Rage Against the Machine


Anger is not accommodating. Anger isn’t contained in tidy little packages, it’s not pretty, and it’s seldom righteous. By and large, anger is considered the realm of men- it’s powerful, large and burns not only the one consumed by it, but anyone who get too close. Anger is not… ladylike.

Yesterday, I combusted, was consumed and burnt anyone who dared to come near. It was one of those days, and the emotional hangover has me thinking about anger in general, my own in particular, and the stage on which this plays out. A stage that has been packed and primed with incendiary devices, mercury trip-switches, flints and tinders, and then wrapped in pink-painted barbed-wire with Pinterest-cute beribboned signs that say “Women are Special!” and “Virtue is Power!”

All I wanna do is kick the powder keg over and light up a match…

My daughter told me her shorts showed too much of her legs and she couldn’t wear them anymore. My breath caught in my throat and the rage-monster woke in my breast. But it got worse- she then asked me why her thighs were bigger than the other girls’ thighs. Nothing on earth will convince me it’s coincidental that she learned about “modesty” and began to compare her legs— she previously had never even used the word thigh, just the generic ‘leg’— to other girls. I carefully tried to keep my face calm, but inside the tidal wave of rage was swelling.

I’ve tried to counteract what I consider the warped, distorted and perverted idea of modesty taught at my church— the idea that girls are responsible for the thoughts of others, the idea that crashing body and sexual awareness onto perfectly innocent young girls is beneficial, the imposing of adult ‘standards’ (and I use the term loosely) onto children (because there is nothing praiseworthy or standard about depriving girls of the joy of their own embodiment and tying their self-esteem to how others perceive them). God help me, I have tried to temper, moderate and educate. But they got to my daughter. And now I don’t know what to do, because SMASHING isn’t going to go over well.

I’m tired of playing nice.  I’m tired of pretending the discourse around modesty, young women and motherhood is everything except regressive and harmful. There is good to be mined, but what we cannot seem to see in the ceaseless drumming of “virtue” “chastity” “modesty” and the saccarine-soaked praise is that we are still… STILL… teaching our girls that their value is based on how they look. I’m sure some well-intentioned soul thought she was doing good by telling my daughter what she imagined was appropriate. The problem is, the message is warped and unhealthy, and it’s one with which I not only disagree, but that makes me want to go all Sampson and tear the building down.

There is nothing— NOTHING— wrong with a child in shorts, a sundress, a tank top or a two-piece bathing suit. Not a damn thing. No child is responsible for what any adult may think about their bodies, and I sure as hell do not want my daughter (or my sons) internalizing guilt or shame about the flesh their souls inhabit. Their bodies are marvelous creations, and their innocence is worth protecting fiercely.

Before I joined this church, I never thought about bodies. They just were. Everyone had one. I grew up in a house and a community where I saw mothers nurse openly, breasts were just breasts, and children swam and ran naked through the sprinklers in the front yard. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s, a mother, and a member of this church, and constantly (ceaselessly, unendingly) hearing about modestly that I suddenly became hyper-aware of the bodies of others.  It’s as stark a line as day and night.  And it’s a line those steeped in it, steeped with their entire family, friends, and community, cannot seem to see. We create exactly that of which we are so terrified.

So here’s an idea: What if we stop focusing so much on how anyone— in particular, children— looks, and try focusing on the things Christ taught. Christ didn’t look at the woman brought to him for stoning and ask what she was wearing. He didn’t chastise Mary or Martha for their dress- he corrected them for focusing on the wrong things and invited both women to come hear on the words of God.

People might not be truly capable of righteous anger, the kind Christ showed when he cleansed the temple (we kind of gloss over the fact that not only did he kick tables over, but he was wielding a weapon and seriously kicking ass) but I think a mother defending her children could come close. Personally, I equate the peddlers of ‘modesty’ to be akin to the moneychangers- they are bringing something impure into a citadel that is naturally perfect and perfectly innocent, and doing so under the guise of providing a service. The intentions may be good, but what they are selling is corrupt, and has no place here. None at all.

Meanwhile, I’ll be standing guard. Right over here, on this stage, laden with all the things I’m not supposed to be comfortable with…next to the pile of matches. And where I don’t give a damn about ladylike.

29 thoughts on “Rage Against the Machine

  1. I counteract by venting to my journal, my husband, and FMH, and then I take a looooong Sunday nap. Sometimes I wish I had the energy to do something else, but anger is so tiring, you know?

  2. Our Primary chorister actually told our girls to sit down and be demure yesterday. I nearly threw up in my mouth…. I’m waiting until I can communicate about it without a swearstorm to the Primary presidency.

