On Rape Culture in the Ensign (The Lack Thereof)

2014-02-20 The Ensign

(Note: I published a follow-up to this post on March 6, 2014.)

The March 2014 edition of the Ensign (which is the official monthly magazine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) is already available online. The cover article, called “What is the Lord’s Standard for Morality” is stirring up headlines like Controversial LDS Article Raises Concern Of ‘Rape Culture’ and attracting vociferous rebuttals like Morality? We can do much better than this.

The article is by and large a tame restatement of the basic moral principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they relate to sex. These standards are pretty much identical to the basic moral principles of all traditional faiths. Quoting from the article:

The Lord’s standard of morality is not so much a list of do’s and don’ts as it is a principle, which can be expressed as follows: The procreative power is to be exercised in the marriage relationship for two key reasons: (1) to bind and strengthen ties between spouses and (2) to bring souls into the world. These uses have the blessing and endorsement of the Lord.

Despite the fact that the principle is more than “a list of do’s and don’t’s,” the article goes on to clearly stake out the practical implications of this principle in plain English: Don’t have sex outside of marriage, including homosexual sex at any time. Don’t try to get around the “no sex before marriage” on a technicality, i.e. don’t even fool around. Don’t masturbate. Don’t look at porn. Dress modestly. The ongoing controversy illustrates the necessity of these clarifications.

It’s no surprise that these standards would be ridiculed and dismissed by pop culture. If the world at large doesn’t hate you, then you’re doing something wrong.1 There’s nothing new or noteworthy about the idea that religious fuddy-duddies and goody-goodies are silly in the eyes of the world. What’s surprising to me, however, is the amount of push-back coming from within the Church. The most problematic paragraph comes from the section about modesty, and reads as follows:

The dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men. If it is too low or too high or too tight, it may prompt improper thoughts, even in the mind of a young man who is striving to be pure.

The outrage comes from thinking that goes something like this: if you say that the way women dress controls how men think and feel, you are making women responsible for men’s actions. In fact, this is the very logic used to defend rape culture: women who dress immodestly are “asking for it”. Therefore, the Ensign is now perpetuating rape culture.

Let’s deconstruct this reasoning.

First, to say that “the dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men” is not the same as saying “women control men’s thoughts.” In every other human interaction, we’re perfectly capable of understanding that a person can influence you without controlling you.2 If someone cuts you off in traffic, they are going to have a “powerful impact” on your mood. That’s a fact. But your reaction to that provocation is still your decision and therefore your responsibility. That’s another fact. These two facts, (1) that someone can influence you and (2) that ultimately your behavior is still your own responsibility are two facts that people seem to have no problem accepting simultaneously until the discussion turns to modesty. Then suddenly we get this bizarre notion that we can’t say “women have an influence on men” without saying “everything men do as a result is a woman’s fault.” That bizarre notion makes no sense, and doesn’t appear (explicitly or implicitly) in the article.

This article doesn’t claim that women are responsible for men’s thoughts. That’s the accusation, and it is false. Men are still responsible for their own thoughts, but it would be nice if women would dress modestly to help them out. Just as people are responsible for keeping their tempers in control, but it’s generally considered common courtesy not to provoke people unnecessarily. Let me reiterate: if I say “Be nice, because it will help other people not lose their temper,” it doesn’t mean that I’m saying it’s your responsibility whether or not some random stranger loses his or her temper. Even though we interact with each other, we are ultimately responsible for our own behavior, and that’s it. The Ensign shouldn’t need to specifically call this out, because it’s right there in the 2nd Article of Faith: “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins.”3

Lizzy Seeberg, who committed suicide after being harassed for reporting a Notre Dame football player for sexual assault. The connection between football culture and rape seems a lot stronger than the Ensign and rape, but one of these targets is easier to attack than the other.

Lizzy Seeberg, who committed suicide after being harassed for reporting a Notre Dame football player for sexual assault. The connection between football culture and rape seems a lot stronger than the Ensign and rape, but one of these targets is easier to attack than the other.

Allow me to observe, at this point, that not only does the article not blame women for men’s mental purity, but it never even gets remotely close to discussing rape. That’s… not even in the ballpark. Let’s be really, really, really clear. An Ensign article making the entirely obvious observation that men respond to the way women dress is not “rape culture”. A young girl being brutally raped by football players and then being harassed when she appeals for justice until her family is driven out of town and their house is burned downthat is rape culture. CNN reporters who talk about what a tragedy it is for rapists to be found guilty of rape and deprived of their promising futuresthat is rape culture. Everyone talking about the fictitious death of Manti Te’o’s non-existent girlfriend while totally ignoring the actual suicide of “Lizzy Seeberg…  not long after being intimidated by Notre Dame football players for reporting a sexual assault by one of their teammates,that is rape culture.  Chris Brown being accepted back into polite society (with a few notable exceptions)that is rape culture. Roman Polanski being embraced by his peers after his crimesThat is rape culture. Woody Allen being defended after the very credible allegations of his crimesThat is rape culture. Ray Rice having a fine and dandy career after video emerges of him dragging his unconscious fiancee out of an elevator (because he knocked her unconscious) that will be rape culture if that’s how the story ends. Even if you think the Ensign article is wrong and misguided, putting it in the same category as these (horrifically numerous) examples of rape culture is like comparing every bad thing that happens to the Holocaust. It trivializes real evil and makes you look like a fool.4

I understand that there are more moderate criticisms as well, such as the fact that modesty standards often seem to be unequally applied to women vs. men. They appear to be unequally applied because they are unequally applied. They are unequally applied because of the fundamental reality that females are on the supply side and men on the demand side of the sex equation. That is common sense which everyone who is not motivated by politics can see, but it is also (in case you’re skeptical) scientific fact. Men and women approach sex differently5 but it is men who are primarily motivated by visual cues and also who want to have sex more frequently and more casually. (Once again, these aren’t just random assertions. There is data.) A gender-blind approach to sexuality would be no more reasonable than a gender-blind approach to professional sports. If the WNBA did not exist, how many women would make the cut to play pro basketball against men? Zero. Pretending gender differences do not exist when they do in fact exist may be politically expedient, but it does not actually serve the interests of equality.6 If you’re looking for symmetry, this is where you will find it: women are encouraged to dress modestly (partially for their sake, partially for the sake of men) and men are encouraged7 to stop watching porn (partially for their sake, partially for the sake of women). There is equality, but not sameness, in the Lord’s standards for sexual morality. Make no mistake: that is the core outrage which this article perpetuates in the minds of its critics. Mormonism espouses a view of humanity in which gender matters, and therefore believes that men and women owe certain obligations to each other in a complementary relationship. The modern world espouses a denialist political ideology in which gender has no deep or lasting significance that we do not create for ourselves.

It is also no great surprise to me that so much of the outrage at the article is coming from professional therapists. The article invites that response when it leads off with a bold statement that God, and therefore the Church, is the ultimate arbiter of sexual morality.

Some years ago my father, an attorney, was trying a lawsuit. For his authority, he cited only one case—a California Supreme Court case issued many years before. His opponent cited a number of lower­court decisions of more recent vintage. The judge said to my father, “Mr. Callister, don’t you have a more recent case than this?” My father looked at the judge and replied, “Your Honor, may I remind you that when the supreme court speaks on a matter, it only needs to speak once.” The judge nodded with approval. He was reminded that the supreme court trumps all lower­court decisions, how­ ever numerous or recent they may be.

So it is with God our Father—He needs to speak only once on the issue of morality, and that one declaration trumps all the opinions of the lower courts, whether uttered by psycholo­gists, counselors, politicians, friends, par­ents, or would ­be moralists of the day. [emphasis added]

In fact, the reaffirmation that the Church has the final word on these matters may be the only truly novel claim made in the article. Everything else is a restatement of traditional beliefs. This one is hardly surprising, but it is fairly novel. So it’s natural that psychologists and counselors would lash out in response. It’s a turf war: who gets to define moral standards for sexuality? The Church? Or the APA?8

Let’s take a look at the claims made by one counselor in particular, as a representative of the apparent conflict between General Authorities and counselors.  Natasha Helfer Parker, in her article Morality? We can do much better than this… has a bullet-list of issues with the Ensign article. She starts by claiming that the article leaves no room for personal revelation. This is obviously not true, as personal revelation is always necessary in addition to official pronouncements and even scripture. That is a fundamental and constant principle of Mormonism. It does not need to be restated in every article. However, in this particular case, I’m wondering precisely what revelation she has in mind. Is she suggesting that if you pray and ask, God might just tell you to go ahead and have sex outside of marriage? There are often shades of gray and complications with applying moral principles, but the “no sex outside of marriage” one is about as universal and clear as it gets.9

She next takes the article to task for calling masturbation “self-abuse” because “this is not an appropriate clinical term.” She may not have noticed, however, the Ensign is not a clinical journal. The inability of experts to understand that specialized terminology must give way to common vernacular in non-specialized contexts is faintly amusing. It reminds me of the time that an outraged medical doctor told my father (a professor of English) that it was unfair for PhDs to be referred to as “doctor” because medical doctors had to study harder and did so much more good. My dad smiled, and reminded him that hundreds of years ago when college professors were already using the term “doctor,” the medical professionals of that day were known as “leeches”. Perhaps if he wanted a unique title, he could try and resuscitate that one?10

Most of the rest of the bullet points rely on the same tired strawman approach of insisting on seeing a viewpoint you don’t like in its most crude and absolutist form. But the most sinister criticism she levels is the one that comes at the end of the bullet list, although it’s a sentiment that pervades the entire piece, and that is this: “The way that sexual standards are presented in this type of talk is unrealistic and sets people up for failure.”

Lowering standards cheapens Christ's sacrifice. He did not drink the bitter cup for fun. If there was an easier way to save us, He would have taken it.

Lowering standards cheapens Christ’s sacrifice. He did not drink the bitter cup for fun. If there was an easier way to save us, He would have taken it.

Well now, we wouldn’t want to set people up for failure, now would we? Contrast this sentiment with Paul’s simple statement that: ” all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”11

If not all have sinned, than the Atonement is not necessary. If the Atonement is not necessary, then Christ is superfluous. If Christ is superfluous, then the Gospel is a joke. What good news? We have no need of a savior. We just lower moral standards to the lowest common denominator (or maybe pray for an exemption) and then everyone gets to heaven on their own merits. This well-intentioned call for lowered-standards is sadly anti-Christian. The entire message of Christianity–not just Mormonism, but all Christianity–is that none of us can live up to God’s impossible standards. She faults this Ensign article, but it was Jesus himself who said “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”12 Maybe we ought to just hand Parker a copy of the New Testament and a red pen and let her tell us what Jesus should have said.

I will say at least this much for Parker: the fact that she couldn’t even get to the end of one article without cutting out the beating heart of Christian faith provides a very clear example of just how important it is that the business of articulating eternal standards stay in the hands of the General Authorities.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve always felt the attacks, from the Bloggernacle and elsewhere, on how the Church teaches modesty (despite some of the problems it does have, most of which boil down to imperfect people doing the teaching) are really just battlespace preparation for attacking the law of chastity.

    One blogger at BCC, one of the bigger Bloggernacle blogs, actually stated the law of chastity was unnatural and unrealistic, and he didn’t get much pushback. Instead, he was praised for his sympathy and understanding of just how hard it is for singles in the church.

    Between the attacks on modesty and the increasing support for redefinition of marriage at the blogs, I think the church is in for some very interesting times ahead regarding chastity.

  2. Anon on this blog says

    I greatly appreciate your substantive remarks, but wish they had been given without the sarcasm. I cannot quote from or refer people to this article because of its off-putting delivery.

    That’s too bad, because yours is the only response to the hyperventilation that makes any sense to me.

    • says

      Thanks for the feedback. It’s impossible to write a post that pleases everyone, and I understand those who believe that sarcasm is never appropriate or called for, but such was my incredulity at the responses, that I don’t think I could have managed another tone at the time even if I tried.

      I agree that some of the topics, especially at the end of the post, probably deserve a more serious tone. Perhaps I will rewrite the post with that kind of tone and post it somewhere else. If I do, I’ll link to it from here so you can know about it.

