Why the Rebelution’s Modesty Survey Was A Bad Idea

The Modesty Survey

On Valentine’s Day 2007, The Rebelution unveiled the Modesty Survey. Girls submitted questions, and guys responded. As a moderator of the Rebelution forum, I was really excited about the project. I posted it on Facebook, forwarded it to my youth pastor, and talked about it with anyone who would listen.

Six years later, if you ask me what I think of the Survey, I’ll tell you I regret having been a part of it, and I wish the project didn’t exist.

What happened? Well, basically I realized there are a lot of problems with modesty as taught in American Christianity, and the Survey hands a megaphone to some of the worst of those problems.

Perhaps the biggest and most disturbing problem is that we gave a platform to guys just because, well, they were guys.

We had no way of knowing whether the respondents had a healthy understanding of their own sexuality, knew the difference between attraction and lust, truly respected women, etc. We gave legitimacy to the idea that they had a right to speak about women’s clothing choices simply because they were male. 

Just because a person is male doesn’t mean their opinions on modesty are legitimate. And, quite frankly, it was inappropriate for us to promote the idea that men should teach women what clothing choices are appropriate. It reinforces the false idea that modesty is something that women do for men, an idea never found in the Bible and fraught with its own set of problems.

In offering a platform to over 1600 guys, many of whom shouldn’t have been given it, we lent legitimacy to some very dangerous ideas. 

Many guys admitted to losing respect for girls who didn’t live up to their ideas of modesty, feeling “disgusted” or “angered” by these same girls, and even going so far as to say, “…she loses her right to ask guys to stop looking at her like something to be had…you are asking to have guys stare at you.” The word “cause” in relation to guys’ lust also made a frequent appearance.

This is the same attitude that says victims of sexual assault and harassment who wear “immodest” clothing are “asking for it.” This is the attitude that allows pastors to think that “What were you wearing?” is a legitimate question to ask when a woman reports being sexually harassed or assaulted. It’s the attitude that allows stories like this to happen.

We gave this attitude a platform.

(Ironically, all of the guys were asked to sign a petition in which they admitted that their lust was entirely their own fault. We missed the contradiction we were presenting.)

We also promoted the idea that modesty is primarily expressed through clothing choices.

While modesty as an attitude of the heart was given a lot of lip service, you simply can’t get past the fact that the vast majority of the 148 questions were about clothes.

The idea of modesty was inherently connected to the idea of not being a “stumbling block” for men, instead of being connected to the ideas of humility and self-respect. Modesty in Scripture is about not flaunting oneself. When Paul tells women to dress modestly, he’s basically saying, “Hey, let your beauty be about a beautiful heart, not about dressing extravagantly to impress others!”

But when modesty is about not “causing men to stumble,” it becomes about someone else’s reaction, not the state of one’s heart. 

The survey allowed little to no room for the idea that, “Hey, maybe just because the majority of guys think a girl is being immodest, doesn’t mean she actually is.”

This is further reinforced by many responses from guys that made a direct correlation between a girl’s clothing choices and the state of her heart. Multiple guys made comments such as, “It changes everything about what I think of her,” “I feel sorry for them, because they must value their looks a lot, and esteem themselves a lot in their body, rather than in their relationship with the Lord,” and “…my opinion of her character lowers quite a bit.” In making these statements, the guys are making assumptions based solely on one factor: clothing.

You can’t say modesty is a heart issue, then make assumptions about a person’s heart based on their clothing choices. That’s backwards.

The last problem I’ll mention is that the Survey did nothing to differentiate between healthy, normal biological attraction, and lust.

Unfortunately, there are lots of guys who are led to believe they are the same thing. So when they find themselves physically attracted to a girl, they feel guilty. By asking guys to go through a list of questions about clothes and think about their reactions, we unintentionally reinforced unnecessary shame for those guys who didn’t understand that their biological reactions are not the same as lust.

(For further reading on the problems that modesty teachings present for guys, I recommend these posts by Preston and Dianna.)

When these concerns were brought up when the Survey first launched, we justified its existence through disclaimers and clarifications. Not once did someone say, “You know what, disclaimers don’t exempt you from the problems with the Survey.” Six years later, after hearing many stories on how modesty teachings have hurt people, I’ve realized it’s true: good intentions don’t erase problems.

So while I still think that modesty is important, the Survey approached the topic from the wrong angle, used incredibly problematic methods, and ultimately does more harm than good.

If you are a girl who has felt pressure from the Survey, I’m so sorry. If others have used it to control you, devalue you, or question your discernment, I’m sorry. You are free to ignore the Survey and to make decisions based on the Holy Spirit’s leading and input from friends and family that YOU trust. 

Note: I realize that this is an issue that people feel passionately about. I encourage healthy dialogue in the comments, but please make sure you read my comment policy first. 

Further reading: 

Modesty, Lust, and My Responsibility
Modest is Hottest?
The Story of Me and Modesty
Women’s Bodies as Public Domain
The Modesty Myth (Series)
What (Evangelical) Men Talk About

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  • http://twitter.com/Cantankerous_Me Cantankerous.Me

    Well done.

    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      Well thank you. :) Truth be told I expected a lot more pushback than I’m getting. 😛

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Yes! THANK YOU for writing this.

