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On Our Radar – The War on Women. What Are You Wearing?

by Jean Ann Esselink on September 23, 2012

in Analysis,Jean Ann Esselink,News,War on Women

Post image for On Our Radar – The War on Women. What Are You Wearing?

Modesty Matters took a table at the Values Voters Summit to persuade women to “dress like ladies.” Today, what you are wearing, (and just whose business is it anyway) is On Our Radar.

The Values Voters Summit is in our rear view mirror, but for me, the memory of one of its peripheral participants lingers. Perhaps you heard about this too. The summit organizers granted table space to a group called “Modesty Matters,” so they could distribute a pamphlet which asked women to wear more burquas.

I could have that burqua part wrong. But not by a lot.

What I am not wrong about is that the Modesty Matters pamphlet has a decidedly Victorian attitude. It declares, “All women, whether married or single, are to model femininity in their various relationships, by exhibiting a distinctive modesty, responsiveness, and gentleness of spirit.” Wait! There’s also comedy. This is my favorite part: “My men’s bible study group talks frequently about controlling our lust, thoughts, and eyes. Yes the problem and responsibility are ours, but is it really reasonable for the women of the church to make it THIS difficult for us?”

My first reaction was excitement! I thought the most logical explanation was that someone from the past has successfully traveled to 2012. I was hopeful I had discovered evidence of a time machine, or the portal to the 1950s that I have always suspected is hidden under the Mormon Cathedral in Salt Lake City. (That would explain both Mitt and Ann, and why they don’t allow non-members inside.) Curiosity nagged at me until I determined to find out who is behind Modesty Matters, and more importantly, why they want women to take a Grover Norquist-style pledge to cover up our most excellent curvy curves, which, correct me if I have this wrong, they believe are a gift from God.

Daily Kos linked their article on Modesty Matters to a small company that makes dress patterns and sells sewing lesson CDs for people who want to make their own Little House on the Prairie clothing. The company was started by two entrepreneurial homeschooling families whose lifestyles led them to find a niche and fill it with calico. Their website says: “Modesty Matters, LLC does NOT try to define modesty for you. We simply provide product options for modest-minded individuals.” If it had been the owners of this small business who had taken a table at the Values Voters Summit, I was ready to give them high marks for an innovative marketing plan – though I would have advised them to work on a better product brochure. But Daily Kos got it wrong. It wasn’t the Little House clothing company that was the Modesty Matters at the Values Voters Summit.

Googling “Modesty Matters” gave me a jolt of deja vu. Could I be closing in on that Salt Lake City time tunnel? “Modesty Matters” has long been a term used to designate a much discussed “value” of the Mormon Church. As Ann Romney still has a (long) shot at becoming our First Lady, I thought I’d check out what the Mormons were up to, modesty-wise. Did you know they hold modesty fashion shows? I also found a Mormon version of the word game Taboo, in which adolescent girls compete to get their team members to guess “values” words. (This concerned me because one of the game’s “values” words is “white”.) But my favorite find is a play aimed at the elementary school set, reforming those slutty Disney princesses. For instance, Snow White is told by the bishop to move out of the house with the seven dwarves and into a house with seven dwrafettes. (I had no idea she was even gay!) And when the wicked witch tempts her with a strapless gown instead of a poison apple, she outfoxes her by covering her shoulders with a jacket! What a hero! (Yes, I am aware of the gender inconsistency but I refuse to use the feminine form of hero as long as it is the same word we use for an addicting life-ruining drug.)

But it wasn’t the Mormons at the Values Voter Summit. The “group” behind the Modesty Matters pamphlet turned out to be (drum roll) J.H. Woolwine, a retired pharmacist from Roanoke, Virginia. Besides giving strangers unsolicited fashion advice,  Mr. Woolwine’s main claim to fame is writing a letter to the editor in support of the Giles County School Board, when they decided to allow the ten commandments to be displayed. Stephanie Mencimer from Mother Jones talked to Mr. Woolwine himself, as he handed out his brochures  and collected donations that will allow him to continue his clothing crusade.

To me, the most interesting thing about Mr. Woolwine is not that he showed up at the Summit, but that he told Mother Jones that Modesty Matters was a “back porch” operation run by himself and his wife. In fact, I found several articles in which “J.H. Woolwine and his wife” were mentioned, but never once did Mr. Woolwine think to offer her name. That oversight seems to be a prefect metaphor for the whole “Modesty Matters” goal: to put women back in the shadow of men.

We often think about the War on Women as being solely about a woman’s reproductive rights, but the threat to a woman’s “right to choose” is but one battle in the larger war. There are a great many people who wish to see the role of modern women downgraded to helpmate, and they are actively working toward that goal. The True Woman Pledge Mr. Woolwine would like you to take, which also reflects the fundamentalist Mormon, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Christian view of womanhood, includes the following planks:

  • We glorify God and experience His blessing when we accept and joyfully embrace His created design, function, and order for our lives 
  •  We are called as women to affirm and encourage men as they seek to express godly masculinity, and to honor and support God-ordained male leadership in the home and in the church.
  • When we respond humbly to male leadership in our homes and churches, we demonstrate a noble submission to authority that reflects Christ’s submission to God His Father. 
  • Men and women are both created in the image of God and are equal in value and dignity, but they have distinct roles and functions in the home and in the church.
By the way, I don’t think you will be surprised to discover the True Woman Pledge has something to say about abortion and marriage equality:
  • Human life is precious to God and is to be valued and protected, from the point of conception until rightful death. 
  • Marriage, created by God, is a sacred, binding, lifelong covenant between one man and one woman.  
  • Selfish insistence on personal rights is contrary to the spirit of Christ who humbled Himself, took on the form of a servant, and laid down His life for us.