      In the meantime, feel free to repackage the arguments in your own words (maybe link back here if you feel inclined) and use your own tone where you think appropriate.

    • says

      Sorry, Anon, but if people can’t see past the sarcasm, it’s simply because they don’t want to. The sarcasm, like Jesus’ parables, are a way to weed out the faithless. Frankly, I wouldn’t bother trying to reach people like that; if they will be offended over as simple an issue as style of delivery, it’s most likely a waste of time.

      • says

        In fact, Christ’s parables often include sarcasm in them. The Parable of the 99 Sheep and the One that was Lost is the example that pops to my mind first. When Christ compared the Pharisees to the 99 an told them God had more joy in the lost sinner who repents than in the 99 who were “perfect” and never repented, He was definitely being sarcastic.

      • George says

        Rob,

        I am concerned about your assignment of sarcasm to Jesus Christ’s teachings. He used simile, metaphor, and numerous other styles of teaching by comparison.

        But to compare those to sarcasm is a gross misunderstanding of writing, teaching, and particular of the intentions of the Lord.

        Earnestly,
        George R. Spelvin

        • Jo says

          “You blind guides, which strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23:24).
          This is one of many examples of Jesus’ use of sarcasm –
          a mocking, often ironic or satirical remark.

          • George says

            I am afraid that you fail to comprehend the difference between exaggeration and sarcasm. In your example, the point was exaggerated to demonstrate how far from the truth the Pharisees and Sadducees were.

            Sarcasm, on the other hand, is pushing an obviously false premise in an attempt to demonstrate the supposed validity something else.

            I am troubled by anyone who ascribes intentions to the Lord without authority.

  3. Joel says

    Another way to look at this is to reverse the roles in the statement and see if the message that these detractors are making still holds. What they are really saying is ‘the way you dress directly affects the way in which people around you perceive you to be’. It does not condone, and in fact warns against sexual contact outside of the bounds of marriage which by default would include rape. I’m guessing that many took offense at the statement and failed to listen to the rest of the information being given.

    • Joel says

      Let me clear up what I failed to say properly. “What ‘they'(meaning the speaker, fail on my part) are really saying….

      I also failed to point out that outward appearance affects perception of a person, and to truly determine that go ask any psychologist if it’s true. This isn’t a new concept, and is taken entirely out of context to make up an issue that doesn’t exist.

  4. says

    Nathaniel, two quick responses. I think there is more of rape culture in the Church than you are willing to acknowledge. A recent article in The Exponent points out a number of ways that men aren’t held accountable for their unchastity while women who stray are treated with a much higher level of contempt.

    Also, you are quick to use scientific research to bolster the argument for sexual dimorphism, with which I heartily agree, but you are not willing to use similar research used by professional therapists in their everyday work which demonstrates that some attitudes towards human sexuality are less conducive to human flourishing than others. Surely we should welcome all truth regardless of its origin, as the prophet Joseph Smith recommended, claiming that if we did not, we would not “come out pure Mormons.”

    There are many professional Mormon therapists like Natasha and Jennifer Finlayson-Fife who have cited a good deal of scientific research supporting their claims, and who also have a lot of personal experience with people whose lives have been seriously damaged by unhealthy rhetoric about human sexuality that is perpetuated in our culture. Are you really trying to hold up our culture as exemplary in this regard? I’d like to see the data for that claim.

    Finally, I think your accusation that Parker’s argument eviscerates Christianity is unreasonable and uncharitable. One of Christianity’s strong messages is about the brokenness of the human condition and our need for grace and forgiveness. It teaches a message of eternal progression but also patience while this progress occurs. Parker is not denying eternal progression or the capacity for perfection, but is emphasizing the need for patience and wisdom in the present. A more charitable reading would have noticed this.

    • says

      Carl,

      You raised a lot of good issues, and I appreciate the comments. Here are my responses, as brief and organized as I could make them.

      Broader Questions about Sexuality in Mormon Cultural Discourse

      I think there is more of rape culture in the Church than you are willing to acknowledge.

      I take rape culture seriously. It is a problem in American society, and it stands to reason it would also be a problem in our community as Mormons in America. (The same is probably true of other nations, but I don’t want to assume.) But this is a post about one specific article and the reaction to it, not a comprehensive assessment of rape culture throughout the Mormon community.

      There are many professional Mormon therapists like Natasha and Jennifer Finlayson-Fife who have cited a good deal of scientific research supporting their claims, and who also have a lot of personal experience with people whose lives have been seriously damaged by unhealthy rhetoric about human sexuality that is perpetuated in our culture. Are you really trying to hold up our culture as exemplary in this regard? I’d like to see the data for that claim.

      You’re not going to see data to back up that claim because (1) it’s a false claim and (2) I’m not making it. I wholeheartedly agree that there are real and significant problems in our discourse about sexuality, and I’ve written about them before. In fact, it is because of how seriously I take this issue that I object so strenuously to criticisms like Parker’s. It detracts from the credibility of serious criticisms.

      The Role of Scientific Expertise

      Also, you are quick to use scientific research to bolster the argument for sexual dimorphism, with which I heartily agree, but you are not willing to use similar research used by professional therapists in their everyday work which demonstrates that some attitudes towards human sexuality are less conducive to human flourishing than others.

      I have absolutely zero intention of telling a counselor how to do his or her job, nor any delusions that I’ve got special insights which they lack. The problem is about conflating specialized expertise with general knowledge. The perspective of a sex counselor and an epidemiologist on this issue are going to be quite different. Who do we listen too?

      The best pattern is one in which we have general authorities who give general counsel, which individuals then apply to their own lives with the assistance of specialists where necessary. Elder Oaks said, for example:

      As a General Authority, it is my responsibility to preach general principles. When I do, I don’t try to define all the exceptions. There are exceptions to some rules. For example, we believe the commandment is not violated by killing pursuant to a lawful order in an armed conflict. But don’t ask me to give an opinion on your exception. I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.

      The Ensign is for the general rule. Parker, with her concerns about how someone with OCD may interpret those words, is talking about the exceptions. There is need for both, but only when the role of each is properly understood.

      (Note: I’m not even bringing up the issue of worldly wisdom vs. eternal principle.)

      Christianity and Parker

      Finally, I think your accusation that Parker’s argument eviscerates Christianity is unreasonable and uncharitable… Parker is not denying eternal progression or the capacity for perfection, but is emphasizing the need for patience and wisdom in the present.

      Your defense of Parker doesn’t work because it doesn’t address my criticism. I never claimed she denied eternal progression or the capacity for perfection. I claim that she cited logic of the following: if standards are unrealistic we should lower them. I’m sure she is a wonderful person and a good Christian, but that particular argument which she cites in her writing is exactly as anti-Christian as I’ve described it.

      Sometimes people do not realize the implications of ideas they hold. Sometimes people state principles in a way that is more general or sweeping than their actual view. So I’m not criticizing what Parker believes or what’s in her heart. What’s in the text of her response, however, is deeply, deeply problematic.

      • says

        Thanks Nathaniel. I’m pleased to hear you acknowledge that there are problems with sexuality in our culture. And I find your theory they they are reflective of the larger culture to be a reasonable one, although I wouldn’t be surprised if our religious subculture doesn’t exacerbate them in some ways.

        Your point about the leadership’s role to dispense general counsel and not address specific exceptions is a good one, but it side-steps my point, which is that the general counsel being given is significantly at odds with the scientific research. We’re not talking about exceptions to the rule. We’re talking about a culture that is producing the problems you just acknowledged. It’s not just OCD people who are misinterpreting it. The podcast I linked to discusses how many people (especially women) in our culture are sexually immature and the very real and harmful effects it has.

        Your defense of Parker doesn’t work because it doesn’t address my criticism. I never claimed she denied eternal progression or the capacity for perfection. I claim that she cited logic of the following: if standards are unrealistic we should lower them.

        I disagree that this is her claim. I think you’re taking one sentence and choosing to interpret it unfairly. When she says “The way that sexual standards are presented in this type of talk is unrealistic and sets people up for failure” it doesn’t necessarily follow that she is arguing for lowering the standards. This is a leap on your part.

        I don’t think she is arguing that standards should be lowered. I think she is arguing that our rhetoric around morality should be more evidence-based. I think she is saying that the way we’re approaching the subject is actually ineffective and failing to achieve our desired goal, i.e. setting people up for failure. The standards themselves are tangential to this claim.

        Your claim implies further that the present standards are optimal, which is far from self-evident.

        • says

          Carl-

          it side-steps my point, which is that the general counsel being given is significantly at odds with the scientific research

          Perhaps you could provide me with a concrete example of what you have in mind? And, just as a thought, I think it’s worth pointing out that in order for any scientific evidence to be considered normative (e.g. to guide our actions and behavior) it must necessarily be more than merely scientific. Science is objective. Morality is normative. Science, on its own, never prescribes. It only prescribes conditionally or in relation to pre-existing values and judgments.

          So the whole idea that science (as science) could conflict with religious leaders is slightly suspect since science (as science) is value-neutral. I think what you might mean is that scientific evidence indicates that religious leaders might be wrong about how to achieve their given objectives, but in that case you’re necessarily assuming quite a lot about what those objectives are / ought to be.

          I don’t think she is arguing that standards should be lowered.

          In at least one case (off the top of my head) she explicitly and adamantly is. The Church teaches that sex is only permissible between married, heterosexual couples. Parker writes:

          It is my strong position that this is not a healthy stance for any human who naturally craves and needs the communion of partnership. It sets the Mormon LGBTQ population up for almost guaranteed failure

          Please note that she uses exactly the same reasoning in her argument that the Church’s standards are wrong in that specific case as she does in the passage I quoted. Given that example, how much of a leap is my assertion, really?

          Your claim implies further that the present standards are optimal, which is far from self-evident.

          When “present standards” means the definition of sexual morality provided in the article and quoted in my post, I believe that it is eternal and optimal, at least with respect to mortality. It’s not self-evident, but then again, neither is the doctrine of the Atonement.

          • says

            I think what you might mean is that scientific evidence indicates that religious leaders might be wrong about how to achieve their given objectives, but in that case you’re necessarily assuming quite a lot about what those objectives are / ought to be.

            I’ll bear with your digression under the presumption that you probably don’t realize that this is a pet topic of mine and that I strongly agree with you. In fact, I quoted you extensively on this very subject in a presentation I gave before the London Futurists last year.

            While I appreciate the distinction you’re drawing, I think it’s mostly a distraction here. Yes, I do mean that science should help the leadership to determine whether they are achieving their desired objectives effectively. For concrete examples, I would recommend listening to the podcast I linked with with Jennifer Finlayson-Fife. Her PhD dissertation explores this topic extensively as well, but the podcast is a good start.

            I agree with you about her advocacy for changing the sexual standard with regard to LGBTQ people and for this very reason I have not linked to this article myself, because (although I generally agree with her position) I feel that it distracts from some obvious important points that should be made about our culture aside from the standards themselves.

            When “present standards” means the definition of sexual morality provided in the article and quoted in my post, I believe that it is eternal and optimal, at least with respect to mortality. It’s not self-evident, but then again, neither is the doctrine of the Atonement.

            Just to clarify, are you arguing that the sexual standards presented in the Callister article and in the For the Strength of Youth manual are optimal exactly as they have been written? Are you arguing that they are incapable of improvement? What if they change in the future? Will that mean you were wrong?

          • says

            Just to clarify, between my second and third paragraphs I switch from talking about Fife to talking about Parker, using “her” to refer to both of them. Sorry for the confusion.

          • says

            (Apparently comments won’t nest below this level.)

            I can’t keep up with comments at this point, but I did want to get back to one thing you asked about:

            Just to clarify, are you arguing that the sexual standards presented in the Callister article and in the For the Strength of Youth manual are optimal exactly as they have been written?

            No, no, nothing like that. What I was saying was that the *principle* was basically eternally correct. To be clear, I’m referring to this:

            The Lord’s standard of morality is not so much a list of do’s and don’ts as it is a principle, which can be expressed as follows: The procreative power is to be exercised in the marriage relationship for two key reasons: (1) to bind and strengthen ties between spouses and (2) to bring souls into the world. These uses have the blessing and endorsement of the Lord.

