Reading Group

Do you remember your single days when you a fantastic date? Or when you’re married and you just had freaking awesome night? Or stayed up half the night reading an incredible book?

And that feeling when you wake up the next morning, your eyes are closed, and you smile and just hug yourself with happiness? That’s how I felt this morning, after a late night gathering with a bunch of other women in the community for our feminist reading group. I thank God that I’ve found these wonderful supplemental gatherings in my life. These gathering are absolutely incredible in that we, who all have some association with the mormon church, can talk and question and offer different viewpoints. The range of association with the mormon church is extremely interesting — you have the true-blue mormons, the inactive, the half-in-half-out, and the exmormons. Quite a wide range, but all discussion is completely and utterly respectful and open.  There is no judgment, no arguing. We all just want to gather and learn from each other, and we respect the choices we all have made. Actually, respect sounds so … formal. This gathering, and others like, feels so secretive because we’re all cavorting with the “other side” but instead of disagreeing we’re agreeing! It’s not even about finding common ground and sticking to it, it’s about mutual exploration into the minds of our fellow group members. It’s fascinating.

It was incredible. During the introductions of .. say, 15 people? .. I learned that most gathered there were graduate students (although we had a professor/therapist and a few working women), and that just strengthens my beliefs in education as a tool not only to open the mind, but also to learn the value in questioning. Not questioning is what is truly dangerous. It is not on anyone’s agenda to tear the church down, or the “save” the church. That’s just a moot point within the group.

The point of this month’s group was to discuss modesty and its implications for women. Our group leader actually put it very succinctly… let me grab it for you… Ah, here it is:

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Summer is heating up in Utah County, and with it comes the inevitable discussions of covering up, layering underneath, and sewing on additions. The topic of modesty is particularly relevant where we live, a place where many pools ban two-piece swimsuits, companies rake in money selling dresses that go to the knee, and proms kick out girls wearing sleeveless gowns. 

Sometimes it seems that feminists hold contradictory ideas when it comes to modesty. Most feminists frown on the idea of women being judged or blamed for what they choose to wear. But, at the same time, they condemn immodest, seductive images of women in the media. What might be praised as an expression of individuality and empowered sexuality in person might be condemned as setting a bad example / providing bad role models when it shows up on TV.

So, let’s get together and talk about it this Thursday. What experiences have you had with modesty? How does the emphasis on modesty affect girls and women in Utah County? How does it affect men? Should we have any community standards for what women in person or in the media should or should not wear? Or not? What should feminists teach their daughters about modesty?

Bring a snack to share if you can and be ready for a lively discussion with some of the most awesome ladies (and maybe gentlemen) in the valley.

Please take a look at these short articles in preparation: 

Israeli Girl at Center of Religious Extremism (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/28/world/middleeast/israeli-girl-at-center-of-tension-over-religious-extremism.html?pagewanted=all) – Near the end of 2011, a second-grader in Israel was spit on and called a prostitute by men on her walk to school because they felt that her version of Orthodox Jewish modesty did not match their version of Ultra-Orthadox Jewish modesty. 

The BYU Valentine’s Day Controversy (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/16/brittany-molina-byu-stude_n_1283274.html) – Just a couple months ago, a BYU student received an anonymous note urging her to dress more modestly to avoid having a “negative effect on men” like himself. If you read the BYU newspaper, you will notice that men (and sometimes women) regularly write in with similar sentiments. 

Can High Necklines Cure Low Morals? (http://bitchmagazine.org/article/the-great-cover-up) – Bitch Magazine takes a look at the growing modesty movement.

Modesty Helps Women Be Friends (http://www.ncregister.com/blog/jennifer-fulwiler/modesty-helps-women-be-friends) – This is an interesting look at modesty from another perspective altogether – how does modesty affect relationships women have with each other?

Feel free to suggest any other supplemental readings or give us discussion questions below. Can’t wait to see you!

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Ohh, I was aching for this group — and particularly this topic! And I can prove it with a brief anecdote. Not so long ago, I sat listening to a group of older Relief Society matrons talking about immodesty (the usual — girls at BYU are no obeying the honor code with necklines — I once saw a girl walking to class with her skirt up to HERE — gasp! — young people today don’t know where their waists are — etc, etc. Nothing new).  After being part of Take Back the Night (a vigil supporting a rape victim here in Utah and raising awareness of this particular community’s blatant victim blaming (“she shouldn’t have been wearing THAT”, etc)), I just couldn’t listen to that anymore without speaking up. You know, that this cultural modesty actually promotes sexualization/objectification of the woman’s body. They didn’t get it, but this reading group last night did. That’s why they called the meeting in the first place, to discuss and analyze and work through idea.

I linked to an article in the group memo above, but I’ll link to it a again because it’s awesome. But first? A little teaser from the article:

 “It’s not a lack of female modesty but a sense of male entitlement that leads to sexual violence,” Ream points out. “And the idea that women can change men’s behavior by changing our clothes is not only disconcerting, it has been debunked. As millions of women know all too well, no one ever avoided a rape by wearing a longer skirt.”


Indeed, expecting women to be responsible for tending to both their own and an entire country’s worth of men’s sexual mores seems an awful lot to ask, but it’s exactly what Shalit wants. The modesty movement is at its heart an essentialist one: Men are sexual brutes, and women must keep them in line with crossed legs and high necklines. Its justifications keep women’s bodies and women’s sexuality—especially young women’s sexuality—at the core of female identity. Forget about focusing on achievement, dreams, and education (although the modesty movement claims that by removing pressure to hook up, they are providing this opportunity for young women). When it comes to the modesty movement, women are primarily the sum total of their sexual bodies.

The article is called The Great Cover Up is beautifully summarizes movements for and against modesty and is on par with the kind of discussion our group had last night — except ours dealt specifically with the Provo community.

Another perk from last night? One of the girls there — actually, one of the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing — reminded me of this beautifully done TED talk that I heard long ago and forthelifeofme couldn’t remember. I’ll share it here:

The Power of Vulnerability

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