    “We gave legitimacy to the idea that they had a right to speak about women’s clothing choices simply because they were male.” This. This is the whole problem with “modesty culture”- it’s all about dressing for guys, trying to live your life to please other people. I’d like to tell the guys who gave answers about how women are CLEARLY flaunting their bodies, “no, you’re wrong, and I’m not going to let your incorrect ideas about why I wear what I wear control my life.”

    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      Yes. Modesty culture presents this catch 22 of, “You need to consider guys when you dress. But don’t dress for guys, you’re not trying to attract them. But you need to think of them when you dress.” Just…what?

  • http://twitter.com/profligatetruth Caleigh Royer

    Love this. I am remembering how my husband and I have to take about what healthy attraction meant and “lust” meant before we got married. With him having grown up with the modesty survey, Josh Harris’ books, there was a lot of stuff to take apart. Thanks for writing this and well done!!

    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      Thanks Caleigh!

  • http://kieryking.com/ Kiery

    <3 if I had known then how much damage that was going to cause (both to me and other people) by my involvement and promoting it, I wouldn't have done it. I cringe when I look back. :S

    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      Thank God for grace!

  • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

    I was one of the guys involved in designing, beta-testing, and editing the Modesty Survey, as well as (naturally) participating in it. Looking back, I’m amazed at how foolish and self-assured and generally piggish we all were; it was a horrible, horrible idea that really thoroughly undermines a healthy view of sexuality. I’ve actually been planning on writing a post about this for the past few days, so I was pretty amazed when I saw you just posted this. I’ll have to reference this post when I write about it.

    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      When you write it, please send me a link and I’ll add it here. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/texancellist Mark Andrew Hutchins

    Shaney, a couple of points in the spirit of iron sharpening iron, and because we both have a limited number of minutes in our day I will not reiterate our areas of agreement, but for the record, there are ample. Also, I have four points, but they are just my points and I don’t expect or request a response to them all. Just whichever you would like to respond too.

    First, I believe many people involved with the Modesty Survey in some manner, myself included, have retrospectively concluded that the Modesty Survey was less helpful or insightful than it could have been, and that it was made to be more than it was designed or intended to be.

    Second, I’m not sure what’s so wrong with giving a platform to guys “just because, well, they were guys”…not if I’m curious to know what they think. Conversely, if I wanted to know what women thought about some facet of male behavior or actions I’d direct questions to women because, well, they’re women. Nothing wrong with that. And this same thing could be applied to anything.
    I’ll agree that the idea that women ought to dress a certain way simply to please and not cause a guy to stumble is very, very wrong, but men and women are different and their common and most basic natures have differences, so it shouldn’t be wrong to make inquiries as to the effect and application of those natures.

    You might ask why I emphasize this seemingly insignificant point. It’s because it relates to my next point.

    Third, you say “Just because a person is male doesn’t mean their opinions on modesty are legitimate.” This is a very troubling statement to me…this implication that one must
    meet certain requirements for their opinions to be “legitimate”. Why not just say being male doesn’t make you right? I am certain we can all agree with that….but this legitimacy notion…it causes me to wonder what requirements they must meet for their opinion to be legitimate?

    Fourth, regarding the survey itself, a survey is not a statement of faith, doctrine, belief or
    practices. By definition it is simply an examination, collection or inspection of persons or things, and is for informational purposes. I recall at the time the survey came out reading through it with my sisters and talking through the different things said, some of which we agreed with and some of which we didn’t, and the platform part of the survey did provide some content for discussion, but at no point did we ever take or understand the survey to be more than just that…a survey. If it revealed that the guys involved were “foolish and self-assured and generally piggish”….well…then it revealed a problem…as it was supposed too do. I recall at the time describing (uncharitably, I must add) some number of the questions and answers in such terms as “silly”, “stupid” “extra-Biblical”, and so on. But the results don’t necessarily determine whether it was a good idea or bad idea at it’s outset.

    The point is not to defend the survey. It was and is flawed, though not as flawed as those who participated, as the results revealed. The point is that people have to be responsible for themselves and less reliant on mankind, and the way to encourage that isn’t to blame surveys…or to emphasize the blame of such things…it is to teach people to examine surveys, statements, beliefs, etc., with a critical and Christ-centered eye.

    Anyways, thanks again for taking the time to provoke thought and discussion. Even when we disagree, I appreciate that we are able to disagree in a respectful and mutually beneficial
    manner. :-)

    God bless!

    • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

      I’d agree with Shaney’s inference that it’s wrong to give the platform to us guys “just because, well, they were guys”. Not because guys are not good authorities on what turns them on (cue any locker room conversation), but because the entire experiment was structured around the premise that modesty is a woman’s responsibility to avoid unduly arousing men. And that’s why it’s wrong.

      • http://www.facebook.com/texancellist Mark Andrew Hutchins

        I agree wholeheartedly that “the premise that modesty is a woman’s responsibility to avoid unduly arousing men” is dead wrong. But my point was that there is nothing wrong with surveying guys if you want their perspective, be it right or wrong, and it was also tied to my concerns regarding Shaney’s comments about legitimacy.

        • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

          The issue is whether a guy’s opinion “on modesty” is legitimate. I’d argue that surveying guys to find out what turns them on cannot generate legitimate information about what constitutes modesty.

          • http://www.facebook.com/texancellist Mark Andrew Hutchins

            Out of curiosity, how do you define “legitimate information”?

          • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

            Information derived from a reliable source.