            I think that’s an eternal principle, but I think even trying to get into whether or not it’s word-for-word perfect is a bit silly. The particular standards in this article and the Strength of Youth are about applying the principle to our particular day and time. I think they do a pretty good job, but–like I said–they are relative. They have to be.

            Think about it: the command to use good language could be eternal, but it’s going to mean different things to an English speaker vs. Spanish speaker. Same basic idea with modest dress. Obviously the standard has changed within the Church over time, but that’s because we’re applying a constant principle to a changing culture. Beards were in, now they’re out. Well, sort of. I proudly rock my beard and I think we’d all enjoy General Conference of the brethren would get their beard on as well, don’t you?

          • says

            OK, well, if you’re just talking about the principles then I think, generally, Parker and Finlayson-Fife would strongly agree with them (setting aside concerns that homosexuality may not be sufficiently addressed yet). But I suspect they would disagree that the way Callister taught the subject and the way it is taught in our culture generally is conducive to these ends. And they have a significant amount of research and experience to support these claims. I think their voice is a valid and important one, and that it applies to far more than just the edge cases, as you claim.

            In summary, call it “rape culture” or whatever, there are numerous subtle and not-so-subtle ways that women are blamed disproportionally from men for unchastity within the Church as well as the larger culture. You point out that your essay was not designed to comprehensively address this issue, but your denial that Callister’s talk is symptomatic of this culture remains unproven and dubious in my opinion. Even if some feminists are not sufficiently taking sexual dimorphism into account, this doesn’t mean that their observations are invalid or that the best way to promote sexual morality is to continue to employ traditional modesty rhetoric, and if American and Middle-Eastern cultures are any indication, the fetishization of women’s bodies (either through objectification or cloistering) is making things worse, not better.

            One final note: there is a difference between knowing the correct term for something and calling it by an obviously wrong term. “Self abuse” was never a good way of saying masturbation–certainly not in 2014. And masturbation is not just a clinical term. It is all over popular culture. I believe Callister’s reluctance to mention it is indicative of a sexually shaming culture that is afraid of calling things by their proper straightforward term. Your anecdote about doctors’ titles really is not an apt metaphor for what is happening here at all. It is not a situation where a common term is being substituted for an obscure term. It is precisely the opposite. It is a euphemism for the common term employed to obscure and shame the practice.

    • says

      I’m sure he’ll respond himself, Carl, but the following posts might help shed some light on Nathaniel’s position regarding modesty and the like (especially since your comment kind of went beyond the present post and the Ensign article discussed):

      – The Modesty Wars: http://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2013/09/13/the-modesty-wars/

      – Elizabeth Smart, Chastity, Politics, and the Value of Human Life: http://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2013/05/06/elizabeth-smart-chastity-politics-and-the-value-of-human-life/

      – Chastity and Virginity: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2013/05/chastity-and-virginity/

      The last one is actually Nate Oman’s, but Nathaniel linked to it in approval here on DR.

      • says

        Thanks Walker. I’ve read all these posts and generally agree that sexual dimorphism is not sufficiently taken into account by many of those arguing for reducing the emphasis on modesty. However, I don’t think the answer to this naivety is to retreat to conservative positions. Nathaniel acknowledges this to some extent, but not sufficiently, in my opinion. He seems to want to say that we have some problems in our culture but that these problems are unrelated to the strategies and standards adopted by the primary influencers of this culture, namely, church leadership. I don’t think the blame is so neatly attributable.

    • Jen says

      I think there is more of rape culture in the Church than you are willing to acknowledge. A recent article in The Exponent points out a number of ways that men aren’t held accountable for their unchastity while women who stray are treated with a much higher level of contempt.

      That’s not rape culture. That’s sexism. There is a HUGE difference.

  5. Chris Kimball says

    Criticism of the Ensign article boils down to saying that it isn’t very good. That it repackages the obvious, fails to advance the discussion or say anything new or thoughtful or thought provoking, and at the same time falls into some unfortunate cliches that have come to have negative and arguably damaging connotations. Your criticism of the criticism reinforces this view.
    Can’t we have more? From the General Authorities, from the Ensign, from you?

    • says

      Your characterization of the critics seems to be: they concede the content is obvious, but contest the way it is packaged. This characterization is untenable. To pick just one simple example, the article restates the Church’s position that only heterosexual relations are morally permissible. Parker replies, “It is my strong position that this is not a healthy stance for any human who naturally craves and needs the communion of partnership.” This is not a debate over packaging. It’s a debate over substance. That’s the real issue I’m responding to. This is more than mere semantics.

      • says

        To pick just one simple example, the article restates the Church’s position that only heterosexual relations are morally permissible. Parker replies, “It is my strong position that this is not a healthy stance for any human who naturally craves and needs the communion of partnership.”

        Here you really are engaging in greedy reductionism. This entire point was, by Parker’s own admission, tangential to her argument. Yet you bring it up as the representative soundbite for dismissing the entire thing. Nathaniel, I really admire you, but I really don’t feel that you are engaging in this debate in a fair or charitable way. If you can’t state your opponents position in a way that they themselves would agree with, the dialog can hardly even begin.

        • says

          Just to clarify, the statement you picked “at random” really is the only one that is clearly at odds with the content. The rest really is more about packaging than content. I don’t see Parker or Finlayson-Fife arguing against the law of chastity as presently interpreted. To me this is clearly a reach on your part, and one that happens to be pretty critical to the success or failure of your argument.

  6. Chris Kimball says

    No, you misstate my criticism of your criticism of the criticism. And in doing so reinforce my point.
    But let it go at that.

    • says

      No, you misstate my criticism of your criticism of the criticism. And in doing so reinforce my point.

      There may, or may not, be some irony in your inability to convey your point about why another article didn’t convey the point it was ostensibly trying to convey. :-)

  7. Mike Parker says

    Thank you for this, especially for your takedown of the claim that the Church is fostering a “rape culture.” This claim uses an emotionally-charged word to stir up anger, where there is, in fact, no data whatsoever to back it up. Are Utah’s prisons filled with formerly-active, believing Latter-day Saints who turned to rape because they felt it was religiously justified?

    The mind boggles.

      • Mike Parker says

        Kristine,

        Rape is a horrific crime, and I would never attempt to justify it. However, as you say, the issue is not a slam dunk.

        Here’s how forcible rape shows up in the FBI’s 2012 crime statistics by state:

        * Utah ranks 17th out of 52 states at a rate of 33/100,000, higher than the national average (26.9/100k), but lower than most other states in the intermountain region, including .New Mexico (#4, 45.9/100k), Colorado (#7, 40.7), Montana (#10, 37.7), Arizona (#14, 34.7), and, most interestingly, Nevada’s (#16, 33.7), where moral standards are quite a bit looser than they are in Utah. Only Idaho (#22, 30.0) and Wyoming (#33, 26.7) are lower than Utah in the region (and, I might add, have high percentages of Latter-day Saints among their populations).

        * Utah’s rate of forcible rape is less than half of national leaders Alaska (#1, 79.7) and South Dakota (#2, 79.2), and (as mentioned above) well behind New Mexico and Colorado, both less-religious states in the same region as Utah.

        So I don’t believe one could reasonably argue that Utah’s religious climate contributes to a “rape culture” that translates into actual incidents of forcible rape. And, as I mentioned above, I can hardly believe that Utah’s prisons are filled with active, believing Mormon men who were convicted or rape and argued (privately or in court) that they were driven to their crimes by Puritanical Mormon teachings about chastity and modesty.

        • Kristine says

          Of course they wouldn’t argue that their religious beliefs contributed to their crime–the most pernicious effects of culture are rarely consciously-held beliefs.

          And there’s no such thing as not-forcible rape. The idea that some rapes are less bad than others is disgusting.

          • Mike Parker says

            Kristine,

            Just to be clear, here: Are you arguing that active, believing Mormon males are more likely to commit rape because they subconsciously believe that it is acceptable?

            (And, for the record, I didn’t not invent the phrase “forcible rape”; that’s the FBI’s term, and the way they report it in their violent crime statistics.)

          • Mike Parker says

            (“Didn’t not” should be “didn’t” in my previous post. I wasn’t employing a double negative on purpose.)

          • says

            When it comes to Mormon males and rape, I think the male aspect has more to do with it than Mormonism. As psychologist Paul Bloom said,

            “I have a genetic condition. People like me are prone to violent fantasy and jealous rage; we are over 10 times more likely to commit murder and over 40 times more likely to commit sexual assault. Most prisoners suffer from my condition, and almost everyone on death row has it. Relative to other people, we have an abundance of testosterone, which is associated with dominance and aggression, and a deficit in oxytocin, associated with compassion. My sons share my condition, and so does my father.

            So, yes, I am male.”

        • Thomas says

          I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that Utah’s relatively younger population may have something to do with this.

  8. Alex says

    This is fantastic. I’m really grateful for people like you who can put words to my thoughts in a much more cohesive manner than I ever could. Thanks again. I will be sharing where appropriate.

  9. says

    Much of the internet wide response to this article reminds me of an incident that occurred NY in the the late 90s. When discussing a budget a New York mayor’s referred to the set of numbers using the term “niggardly”. A word that means to be stingy or exacting, “niggardly” has no etymological ties whatsoever to the “n word”. However, it sounds like that rightly hated racial slur, so people who were content to think without depth took offense. The aide was attacked for racism and was forced to resign. Behold, the dangers of an expanded vocabulary. (After agitation, he was eventually invited back to a different job with the Mayor’s office. When he accepted he apologized for not thinking about race while using a word that has nothing to do with it. The word has since been “banned” in the city’s council meetings.)

    I found nothing that endorsed or enhanced rape culture within the Ensign article. I did find things that kinda maybe sounded like talking points someone might have fuzzily heard about the promotion of rape culture within religious organizations. What I found was niggardly vs the n word. How dare anyone equate what was written with rape culture? How dare they dilute the very real threat and presence of that evil by seeing it in an article that promotes the sacredness of the act of sex? As a woman, I am appalled.

    I think we need to stop pretending the truth can hurt any of us. Here’s a truth. As a woman, I don’t need any well meaning men or overreaching women to protect me from fact. Thanks, but I am not so weak or ill-equipped as that paternal attitude so frequently assumes. The thought that we are not allowed to say that men are affected by the way women dress is just ludicrous. Yes, men are affected by the way women dress. Thank the heavens. It is the only reason I wear six inch heels with my husband on date nights. Let me tell you, he is mightily affected. It is also the reason that I wear conservative pantsuits when in business meetings. Women are also affected by the way men dress. Of course, we are. Can we all just agree that the human condition is one in which we are all mightily affected and then move the eff on? As Nathaniel so lucidly points out, that truth does not absolve anyone of responsibility for their actions or thoughts or anything else that is within their God-given control.

    I call myself a feminist. But when I see the male and female feminists of this country explode because of things like this, I am tempted to re-think my position. Can we please get back to the real work? Can we please start saving all the women that really need to be rescued from a very present culture of rape? Can we please just stop being so, well, niggardly with our ability to think deeply, differently and expansively?

    A few thoughts on modesty from a modest woman (me): http://www.meginprogress.com/a-call-to-womanhood-behind-the-veil/

    • Collin says

      Meg, thank you for your comment. .It means a lot to me.

      May I suggest you look up Karen Straughan? I think she says some very important and thought provoking things about gender issues. She has a blog (with an inappropriate title “Owning your own ****”). And she has a youtube channel (I suggest watching her speech “Are Men Obsolete”).

      Anyway, thanks again for your comment.

    • Annie says

      Oh, Meg! I want to raise my fist with a big “Yes!” to this comment! Also, your “Behind the Veil” post is one of my favorites.

  10. Kristine says

    If we insist on paying more attention to sexual dimorphism, that attention ought to cut both ways. I look forward to the day when women are invited to write a curriculum for young men, explaining to them that they need to be less funny, less interesting, and less charming, because girls are provoked to the sins of brutal competition and unkindness to each other in pursuit of the most adorable boy.

