Category: Modesty, women

A fully-clothed woman asks a question

“My body does not cause a man to sin.”

Scrolling through various photo sets, each a reference to a film or the interview of an average woman, I read this. I thought of why I angled my feminism around fully-clothed women. This didn’t mean that I didn’t admire the other women. My friends: miniskirt lovers, closeted nudists, and whatever-I-feel-like hippies. No, I wanted to know why I carefully covered my legs, my arms, (and most of the time my neck, and hair.

I interrogate myself for a few days, a few months, and the span of a whole year. Why do you do this? I recognize the power of a head wrap, an ankle length dress (skirt), a knee length dress (skirt), a hijab, an abaya, and other options. I see women tearing down walls of oppression with their own hands, but all the while I hang on my own power. I have some, right?

Surely, I am my own. I dabbled in whether I was born with sin in my cradle, or I was suspectible in befriending its likeness. I took the garden of Eden, and planted a wonderful lush green place with a giant sized tree in the middle. I saw the paintings done by famous artists of a pale-skinned Eve looking away from the snake. There she was nude. Either leaves or the coils from the snake’s body covered her genitalia. 

Every time, I thought back to myself in space. I saw the following: I had once worn short dresses and skirts. I had laughed, loved, and experienced. I wore ‘modest-styled’ clothing often. I had laughed, loved, and experienced. Had my body betrayed me? I had worn either of these looks, and felt a tinge that I was impressing someone. I took each of these moments, and added details of my own personal flare. Yet, I had eaten words of criticism and doubt. I had silenced myself admidst the fear of not doing what I ought to. I had heard the words of women tell their stories, and each time I measured whether or not these were their words.

“A woman should do…” 

a couple of things where God can protect her. I remember certain times I had called out, cried to, and silently prayed to a God I swore was genderless (still do). When I was a girl, we God, he. He was a father, and we were his children. When I was a teenager, we called him respectfully by chosen names. When I was an adult, we called God by name and at times each translation I read said ‘he’. I started to revel in fears that I had placed men so high into the sky, I would forget the women of such times before. Am I from the side of man, being birthed from the rib? Am I not from my mother’s womb, which my father’s sperm had to work to enter?

I laid on my back, and weighed words. I laid on my back and placed the messages from two holy books across my breasts. My heart has decided to isolate itself, and my brain knocks repeatedly on the door of how I must choose. I have to choose. I know there are things that I know. But there are things I cannot unread from both holy books. 

When I was born, I came into the world naked. As children, we were cradled into the hands of our doctors, our parents, our midwives, our surrogates, our guardians, our nurses, and their friends. When I was a girl, I kicked my uncovered legs back and forth. I watched them burn, when I swung on the swing set under the beaming sun. When I was a teenager, I dressed for myself but then quickly for the expectations of others. I liked my hair until I hated it. When I was an adult, I freed myself for awhile from a certain criticism. I let no one see my arms, legs, and hair. When I was an adult, I longed to remove my layers and face myself again. I took my fears from each moment of my life, and dressed myself with them daily. As if under a heavy coat, my shoulders started to ache.

My body tells men the things that they are conditioned to see and say. My body tells men their judgments of me, whether I am easy or accustomed to modesty. My body tells men that my choices are set in stone, even when I believe that I am a fluid stylist. My body tells men that if it is sin I am hiding, then I am merely a thousand different women. 

Barcodes for women

Sitting with men, you pull your knees in a little tighter under the bench. Compact and not obstructive, you become someone’s leftover suitcase; on the bus stop, bench, and conference room.

You do this with your eyes. If you keep the eyes down, fixated on the ground, the pen, the glass of water, or the corner of the screen; this interaction won’t bother you.

Hands in your lap; playing with an invisible string, finding your pressure points, and tracing the lines of your palm; you sit with a man. Please don’t let him say anything about your red dress, your “boy-hair cut,” or un-found smile.

Softly pulling at the skin around your knuckles, you ask a man where you should place yourself.

“Here – on the low shelf?”

“Eye-level for an accessible scan?”