            We created the Modesty Survey with the premise that we men are the most reliable source of information about constitutes modesty by definition, simply because we are men. Our premise couldn’t have been more wrong. The fact is, we aren’t….if anything, sexually repressed homeschooled teens and disturbingly prurient middle-aged men (just look at the list of names and ages on the front page) are perhaps the WORST possible sources for information about modesty.

            We thought it perfectly reasonable that girls would ask guys questions about how they should dress to be modest. As Josh asserts, “I wish that fathers and brothers in local churches could serve their daughters and sisters and that each home could provide loving direction on its own. For those who lack that kind of godly counsel and input, this Survey is a useful tool.” The very basis of the survey was the utterly unchallenged belief that men ought to provide “loving direction” to women on what they wear and do and say, ‘lest uncontrolled eyes be led to stumble.

            Sorry about the long-winded response. Clearly my blogpost is aching to be written.

          • http://www.facebook.com/texancellist Mark Andrew Hutchins

            No problem. I appreciate your thoughts. :-)

            I think at this point we agree more than we disagree in substance concerning the flaws of the survey. I still have qualms about the “legitimacy” issue as elaborated on in my fourth (I think) point…but I don’t want to belabor or hijack so I’ll let things stand where they are. Thanks for your interaction though!

          • MaskedStill

            Thanks for this. :)

      • Phyllis N.

        I was waiting for (Mark’s) response, or something like it, i.e., “the premise that modesty is a woman’s responsibility to avoid unduly arousing men.”

        I just linked to this site for information on another topic, and found this article and comments on the survey. I have not read it, but browsing here, I keep thinking: were all the questions related to just women’s clothing choices as indicators of modesty or immodesty? What about guys? On my way, again, to the topic I’m researching, I came across an article about a Christian guy involved in some kind of survival show and let’s just say the guy’s swim trunks couldn’t have been positioned much lower and still have covered everything, if you know what I’m saying. And, folks, I’m a 62 year old woman. (It ain’t over til it’s over.) However, I chose to hurry past that little expose, as it were, and continue on with my readings. I would assume that men have as much will power as women?

        You are right to realize the danger in placing the burden of modesty on girls and women. Indeed, it appears that even total coverage, read Burqa, doesn’t deter violence against women predicated on their assumed inappropriate behavior. The responsibility lies with boys being trained to deal with temptation, just as girls should be, and given tools to deal with it such as turning away, staying away, or looking away. And this is not to condone any sort of inappropriate clothing choices, either.

        But perhaps more importantly, re: this issue, to assume that girls and women are responsible for boys’ and men’s temptation and sin with regard to lust is to imply that one sex is responsible for the other’s spiritual state. Dangerous territory, friends. This is the kind of thinking that generates manipulation and control of a group of people (in this case, females) because of the apparent weakness of the other group (men) with regard to some area of temptation that, in Christ Jesus, we all have equal ability to resist.

        Great thanks to Shaney for the courage and humility to right the wrong.
        P. Nissila

        • http://www.facebook.com/texancellist Mark Andrew Hutchins

          Phyllis N., I agree that it is dangerous and wrong to believe that girls are responsible for guys spiritual state and I emphasized that more than a few times in my comments. I’m not sure what you think I believe or said, but I just wanted to clear that up. :-)

          • Phyllis N.

            Oh, yes. I got that about you :). Sorry if I was not as sensitive to your response to the experience. It’s just that I am a little bit too close, I think, to a recent blog of my own about “cold threats” to women in patriarchal groups that include the “cold threat” that somehow girls/women “defraud” men sexually by what they wear. Unreal–and not biblical. It’s really about control and power over women. Here’s my post:

          • http://www.facebook.com/texancellist Mark Andrew Hutchins

            No problem, Phyllis, and I understand. Just wanted to clarify. :-)

    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      Hi Mark, I was hoping to see you here. :)

      So, I had a whole long, nicely typed-out response…and then my computer froze and I lost it. 😛 So, I’m going to try again tomorrow. Just wanted to let you know!

      • http://www.facebook.com/texancellist Mark Andrew Hutchins

        Sorry to hear! I hate when that happens. Don’t feel obligated though. :-)

    • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

      It’s true that “giving guys a platform just because they are guys” is totally reasonable if your goal is to find out what guys think about something. But the survey went further than that- its goal was to find out what guys think, SO THAT WOMEN COULD USE THAT INFORMATION TO MODIFY THEIR OWN BEHAVIOR. When I read the survey results many years ago, I didn’t think “wow boys are all unreasonable perverts” and then move on with my life- no, I thought “wow boys are all unreasonable perverts AND THEREFORE my duty as a Christian woman is to dress in a way that ’causes’ as little lust as possible.”

      So the problem is not in gathering information on how guys think, but in the assumption that what guys think should set the standard for how women dress/act.

      • http://www.facebook.com/texancellist Mark Andrew Hutchins

        perfectnumber628, I get your point, and I guess it comes down to different understandings of the intent. My understanding, and the understanding of my siblings and friends in my immediate circle of friends, was not that the survey was trying to modify behavior, at least not anything specific, but that it was meant to gather information about the challenges guys face and their own opinions. Was it meant to inform behavior and dress? Certainly. But, INFORMation is by definition meant to INFORM.