    • Ro says

      Perhaps a focus on lowering female competition would lead to more modest behavior (beyond dress) from the young (and not so young) women.

    • Collin says

      Well, speaking as a dull, unwitty male, I look forward to the day! Just kidding.

      You make a good point though. Should we ask boys to be less attractive to girls? Perhaps we can find the answer in the word “modesty.” To me, modesty means not bragging or bringing attention to yourself in a way that puts yourself above another. If this is what modesty means, then modesty would be less about skirt length and more about using clothing for comfort and warmth. And so, a corsette would be immodest even though it is not necessarily “revealing.” And concerning men’s being “witty” there are ways to be modest. One can make sure you do not interrupt others, put others down while being witty or, as George Washington observed, try not to laugh at your own jokes. Let others laugh if they find it funny. Otherwise you are immodest.

  11. Jane Duke says

    Bull Crap. This “Rape Culture” thing has gotten out of hand. Both men and women are accountable for what they wear. Both men and woman are accountable for their thoughts. Modesty is a state of mind. A modest mindset, will bare the fruit of modest clothing. A modest mindset will be put off by others wearing immodest clothing. There is nothing wrong with telling people to wear modest clothing.

    There is a difference between rape and thoughts. There is a difference between physical impulses and turning those impulses into thoughts and actions. What people wear can cause physical impulses.

  12. says

    What does “modesty” mean when uttered by a stake president who drives a $100,000 Land Rover a few blocks to the stake center to give a talk about how girls should cover their shoulders so that boys don’t get dirty thoughts?

    • says

      Hear hear! John points out how obsessed our culture has become with one narrow aspect of modesty, in the same way that “immorality” has become synonymous with unchastity. The narrowness of the focus is evidence of the fetishization, that we are fighting fire with fire rather than teaching modesty as general lack of ostentation, full stop, and spending more time on the classic virtues of honesty, courage, patience, benevolence, forbearance, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, etc. Teach these to the youth and chastity will naturally follow, without unhealthy self-flagellating asceticism.

      • theTim says

        Yes, if only there were weekly talks, special firesides, release time curriculum, and twice-yearly world-wide meetings to address the issues of honesty, courage, patience, benevolence, forbearance, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, etc.

    • Anonymous says

      You are comparing “marketplace” (culture) to “temple” doctrine (meaning official doctrine, not the literal temple). What you see in the “temple” should not be altered by what you see in the “marketplace”.

      This is like saying that the Law of Moses was wrong because the Pharisees interpreted it in an incorrect way. Just because a stake president isn’t perfect and doesn’t completely understand the concept does not mean that the doctrine is any less valid. Your point is moot.

    • Kevin says

      This comment is terrible and incredibly short-sighted. The jealous sentiments run deep in this comment. To try to negate or diminish the righteous words of a Stake President because he drives a nice car is foolish and judgmental.

      I find often that those who cannot afford nice things try to belittle those who can because of envy.

      Financial modesty is relative. If someone is financially successful and fiscally responsible then they can buy whatever they want. If someone buys a nice car because they like it there is nothing wrong with that. If they bought it to show off and to try to belittle others then that’s a different story. However, based on my experience with Stake Presidents none of them fall into the latter category.

      The poor and envious people of this country have had a far worse effect on it than those who are wealthy.

      What a joke of post.

  13. says

    I agree that some of the criticisms of the article have been overblown.
    However, you did not address the sentence that I found most troubling:

    “In the end, most women get the kind of man they dressed for.”

    I am sure that Elder Callister did not intend that remark to be demeaning, but I found it to be somewhere between insensitive and deeply painful.

    Many women “get” men who abuse them, rape them, and otherwise mistreat them, despite their best efforts to dress modestly. These men may be strangers, acquaintances, boyfriends, or husbands. Though Elder Callister doubtless did not have this in mind, that remark left far too much room for victim-blaming. Women who are mistreated, abused. or assaulted by the men in their lives do not need to hear the suggestive: “You got the man you dressed for.”

    • says

      Genevieve-

      I can’t keep up with all the replies, but this comment is one that I’ve seen come up several times in response to the post so far.

      I think it’s really sad that the phrase clearly causes people so much pain, but I just don’t see that what he actually said leads to to victim-blaming. There’s a reason that his version of the quotes says “most” and your version of the quote at the end doesn’t.

      It was not stated as a universal rule or a guarantee. There is no such rule or guarantee. Tragedy happens to all of us, even those of us who are doing everything pretty much OK. Some women get abusive husbands despite doing everything right. It’s not their fault, and I don’t think there’s any way that Elder Callister’s comment can be taken to say otherwise. That’s why he said “mostly”, as in “in general” as in “not all of the time.” His statement means, logically, that sometimes women don’t get the husband that they dress for.

      Again: it makes me sad that the phrase is hurtful to people, but I think what he actually said and what people are hearing are two different things. What he said is common sense, good advice. What people are hearing is an excuse for victim-blaming. I don’t want to invalidate the experiences of you or anybody else, but I just don’t think the actual statement deserves that criticism.

      Also, some quotes from Elder Holland that are relevant here to show how the leaders view male/female responsibility in these kinds of matters:

      “I have heard all my life that it is the young woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling the limits of intimacy in courtship because a young man cannot. What an unacceptable response to such a serious issue! What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or strength or self-control does this man have that lets him develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability, perhaps even pursue a university education and prepare to affect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course of the world, but yet does not have the mental capacity or the moral will to say, “I will not do that thing”? No, this sorry drugstore psychology would have us say, “He just can’t help himself. His glands have complete control over his life–his mind, his will, his entire future.”

      “To say that a young woman in such a relationship has to bear her responsibility and that of the young man’s too is the least fair assertion I can imagine. In most instances if there is sexual transgression, I lay the burden squarely on the shoulders of the young man–for our purposes probably a priesthood bearer–and that’s where I believe God intended responsibility to be. In saying that I do not excuse young women who exercise no restraint and have not the character or conviction to demand intimacy only in its rightful role. I have had enough experience in Church callings to know that women as well as men can be predatory. But I refuse to buy some young man’s feigned innocence who wants to sin and call it psychology.

      “Indeed, most tragically, it is the young woman who is most often the victim, it is the young woman who most often suffers the greater pain, it is the young woman who most often feels used and abused and terribly unclean. And for that imposed uncleanliness a man will pay, as surely as the sun sets and rivers run to the sea.”

      That is the actual position of the leaders of the faith, and I’m putting it out there because I hope it can help people who are desperate for words of comfort and support from our leaders.

      (As a follow-on note, I’m also sensitive to the purity-based rhetoric that Elder Holland used in that comment. I think it is a problem. I think the fact that even in addressing the issue so squarely Elder Holland still lapsed into using a regrettable term shows how deeply enmeshed purity culture is in our view of chastity. That is a real problem, and one we need to work against, but I hope that the greater weight of Elder Holland’s care and concern overrules the vestiges of purity culture. More on purity culture here, if you’re unfamiliar with the term.)

      • says

        The problem with “purity” culture is exactly the problem that people you have designated as “critics” are pointing out. It is one and the same with the modesty rhetoric.

        As to pushback that has emerged in response to Elder Callister’s talk, you have misconstrued the complaints by restating them as people accusing the Church of teaching that “women control men’s thoughts.” Most of the pushback I’ve read ties directly into the overall debate about our broken modesty discourse in the Church. It is not a complaint that the Church is teaching that “women control men’s thoughts”; rather, it is an observation that the Church’s otherwise very stringent “accountability” rhetoric (which, one could cogently argue, in and of itself is somewhat problematic in the extremes to which we take such rhetoric — for political reasons? — when measured against Biblical principles of Christian discipleship, grace, and the efficacy of Christ’s Atonement) in most other areas appears abrogated in the modesty issue because, there, suddenly, it is for girls and young women to police the boys’ and men’s thoughts by the way they dress. This shifts accountability from the boys and men. Your denials to the contrary are ineffective in the face of the obvious.

        And this is a learned reaction — boys and men who are taught this will (1) blame girls and women for the way they dress if those boys and men give in to temptations that are part of our natural wiring in the first place (i.e. it is NOT girls’ fault when boys and men to have dirty thoughts about girls and women — to think so manifests a lack of awareness that in hijab or burqa cultures, girls and women are still criticized for provoking bad thoughts or being too alluring based on how sexy their eyes or ankles are — the only thing left visible as they are erased entirely as individuals in that extreme modesty rhetoric) and (2) will perpetuate that same posture, i.e. exert control over the girls and women in their circles once they come of age or come into positions of responsibility, whether as a deacons quorum president or bishop of their own ward later on.

        The problem isn’t that the Church is teaching that “women control men’s thoughts” but rather that women are being taught that their bodies are objects and are the primary thing that is important about them in this life — and the importance of those bodies is primarily not even about them as individuals but rather the effect those bodies might have on boys and men in their circles.

        Here is a powerful illustration of the problem (since you apparently didn’t think your co-blogger Julie’s discussion was persuasive — presumably this post is an oblique response to her arguments):

        “For a long time, when I would hear these things, my mind couldn’t but help think that it was somehow my fault. I clearly wasn’t a very good person, or else I wouldn’t be having men say things like this to me. My value as a daughter of God was being degraded, and instead of demanding to be treated like a human being, I shrunk back, thinking I had been the one in the wrong.”

        http://rebeccaamoore.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/modest-is-not-hottest/

        A final point: it is unfortunate that you cannot see the incongruity between the quote from Elder Holland and the talk by Elder Callister that you are so forcefully defending. To me, it seems that Elder Holland is speaking to Elder Callister (and others like him whose rhetoric tracks geographical cultural norms in how men and women relate to each other in unequal relationships and our broken modesty discourse) in the portion you quoted. And the problem that people whom you’ve designated as “critics” (though many or most of them are fully faithful Latter-day Saints who might simply have different political or aesthetic preferences than you) have identified is that the Ensign let Elder Callister’s talk slip through even though it perpetuates the kind of perspective in our Mormon cultural discourse that Elder Holland is roundly criticizing in the selection you quoted.

    • KJ says

      This is another classic example of someone looking for something to try avoid the truth of the statement.

      The key term here is “most”. Elder Callister did not say “all”. This is a situation where a reasonable person will realize that this is based off of typicalities.

      In my experience people who dress immodestly attract that same kind of person. And this is no coincidence. Psychologically we are all drawn to people who share our same ideals; whether that is in dress or the tv shows we like, it is an inevitable occurrence.

      It is not a scientific mystery that immodestly dressed women are generally less strict when it comes to chastity. Again, the key word here is “generally”. Of course there are exceptions.

      Elder Callister’s statement when looked at rationally deals solely with modesty. It is not intended to mean that the way a women dresses will attract a man who is abusive. If you want a man who is more lax when it comes to chastity then dress immodestly. If you want a man who is strict with chastity then dress in a modest manner. Again, this is not rocket science.

      Bringing up the outlying group of women who get abused and tying it into Elder Callister’s statement is taking the quote extremely out of context.

      It is curious how many people take offense to definitive, true statements. Usually this occurs when someone has struggles with the topic at hand.

      What Elder Callister said is absolutely true. I can tell you as someone who has struggled at times with the law of chastity, that it is extremely easy to identify which women will gratify unrighteous desires simply by the way they dress and talk. That is the fact of the matter. And I would assume women have just as easy of a time identifying those men who are open to less than chaste activities.

      Men, of course, are primarily accountable for their own actions, but an immodestly dressed woman does not help a man be more chaste. If you like dressing immodestly at least own it and acknowledge that it will titillate men. What they do with that titillation is up to them, but acknowledge that it is far less helpful than dressing modestly. If you have to justify something that is counseled against it probably isn’t the best behavior to be engaged in.

  14. Chris Kimball says

    Also, a few words about your headline argument–the rape culture complaint. The article says “most women get the type of man they dress for.” In our culture, in the language of the 21st century in the United States, that phrase immediately registers as “she asked for it”, which is a standard of the rape culture. For all the logical unpacking you do, for all the ‘original intent’ argument, the fact remains that “most women get” scans as “women ask for it”.
    I want anybody speaking and writing on the topic to understand that that’s how the language works and make adjustments. A different phrase. An “I’m speaking literally here” qualifier. Something better, something more.

