I pretty much laid it all out on the title, so no spoilers here. I’ve mentioned before that I am Mormon. In the last few years this has brought several rude awakenings, what with being deported and the treatment of those of my faith in regards to the undocumented (a large portion of them suck at it, if you must know).
Still, the contrast between the church culture experienced in Mexico, as opposed to the one encountered in Utah has made me reconsider more than a few things, with modesty being one of the top contenders. As of late, everyone and their mom talks about modesty- how thankful men are when women ‘cover up’, and that video of the cute girl who sells bathing suits for a living talking about the yellow polka dot bikini (I wish she had picked a less annoying tune, but whatever) to name a few.
A few have made some awesome arguments, so I’ll lead you their way here and here. But I did want to share what happened in my latest trip and remind any of the two of you who read this that this is not about personal attacks but healthy discussion. Make your parents proud, please.
Last Saturday, I had a meeting with two of my friends in this awesome breakfast place near the Zocalo. I had actually spent the night prior to this dancing at a really fun concert and decided that if I was going to make it to my meeting on time the next morning I’d have to forego a few things: shaving my legs, make up, washing my hair after the aforementioned concert, brushing my hair in general and fancy clothing. I put on my favorite peasant shirt, a skirt that went past my knees and my boyfriend’s hoodie along with my favorite peeling sandals. I was fachuda– or as my brother would say, normal.
Generally I don’t fit the stereotype of what is considered to be pretty. I am fat, I have acne scars, I am unevenly tanned, my hair frizzes in the most amazing ways, and my nail polish is peeling most of the time. I like this about myself. I like myself in my body, and I like my body.
But I tread cautiously when in Mexico City, because I am the queen of getting lost. This is not good if you’re trying to get safely from one place to another in the 7th most populated city in the world, or any large city in general (Holler at you NYC!). The problem then started when the bus driver that took me to the metro deviated from the procedure I was informed he was to follow and suddenly I didn’t even know how to get into the metro (awkward). I asked around in my lowest, most serious voice and was pointed to the right direction by a kind woman at a shop.
If you’ve never been to Mexico City, you are missing out. It is wonderful, amazing and bursting with culture. It also has a little bit of everything- this includes crappy stuff (or, what’s being reported in the news erryday, I’m looking at you, U.S. of A.) which can at times be scary stuff.
I started noticing really aggressive starring while in the metro. This generally makes me wonder if there’s a hole in my clothing, or something of that nature. It makes me very uncomfortable, and I generally try to move away. I did so once on my way to Zocalo, thanks to a creeper guy and called it a success. Sad but true.
Things got a little more alarming on my ride back home: I got lost (again) and could not find the final bus to get me home after the metro. I started following the landmarks I’d made mental note of, only to find no bus there. A man shoved himself centimeters from me and asked “What are you looking for guapa?”. I don’t like being called guapa- not by strange men anyway. I don’t care if it’s a term of endearment. I don’t know you, and you don’t get to call me that unless you’re my boyfriend, or my bother or a friend, and even then I expect you to stop when I ask. I asked the man not to call me that and asked where I could find my bus. He pointed down to another row of buses and I walked my most determined, assured walk. That episode repeated itself at least 6 times in a period of 15 minutes- the question always ended with guapa, bonita or linda (once with guerita) and with me asking to please not be called that because you don’t know me.
After feeling a little frightened, I finally found a combi, climbed inside, and looked at my choice in clothes- I was wearing nothing provocative. Had my boyfriend (or my brother) been with me none of these men would have chosen to confront me that way. That was a terribly upsetting realization because for all the equality talk that I hear on the regular, we’ve obviously got a long way to go if I can’t even be treated with respect unless a man is present.
Not only that, but my choice in clothing- my modest, mismatched outfit- did not protect me in anyway.
The thing more frightening to me than walking Mexico City at night is the tone this modesty conversation has taken. It has been diminished to: what a girl should wear (because I’ve never heard of men having the modesty talk aside from saying what girls should be wearing). It goes against the gospel I was raised with- one where I was held accountable only for what I did. If I hit someone for hitting me, my mom would chide me for hitting; especially when I could have gone for an adult or dealt with it dozens of other ways. My grandmother drilled it into my head that even if everyone else was going against what God and I had spoken about, and what He’d helped me know was right, I was still responsible for my reaction/action and nothing else. I could not control others- just myself. That included trying to set boundaries that I would hope would be respected.
Modesty is the only thing I ever hear spoken about in terms of others outside myself- I control by how I dress (no, I don’t). I control by how I choose to present myself (again, no, I don’t). How is that pressure being put on me to monitor someone else? Are these boys going to be forever around Mormons? Because that’s the only way that argument works, right?
In countries where women are covered from head to toe, they are still being accused of having sexy eyes. It is dehumanizing to just be something to cover up simply because someone else is ascribing a characteristic that I have no control over. I can’t control your thoughts. So, stop pressuring me.
Not only that but ‘immodest’ can mean so many things. I’ve heard conflicting things from my church leaders- being told that my knees should be covered up, being told that I’m fine so long as the outfit I choose covers the covenant clothing I wear, being told that things I have are too tight or not too tight depending on the beholder (which is so freaking disturbing because why are you staring at me anyway?). There was a picture of Emma Watson floating around speaking of modesty in so many of my Mormon friend’s feeds and they missed the entire point that she did not dress ‘modestly’ by most Mormon standards. She is modest outside of church culture, but inside of it, I dare say young men would faint and need their salts to be brought back by the show of her lovely shoulders.
Not only that, but whatever happened to agency? Modesty is the only concept I hear kicked about now a days that removes agency from the picture – what I do is determined by what you do or please help me ‘not do bad things to you’ and cover up (in regards to modesty). Really? We don’t tell people to stop being rich because they will be robbed, or to stop being active and alive because they will be killed. Crime happens in good and bad neighborhoods alike. But I never hear anyone else get blamed for what they suffered outside of women who are raped, or molested or abused. If a guy gets robbed, the cops are not gonna look at him annoyed and ask ‘Well, how much money were you carrying?”. Most people wouldn’t do that. They’d pretty much put the blame on the person who stole because hey, you took something forcibly from someone else without their permission, you jerk.
But with assault, or rape, it’s relative- what was she wearing? Everyone loses in that scenario- women because they are blamed for something they have no control over. None. They are going about with their lives, doing things. If your ability to be good or obedient to the things you were taught resides solely on the shoulders of others, you might be a crappy person. All people deserve respect, regardless of how they’re dressed. I don’t understand why that’s such an insane concept. Additionally, your ability to be good should not be dictated by others. That’s why you have agency. And you should let others have it. Men lose because they are basically being called idiots- apparently, you are not the master of your fate, and you are not the captain of your soul. You are just some dude reduced to barbarism at the mere sight of skin. Men are okay with that? And still, Utah, the mecca of Mormondom (and modesty by Mormon standards) has some very disheartening statistics in terms of sexual assault.
My relationship with personal modesty has shifted. The binging and purging I did to myself while in Utah (because my clothes fit ‘too snug’…dude, it’s called thunder thighs. Things are always gonna be a little more snug there) has turned into major body attention in the tropics- because only a weirdo wears bermudas and sleeved shirts in the humid inferno that is Merida in the summer. Modesty to me is about who I am as a person; not as a clothes wearer. I want to be modest in my form of living-and that is a bit more complicated than wearing knee shorts.