        Now, as previously mentioned, I have problems with the survey and don’t think most of it is very useful, and many of the opinions expressed quite wrong, but still my understanding was never that the survey was intended to modify behavior and serve as more than a survey.

        I don’t want to sidetrack Shaney’s comments into too detailed a debate about the Modesty Survey. There is however a larger point in the context of which the Modesty Survey has relevance, which I touched on in the second to last paragraph of my original comment.

        Thanks for the discussion!

        • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

          Hey Mark, to be honest, I kind of feel like your splitting hairs in trying to differentiate between “modifying behavior” and “informing behavior.” I know of no girl who either participated in or read the survey who simply wanted to know what guys wanted to think without some intention of wanting to use the information as part of the decision process in their clothing choices. If this was a survey taken by social scientists at a university? Sure, it’s simply meant to collect information. But that wasn’t the context of this survey. It was girls asking questions, because they intended for the answers the guys gave to be a factor in their clothing decisions.

          Context matter, and for multiple reasons, the context of this survey made it more than just a collection of opinions.

          • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

            Exactly. Christian girls are taught “you need to dress modest to help the guys.” Then this survey comes along to help us understand what “modest” means. I don’t see how any Christian girls coming from that background would interpret the results in any way other than “I need to use this information as the deciding factor in how I dress.”

          • http://www.facebook.com/texancellist Mark Andrew Hutchins

            Shaney, truthfully, I don’t believe it’s splitting hairs at all, because it changes the intention dramatically. I participated in the survey, as did my sisters and a fair number of friends in my immediate circle of friends, and none of us intended that it was anything more than a survey. We definitely never believed or in anyway stated that spirituality is primarily expressed through clothing, the statement of which is a gross mis-characterization and generalization of the survey’s participants, in my opinion. Now, that was my experience, and I’m not saying anybody else’s was wrong, but I also wouldn’t presume to suppose that my experience was shared by all, or that it was the primary experience of the majority.

            I’ve already said that it is wrong to teach or believe that girls should dress to protect guys from their baser nature and that they are primarily responsible for controlling that baser nature. But I also believe that we are ultimately responsible for our own beliefs and reactions, and for evaluating teachings in light of scripture.

            The thing is that I think very highly of my sisters in Christ. I know that they are every bit as capable of discerning truth, of standing up for truth, and for leading truthfully, as guys are. So I can’t help but think that lines of reasoning such as are expressed in your post and in the many of the comments sell our sisters in Christ far, far short of their abilities and strengths when we talk like it’s inevitable that they will be, should be, or should be expected to be victims of unsound doctrine. Instead, we should be exhorting them to pursue joy, contentment and
            satisfaction in God and God alone. Not in man.

            There is a time and place for correcting and rebuking others, though I believe we must be very careful and charitable in attributing motives and intentions to them that may not be theirs. But more importantly, we need to point them to God and exhort them to walk with Him themselves in their own relationship and in their own understanding. To teach them to fish for themselves, so to speak, and then we can walk along them in mutual benefit as fellow heirs of the Kingdom.

            The balance I want to find in my own life is that between recognizing personal responsibility and accountability on the one hand, and mindfulness of my effect on others on the other. While I believe your post is very strong on the latter hand, and in your writings as a whole, I think your critique of the modesty
            survey is shortsighted and lacking on the former hand. I grant I may be the reverse of that though in my own writings, so I appreciate you taking the time to write posts such as this so that I may have the benefit of your insight, and I appreciate your willingness to expose yourself to the criticism of others such as myself.

            I fear I strayed somewhat off subject, but I think you can see the gist of the direction in which my mind is bent so you can take it for what it’s worth. :-)

  • http://twitter.com/NatalieTrust Natalie Trust

    I missed the Rebelution survey. I only took a look at it when I visited their website last week. My delayed viewing of it didn’t make it any less disturbing. Perhaps more disturbing than the actual survey is the fact that it is STILL on their website. Obviously they do not view this survey as a mistake. Yet.

    Shaney, I am so encouraged by your reflection. You are speaking words of truth and healing. Keep at it.

    Others commenting with regret about participating in the project, your humility and honesty is admirable.

    • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

      The endorsements are particularly amazing. “Our visual nature first forces God to call women to modesty, depriving them of their freedom to define their own style of dress.” That’s absolutely ridiculous; the male psyche doesn’t “force” God to do anything, and the Biblical call to modesty has nothing to do with avoiding the production of male arousal.

      Thanks, btw!

      • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

        If I ever read those endorsements, it’s been years and I don’t remember them. “Forces God”? Really?

        • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

          Copied and pasted verbatim from their “endorsements” page. That gem was Fred Stoeker, but there’s much more.

          Josh’s is possibly the most jarring….

    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      Thanks so much, Natalie.

  • InterestedPasserby

    I guess I’m missing the problem here. I’m a female, and I saw no problem with the survey. Why wouldn’t I want to know how my decisions affect other people?

    The survey seemed to me to be a desire to follow 1 Corinthians 8:13 and Romans 14:21. Scripture is clear that our actions can cause others to stumble, and I don’t understand how learning what actions are more likely to cause others temptation is wrong.

    Perhaps I’m missing something more foundational in what you’re trying to explain, but that was my impression of the survey. If people have turned the survey into a legalistic set of rules to follow, that’s a different topic in my mind (and one that I would not agree with) but using a survey in a wrong way is no different than using anything in a wrong way (i.e. internet can be used in a wrong way).

