Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

More Modestly Foolish Proposals

Today my blog's gonna live up to its original purpose as my rantboard! So hold on!

I've been reading Old Oligarch again. And make no mistake, I like Old Oligarch. He is a fine writer on practically every subject. (And usually, he agrees with me.) But his ideas on modesty are really starting to wear on me. (Not just because he disagrees with me.) The basic concept is fine; the recommended course of action is overkill.

Yes, this is the kind of thing that actively helps people think that Christians are stupid. This is also how Muslim women got stuck wearing ahistorical hijab.

Look. Not to complain or anything. But although these swimthings at and Stitchin Times are at least not as ugly as the previous "modest" swimsuits I commented on, they are also covering more skin than swimming women did in the thirties and forties.

What's more, parents are apparently expected to put their kids into such "modest" clothes. It's not enough for a parent to search through stores to find something to wear that's not some weird fashion designer's Lolita dream. Nooo, she must instead
send her girls out to play in little white dresses with frilly white bloomers
underneath. (Which actually does sound rather like an invitation to get beaten up by other kids and kidnapped by pedophiles. But maybe I'm just paranoid.) Because otherwise the girls obviously must look totally shapelessly mannish -- no middle ground.

What, in God's name -- and that's not swearing! I mean it! -- and in the name of all that is natural, reasonable, and just, do these people think they are doing? If they were not born Muslims, Orthodox Jews, or Amish (heck, even if they are), why are they signing up for this?

And what next?

See, this is not giving me the impression that folks just want to take a step back and stay there. This is not "I have my grandma's old veil in the closet somewhere, why don't I wear it to Mass so it'll get some use." No, this sounds more like religion-as-hobby, as done by people with too much time on their hands. So first modest swimsuits were the kind with the little sarongs, then bodysuit shorts, and now they're full skirts. Next year or the year after that, even total coverage and hair hoods won't be enough. Hairshirts to counteract the pleasures of swimming will be optional accessories.

The worst thing is, society does need to take a step back, and Christian men and women really should dress modestly. But when women overreact and begin dressing not like Grandma or even Great-grandma, but rather like Great-grandma's rather fashion-backward mama, it undercuts the entire concept of modesty and paints it as something only a fanatic would worry about.

Furthermore, it's an insult to all other Christians concerned about modesty who take a less radical stance. If something very long and ultra-concealing is defined as just plain "modest", then clearly everyone else's nice swimsuits from J.C. Penney must be as "immodest" as if they were thongs. Somehow, body-shy little ol' me objects to being defined as a shameless hussy and scarlet woman.

It's a good thing I'm not a rebellious kid of one of these people. I mean, if everything else is as immodest as a thong, then why not buy a thong?

The biggest binge-drinker I knew at college was a kid from a family who didn't drink for religious reasons. Within the first quarter, she decided drugs must also be okay, since her family had also been against them. But her family had been relaxed about clothes, so she didn't feel the need to do anything worse than dress like a hippie chick. I, meanwhile, had been allowed to drink occasionally since I was first communion age, and therefore probably drank about the least (and with the best quality liquor) of anyone on campus.

I predict, therefore, a lot of casualties of this modest part of the culture war.

I may, of course, be overreacting myself. But I've been reading Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran by Elaine Sciolino. A quote comes to mind from a very conservative Islamic woman named Leila:

"I'm a very religious person and I always wear a scarf and a chador over it. But when some stranger comes up to me and says, "Lady, fix your hejab, it hurts me. Because inside I know I am very religious. Who is he to tell me I'm not?"

So how would I put it?

"As a daily act of piety, I like to go beyond normal modesty of dress. Like
wearing a chapel veil in church, abstaining from meat on all Fridays, or
saying the Rosary, this is an act of popular devotion, not a requirement.
It is probably not for everyone, but it is one way I try to show my love
for God and my fellow man."

Now, see how much less presumptuous that is? These are words of humility, not of imposition upon others. None of this presumption that other women are dressing "unfemininely" or "too sexily", when all most of them are trying to do is wear normal, mildly attractive clothing. It might even encourage other women (who don't
have money for a whole new wardrobe, much less a whole new wardrobe of stupid ugly
modern dresses, ew) to think about similar acts of private daily piety.

Anyway, I do recommend a brief but thorough Old Oligarch takedown of a site using traditionalism for evil instead of for good. See, he really is a fine writer. (And you have to like a guy who loves both single malt and absinthe.)


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