  3. If you can teach your daughter and sons that thier bodies are perfect vessels for thier souls; to be cared for and loved no matter the outside influences . . . you will be my hero!
    Sadly it’s not just the churches strange take on children’s modesty that will sting those little souls but the constant and insistent media.
    I have three dear nieces who are severly bulimic. Its no way to live a life. Their constant focus on thier bodies has left them self-absorbed and frankly a little tiresome. Hopefully it won’t last forever but the wasted years of self-loathing can’t be recovered. Lessons will be learned but oh, the time the obsession steals is heart wrenching.

    So, I say . . . keep countering it all with your mama-love.
    It can be undone.

  4. Uggghhh. This infuriates me and makes me feel so sad for your sweet daughter. My little girl is only 17 months, but I already dread and worry how to handle the “modesty” lessons.

    What have you said to try to counteract the messages your daughter and sons are getting in church? What did you say to her after her shorts comments?

    I really don’t want to be the trouble-maker parent, but I will sincerely consider pulling my daughters out of church the modesty lesson weeks. If only there were a guarantee those messages would be limited to specific lessons….

  5. Your anger is remarkably close to my own this weekend. Things get so distorted when we focus on the length of shorts and skirts.

      • She’s alright. I’m way more miffed than she is. She is very strong, very independent, and doesn’t internalize things like that in the same way that my younger daughter does. V would have been traumatized.

  6. I was going to call this phariseeism, but I think moneychangers is lower, and more accurate. I respect your anger, and any efforts you make to protect your daughter, who is wonderful and rare, from the people who would tear her down.

    My daughters’ adolescence occurred during the low-rise pants/crop top era, which accelerated the angst of the adults around them, me included. I more or less bought into the modesty culture at church and encouraged them to meet the standards we were given. I wish I hadn’t spent any energy on that and instead had been more energetic about exposing them to the teachings of Christ. They don’t attend church as adults, but to their credit, they found sports, and have developed the ethic of training their body to perform, which revolutionized their body image. For that I am grateful, and I love to see them compete. I also have become more realistic about exposed bodies, and I love to see their new standard of health. My only regret is the time we wasted on the modesty nonsense, and how it impaired the growth of their testimonies.

    I know you’ll think carefully before you act to protect your delightful daughter. Good luck to you. By all means, be the troublemaker parent, and be effective about it.

  7. I personally choose to dress modestly and to buy modest clothes for my daughter because its a choice I made. I don’t go around telling other people that they need to dress more modestly, even though sometimes I do want to tell some ladies that cleavage doesn’t need to be prominently displayed at church.

    So I see both sides, but it does seem the girls and young women get hammered with the modesty lessons so much. My daughter hasn’t mentioned any of this, but I don’t think she pays a lot of attention in church. I would consider skipping the modesty lessons, as I have that covered at home by example and word.

    On the topic of modesty, my old neighbor was (still is) obsessed with her body and looks. She had married in the temple but wanted to be fashionable and sexy so she often opted to wear revealing clothes. She once complained to me that the creepy old neighbor guy would stare at her when she was sunbathing in her front yard in her bikini. I asked her why she was surprised by that when she was putting everything out on display for everyone to see. She honestly thought that she was just being sexy for her husband, and that no one else would look. I’m glad they moved, but I fear for her three daughters who are being taught that fashion is more important than temple convenents.

  8. Fwiw, Tracey, I wrote the following in another thread about modesty:

    “Modesty means moderation – broadly, about lots of things, only one of which is how we dress. Immodesty, therefore, means extremism. Not drawing attention to one’s self unduly is an example of modesty – again, in many practical ways; blending completely into the background, however, or homogenizing ourselves completely is an example of extreme immodesty in the other direction.

    The best examples of immodesty in terms of clothing are South Beach and the Taliban. In that sense, Mormons as a group are modest in how we dress – but, generally speaking, our collective obsession with modesty in how we dress to the near exclusion of modesty in any other way makes us extremely immodest in the purest sense of the word.”

    I teach my children modesty, and I counteract what they hear from people at church by teaching them modesty even more. In other words, I say something like:

    “Absolutely, I believe in virtue and modesty – and this is what I believe they mean.”

    I also have told someone directly that their insistence that my daughters’ clothing is immodest says more about them than it does about my daughters – and I wasn’t smiling when I said it. I also have spoken directly and bluntly with local church leaders about the same thing. They need to hear it in order to understand it, but they need to hear it constructively and not only harshly. They might or might not understand, but they need to hear it.