    • says

      Chris-

      In our culture, in the language of the 21st century in the United States, that phrase immediately registers as “she asked for it”, which is a standard of the rape culture.

      I basically think this is a reasonable response. I might quibble by asking why it scans that way: I think that to some extent the popularizers of the concept of rape culture have gone overboard and created over sensitivity to rhetoric that isn’t actually problematic, but from a strictly practical point of view: clearly lots of people took it that way, and–if possible–a different choice of words to get the same concept across isn’t asking too much.

  15. MC says

    “Maybe we ought to just hand Parker a copy of the New Testament and a red pen and let her tell us what Jesus should have said.”

    Knockout blow.

  16. Michelle says

    “It is also no great surprise to me that so much of the outrage at the article is coming from professional therapists. The article invites that response when it leads off with a bold statement that God, and therefore the church, is the ultimate arbiter of sexual morality.”

    I take issue with this idea (and not just because I’m a professional therapist). God may be the ultimate arbiter of sexual morality, but I’m sorry, the church is not. God and “the church” (whatever we mean by that) are not one and the same, and to conflate the two causes all kinds of problems.

    On modesty-teaching in general, I would love to see us move towards encouraging modesty for women AND men by teaching the importance of humility, of avoiding ostentatious showiness and flaunting worldly possessions/riches (ie. clothing, homes, cars, and yes, our bodies) in a way that is meant to communicate a prideful “I’m better than you” attitude. I wish we would focus more on striving for simplicity and honesty in the way we present ourselves to others. Of course this touches on how we as individuals communicate our sexuality (or how we use our sexuality to communicate other things), but modesty as a principle encompasses so much more than just sex.

    While some of the accusations of rape culture might be somewhat overblown, I’m not sure I understand defending Elder Callister’s approach to teaching modesty when we know that a) this approach is harmful and anxiety-provoking to many, many people, and b) there are much, much better ways to teach this principle.

  17. Thomas says

    Regarding the “self-abuse” section in Elder Callister’s argument, I note that it wasn’t exactly the equivalent of Supreme Court precedent that got cited in support.

    A one-off from Elder Packer doesn’t quite have the doctrinal force of scripture or an official apostolic declaration.

    • Mike Parker says

      Actually, the term “self-abuse” as a euphemism for masturbation has been employed in General Conference by more than one general authority, including President Ezra Taft Benson (“Godly Characteristics of the Master,” October 1986; and “What Manner of Men Ought We to Be?”, October 1983) and Elder Delbert L. Stapley (October 1956). It was also used as the title of a section heading (i.e., printed but not spoken) in a talk by President Spencer W. Kimball (“Special Message To All Latter-Day Saints,” October 1980).

      I have concerns about the definition of “abuse” employed by the phrase—it’s certainly not abuse in the sense of violence or cruelty—but let’s not lay this on President Packer and his remark “Do not abuse yourself” in the October 2009 General Conference. It’s been used before and not just by him.

      • Thomas says

        The point is that the strictures against masturbation (however euphemistically referenced — the classic was Elder Packer’s simile to small-scale manufacturing enterprise in “For Young Men Only”) do not have the same canonical foundation as those against fornication and adultery.

        That’s not to say that a district court ruling can’t be authority, but running with the opening line of the article, it’s not necessarily stare decisis, either.

        • Mike Parker says

          I’ll readily grant that masturbation is not prohibited in the scriptures, as long as you grant that it has been counseled against repeatedly by Church leaders from the pulpit and in Church publications. It is far from “a one-off from Elder Packer.”

          • Thomas says

            Granted, of course. Though I hadn’t seen it addressed in Church magazines, Conference talks, or similar materials for some time.

          • Mike Parker says

            Perhaps it isn’t hammered home at every meeting, but it’s pretty plain to see in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet that’s given to every young man and woman and referred to often (the pamphlet) in meetings with the youth:

            Never do anything that could lead to sexual transgression. Treat others with respect, not as objects used to satisfy lustful and selfish desires. Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous. The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from one who is in sexual transgression.

            Considering that the “m-word” is an uncomfortable one, especially in mixed-gender settings, this seems like as direct a statement as one can get that the Brethren counsel against it.

        • Russell Spencer says

          I wouldn’t concede it at all. Romans 1:24; Galatians 5:19 (lists sexual sins as breaking the marital covenant–Adultery; sleeping with or fondling someone else not under the marital covenant–fornication; fondling yourself–uncleanness; and lust–lasciviousness; also cf. Leviticus 15:2); Genesis 38:9-10. No one is saying masturbation is the equivalent of murder (least of all not President Packer, who your comments seem to disdain), but if you think there is no sin in it, cite us a reference where it is considered a holy practice. If it is not a holy practice, then it takes you away from God and is therefore sin.

          • pyco85 says

            @ Russell and Mike: You will not find clear statements on masturbation in current church publications or most current general conference addresses. Yes, a prophet prohibited it in the past, but people also lost their temple recommends over using birth control or having oral sex in marriage. Taken in the broad context, masturbation clearly is not proscribed to the same level and clarity that pornography is. Masturbation (without pornography), however, is not mentioned in True to the Faith or in the current Handbook of Instructions (except to say that members cannot be disciplined for it). If you feel it is implicitly prohibited by “lustful thoughts” or is considered “sexual relations,” that is a personal, and not a churchwide, interpretation.

            Pres. Clark of BYU-I, in an interview with TIME, when specifically asked if masturbation is a sin, while not saying it was not, clearly avoided an unambiguous “yes.” This is the guy sitting right behind Elder Callister in his talk. Granted, he is only an area authority. But it suggests that it is unclear whether there is consensus among church leaders on whether it is a sin. I think you could argue that if it becomes excessive or if you feel it leads to sinful behavior, then it becomes a sin under those circumstances. But in and of itself, it’s very hard to make a case that it’s a sin.

            In my personal opinion, masturbation abstinence is an extreme and destructive position. Most fail to live up to it. Some do, but most do not. And it’s not like failing to live up to doing your home teaching each month. Trying and failing repeatedly to abstain time and again has been shown to be highly destructive to your spiritual well-being.

          • KJ says

            Here’s the kicker when it comes to the issue of masturbation: can you honorably get a temple recommend if you are engaging in that activity? Of course the answer is no. Case closed. There is no justification for it.

          • Joel says

            I have to disagree with your statement “If it is not a holy practice, then it takes you away from God and is therefore sin.” There are many things in this life that are specifically sin, and there are many things in this life that are not ‘centered’ on God but that does not mean they are a sin.

            If this were the case, then sleeping in 5 minutes more is a sin, as is staying up 5 more minutes. With that kind of attitude we may as well go back to 5 million rules to follow since we can’t follow what we have been given.

  18. says

    My honest impression is that those who complain the loudest about “rape culture” are flattering themselves.

    They love to parade around in costumes modeling giant pink genetalia, and loudly shout fiercely obscene in-your-face accusations about other people’s filthy obsessions.

    Difficult to imagine anything more ironic or ludicrous.

    • Kristine says

      Jim, could you provide any specific examples of this kind of activity, especially from Mormon feminists who have pushed back against Elder Callister’s rhetoric? It’s bad form to choose the most outrageous outliers in a group to characterize the whole movement, and dismiss its ideas. Everybody would be incensed if I cited Glen Beck’s most idiotic rants as representative of the views of conservative Mormons.

      • says

        Ludicrous giant pink vagina suits. Same-sex marriage advocates in Utah stage a “sit-in” demonstration. They threw glitter bombs at the Utah Attorney General during a traditional marriage rally, then fell on the floor in the aisle kicking and shouting while the cops converged and dragged them away.

        More specific examples that are not “outliers” seem hard to come by, when the entire group seems to consist of deviants and extremists. How can anyone reasonably expect examples of moderation in cases where such unreasoning extreme views predominate?

      • says

        Please feel free to provide examples of “idiotic rants”. I think most of us are capable of judging for ourselves.

        I read Glen Beck from time to time, as well as the supposedly Mormon “bloggernacle”. As far as I can tell, any participation in the presumed “public square” by so-called “Conservative Mormons” is routinely dismissed as “idiotic rants” by vociferous fierce feminists. Including disparaging words for everyone from general church membership on up through President Monson. Please explain why I should consider such rhetoric seriously.

  19. says

    Nathaniel, I thought Parker’s most compelling point was not addressed in your post at all. She shows how Callister’s use of the word “purity” denies the atonement.

    “Finally, Callister ends by saying that if we follow the advice given in the talk we will be “eligible for a spouse of like purity.” I cannot emphasize enough how damaging it is for members of the church who have sexually explored outside the realms of marriage, then gone through the appropriate repentance steps to still consider themselves as “impure” because of their past actions. And regardless of how many times we tell them that the atonement covers their sins – as long as we are measuring their worth by how “pure” (translation=virginal) they come to the table, they will suffer.”

    So I’m interested in your thoughts: on a simple question: is someone who commits fornication and then completes the repentance process “pure”?

    • Anonymous says

      Yes, such a person is “pure”. A common problem I see in all of these comments comes from a lack of differentiation between “temple” and “marketplace” elements of religion. “Temple” is the doctrine, what is truly supposed to be taught. “Marketplace” is the culture that is found among the members- often in direct contradiction to the “temple” elements of the gospel.

      If someone refuses to see a repentant person as “pure” then that person will have to answer to the Lord as to why he or she refused to accept the cleansing power of the Atonement. Unfortunately some repentant people choose to allow this to alter their self-perception. That is why the church emphasizes the importance of not comparing yourself with others and only caring what God thinks. A good priesthood leader will do a good job of helping such people understand that they are, in fact, pure, regardless of what others may say.

      While it is lamentable that some areas have such a culture (I have lived in area with a much healthier culture- so don’t tell me they don’t exist), that is the fault of the local members and not the General Authorities. The doctrine will not change simply because some people interpret it wrong.

      Also, the idea that a “rape-culture” based on this church doctrine exists may be true, but it falls under the same category. In any group you will find people who choose to manipulate the wording or concept presented to satisfy their own desires. Just because some members wrongfully adapt the teachings on modesty to condone improper thoughts in men does not mean that this article condones it. In many talks from priesthood sessions of the church you will find very direct discourse directed to the men of the church that such justification is not valid. The “temple” of the issue is this: (1) we should all dress modestly (men and women) and (2) we should all control our thoughts and actions. Women get more attention regarding modesty because it is generally a more pervasive problem among women. That being said, as a man in the church I have heard- several times- the council that we must be modest (i.e. wear your shirt, don’t wear your pants below your rear, etc.) The simple truth is that women tend to dress more provocatively than men- though there are (as always) exceptions to the stereotype on both sides.

      • Joel says

        This leads back as well to the issue with lacking in understanding of the process of repentance, and also at least partially understanding that we as each others brothers and sisters ought to forgive not only others but ourselves.

        Please do not construe ‘forgive’ with ‘forget’ or with ‘release from consequence’ because I don’t mean that at all. What I mean by forgive is the release of anger towards another who has wronged you, but also the release of guilt and anger towards yourself when you have done wrong. I do not mean that the rapist (since that’s the topic here) should go free in the least.

        It is neither our place or our right to judge another on their sins (barring those put into positions of authority requiring said judging). Our place is to love and encourage others from sin, or to repentance but not to think of them as any less pure. Considering that Christ was very clear that once the process of repentance is complete the sins are no more and you are restored to the purity before you sinned.

        Also what many do not realize is that the very act of thinking of someone as less pure for past transgressions is in and of itself a transgression and requires repentance, there by placing the self righteous person at the same ideological level as the person whom they see as ‘lesser’.

        The irony of that actually makes me chuckle a little, because as much as the best of us might try, we all do it at some point.

        On a side note I’ve seen someone with proper guidance, love, and handling go from possibly getting kicked out of the congregation to becoming one of the best people I know. This person now can walk with pride, knowing that the process of repentance works.

    • Joel says

      Cynthia the simplified answer is ‘yes’.

      The key is the completion of the repentance process, and there is scriptural doctrine as well as many follow up articles stating that once you have repented, the sin is washed away and the sin is no more.

