(of a woman) dressing or behaving so as to avoid impropriety or indecency,esp. to avoid attracting sexual attention
(of clothing) not revealing or emphasizing the figure
When I think about what modesty means in today’s political, cultural and religious environment I am inclined to believe that the concept itself does not involve choice. It continues to lack any dimension of freedom or independent thought, rather it constitutes a dictatorial concept pushed down on women whether they agree with it or not. It is a vague and misleading concept and although some argue that it is down to interpretation one thing is to be sure of; modesty is patriarchy.
When I speak about modesty, I speak about it in relation to clothing, mannerisms and behaviour. Throughout history, women have been judged on how “modest” they are and this has been a way to determine how much of a “lady” they have the power to be. In a patriarchal society, to be modest is to dress “appropriately”, speak “accordingly” and maintain a “ladylike” image throughout. If you fail to do this, you are not modest and God forbid you choose to wear a low-cut top, you are simply a whore!
Modesty to me means subservience. It means acquiesce. How you dress suddenly becomes some one else’s business and how “ladylike” you are is determined by a standard you never gave your consent to in the first place. Let’s face it, men are not subject to this standard. I mean, have you really ever heard someone describe a man as “immodest”? It is a standard reserved almost exclusively for women. And this is because we suffer in a largely patriarchal society. If modesty is simply about avoidance of dressing in a “revealing” manner, why is it predominantly directed at women? Why is a woman’s dress choice suddenly everybody’s business and why is a woman’s choice to reveal what is her’s; “indecent” and “immoral”?
And how about this idea that the level of “respect” you should receive is inextricably linked with how “modest” you are. Shouldn’t “respect” be linked with intellect, intelligence, ability to hold an intriguing conversation, anything but the tightness of your dress or shortness of your skirt. Too often we measure our respect of women on the basis of how well they fit our standard of “modesty” and “decency”. This is nothing but oppressive. And hey here’s a crazy idea, how about a woman doesn’t leave her house everyday desperate to receive your stamp of approval and rating of modesty? Maybe it’s just her choice to wear what she wants and act the way she choices. It’s a ludicrous idea I know, but just consider it for a moment.
I have heard countless men and women use “impure” and “unclean” as synonyms for “immodesty” and there is a reason. Modesty is a way to oppress women into giving into a system of patriarchy that dictates what they wear, how much skin they reveal and how “sexual” they are. As a way to attack, marginalise and oppress women, it is effective. There is nothing innocent about throwing around the term modesty and there are no excuses for the ignorance about what it really implies. I for one have no interest in being “modest” because how I choose to live my life, has nothing to do with my gender or with what somebody has dictated for me. I refuse to vilify women who do not fit into a illusionary standard of “modesty” and I do not consider the concept relevant, accurate or useful. It is a concept that truly disgusts me and not merely because of its essential meaning, but because of the importance we have given to it.