    Just my thoughts.

    • http://scienceandotherdrugs.wordpress.com/ physicsandwhiskey

      The problem was that we were not only reinforcing but actually practicing the false teaching that it’s a woman’s responsibility to prevent men around her from being tempted to lust. When you look closely at those verses in 1 Corinthians and Romans, it becomes apparent that it’s talking about avoiding certain practices which might weaken another person’s resolve (e.g. drinking in front of a recovering alcoholic). No where in Scripture is it stated that women have a responsibility to “help” men stop lusting, and it’s certainly not the responsibility of men to give women a list of “acceptable” clothing choices. It tells guys that sexual attraction is bad, and it tells girls that their bodies are essentially sin-causing devices. It’s not biblical and it’s not healthy.

      • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

        To follow up on this, I’ve heard the analogy of “You wouldn’t hand a bottle of beer to an alcoholic, would you?” used to defend modesty rules. Two problems: one, a woman’s body is not an object and should not be presented as such. Two, men as a group are not comparable to alcoholics.

        • MaskedStill

          I think a fitting response to “You wouldn’t hand a bottle of beer to an alcoholic, would you?” with regard to the modesty argument would be, “If someone is struggling against an addiction to sex that I know of, then I’ll certainly avoid giving them any devices or materials on the subject, and I won’t invite them to bed with me.” It seems to me that evens out the comparison…

          • Jaq

            I agree. On the one hand, you have men saying “not all men!” and that’s very true, I don’t want to assume all men are going to be thinking dirty things when they look at me. But at the same time, some men are telling women to dress a certain way to avoid “causing” them to think lustful thoughts.
            I am NOT going to stand in front of the mirror every morning and analyze my clothing and “Mirror mirror on the wall, will I make my brother fall.”
            No, I’m going to wear clothes that I think are tasteful and appropriate, and not agonize over whether it’s an inch too short, because I do not assume my brothers are all spritual children who I must treat like babies. If I know someone has an issue, that’s obviously different, but I am not going to assume the worst about my brothers.

      • The Flobbit

        Sexual attraction is bad? Good luck ever reproducing.
        Girls bodies are sin-causing devices? That is the most ignorant, absurd, misogynist, sexist, chauvinist, un-biblical, disgusting statement I have read all day. The female form is beautiful and natural, and God created it that way.

    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      Hey IP, I would suggest reading some of the links I provided to learn more about this issue, as there is a lot here that I don’t have time to dive into at the moment. The main thing I want to point out is that 1 Corinthians and Romans are talking about making choices to abstain from optional practices for the sake of a weaker brother or sister who lacks knowledge. “Modesty” as presented in the survey, on the other hand, paints all men as “weaker brothers” in this area, which Scripture does not do. Scripture clearly defines a “weaker brother” as someone who is lacking knowledge, but could gain that knowledge in the future and become stronger in their faith. So it’s inappropriate to paint all men as “weaker brothers.” Also, “modesty” in the survey isn’t a choice to abstain from something optional, instead it says, “You exist. The existence of some of your body is a temptation, so you should cover it up.” That’s just messed up.

  • http://twitter.com/socal_gal jnet

    “When Paul tells women to dress modestly, he’s basically saying, “Hey, let your beauty be about a beautiful heart, not about dressing extravagantly to impress others!””

    Can I please just hug you for that? It’s perfect.

    • Emily_Maynard

      And like, if it’s about the your heart, that DOESN’T mean that you can walk around making pronouncements about the state of a person’s heart by their clothing, yo.

      • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene


    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      *Internet hug*

  • http://www.michaelvuke.com/ Michael Vuke

    I love that last problem that you pointed out. I have a lot of issues with the way the whole modesty thing is taught and presented in the american church, and, understandably, a lot of the anti-“modesty gospel” movement focuses on the ladies (which is good, since they were kinda ignored under the ‘modesty gospel’). As a guy, I really appreciate you touching on some of the issues that it created for us. Looking back, I’ve discovered that some of what I thought was a problem on my end was really just natural attraction that wasn’t sinful. However, I shamed myself because of what I felt, and it contributed to a self-hate problem that I developed over the years.

    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      Thanks for your support, Michael. I agree that the anti-“modesty gospel” movement has a tendency to focus on women and the problems modesty doctrine presents for them, which often causes accusations of “But you’re not thinking about men!” I think we do ourselves a disservice when we don’t also talk about the problems modesty doctrine creates for men. Thanks for adding your voice to this discussion!

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    OMG I SO REMEMBER that survey. Thanks for speaking yup. You deserve a bit hug!

  • TereasaM

    Oh wow. I remember reading that and having two different reactions. One, “Oh man. Really? I do/wear that! I had no idea that was bad.” Two, “Oh yeah, I know someone who does/wears that. Yep.” I have since changed my thoughts on modesty to reflect the biblical view you have stated here. It is a matter of the heart. Not a matter that reveals the heart, but one that is discerned by the heart. I realize how wrongly I judged others, as welll as myself. I am so glad you wrote this because I had forgotten about the survey. Now that I remember, I see how it influenced my thinking in the past.

  • MaskedStill

    I was one of the young women who participated in the Modesty Survey and was excited about it. I found the results interesting.

    Since then, I’ve also re-evaluated the concept of modesty, and I really appreciate what you’ve pointed out here, Irene. It’s so helpful to see others thinking along the same lines with regard to modesty.