  20. Jacob Stark says

    I’m guessing your post is well-meaning, but it is also counter-productive. Many of the points you raise are not coming up from any critics. No one is saying that how women dress doesn’t impact men. No one is saying that women and men don’t have shared responsibility in this. No one is saying that man’s laws is higher than God’s laws. No one is saying that the Ensign is explicitly advocating a rape culture. So all of these sarcastically delivered points avoid the key issue: The Ensign published a talk, which taken out of a larger context, may send a damaging message to women. And from your remarks, you seem to understand that context does indeed matter.

    In the end, your article only comes across as insensitive. If you wouldn’t read your blog post to a friend who was sexually assaulted and was concerned by the lack of context in the Ensign article, I would take this down. If you think this advice stands, I would talk to more victims of abuse. Ultimately, this is an unfortunate post to have associated with your name.

  21. says

    I just thought this other excerpt from a recent talk given last semester at BYU by Elder Robbins was germane to this discussion:

    “When my oldest daughter was dating, I taught her this same principle in this way: “When a person does anything on purpose, outside the bonds of marriage, to sexually arouse another person, he or she is crossing over a line into sacred territory.”

    She said, “Dad, that can’t be entirely true, because a man may see a beautiful woman walking down the street and become aroused.”

    I responded, “But did she do anything on purpose to arouse him? If she was dressed modestly, she didn’t do anything wrong. But if she was dressed immodestly, then she crossed over the line in the way she dressed.”

    This is a clear example of church leadership “[blaming] women for men’s mental purity.” The culture is more pervasive than you seem to be willing to acknowledge.

    • Joel says

      The argument that I think Nathaniel is trying to argue is that all this hoopla is taking one aspect of teaching on a subject and blowing it out of proportion. It does not look at everything that is being taught and analyzing it for what is really being taught.

      The young men are taught that they must control their actions, and thoughts as much as possible. To treat all women with respect, even if they act like they don’t deserve it. That they are responsible for their actions, whatever they may be.

      That being said, discussion on better wording when teaching a general principle like this is certainly worthwhile because just as easily it could have been followed with something along the lines of ‘the same goes for the young men’….

  22. Tim says

    I love the original post. It’s totally, absolutely crazy to claim the church has “rape culture.” It is a ridiculous assertion on its face, and anyone who makes that assertion will never again command my intellectual respect.

  23. Joseph Smidt says

    This is *so* good. It’s really ridiculous that people will frame modesty as “rape culture” as if using shock language and exploitation of actual rape victims is okay when pushing a political agenda.

    Associating statements on modesty with endorsing a rape culture is manipulative as when referring to the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) people use intentionally loaded language such as “death panels”.

  24. Mallory Eagar says

    The gesture of what you don’t say is often just as powerful as what you do. And how you say something. For instance the gesture of saying “women be modest” instead of instead of saying, “Men, because you won’t typically surrounded by modest Mormon women, you will have to learn to take responsibility for your thoughts and actions, regardless” says something that the author doesn’t mean to communicate, but does:
    that in this situation women must use their free agency because men aren’t expected to use theirs, and therefore, by extension, women are culpable where men aren’t. This is an underlying pillar of rape culture?!?

    Empathy is learning how to speak to someone so they can understand and if possible, speaking to avoid misunderstanding. If someone misunderstands an Ensign article it’s probably not the end of the world, but if someone (especially a victim of abuse) reads an ensign article and misunderstands the gospel because it’s an area where worlds of discourse inevitably collide, the I’m glad for the voices (like “Morality we can do much better than this”)that help me see that I can still be a part of this gospel even if Callister’s method of communicating leaves me feeling misunderstood and marginalized.

  25. Lesli says

    Nathaniel, there REALLY are major problems with this article in the ensign, and you are downplaying them in this response. For one, your article implies that it is fine that girls are focused on more in modest dressing talks since guys have more sex drive. That is so untrue. To give just one for instance, what about the girls who feel they are completely unattractive but are being taught to dress modestly in order to not tempt boys?
    Here are some great articles that deal with some of the major flaws in yours and the ensign’s articles.
    Lesli

    Stop Telling the YW to Be Modest for the YM
    excerpt from the article: ” I’m sure you’ve heard counsel to the YM along the lines of “Don’t just marry a girl because she’s pretty–you may be stuck with a shallow, or faithless, or humorless hag for all eternity” (of course, they phrase it a little more nicely). But you never hear this: “Don’t just date the pretty girls, because you’ll cause girls to obsess about their looks and possibly sin as they try to win the beauty arms race.” In other words, we always couch the counsel in terms of the costs and benefits to the boy himself–not to the girls affected by his decisions. We should do the same with the YW. Each YM or YW should be the star of their own story–not the subject of someone else’s.”
    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/06/stop-telling-the-yw-to-be-modest-for-the-ym/

    Why Standards Night Is Substandard
    http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Standards-Night-Is-Substandard-Teaching-Sexuality-to-the-Young-Women

    Response: No, that sentence about getting the man we dress for is not okay.
    http://difficultrun.nathanielgivens.com/2014/02/20/rape-culture-in-the-ensign/

    excerpt: “Did the women who have been sexually assaulted get the type of man they dressed for? Did the women whose husbands abused or abandoned them get the men they dressed for? Do the accomplished, intelligent single women who have never had the chance to marry fail to dress right? What about the women who date men who manipulate them and mistreat them? None of these circumstances is exceptional. Put together, these groups probably comprise roughly a third to a half of the women in my ward. ”

    Seeing a Woman: A conversation between a father and son
    http://natepyle.com/seeing-a-woman/
    excerpt: “A lot of people will try and tell you that a woman should watch how she dresses so she doesn’t tempt you to look at her wrongly. Here is what I will tell you. It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning. It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing. You will feel the temptation to blame her for your wandering eyes because of what she is wearing – or not wearing. But don’t. Don’t play the victim. You are not a helpless victim when it comes to your eyes. You have full control over them. Exercise that control. Train them to look her in the eyes. Discipline yourself to see her, not her clothes or her body. The moment you play the victim you fall into the lie that you are simply embodied reaction to external stimuli unable to determine right from wrong, human from flesh.

    Look right at me. That is a ridiculous lie.

    You are more than that. And the woman you are looking at is more than her clothes. She is more than her body. There is a lot of talk about how men objectify women, and largely, it is true. Humans objectify the things they love in effort to control them. If you truly love a person, do not reduce them to an object. The moment you objectify another human – woman or man, you give up your humanity.”

  26. Sharee says

    Meg, I read parts of your blog, which I thought was excellent. A few statements I really liked: “The fact is that a large segment of men will make sexual objects of women no matter how they cover themselves.” So true. I also liked “Men are not exempt from the demands or privileges of modesty.” Of course not. Women can be just as sexually aroused from looking at a nicely muscled male torso. Men need to be just as concerned about inciting sexual thoughts in women as women need to be about inciting sexual thoughts in men. On the other hand, as I mentioned in a comment on Times & Seasons, I can see a man walking down the street with a really nice tush and think sexual thoughts no matter what he’s wearing. He didn’t have to do anything. All the blame is on me. But, maybe it’s just aesthetic appreciation and not sexual thoughts. The third quote I really liked: “Modesty is not a matter of inches, it is a matter of intent.”

  27. Michele Safarcyk says

    Found the article and subsequent replies very informative (sarcasm and all). Tone reveals a lot, what gives offense, how we take offense, etc. I would like to simply interject two things.
    One, there is a lot of “When they are learned, they think they are wise” in most of these debates. Knowledge is not a replacement of wisdom which is the true application of knowledge. All the education in the world is not a worthy replacement for using wisdom in life’s applications nor does it replace the need for common sense in responsible behaviors. Those that take the “high horse” approach of a debate is less likely to convince anyone of their point. Two, if people understood more about our temporal tabernacle as a House of God, able to receive spiritual guidance and personal revelation, might treat it more respectfully regarding moral cleanliness and purity, aspiring to a higher standard of behaviors and dress than the casual disregard of societies that time and again have fallen under their moral decay. That it is okay to be so lax in the pursuit of the more physical gratification side of pleasing the flesh in whatever regard does not absolve people that it is more eternally responsible and desirable to please God, to have personal relationship with Him not only for our temporal welfare but also our eternal welfare. We cannot do that if our physical vessels are “unclean”. Scripture tells us to “overcome the natural man”. We cannot attain the spiritual progression of our time on earth if we are only concerned with the flesh. Not only does it demean God’s desires for us, but is a low standard of self-respect. It demeans the “whole” of our being. To be closed off from God impedes our eternal progression. Yes, we have agency in what we choose but I’ve always believed God doesn’t give us principles just to see if we obey. There is wisdom and reason “why” in His great plan out of His love for His children. Never have I felt restricted by adopting principled behavior or dress or striving to be obedient to Godly principle but have felt protected even from human weakness, more at peace in the me that exists beyond my body. Whether my own behavior or someone else’s or society’s statistical evidences has brought greater emotional pain, risk of health, spiritual absence by living a lesser standard. Eternal progression is the LDS perspective in all things. A study of the Thirteen Articles of Fath is a good simple summary that covers a multitude of societies dilemma’s facing us today, especially in regards to morality. (Referring specifically to #13). http://mormon.org/beliefs/articles-of-faith.

  28. Julie Sessions says

    There is no single teaching in all the world that I am more grateful for than what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints teaches about morality. It made all the difference in my choices as a youth and has led to the most incredible and beautiful experiences as a wife and mother that I can possibly imagine.

    And now as a mother I am more grateful than ever for the Lord’s standard of morality!

  29. 60+ female says

    A few years ago I was watching a programe from the USA about teens that dressed immodestly. A young woman’s picture was put up how she dressed when she came on the programe a year earlier. It made the girls in the studio look comparitivly modest. The younf woman then walked in dressed very fashinable but modest clothing and she winced at the photo. Her story was that now she dressed in the modest manner, she was treated so differently to how she used to be and how much better her life was. I think modesty is there as a protection for us females. People are responsable for their own actions, no woman should ever be blamed for the actions of a man. I am using the above name as I was raped (no, I was not in the Church, yes I knew the man. In fact I was married to him. My 3 month old son had started to cry and when I went to feed him, his father decided that his needs where greater then his son’s.) Needles to say, we divorced soon after. As you can understand, my feelings are very strong on this subject. I love the teachings of the Church on this subject and feel that if every one should follow this standard. I also feel that no matter how a woman is dressed is no excuse for men to abuse any woman.

  30. Caroline Wray says

    Wow interesting articles!
    I really like Nathaniel’s comments on the rape culture topic! So well articulated!
    After reading Parker’s article I think Nathaniel’s comments toward her are highly undeserving and seem to be based in his own fears & ignorance. It seems he didn’t really “listen” or absorbed her message. It was more like he was in a mood to simply assume the worst & refute just to refute. I personally really liked her article and sensed a loving kind nature in her as well as commitment to the gospel and the Lords children. Nathaniel seems not to acknowledge that the Lord’s very plan for us is to actually experience first hand both good & evil for the soul purpose of learning for ourselves how to distinguish between the two. Parker’s approach seems to allow people to know it is a natural process to journey through these natural man tendencies and then offers loving guidance (based in gospel principles) that will bring more joy. Her sensitivity seems more reflective of our Savior’s love than Nathaniel’s black & white thinking. We live in a world of varying shades of gray. In the span between evil, complete darkness (Satan) & complete purity of love, motive & light (Christ) there is varying shades of gray and that is where we all reside. Our approach should never embrace the tools of Satan: shame, blame, accusation, fear, etc. We must be able to always know our intrinsic value is eternal & ever present or our growth stops. She strikes me as someone I would trust my heart to.

  31. John says

    You’re obedience and lack of humility is apparent. You miss the point entirely in you apologetic zeal. Because of the Ensign article, and your sheepish defense of it, thousands if not millions of LDS women and men will continue to suffer in shame and silence lest they challenge or criticize your version of authority. Ignore the experts on human psychology, sexuality etc. because…..power and control.

