The Cult of Modesty

I highly recommend the blog post When Suits Become a Stumbling Block.  It’s brilliant satire. I get the joke all too well.

The comments section, on the other hand, was so jarring to me that I found it impossible to just click away and go about my evening. Instead, I did something that I generally consider absolutely useless and borderline insane. I commented on a public online discussion board.  Not because I expected anyone to be persuaded by my comment or even read it.  Just because my adrenaline was pumping and my fists were clenching and I had something to say about the cult of modesty.

But I had no words to communicate the irreparable harm inflicted when little girls are taught that their bodies are a dangerous threat to religious piety, that they are only worth as much to their future husbands as their degree of bodily “purity,” and that they are deserving of whatever comments, leers, and unwanted touching they get if they wear revealing clothing.  I had no language expansive enough to express the psychological damage inflicted when little boys are taught that appreciating the female form is something to feel guilty about, that women who dress in a way they happen to find provocative are to “blame” for their sexual thoughts, and that they themselves have no responsibility to control their wandering minds and hands.  Women are the gatekeepers of morality, after-all. Women are the ones who must needs cover themselves to prevent men from struggling with everything from lust to cheating to sexual abuse.

All I could really say is that it seems ironically sex-obsessed, doesn’t it? It seems undeniably dysfunction-producing. And – albeit unintentionally, I hope – it seems to support rape culture in the worst, most blasphemous possible way. By sanctifying it in the name of a god I don’t even recognize when invoked to support these attitudes. Growing up in an evangelical youth group, I’ve witnessed first-hand the scars this cult of modesty imparts. I’ve witnessed the way it unfailingly alienates people who would otherwise be  involved in Christian community. It saddens me to realize that this toxic perspective is still circulating in the church. Especially when it could so easily be erased.

What if we taught boys how to co-exist peacefully with their sexuality, recognizing the difference between thoughts and actions?  What if we taught girls that their bodies are deserving of respect, regardless of what is or is not covering it – regardless of what acts it has or has not performed? What if we removed the over-emphasis on sexual abstinence and taught both to see the other as fully human, inherently valuable under any circumstances?

Wouldn’t that be the truly Christian stance? Not a fixation on modesty, but on unconditional love?


Lessons from Rainer Maria Rilke

My college boyfriend introduced me to Rainer Maria Rilke. Beauty is only the first touch of terror, he quoted during one of our first conversations, leaving me speechless. I was convinced that he had read my mind; that he knew exactly what I had meant as I stuttered an inarticulate explanation of my junior-year obsession with Blake and the “sublime.” I was more than intrigued. I was dizzy with the rare thrill of feeling implicitly understood. I knew his words were borrowed, but it was all mixed up together in the months that followed – a whirlwind of handwritten letters and a borrowed copy of the Duino Elegies and professions of love.  I had never read Rilke before and so I was in awe at the way his beautiful words seemed to expand inside me, making room for new thoughts and carving out places for new feelings.

When the dust settled, I wondered if maybe I hadn’t been so much in love with my college boyfriend as with his interpretation of Rilke. And, later, I wondered  if maybe it hadn’t been mostly just Rilke himself I was in love with.

I didn’t read  Letters to a Young Poet in college. But, reading it for the first time recently, it still took me right back to junior year, confirming my suspicions.  I hadn’t fallen for a boy in my third year American Literature class.  I had fallen for a long dead Austrian poet and his ideas of what love  should be. The college romance might be a distant memory, but I still hold to Rilke’s singular belief in this exquisite, indomitable,  infinitely practical, all-giving, all-empowering vision of love:

1)  “That something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.  To love is good too: love being difficult.  For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

2)  “Love is a high inducement to the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world for himself for another’s sake, it is a great exacting claim upon him, something that chooses him out and calls him to vast things.”

3) “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.”

4) “This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: the more they give, the more they possess.”

5) “Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”

Uncategorized, Writing


It was so hot, we spent the morning at Walgreens just for the air conditioning.

It was so hot, we spent the afternoon filling his bathtub with ice-cubes and dangling our feet in the slush.

It was so hot, finally, he pulled me into his bedroom and started unbuttoning my shirt.

It’s too hot, I said.

At least we’ll be sweating for a good reason, he said. 

And it was so hot, his logic seemed bulletproof.



Lessons From a Writing Workshop

In an admittedly frantic effort to make the most of the last year of my 20’s, I drafted a list back in January. This list consists of a ridiculously ambitious curriculum of workshops, classes, and books to be completed before my birthday in November.  And, although the list was born of a full-on panic that has since receded (at least for now), I’m still plugging away at it. Not because I feel obligated to follow through on a  neurotic resolution, but because these are things I’ve been wanting to do and study and read for as long as I can remember and I’m enjoying every minute of finally, actively pursuing them. What percentage of these self-ordained pre-reqs to my 30’s will actually be completed before I enter the next decade of my life remains to be seen, but I do know that I want to record my biggest takeaways from these little adventures. And I’ve decided my blog is as good a place as any to do so.

It seems appropriate that my inaugural post in this series should center on a writing class. Last weekend, I attended an all-day workshop at The Newberry Library, taught by Carol LaChapelle, the author of “Finding Your Voice, Telling Your Stories.” I’ve never attended any sort of writing workshop before, and so I made my way down the stairs into the Newberry basement with a certain amount of trepidation.  My nerves, however, were quickly erased by the easy humor of the teacher and the infinitely supportive environment she managed to create. By the end, I was voluntarily reading my work aloud for my classmates to critique, the very idea of which would have paralyzed me in fear only hours earlier.   In addition to pushing me so thoroughly outside my comfort zone, the workshop also offered the following, very useful bits of wisdom:

Continue reading


The Living Room

I avoided the living room when I could, pristine white carpet stretching under straight-back furniture, breakable family heirlooms in every direction – the pocket watch my Great-Grandpa brought over from Switzerland and the faded black-and-white picture taken before my Great-Grandma left Austria – she and her parents and her nine siblings, all in their Sunday best, not a single smile in the bunch.

But for thirty minutes every evening, I was held hostage, shackled to the centerpiece of the living room, the antique upright piano my parents had seen advertised in the newspaper and purchased with the doomed hope that I might turn out to be a protégée concert pianist. I hated that beautiful piano, intricate floral carvings and real ivory keys, piled with the sheet music my fingers refused to learn, and topped with a taskmaster metronome.

Continue reading


“I would offer you my seat, but feminism.”

A list of reasons this feminist will happily accept your seat:

1) I’m tired and my feet hurt.  No, I didn’t have to wear these shoes.  Yes, I understand that you’re tired too. But if my sex somehow breaks the tie in your mind, I’m not  going to stand there in protest against the myriad of sociological factors that may have lead you to perceive me as more delicate.  I’m not going to imagine that declining your offer will somehow place me in solidarity with women who are fighting actual, oppressive discrimination.  I’m going to sit down, close my eyes, and be grateful for the social convention that sometimes makes seats magically appear when I’m tired and my feet hurt.

Continue reading