    Honestly, though, I can’t get very far blaming guys for the responses before I find myself realizing that the girls asked for it – literally. It happened because we wanted to know, and since an actual conversation thread between guys and girls on the subject wasn’t deemed appropriate then this anonymized platform was created instead. What sticks in my mind is Alex and Brett emphasizing that this is a [I]conversation[/I] they were hosting between a bunch of young women and men. And the women were the ones who initiated it. The old adage “don’t ask if you don’t want to know” comes to mind.

    I’m glad it happened, because I think some young men felt comfortable expressing things honestly they wouldn’t have otherwise. The conversation was misguided, and draws from a warped premise, but it did yield information, shedding light on the subject in an organized fashion with a major population study. It highlighted a dynamic that already existed, and provided an honest snapshot into how some Christian men view the subject of women and modesty. Armed with this input, dialogue on the heart of the matter can begin, as opposed to constantly wading through the extensive disclaimers, strategic wording, and states of denial.

    The men who wrote those things probably grew up in conservative Christian culture just like you and I, and many of them were still teenagers. If I didn’t know any better than to believe that I’m responsible for any man lusting over me, then I can’t really blame them for not knowing any better, either. Yes, it’s a sad thing, but at least it’s revealed clearly in the example.

    To sum up, I view the modesty survey as a conversation hat happened several years ago. I learned stuff from that conversation, some of which I’ve “unlearned” since. ‘Tis the nature of conversations, I’ve found.

  • seeking403

    I am currently preparing to do a talk with our teen girls at our church on modesty and came across the Modesty Survey a couple of weeks ago. I’ve read through most of the comment feed here and am just going to lay out my opinion. As a mom of 2 boys (18 and 6) and 2 girls (15 and 13), I am very interested in both sides of the modesty issue. As I looked around on the results of the survey, I searched for things that I personally see as issues and then looked at some of the other questions to view the responses. I thought it was insightful and I value the opinions of the opposite sex. Yes, there were some comments that I didn’t totally agree with, but that is to be expected. If I want a view on how men view the issues of modesty, then I go to men. That’s what I took from the survey. On both sides of this, God is the one we are all responsible to concerning the issues of lust for men and modesty (or lack there of) for women. I see it as respectful and honoring first and foremost to God to be modestly dressed, but also respectful and honoring to the men that I come into contact with (which are mostly at my church) to be modestly dressed. It would tear me up to think that at some point I didn’t have enough decency to cover myself properly (ex. cleavage showing, low rise jeans with a shirt that keeps rising up, etc…) that I could cause a man to stumble. That should shake me up! Yes, it is still his responsibility to handle those times in a godly manner, but I should never have been the cause of him having to do all it takes to keep his thoughts in line.
    As many have said in the comments below, modesty and lust for that matter are issues of the heart. I do believe in this day and age, some girls are simply naive about what certain clothing is doing to guys because our culture says it’s okay. They are just going with the fashion flow. I do plan to share a few of the questions and comments from the survey during my talk. My hope is to help the girls become aware of some of these popular trends that are really causing struggles for our guys.

  • Daphne

    I’d like to respond to your first point. I am a woman and I think it was okay and fitting to ask men about women’s dress and it’s effect on them. It was not a way of giving them false authority to determine how women dress, but a way to let women understand how men are distracted/stumbled by the way they dress. there are many women who dress immodestly for the sake of being fashionable, almost completely oblivious of the stumbling effect their dress has on men.

    At age 15, I was one of those women. I remember the first time that I noticed a man looking at me lustfully – I was at a swimming pool in a two-piece bikini. A young man, older than myself, came walking towards me, staring lustfully at my chest. I was terrified. (I can’t begin to imagine the fear I would have felt had we not been in a public area.) As far as I know, I owned a bikini because it was fashionable. It is what I saw in movies and women’s magazines, and it was just what I thought women always swam in. I was naive.

    Looking back, I regret that no older woman ever taught me modesty and that no man, ideally my father, ever set me aside to explain the effect of my dress and conduct on men and the danger immodesty can attract. A woman needs to understand, among the many reasons for modesty, not to arouse sexual desires that God has not called her to arouse or bring about unnecessary distraction; and part of that can be understanding what particularly stumbles men.

    Of course, we all learn differently. For me, God taught me modesty first by showing me its effect on those around me, both men and women. It was later that I started working on modesty beginning in the heart with the ultimate goal of bringing attention and glory to Christ. Today, you can’t catch me dead in a bikini!

    • Jaq

      You seem to be opperating under the false assumption that people won’t look at you lustfully if you are dressed by some abitrary standard of modesty. This a lie. It is completely false. People look at people they are attracted to no matter what they are wearing.

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  • Amber Harrison

    I have a different perspective (which means I don’t think the project was wholly foolish or problematic). I wrote about what I just recently saw here:


  • Tory

    Thank you SO much for this! I recently went through almost every single question on the modesty survey, and I started to feel unsure about wearing items in front of guys that I normally wouldn’t think twice about. (And I have always been a modest person.) As soon as I read the survey, I knew there were definitely some problems with it (I mean come on, one guy signed the petition ‘Edward Cullen’). As a 14 year old girl, however, I just couldn’t help feeling a little insecure about the clothing choices I was making (such as a one piece swimsuit that I thought was appropriate and attractive on me, but that I started feeling really guilty about not wearing shorts over.) Your post helped me tremendously. Thanks again!