My biggest surprise was really not the discovery “Modesty Matters” is in reality, one anachronistic man who wants the world to know the reason he can’t keep his attention on the Sunday sermon is because the fidgety pubescent teenager in the pew in front of him isn’t wearing a bra. The surprise came from discovering the large number of groups whose goal it is to return women to a subservient status by convincing them that’s how God wants it. I know how much the comparison irritates these Christian groups, but is very hard not to think about the Taliban or the Saudis. It has been my experience that they will demand indignantly “Do we keep our daughters illiterate? Do we stone women who cheat?” To which I would like to reply, “No, you don’t do those things. You do other things. But your goal is the same: to make men superior to women.”

The War on Women is not limited to taking away a woman’s right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. The War On Women is also an attempt to take away a woman’s right to choose what her role in the world will be. It is evident from the Pledge Modesty Matters encourages women to sign, that controlling what women wear is but the opening gambit in the eventual “taming of the shrew,” until it will again be a woman’s duty to defer to her husband,  - and even worse than that, to obey “religious” men who claim to speak for God.

As for Mr. Woolwine, I suspect he is feeling nostalgic for a past that never really existed. June Cleaver may have seemed the perfect wife and mother, but Barbara Billingsly who played her part was a divorced single mom. Liberace was gay. The Romper Room teacher had an abortion. Hugh Hefner’s nudie magazine made him a very rich man. People are always going to be people. In the end, the only one we can really control is ourselves. Maybe the best solution would be to ask Mr. Woolwine to sign a pledge that he will close his eyes and think of what’s-her-name whenever he is distracted by a tanned and toned fellow churchgoer who has chosen to wear a little white satin slip dress on a hot summer’s day – be they man or woman. (Oh! Eureka moment! I bet that’s why “white” is a clue in the Mormon modesty game.)

Today, the many faceted question “What are you wearing?” is On Our Radar.

Radar Image from


tncrmJean Ann Esselink is straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.



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Serenifly September 23, 2012 at 8:56 am

This blog has many great articles about the modesty doctrine and the huge damage it does:

Make no mistake. This isn't just one misguided guy. Modesty and sexual purity are HUGE in evangelical and especially fundamentalist Christianity. It starts very early on before girls even reach puberty. They are scared so much about their "future cleavage" (real quote. No joke) and bodies that when their their bodies develop, they can have some very unhealthy attitudes. Going so far as to develop eating disorders so they don't appear attractive. Some are even criticized for walking and sitting the wrong way.

And yeah, fundamentalist Judaism, Islam and Christianity aren't really any different about this except for the specifics of the dress quote. But the underlying mentality is exactly the same.

65snake September 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Religious obsession with sex is so damaging to individuals and society as whole, it boggles the mind.

barnslayer September 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm

Go to Egypt, Saudi Arabia etc. See how the pro's do it.

uncucumbered September 23, 2012 at 6:08 pm

Respectfully, that dismissive attitude hurts women. If someone else is worse, American women shouldn't complain about their rights being eroded? Be glad you are only being asked to cover your cleavage because in the Mideast you have to cover your hair too? The common thread is someone else saying "cover".

lepidopteryx September 23, 2012 at 3:30 pm

The best way to stop rape is for men to stop using a penis as a weapon. Anyone, male or female, should be able to walk down the street stark naked without fear of someone mistaking their nudity for an "Open Season" sign.

psmithphd September 24, 2012 at 12:44 pm

As a believing, active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon), I do sorrow for all those who, in their writing and speaking, reflect misunderstanding of us. Many do so through ignorance. Others try hard to be fair but get some things right and other things wrong. I am open to helping them see things in their proper perspective.
There are some among these critics, though, who seem always to be on the attack. The Lord Jesus Christ, who we honor as our God and Savior, encountered and addressed this issue during his earthly ministry. He said relative to such attacks made on him or his Church, whether out of ignorance or malice “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake…Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5: 11-12).
For those who wonder why anyone would attack Jesus and the followers of his day, the Savior added the following interesting insights. After telling his apostles that they would be persecuted and otherwise mistreated he said “the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” (John 16:2). Then he goes on by saying “and these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me.” (John 16: 3). Critics of others’ religions and beliefs probably believe that they also are doing the right thing, even in some cases what God wants them to. What does Christ say of this? Those who don’t appear to believe in religion have other motivations, but still too often end up being critical rather than understanding.
Such critics should also, however, give heed to the council the Jewish leader Gamaliel gave to other Jewish leaders who were misrepresenting and often persecuting the early Christians. He said “refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work (of these early Christians) be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest…ye be found even to fight against God (Acts 5: 38-39)
We are taught as members of the Church, though, to "turn the other cheek" and "return good for evil" and this present scrutiny of the Church gives us the opportunity to do so as we attempt to set the record straight. I hope that those who hear of us will seek to understand our true positions. Draw your lessons from the good, faithful members of the Church. Please go to official Church websites like for your information about us.
Phillip C. Smith, Ph.D.

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