    Finally, just a simple word of caution from a friend:

    Your daugher’s question about her thighs isn’t due to the Church and it’s focus on modesty. It’s due to the pervasive obsession with weight and body type in our general modern culture. There is enough to tackle in the Church without piling on societal garbage, as well.

  9. Ray, I agree with most of what you say- and I agree that modesty is SO SO much more that where our clothing falls. As a matter of fact, modesty has very, very little to do with clothing, and almost everything to do with our attitudes and the humbleness of our hearts. Modesty is not about bodies. This is what I object to. I think the hyper-focus on the bodies creates exactly what we are trying to avoid- young people, women in particular, who are so focused on their bodies that it can, for some, border on illness. Eating disorders are rampant among Mormon women, and I believe there is a correlation.

    While yes, weight and body issues are in all facets of society, there is nothing anyone can say to convince me that my daughter suddenly noticing the thickness of her thighs on the same day someone pointed out that she shouldn’t be showing them (*seething*) are not directly tied.

    • I agree with every word of your first paragraph, Tracy. Every. single. word.

      I’m not questioning a correlation of some sort with the timing, but I don’t see a cause and effect relationship – especially since the “don’t show your thighs” comment is made to my two daughters who are stick thin and my two daughters who are dead center average build.

      I really dislike the focus on hiding one’s thighs (and shoulders) completely and think it’s harmful, as well – but I’m just saying there isn’t a Mormon focus on size at work here. I believe if your daughter is concerned about her thighs being too large she picked up that concern as a result of the abomination of our overall modern culture – and that the modesty comment / lesson didn’t cause it but rather brought it to the surface.

      I’m suggesting you tackle those two things distinctly, so she doesn’t conflate them in her own mind – which I’m sure you are doing already.

      • Of course girls of all shapes and sizes are hearing it! But… it was brought crashing into my six year old’s world by a lesson on “modesty” AT CHURCH. She never even used the word “thigh” before, as I said. Of course she would have eventually gotten the message elsewhere, but it’s not OK that she got it first at church. I have some damage control to do now.

      • Ray I know that you love Tracy like family but its bonkers for you to think its ok to correct her understanding of where that message came from. Tracy knows her church – she can love the good and call out the bad. And she sure as hell knows her daughter. This would be an awesome time to recognize some of your male privilege and just hear and support your sister in the gospel rather than try and correct her understanding of it. Because honestly, if good men like you can’t do it, it makes me despair of it ever happening.

      • Sorry, cwc, that I didn’t shut up and not add the final, personal message. I’ve never seen Tracy as someone who needs only an echo chamber, and I’ve always tried to be both supportive and completely honest with her. I can’t shut off the analytical part of me; it’s simply who I am; I hide it from quite a few people; I don’t hide it from others; I’ve never hidden it from Tracy.

        I love you, too (seriously), but if my sharing a personal observation with a friend that differed from her observation, after agreeing with everything else she said, explicitly because I value her friendship so much, is objectionable . . . All I can say is that I’m sorry. If that observation was incorrect, I’m even more sorry – and, fwiw, it was not shared from a position of male privilege, so, in that sense, we’re even.

        I really do apologize, Tracy, if my comment somehow was inappropriate.

  10. Wow. Well, your daughter is lucky to have you, to give her balance and perspective and greater understanding.

    Now I’m feeling a lot better about letting my daughter stay home from Activity Day recently–she was tired and didn’t want to go, and I decided to let her sit it out. They were doing something about modesty and fashion. I have a feeling her leader would have been wise and sensitive about how she presented it, but still–I didn’t think it was something she needed, so she stayed home.

  11. “Your daugher’s question about her thighs isn’t due to the Church and it’s focus on modesty.” Not your call. Simply not your call. You can’t possibly know that and your desire to “share” that is rooted in your belief that it could be your call to make. Turning your condescension (however well intended) into a virtue (saying “I’ve never hidden it from her,” is a pretty solid humblebrag. Am I too virtuous/analytical/humble? Maybe. But that’s just my cross to bear…:) ) and it just doesn’t do you justice, Ray. I don’t honestly know what to say about your belief that you were not using male privilege when you wrote that. It may be a simple misunderstanding. Like, you believe that “male privilege” is a font. Or a cologne. Or a box to check and you made sure you didn’t check that box, spray that musk, hit that font tab so NO WAY could you be accused of it 🙂
    I’ll clarify: I think it’s a dick move to tell a grieving mama, “I totally disagree with your take on where this message is coming from; I see it differently.” But Ray, my old internet friend, my turtledove, you didn’t even do that! You told Trac she was wrong- not that you saw it differently but that she was categorically wrong. About her experience. The one happening right that moment in her torn up mama heart. That is what the text book uses as their exhibit A for male privilege.
    I don’t know why you can’t see that. It seems to be some conflation of “If I am parsing the argument in a logical way there can be no condescension” and defensiveness about “privilege” being applied to you. I get that. You really are a good guy with a great heart. Of course you can write me off as being a cranky feminist; but I hope that you won’t.