  • Damien Barber

    I just happened across the survey the other day, and I think for the most part it was a good thing although perhaps some of the problems you mentioned should have been worked out to make it better. The Bible does talk in general about it being bad to be one through whom stumbling blocks happen and how out of love we should do whatever we can to keep from being stumbling blocks to our brethren – both of which I believe apply to the modesty discussion. The positive that this study accomplished was opening up a dialogue (of sorts) to see what aids in the stumbling of guys in this area (i.e. makes it more difficult to keep thoughts pure). When taken with a grain of salt (i.e. not stressing over 10-20% of guys that said it was a problem), I think it could be helpful to women who want to do what they can (within reason) to help their brothers keep their thoughts pure. The questions about losing respect ought to have been dropped as they really do not help women to know what is a problem and as you said just gave guys a platform to gripe about immodesty. Also, the men surveyed probably ought to have been screened to a certain degree to assure that these were men who honestly were struggling with lust rather than just blaming the girls for it. Another thing that might be helpful would have been to be able to show results by state or region because modesty issues vary from state to state; for example guys in Florida are used to women dressing “less modestly” and so many things that might be a stumbling block to guys in Alabama might not be to a guy from Florida… modest apparel is a relative thing. (Please note: “less modestly” here was not meant to imply they are immodest; I just did not know the appropriate words to express this better.)

    I personally think a similar survey should be done for women to tell guys what can be a stumbling block to them, so men can be sure to what they can (within reason) to help our sisters with lust issues.

  • Julie Anne

    Great article, Shaney. It’s time to shelve this survey and move on.

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  • Koala Chan

    I am sorry that I did not come to the same conclusion as you did about the Modesty survey. The survey was just that; a survey. And I found it helpful because I want to know what guys think. I want to know what their reactions are (whether they be right or wrong) to what I wear. I come from a pretty strict background, so I have had a lot of soul-searching thoughts and discussions with my girlfriends about modesty. I want to dress in a proper way. So I found the survey helpful to know what some groups of guys think about that all. If some of the guys (and I don’t think many at all were) blamed the girls for their own lust, that is their problem, not the survey’s. And I am not quite sure what is being said about why the survey was wrong.

    Is it that 1) Guys should not say anything about how they feel modesty is, 2) Clothing choices doesn’t affect modesty (Let’s just leave out the word modesty and say that if some kinds of clothing really affects guys in the wrong way, why should we wear them?) and 3) because the survey didn’t talk enough about friendships/attraction?

    With all respect, I appreciate your belief about that, but I also think that is a personal preference, or an opinion; one you can’t say is totally true (at least not true for everybody) because those things did not even come to my mind at all, because I understand why they weren’t taken care of.
    Do you really think that the guys who signed/participated in the survey believed that it was all the girls’ fault? Or do you just want the freedom to wear whatever clothing you want?

    Please note, I am not trying to be unkind, just honest with what I think. I may learn something new and find out that what I believe right now may be not quite right, so I’m open to hearing what other people think. Besides all that, I really like your blog, and I am eager to read more of it!
    Thanks for your post,

    • Katherine E.

      This is super late, but I came across this post just now. I agree with you, it is helpful for me to know what the guys think. I mean, I don’t want to wear clothes that ‘turn them on’ I really want to wear clothes that are completely non revealing.

    • Allie

      I totally agree with you on this! Definitely the idea of modesty should come from scripture not from a survey or a blog post. Because those are all men’s opinion. It is nice to know how guys react to certain things because you obviously do not want to be a stumbling block to the men in your life. Also modesty is a condition of the heart and your dress will reflect your heart. For me the survey was an eye opener because even though I’ve heard the same thing from my parents it really clicked for me to read the survey for myself. Here are some verses that I found and I encourage everyone reading the comments who are hating on or defending the survey to look to Scripture to develop their own personal convictions about modesty.

      1 Timothy 2:9English Standard Version (ESV)

      9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,

      Proverbs 31:30English Standard Version (ESV)

      30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
      but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

      Proverbs 11:22English Standard Version (ESV)

      22 Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout
      is a beautiful woman without discretion.

      roverbs 31:25English Standard Version (ESV)

      25 Strength and dignity are her clothing,
      and she laughs at the time to come.

      These are just a few of the many verses found in scripture talking about modesty. True the Lord looks at the heart not the outward appearance. But what is inside our heart flows to the outside and is shown in our clothes. So what the guys around us see are what the Lord sees in our heart. So what you wear= your heart status. I do appreciate this blogs posts, but I find a few flaws in it.

      :) Modest is Hottest!

      • Jaq

        “Modest is Hottest!”
        Which is ironically, completely and utterly immodest.

    • katherine dill

      So thankful someone took the other side! I loved the survey and I’m really upset that it’s no longer available. Here is the thing: equality, is NOT the same as uniformity. Men and women are different. We should be equal, but that doesn’t mean we’re the same.

      Women aren’t turned on visually the way guys are. When I read on the survey that some men found leggings and a long shirt as a stumbling block, it helped me! It was an eye opener. I had no idea, and I do not want to be a temptation to others.

      • Elle

        Some men will find ANYTHING you wear to be a stumbling block. That’s exactly why surveys like this are a bad idea – it’s pharisee-style rules and doesn’t get to the heart of it.

