (among other things) Micah 6:8 where God calls on the people, instead of sacrificing oil and animals to Her, to "do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God."

Our activity involved making lists of things people in general and my students in particular could do under the headings of Doing Justice, Loving Kindness and Walking Humbly with God.

Some suggestions I got for Doing Justice were:
Stand Up to Bullies
Put Terry Jones in jail
Protest (Oh, Ann Arbor children)

Some suggestions I got for Loving Kindness were:
Helping children who are lost
Giving people hugs
Not being mean to people

Walking humbly with God was by far the hardest. But I told them about tzniut and how tzniut is based pretty much entirely on that part of this verse (source). Then they got into it and here were some of the suggestions I got:
Do what people tell you
Don't brag
Don't dress in a way that makes people pay attention to you

After this last suggestion, many of the students started to defend why they dressed to attract attention. (I mean, come on, many of them are in junior high and the rest will be soon.) However, one of my (male) students, who I'll call J, said in a remarkably thoughtful way, "I don't usually dress to make people pay attention me..." He paused, and then added, "Except my Converse."

I had to smile-- I loved that he thought dressing not to make people pay attention was important when all of his classmates were arguing against it. I also loved that he was willing to admit that he did wear his Converse shoes sometimes to attract attention! I think God would approve, for sure.