  12. Hi, I have read your blog post with a great deal of interest and I really appreciate your point of view. I really appreciate the point of view of those who have not been born in the Church and have not lived their whole lives in Utah. I tend to have a more traditional understanding of the principle of modesty but I am seeking to understand different points of view. So, let me begin by explaining how I understand the principle in my own mind.

    For me it has always been precisely because our bodies are so sacred and beautiful and godlike that we do cover them and that to expose them to any passer-by would cheapen and profane them. We limit access to the temple not because we are ashamed of the temple but because it is such an incredibly beautiful and majestic thing in the same way that our bodies are. In fact it is through our bodies that the highest manifestation of godliness is expressed in mortality and that is through the giving of life to a soul.

    I understand that there are those in the Church who take it upon themselves to become the modesty police and enforce their own personal standards and I agree that they are way out of line. However, I think one risks throwing the baby out with the bath water if the principle of keeping our bodies covered in a reasonable and appropriate way is rejected outright.

    So, like I said I am seeking to understand every point of view, if I understand your blog post correctly I get the sense that you feel like teaching the principle of modesty to young people is potentially harmful to their self-esteem and self-image. Is this a correct understanding on my part? Do you feel like teaching young people that they should cover their bodies implies that their bodies are impure and/or shameful etc? Do you think it is possible to teach the principle in such a way that helps them to understand that it is precisely because their bodies are so glorious, beautiful and godlike that they should be protected? what are your thoughts?

    And again, I appreciate your thoughts, it’s not easy to open your thoughts and beliefs up to the world to be subject to criticism and/or ridicule so I applaud you for being so open. I hope I have been respectful of your viewpoint because that has been my intent. Thanks!

  13. No, Matt- I am suggesting that teaching respect for the body does not need to be coupled with shameful focus on hemlines and sleeve length. I am saying that I and my family should be the arbiters of what constitutes appropriate dress, and I hold to the principal of teaching correct principles and letting us govern ourselves. I fear we are dangerously close to those we have mocked for their adherence to arbitrary rules, the Pharisees. Teach the sacredness of our bodies, teach the entire principle of modesty (not just clothing, not just focused on girls) and then let us apply those ideas in our families how we best believe they should be applied.

    I am saying that before I joined the church and started hearing constantly about how the body should be covered, I thought far less about bodies, and respected more the whole person. Our myopic focus on women’s bodies is creating the exact, distorted focus we claim to seeking to avoid.

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  15. I realize I’m late to the party on this, but I do a have a POV tempered by living internationally. My daughter is one of two LDS girls her international school. She sometimes wears sleeveless tops and her skirts rarely drop below her knees–everything she wears is tasteful, cute and flatters her. The modesty issue, where we live, is that few of the girls around her know how to dress appropriately–for work, job interviews or otherwise. When they had mock interviews a few weeks ago, the vice principal had to instruct them in detail about things like bras showing through shirts and too low cleavage to thong underwear showing above low-waisted skirts and underwear showing because skirts were riding up thighs to crotch level. Boys were also lectured about underwear hanging out of trousers, vulgar and crass language on clothing labels and overly trendy/sloppy choices.

    My feeling is that there has to be a middle somewhere–too many youth in society in general are sloppy, overly casual and embrace trends that don’t show respect for either themselves or for whatever public place they’re visiting. Call me old fashioned, but showing bra straps used to be a fashion faux pas, not a fashion statement. There is no question that modesty, in language, dress and behavior, is a value that is slipping away from our culture.

    IMHO The church has gone too far in emphasizing the symbolism of modest dress without talking about the principles of self-respect, respect for others and honoring the body as a sign of self-esteem and worth–not a Victorian sense of a woman’s value all twisted up in some Madonna-Whore complex. It is a lesson that needs to be taught, but the way the church is going about it is wrong. I especially think that lecturing young girls about the length of their shorts or covering their shoulders can be as damaging as the often sexualized fashions for young girls that are found everywhere from Target to Nordstrom or the sexualization of young women in the media.

    The whole narrative is mixed up and outside modeling and teaching in the home, I’m at a loss about how to fix it.

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