      • Jaq

        “Women aren’t turned on visually the way guys are.”
        That is such a lie. Every person is different.

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  • Thank u

    Thank you for saying this, I agree that the survey is taken from a wrong angle. It just points fingers at how girls dress when guys should be accountable for their own actions. Yes, we should be modest, but guys need to be responsible for their own actions especially because the world we live in today is so immoral and immodest.

  • Lovemodestysurvey

    Fro me personally, I love the Modesty survey!! the thing that really made it amazing was it gave us girls a chance to see what guys really thought of what we wear. It can be awkward asking brothers ect. but this lets us know generally what guys think about different things we wear.

    • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

      Why should I care what a guy thinks about what I wear? Just because they have an opinion doesn’t mean it should have any effect on me, or even that their opinion is right.

  • Elle

    I’m late to the conversation, but thanks for writing this. I think the Harris brothers have done some good things, but I’m glad to see another point of view here, and I’m glad that views like yours exist to help round out well-meaning purity talks.

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  • The Flobbit

    THIS! I can’t even believe a survey like this was ever launched. It seems misogynist and misguided, not to mention mostly unbiblical.

  • CLC

    There is one thing that everyone misses even when discussing the problem with these sorts of rules:

    Jesus never said lusting was a sin. Go back and read the verse again.

    Jesus said that adultery was the sin that is still perpetrated by the simple act of lusting. And the word used in the original text actually means covet or desire.

    This lusting doctrine is mostly aimed at young unmarried men. Yet unmarried men are not capable of adultery. So Jesus was never talking about them in the first place.
    I wonder why married older men decided to include young unmarried men?

    The point Jesus was trying to make that everyone overlooks is that it is literally impossible to be sin free. You need him to wash away your sins. You older married pastors/Pharasees and pompous windbags need humility.

  • dbender

    I can tell it’s a seasoned and wise woman who wrote in a comment below: “Looking back, I regret that no older woman ever taught me modesty…”

    The survey can actually be helpful to women because it simply helps them to see how men are wired. It’s just good data. That’s all.

    Most women do not understand how a man is wired, and if they will look at the survey it will simply help them understand how all men are wired.

    God made men to be attracted to a woman’s body, therefore it’s a good thing. This kind of attraction is true for men who know God AND men who don’t. Men who know God and men who don’t know God have exactly the same desires (of course, men who don’t know God are certainly given to more perversions).

    By the way, it’s a rare woman who complains when her husband gives her long lustful look. In general, men enjoy “looking” and women enjoy being “looked at.” Nothing wrong with that inside the bounds of marriage.

    Many women dress in things they think are “cute,” not knowing they are actually sexy. So that’s where the survey can come in helpful.

    I hope your article doesn’t have the long-term fallout of helping many young girls dress however they want instead of “letting a man tell me how to dress.”

    Here are the two categories of people who can give the best advice on this kind of thing:

    1. Older, seasoned, married women, and moms, who love God and who understand the nature of the sexual relationship between men and women.
    2. Older men, and dads, who love God and care deeply about the other men, women, girls, and boys in their lives.

    If you get advice from these people you probably won’t go astray.

    Younger women making dress decisions without the input of moms, dads, and other older people who love them will usually make the mistake of wearing something too tight or too revealing. After all, “it’s so cute.”

    Hope this helps.

  • Debbie Douglass

    I have been in ministry for 23 years. I actively disciple and teach women from all over the world. I understand the idea of contextualizing the Bible. And I thought the modesty survey was amazing!! An incredible resource for women who really want to honor and love heir brothers in Christ! Being saved as a young adult, I was always trying to ask my brothers in Christ what stumbled them in a woman’s dress. I was bold enough to do so. Most girls, not so much. So this “conversation” on modesty was a great answer for this dilemma. I could lead girls to this conversation so they could understand how men think so they could better assist their brothers to walk in purity. I am sad that I can no longer access that survey. It was so good! So helpful.

  • Jennifer Howard

    I’ve read that the word “cause” wasn’t in the original Greek verses that so many people use to say that being “immodest” makes a man stumble. In fact, the original words were apparently something more along the lines of “purposefully place something in another’s way to make the lose focus on God.” And honesty, making a lady feel like she has to police everything that she wears and making a guy feel like every time he’s attracted to someone he’s lusting really takes the focus off God and, to my understanding, turns the human form into a sort of idol.

    I’ve had my own run in with this lately, a Christian fella told me that one piece swimsuits and my costume bodysuits were immodest (though my family has always deemed those things modest) and that I was “causing him to stumble” so I shouldn’t wear them… He’s never even seen me in a swimsuit and he only saw me in a bodysuit costume once. And according to what I’ve read of the Modesty Survey, there is practically nothing that a girl or woman can wear that some percentage of the male population won’t find “immodest,” never mind the fact that modesty is relative base on each person, their family, society, and culture.

    It doesn’t help that books such as those by Joshua Harris and the “Every Man Series” tend to reinforce the idea that a female’s clothing makes men lust. They don’t really do anything to help a person make a distinction between sexual attraction and lust. I’ve read some of those books and don’t recall ever seeing something like “Sexual attraction is a normal God-made response that everyone has, but lust is when you’re attracted to someone and start entertaining sexual fantasies about them in your mind.”