    More LDS faithful than ever before are leaving the church. The speed of that exodus is continually increasing. This Ensign article will hasten the departure of many more. The true threat to the Church comes from the Leadership and it’s refusal to accept anything that suggests they are sometimes just flat out wrong regarding issues that are beyond their understanding (like shame and objectification). That’s because these manipulative tools have worked so well for so long. Well, the time is near, and the membership is getting wise. Let the exodus continue.

    • Disappointed says

      This is truly a sad conclusion. Terms such as “sheepish”, “…..power and control”, “manipulative tools” show a near absolute determination to undermine the idea that God’s church is on the earth and that it is led by him.

      Sure LDS practitioners “leave the church” but due to there inability to allow faith to be a part of their definition of knowledge and wisdom regardless of society and science but that hardly makes the “LDS Faithfuls”. But if wisdom in the membership means exodus from the truth, then their wisdom comes from false sources and partial truths.

      But thanks for your try at giving Heavenly Father a heads up on any upcoming exoduses?

  32. John says

    More LDS faithful than ever before are leaving the church. The speed of that exodus is continually increasing. This Ensign article will hasten the departure of many more. The true threat to the Church comes from the Leadership and it’s refusal to accept anything that suggests they are sometimes just flat out wrong regarding issues that are beyond their understanding (like shame and objectification). That’s because these manipulative tools have worked so well for so long. Well, the time is near, and the membership is getting wise. Let the exodus continue.

    You deride the APA and suggest that GAs are the ultimate authority on issues of sexual morality. I really don’t have a problem with the suggesting that GAs be the ultimate authority on standard setting. Fine. But to ignore scientific evidence that strongly supports the idea that the enforcement approach the church is taking does great harm and causes great suffering? Well, that’s just narcissistic. It is also inconsistent with a Christ-centered church.

  33. Howard says

    Elder Callister’s talks demonstrate a lot of what is wrong with Mormon thought. In his 2011 GC talk on the book of Mormon he proofs it by resorting to binomial logic but black and white thinking ignores the rich truth of neauance via truncating and polorizing. In this talk he ignores the neauance of language and returns us to the days of shameful “self abuse”. Elder Callister is due for some consciousness raising, he’s living in the past when it comes to human self awareness.

  34. says

    Thanks for writing about this important topic. I have two thoughts:

    1) I completely agree with you that equating the Ensign article to rape is absurd. I disagree with you that the mormon bloggers you attack are making that equation. When they talk about “rape culture” they are talking about an actual thing–not rape itself, but a cultural mindset. Check out, for example, the Wikipedia page for rape culture, which includes this paragraph:

    “Examples of behaviors commonly associated with rape culture include victim blaming, sexual objectification, and trivializing rape.”

    While you focused on the third (and I would agree–blaming an Ensign article for being on par with any of the rapes you named off the top of your head in your post would be trivializing rape), I think there is a very real danger of the first two in a good deal of the LDS modesty discussion.

    For example, rape culture doesn’t have to be just a culture that says rape is okay, but can be a culture that tells women “you deserve it” when men act sexually inappropriatly. Or it can be a culture that predominantly discusses modesty as it relates to women, turning them into sexual magnets, throwing off the delicate compasses that are men.

    So I don’t think accusing this article of perpetuating “rape culture” is such a far stretch.

    2) I do think there is at least one more legitimate criticism of the Ensign article’s portrayal of modesty. In it, the speaker focuses almost exclusively on why women’s modesty is required because of its effect on men. As your fellow blogger at T&S put it,

    “Thought experiment time: imagine a woman with a facial deformity so severe that we can be 100% sure that no man will find her sexually attractive. Should she still dress modestly? The answer is a resounding yes! Modesty is about–or, at least, should be about–her relationship to God, not her relationship to men. But this is not the impression you’d get from most of the current LDS rhetoric. Let’s start talking about why modesty would be important even in a universe lacking the male gaze. Let’s talk about women’s bodies as unique creations of an eternal creator who wants them to emphasize that body’s ability to dance, sing, serve, ski, generate life, laugh, and cry and not that body’s ability to conform to cultural notions of beauty or advertise the wearer’s wealth or attract sexual attention from males and envy from females.”

    I would recommend her whole post, actually, which deals with the issue in a way far more nuanced than you give your opposition credit for in your post: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2014/02/men-women-and-modesty/

    I respect you as a blogger a great deal, so I’m very open to the idea that I’ve just missed something here. Do these two points factor into your analysis at all?

  35. Kiki says

    First off, let me state that I agree with most of your arguments, and after reading the article by the woman that you quote and use as an example, I really don’t agree with her on a lot that she wrote. Also, I haven’t read the article yet by Elder Callister, so I have no opinion on what he wrote. I am basing my comments on your article only. There are some points that you have made that I cannot agree with.

    1) you wrote:
    ” They are unequally applied because of the fundamental reality that females are on the supply side and men on the demand side of the sex equation. That is common sense which everyone who is not motivated by politics can see, but it is also (in case you’re skeptical) scientific fact. Men and women approach sex differently5 but it is men who are primarily motivated by visual cues and also who want to have sex more frequently and more casually. (Once again, these aren’t just random assertions. There is data.) ” First off, the study you used is 25 years old. Since then pornography use has skyrocketed, and one of the side effects of pornography use is a decrease in the sex drive (porn makes actual sex less appealing). I don’t have studies, but from anecdotal evidence over the past few years, more and more women are talking about how they have a greater sex drive than their husbands. It would be interesting to see the results of a modern study. Secondly, women ARE visually stimulated – else why are so many advertisements these days feature topless, heavily muscled men with jeans half unzipped? Why else did Magic Mike do so well at the box office? You’re using stereotypes that no longer really exist.

    Secondly, yes I agree that all the examples of rape culture are actual examples. However, they are extreme examples. You stated, ” Even if you think the Ensign article is wrong and misguided, putting it in the same category as these (horrifically numerous) examples of rape culture is like comparing every bad thing that happens to the Holocaust. It trivializes real evil and makes you look like a fool” And saying that someone pointing out a mild version of evil, or a initial symptom of evil is a fool is not productive. Putting even some responsibility on a woman for a man’s thoughts and actions on how she dresses is unfair. There are rape victims, when reporting their assaults, that were told “you were wearing such and such, what did you expect” or being told they were “asking for it” by what they were wearing. That is rape culture. And it stems from the idea that women can “help” men by dressing modestly; because the logic stream goes, well if they CAN help, then they SHOULD help. And if they SHOULD help and don’t, then they are saying that they don’t WANT to help, and if they don’t WANT to help, then they are saying that they WANT men to think about them sexually, and if they WANT men to think of them sexually, then they WANT men to act sexually towards them, and if they WANT men to act sexually towards them, then the only consent I need is the way that she is dressed.

    I’ve done a lot of pondering on this issue (if you can tell), and the way that I’ve come to decide to teach my children about modesty is by teaching them 2 principles (now, I admit that I haven’t found explicit doctrinal teachings that state these reasons, but from my study of the gospel I believe that they are doctrinally sound) 1) We dress modestly to show our Heavenly Father that we honour him for the bodies he gave us, and out of respect for those bodies. 2) We dress modestly to prepare for temple covenants and the wearing of the garment (I don’t think that it is coincidence that the standards of modesty in The Strength For Youth pamphlet are exactly the clothing standards needed to cover the garment). Note that these are not “pink” standards, or “blue” standards, and that neither of these points are about sex. I believe that modesty doesn’t have anything to do with sex. The world has told us that our bodies are only as valuable as their sexual appeal, and that the more sexually appealing we make our bodies the more valuable we are, and that beauty = sex. Heavenly Father teaches us that our beauty comes from our characters, our striving for righteousness, our humility and our willingness to repent. And when our modesty focus is on sex, and our judgement about a person is based on how they are dressed, then we are reinforcing that world view about the use of our bodies – that our bodies are about sex. That is not true. We were given this gift for so many reasons (testing, learning experiences, necessary for exaltation, necessary for ordinances, procreation, drawing together of a couple into a strong bond, a temple to house our spirit, for service in the Kingdom, etc.) with only two of those reasons being about sex (i.e. the ones you mention in the article).

  36. Michael says

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful and well-written post. You expressed what I’ve been thinking so much better than I could have done.

  37. Jennifer says

    A few clarifications: your examples of Rape Culture all refer to times when acts of sexual violence had occured. Rape culture means the small acts that are culturally acceptable that enable rape and other acts sexual violence to be so prevalent. Talking about rape culture is a way to prevent rape, so referring only to instances where it’s already occurred is important, but not the intention of why the term was coined. If you don’t understand what the term rape culture means, maybe you shouldn’t be writing about it?

    Also, if you’re going to imply that another blogger is “cutting out Christianity’s beating heart” or attempting to edit what Christ said, remember that Christ never said anything about how women should dress (in fact he made a habit of hanging out with whores), but he did say that men should pluck out their eyes if seeing women causes them to sin. Those are pretty strong words laying the onus completely and totally on men to control their actions and thoughts.

    • Julie Sessions says

      As a 30+ year scholar of the scriptures I disagree that “Christ had a habit of hanging out with whores”. The word whore is mentioned only four times in the New Testament and it is NEVER favorably. Certainly he taught among the “sinners” and loved them but he taught them to turn to virtue, purity, holiness and righteousness. (As a side note, I studied in Israel and lived near Jerusalem and don’t recall any immodesty there other than the American tourists. I can’t imagine that was a big issue in Israel during the life of our Savior but plenty of his teachings could be applied against immodesty anyway.)

      The bottom line, and the truth is that immodesty certainly affects immorality –ask any man or teenage boy. And there is no questions that immodesty and promiscuity have both risen together in popularity over the years.

      I am thankful my parents taught me exactly what the Ensign article teaches because I believe that dressing modestly helped me attract “good, clean” boyfriends (when I was a youth) and ultimately an incredible husband who respects me and treats me with utmost love and tenderness. The choice to remain morally clean has led to consummate joy in my life.

      • Jennifer says

        Let’s look at this another way. Why is modesty the only “commandment” that is applied in such a one-sided way? Is there any other commandment that is taught so completely differently to each gender? Or is there any other “sin” where we claim that another caused us to be lead into temptation and that excuse would not immediately be rejected? Does it make more sense that this is the one sin that God set up to be different than any other or maybe, just maybe our culture has gotten in the way of seeing how things really are; that every individual faces different trials and tests, that we cannot ever blame another for what those trials are, and instead of working on changing others we can only focus on bringing ourselves closer to Christ, which makes statements “like you get the husband you dress for” irrelevant, even if it is incorrect.

    • BJ says

      And what have modern-day General Authorities said on the issue?…

      I understand that it is difficult for women to hear that the way they dress can influence a man negatively. But it is in fact true. Men are accountable for their own actions but the behavior of women can influence that. The reason the General Authorities of the church keep saying that is because it is true.

      • Jennifer says

        Switch the genders and see if you still agree; Women are responsible for their actions but men can influence [them]. That idea is never ever taught in the Church, it’s not an acceptable excuse and neither should the reverse be. But the apocryphal higher standard for women has snuck in and it just makes the benevolent sexism of Church culture so much more glaring.
        The studies that show men and women being wired so differently have been discredited- specifically the study that showed men see women who dress immodestly as objects was discredited because it was such a small sample and the men self identified as misogynists. So men can go on shaming women and drive more and more people out of the Church, or maybe a change toward inclusion, compassion, and improvement can start here.

        • Mike Parker says

          That idea is never ever taught in the Church,…

          Speaking as someone who has served in both ward and stake young men organizations, I can tell you that you’re absolutely wrong. It is taught to our young men not to influence or coerce young women into immorality, by deeds, words, or otherwise.

  38. Clark says

    You know, as I read many of these comments, and I will not mention which, I have felt the spirit of contention in the words used on both sides, I might add. The Lord will guide his apostles in what should be placed in the Ensign, and the world will always disagree in one way or another. Opinion and truth seem to have been forced into one concept these days. As stated in the article, God only needs speak once, and D&C 1:38-39, a scripture mastery, teaches a principle. Such statements made by the church in its official form are the direct will of God.
    I won’t be looking again at these comments, and don’t wish to cause further discussion on the topic. 3 Nephi 11:29-30 is good for reflection. The spirit of contention repels unity, and if we are not one we are not the Lord’s people (also scripture). Each and every one, reflect on the spirit you felt whilst responding to the other, and repent as necessary. You decide with God.
    Lets all move on now and solve the issue rather than debating it all day. Teach your kids right, and let the brethren decide on such matters.
    Thanks for the articles and comments, and the efforts in helping everyone to see the light.
    Be good now, yall. See you on the other side.

