Modesty Objectifies Says Nude Woman

Posed in nothing but sheer black polkadot stockings, red patent leather shoes and a red hair clip, Egyptian blogger, Aliaa Mahdy struck a blow to the objectification of women.

Strange. We usually hear that nudity objectifies.

Nudity and modesty don’t mean anything in themselves. The question is: what do they create in any particular situation?

Mahdy believes that strict modesty expectations in Egypt help to create

a society where women are nothing but sex objects harassed on a daily basis by men who know nothing about sex or the importance of a woman.

But how could modesty objectify? Consider the most extreme example:

Women who live in Taliban-controlled provinces of Afghanistan are expected to cover themselves head to toe with mesh across their eyes. There, a woman’s ankle is thought incredibly sexual, as are her arms, face, eyes and hair.

Every part of her body becomes sexualized through extreme modesty.

But the entire body needn’t be covered for this surprising effect to arise. One young Christian woman found that less radical modesty objectified her, too:

Modesty taught me that what I looked like was what mattered most of all. Not what I thought. Not how I felt. Not what I was capable of doing.

Modesty made me objectify myself. I was so aware of my own potential desirability at all times that I lost all other ways of defining myself.

Supposedly, women should be modest to protect themselves from rape or sexual harassment. Yet “immodest dress” does not force men to rape. And sexual-harassment runs rampant in places where women are fully covered.

Rebecca Chiao tracks sexual harassment and assault in Egypt where she says both are ubiquitous, “Every time you walk out of the house, you are under attack – physically and verbally,” she says. “The reports we get are graphic and angry.”

And as reported in The Guardian:

In a 2008 survey, 83% of women reported having been sexually harassed. Almost three-quarters of Egyptian women who said they had been harassed were veiled and 98% of foreigners said they had been intimidated or groped.

Sexual harassment is a huge problem in Afghanistan too, a place where women couldn’t be more covered. Last July Afghan women marched against the widespread harassment women face there. Noorjahan Akbar, who organized the protest said:

Every woman I know, whether she wears a burqa or simply dresses conservatively, has told me stories of being harassed in Afghanistan. The harassment ranges from comments on appearance to groping and pushing. Even my mother, who is a 40-plus teacher always dressed in her school uniform, arrives home upset almost every day because of the disgusting comments she receives.

These women are sexually harassed despite modesty. But then, the puritanical focus seems to actually define women primarily as sexual beings.

Meanwhile, when women work to broaden themselves, punishment may be administered via a convenient – and hypocritical – appeal to the honor of virginity which modesty supposedly guards.

At one point Egypt’s military sought to suppress women’s voices and power by stripping activists of their clothing and performing “virginity tests” by which two fingers were inserted into their vaginas. Sexual assault parading as a test of “honor”! Yet this brutality was really a tactic to humiliate and silence, observed Mona Eltahawy of The Guardian.

Women journalists are clear models of empowerment so it’s no surprise that they are under attack. So much so that Reporters Sans Frontieres recommended media stop sending female journalists to cover Egypt after two high profile sexual assaults.

No wonder nudity and sexuality arise as political protest in this atmosphere. Eltahawy of The Guardian continues:

When a woman is the sum total of her headscarf and hymen – that is, what’s on her head and what is between her legs – then nakedness and sex become weapons of political resistance.

Modesty isn’t itself a problem. Many women choose modesty for reasons they find meaningful and significant. Modesty becomes a problem when an obsessive focus on women as sex lies behind it.

A rerun for the holidays.

Reposted on Daily Kos (Spotlight)

Related Posts
Does Sexual Objectification Lead to Bad Sex?
Anything Good About Being A Sex Object?
Men, Women React to Male/Female Nudity

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 21, 2016, in objectification, psychology, rape and sexual assault, sexism and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Growing up I remember being in school and getting in trouble for things like my bra strap showing or wearing a tank top in 100-degree weather. As a female, I was always told my clothes were too revealing and I could be sending the wrong message. This post is an excellent reminder that how we dress should not determine how we are treated or viewed. Even in countries that have strict beliefs that women should be modest and cover up still have problems with rape and sexually objectifying women. This should be proof that it is not the clothing that is being worn but how the rest of the society perceives women in general. In my opinion, when someone makes a big deal over someone clothing they are further adding to the problem by making that person’s choices in clothing only be about what they want sexually or otherwise. Our clothing in no form should be an indication to how we should be treated in any situation. No matter where one visits in the world there are problems with women and girls being seen only as a sexual object to control. I think that when a society makes a big deal about how anyone is dressed it furthers the ideology that this type of thinking is what matters. You never see or hear men in Speedos on the beach getting shamed for their choice in a bathing suit, but if you have a woman in a thong bikini everyone is talking about it. Unfortunately, it is not just men that make these kinds of comments, I have found that women are some of the worst at picking apart other women adding to these sexual stereotypes. Changing our thoughts and judging others based on their appearances may be something simple everyone can do and may make a big difference. Thanks for the post I enjoyed reading it.

  2. LOL, whether it’s modesty, or showing it all, either way it’s a patriarchal conspiracy.

    The latest theory is is that the female orgasm is a means for a man to control his woman:

    Everything’s a patriarchal conspiracy. I guess I can advance the feminist cause by making sure I don’t care about the female orgasm. I guess being an insensitive ass in bed should do the trick, and help the sisterhood in the feminist cause against the evil patriarchal conspiracy.

    • Well this is not patriarchy because it is mutual control. But I’m not a big fan of evolutionary psychology, which often is patriarchal. It does express a dominator mindset, which is common with patriarchy. It’s just that here both are controlling each other.

      I don’t know what the big mystery is. If women enjoy sex they will be more likely to want to have it. Which aids reproduction. Duh.

      Otherwise I’m on vacation and will be sporadic and answering comments for the next week.

      • “But I’m not a big fan of evolutionary psychology”

        And what if, per se, patriarchal evolutionary psychology is the correct accurate scientific theory?

      • That would be impossible since two schools disagree with each other, and one school contradicts itself. For instance, see this: Are Women Naturally Monogamous?

        And I’ve since written how mathematicians can’t figure out how men can have sex with more partners than women do on average. Or a study that showed that when people are told they are being checked by a lie detector, suddenly men and women come up with the same number of sex partners.

        Evolutionary psychology sees a social pattern and comes up with a story to fit. And they come up with an awful lot of stories that don’t agree with each other. The stories tend to be patriarchal, which makes sense considering that they have internalized a patriarchal culture which would make them think in that way. So is especially interesting when you compare their theories to reality in non-patriarchal cultures.

  3. Women are always told to avoid being raped, but men are never told not to rape! A “NO” means NO and men should understand the meaning of it. Until then women will be raped and dress is not a reason for rape, it’s merely used as an excuse by rapists.

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