  39. Dean says

    If you look in the mirror and you look like your giving out to solicit, maybe you are giving off the wrong signal. If you think you have the right to take sexual gratification fro anyone outside of marrige and consent within that bond. You are wrong. I have never been taught any different. And I am the poster boy of Utah and Mormon culture. That the perpetrator acts without provocation in every case or in no case is absurd. That what a person wears was always or never a factor is also as absurd. The bottom line is don’t be careless in how you present yourself and expectations. By nature or conditioning we communicate by how we look, and our look is interpreted by the bias of the observer.

  40. Bek says

    *sigh* I just can’t wrap my head around this one. All of us, both men and women alike, take no offense in our understanding that we dress for what we want on a day-to-day basis. We would never show up for a respectable job interview, or show up to work, in slovenly attire. And it’s generally frowned upon, if not outright enforced in some cases, that we not show up to the same places wearing something that bares too much skin. It not only sends the wrong message in the workplace, but it’s seen as blatantly unprofessional. Contrast that image to the one of what someone might wear to go clubbing or to hit up bars. It’s equally as quizzical to show up to one of those places wearing a dowdy outfit that’s cut up to your collarbones and down to your ankles. Do we really need to expound as to WHY? Your motivations are clearly being expressed by your dress! Why oh why should it be any different in this case? Why is it hard to grasp that what a woman wears has an influence on men? And in what twisted universe are you suggesting that a woman is so naive she wouldn’t KNOW this on instinct alone? We’re smarter than that, guys. And here’s some food for thought: everyone is harping on this article and others like it because it’s supposedly sexist toward women and more in favor of a male’s perspective when it comes to clothing. Let me ask you this: when was the last time you saw a man dress provocatively…anywhere? When was the last time you saw these sorts of options made for men, other than at a kinky lingerie joint? They don’t have these options. No one is wanting them to wear these options in the public. No one is asking that they do or don’t wear them in order to get jobs. I wouldn’t say this sort of article is condemning women and holding them responsible for men’s actions so much as it’s asking us to reflect, in some ways, on WHY women have to deal with these issues, if you really, really wanna read into it and go off on a tangent. Men don’t have this problem. For those that call foul in any regard to women and men having any differences from each other: Why don’t we see the same clothing options for men???

  41. says

    Apologies for any formatting issues.

    “If the world at large doesn’t hate you, then you’re doing something wrong”
    Scripture also says, “And now, verily I say unto you, and this is wisdom, make unto yourselves friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, and they will not destroy you.” -D&C 82:22

    Women also respond to the way men dress, but no one tells men to change the way they dress for women, nor do I expect them to. Encouraging women to dress modestly is fine, but the emphasis put on the way women dress during Young Women’s, and more importantly, how those lessons are taught, distorts the message. You don’t see the problem because you didn’t get the “dress modestly so men will think of you in appropriate ways” hammered into you during Young Men’s. I assure you that Young Women get that message which is not healthy. I assure you that when a general authority speaks to both men and women about modesty the focus is one what women where and that young men get the wrong message too. Elder Holland in his talk about Of Souls Symbols and Sacrifice refutes this very idea and even he says this is the message that HE has heard.

    Elder Jeffrey R Holland said,

    “I have heard all my life that it is the young
    woman who has to assume the responsibility for controlling
    the limits of intimacy in courtship because a young man
    cannot. What an unacceptable response to such a serious
    issue! What kind of man is he, what priesthood or power or
    strength or self-control does this man have that lets him
    develop in society, grow to the age of mature accountability,
    perhaps even pursue a university education and prepare to
    affect the future of colleagues and kingdoms and the course
    of the world, but yet does not have the mental capacity or the
    moral will to say, “I will not do that thing”? No, this sorry
    drugstore psychology would have us say, “He just can’t help
    himself. His glands have complete control over his life — his
    mind, his will, his entire future.”

    “To say that a young woman in such a relationship has to bear
    her responsibility and that of the young man’s too is the least
    fair assertion I can imagine. In most instances if there is
    sexual transgression, I lay the burden squarely on the
    shoulders of the young man — for our purposes probably a
    priesthood bearer — and that’s where I believe God intended
    responsibility to be. In saying that I do not excuse young
    women who exercise no restraint and have not the character
    or conviction to demand intimacy only in its rightful role. I
    have had enough experience in Church callings to know that
    women as well as men can be predatory. But I refuse to buy
    some young man’s feigned innocence who wants to sin and
    call it psychology.

    “Indeed, most tragically, it is the young woman who is most
    often the victim, it is the young woman who most often
    suffers the greater pain, it is the young woman who most
    often feels used and abused and terribly unclean. And for
    that imposed uncleanliness a man will pay, as surely as the
    sun sets and rivers run to the sea.”

    “They are unequally applied because of the fundamental reality that females are on the supply side and men on the demand side of the sex equation.”
    This implies that women are whores. I do not “supply” my husband with sex. We both want it. It’s not a “he demands it and I give it” relationship. That right there is unrighteous dominion. It makes all sex with our husbands something that is coercive as opposed to something freely given by both husband and wife. If sex is coercive for the wife, for me, then fundamentally all sex with my husband is rape because that’s relenting instead of fully consenting with my own free will and choice. That does not help “bind and strength ties between spouses” as you quoted. It leads to unhappy marriages and sexual relations.

    Yes, when the Lord speaks that trumps all worldly experts. However, our church leaders are mortal men. On the new church website mormonsandgays.org the GAs admitted their ignorance when it came to how we addressed the issues homosexual Mormons face. If they themselves can admit that they were in error why is it so hard for you to believe that some church policies are not the will of the Lord?

    The problem with the term “self-abuse” as a way to describe masturbation has nothing to do with the act of masturbation. It has to do with the implied message which is that it tells the person who masturbates that they are sexually abusing themselves and thus they are in the classification of the most hated group of criminals, rapists and child molestors. Abuse is wrong, people who abuse others are thought of as horrible people who deserve to have their children taken away from them, and who enjoy other people’s pain or who are so broken themselves the only thing they can do is hurt others. Moreover they are thought of as people who need to be locked up. But if it’s “self-abuse” well, at least you’re only hurting yourself and not others, which is also an unhealthy interpretation. The term “self-abuse” does not edify, strengthen, or uplift a person. All it does is diminish them.

    • tina says

      Abuse is used to refer to the abuse of the power of procreation. It seems silly to be ok with rules regarding abstaining from sex with another person ok because it is a misuse of said power and get caught up in the semantics of the same abuse of the same power when in the context of doing it by oneself.

  42. K says

    God’s standards of modesty have ALWAYS existed…from the beginning of time. So what’s changed? God certainly hasn’t. But, society’s “standards”, or lack thereof, definitely have.
    – Genesis 3:7, 21/Moses 4:13, 27 – “and the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons…[And] unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them”

    One of Satan’s most effective tools is convincing people that our actions don’t really affect others…or if they do, then it’s their problem. Why? Because, if he can convince people of this, then it’s so much easier for all of us to justify our actions; i.e. “it’s not hurting anyone.” Of course everyone has agency and ultimately we are all responsible for our own words, actions, thoughts, desires, etc. HOWEVER, when what we do or say influences others (which it almost always does), we are also partly responsible. There are many scriptures in which a person or group of people have actually caused another person or people to sin. Here are just a few:
    – Leviticus 24:19 – “and if a man CAUSE a blemish in his neighbour”
    – Nehemiah 13:26 – “nevertheless even him did outlandish women CAUSE to sin”
    – Proverbs 7:21 – “with her much fair speech she CAUSED him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him”
    – Isaiah 9:16/2 Nephi 19:16 – “for the leaders of this people CAUSE them to err”
    – Jeremiah 50:6 – “my people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have CAUSED them to go astray”
    – Malachi 2:8 – “ye have CAUSED many to stumble”
    – Mosiah 4: 28 – “and perhaps thou shalt CAUSE thy neighbor to commit sin also”
    – Mosiah 11:2 – “and he did CAUSE his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord”
    – Mosiah 21:30 – “king Noah and his priests had CAUSED the people to commit so many sins and iniquities against God”
    – Mosiah 26:6 – “and did CAUSE them to commit many sins”
    – Mosiah 29: 31 – “the sins of many people have been CAUSED by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings”
    – Moses 7: 13 – “their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers”

    THANKS for the article!

    Just so people know, I am a young woman who CHOOSES to dress and act modestly. Here are the things I’ve learned by dressing modestly:
    – I don’t need sexual attention from others to feel good about myself…true confidence runs much deeper than that
    – I don’t need to project myself as sexy according to society’s wish-washy standards…true beauty runs much deeper than that
    – I would take no pleasure in knowing that my actions or clothing aroused inappropriate thoughts, desires, or actions in other people…in fact, I would feel horrible
    – I have great peace of mind knowing that because I am modest, anyone can feel comfortable around me
    – I know that I am following God’s standards vs. society’s standards…this always comes with greater peace of mind, courage, confidence, happiness, and protection (physical and spiritual)

  43. Lauren Ard says

    It bothers me that this blog poster asserts that every word in this Ensign article in question is church doctrine, when in point of fact it’s nowhere near official doctrine and should not be taken as such. So, the idea that we should all accept the words of this article over the word of professional psychologists because it is the Word of God…there’s just no basis for that. (For more on what constitutes “official doctrine,” see http://www.fairmormon.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/What_is_Mormon_Doctrine.pdf)

    It also bothers me that in the section where the author claims that it’s okay for us to unequally apply modesty standards on men and women, he uses just two “studies” to back up his argument. One of these is a very outdated study from the 1970s , and it was a small sample size of just NINE people that made up this study. Nine people! The other paper he cites isn’t even a study – it’s a theoretical paper written by a psychologist! Which is ironic considering how in the very next paragraph he discounts the authority of psychologists in these matters.

    Even IF it’s true that men are more sexual than women on the whole, it’s a gross generalization to say the least. And anyway, I don’t see how that’s any reason to apply modesty standards unequally. EVERYONE could serve to continuously evaluate all aspects of their personal modesty, regardless of age or gender.

    The rest of the blog post is a simple issue of semantics. Rather than try to pick apart every word to determine whether or not the phrase constitutes contributing to “rape culture,” I think it’s clear that the phrasing makes many people uncomfortable and comes close enough to phrases that DO contribute to rape culture, that the words might be mistaken for contributing to rape culture (as happened in this case). So why not err on the side of caution and eliminate these non-doctrinal ideas from our rhetoric to be on the safe side? I don’t feel that the particular phrases people are having issue with make a significant contribution to our ultimate goal of salvation or becoming Christlike. Nor do they have a strong basis in scriptural teachings. They are largely a product of our culture rather than the core teachings of Jesus Christ.

    The MAIN thing that’s totally ridiculous about this article is that this blog post doesn’t even address the MAIN quote that the “rape culture” people are bothered by: “In the end, most women get the type of man they dress for.” THIS is the quote that definitely insinuates that only modest women will get a moral man…and therefore an immodest woman is bound to attract rapists or other undesirables. In our culture, in the language of the 21st century in the United States, that phrase too closely registers toward “she asked for it”, which is a tenet of rape culture. How did the blogger completely ignore this bothersome quote?? My guess is he couldn’t think of a good excuse to explain it away so he ignored it.

    With all that said, I do NOT think that anyone writing this was all like, “hey guys, let’s prop up outdated gender stereotypes and encourage rape culture in our morality article!” They’re just ignorantly repeating the same old thing they’ve heard out of other people’s mouths without really thinking about the underlying message that some people may glean from it. As a female that doesn’t strongly identify with the stereotypes of my gender, I am personally much more bothered by the gender generalizations of this article than I am about the rape culture that may or may not be upheld in this article.

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