Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Modest Maid...

"A modest maid, decked with a blush of honor,
Whose feet do tread green paths of youth and love;
The wonder of all eyes that look upon her,
Sacred on earth, designed a saint above." - Spenser

Ok, the poem isn't really all that important to me, but I've been thinking about modesty a lot this week.

Two reasons this issue is on my mind. 1) Yesterday I heard a radio blog about a US convent that is getting lots of young nuns. It had interviews with several acolytes, and it was just really cool to hear these women dedicating their lives to Christ. The convent has the nuns wear a traditional white robe, and they mentioned that they want to stand out, to send that message that they are brides of Christ.

2) I've been reading a lot of essays students have written about their international travel experiences. Apparently, one group went to a country in Africa last summer, and I was struck by how many of the girls' essays mentioned clothing and how it affected their perceptions. The female members of the party were instructed to wear modest clothing, as the standards of modesty were much higher than here. At least two and probably closer to five of the girls mentioned how dressing differently made them feel... and I wasn't expecting their reactions.
"I was surprised by how much happier and more confident I felt."
"I kept noticing my face and my smile in store windows."

These two things really made me think about my own experience with clothing. Modesty wasn't just a halfway standard in my parent's house. When I was a teenager, Mom and Dad both were pretty adamant about no tummies showing, no cleavage, plenty of coverage - and I hated it. I thought they were outdated, I thought everything was fine, why were they making such a big deal, obviously I wasn't a party-goer, etc. At the same time, their strictness must have stuck, because I've been told by several guys that I dressed (and dress) very modestly.
(I actually had a friend tell me once that I needed to dress in more revealing clothing because I was 'repressing' myself and my sexuality. Not so!)

And now I really appreciate those standards. In many ways, I feel like the modest standard of dress imposed by my parents protected me from a lot of negative attention, and made me focus on myself as a person. Because I 'looked' modest, looking back I think that guys also tended to treat me more respectfully. Obviously I don't want to generalize - it wasn't a magic bullet to figuring out relationships or developing good self-confidence, and I had plenty of issues. All I'm saying is that, looking back on not so long ago, I feel like that was one way that my parents protected me from jerks without even being there, at an age when hormones make everything difficult for people of all genders.

After reading/hearing these things, I really question the societal norm for women's clothing in the US. At an age when we are being told that we are empowered females who can do anything we put our minds to, why are we also being shown/told (by media and stores) that we should display our bodies as much as possible? I see a disconnect between telling a woman that she should be confident in herself and who she is, but sending a not-so-subliminal message that to be 'confident' means to dress herself as a sex object, and allow herself to be seen as that, and only that, if the viewer so chooses. Is that not the very embodiment of a lack of confidence?

This is a bit disorganized. Basically, I just feel like somehow American society has turned women's lib on its head by destroying all standards of modesty. Are we making women feel that they have to dress a certain way to be confident and attractive? I just think it seems an awful lot like a warning bell that so many of the college-aged women who took that international trip felt a sudden being able to dress more modestly.

I had a Muslim coworker at one of my workplaces, and I really respected her for choosing to wear hijabi. Her very appearance said "I am set aside. I am different. I am not to be used, but loved and appreciated for who I am." No one is perfect, and I'm not arguing that everyone needs to have a particular standard of dress. But, like it or not, we are judged by our outward appearance, and I think many Christian communities struggle to keep sight of teaching teenagers that women can and should be confident in themselves, and confident to portray themselves as followers of Christ.

Anyway, I guess this ends with a question. Are Americans, as a society, pressuring women (Christian and secular) to dress and view themselves as sex objects only, or is the international trip an isolated incident?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Adventures In Education: Part 2

Now that another 9 months have passed, it's time to update my blog. I keep waiting for the day when I come back and find someone else's collar on it, but so far the little beggar keeps hanging around. Hold fast, little buddy!

Well, I spent a fantastic year as a library aide/writing coach, raised some money for the school, met some amazing students, and hopefully helped a few of them improve their writing skills along the way. Unfortunately, Mr. Husband is in grad school and, for whatever reason, the state requires that teachers obtain graduate degrees to get to Rank 2 or 1 but does not offer any discounts to get those degrees. (It stuns me that many people believe that the school system pays the bill for grad school. No such luck, my friends!) I guess the massive salary they pay high school teachers in rural Kentucky is supposed to cover that. So... I started looking for other work and, long story short, I found it at a small liberal arts school as a development writer. Now I write thank you letters to donors and create appeals, etc. It's nice to be a 'professional' writer, and I do like getting to do it all day. I also love the school - it has a great mission and I am truly proud to be here.

I really feel like the last year has given me focus. I now have enough experience (not sure what criteria they hired me on - hopefully it was because I'm qualified and not some sort of "least annoying candidate" situation) to write for a living, even if it's not the most glamorous work in the world. And it opens up the possibility that I can go to grad school - nothing is really holding me back anymore, and I've found a program that would let me continue to work full-time if I can get in (i.e. get back into the habit of writing decent prose/poetry). Anyway, just an update on the home front. No promises on being a better blog poster, but for the 3 people that read this, you know me well enough to know that I will happily respond to any further questions! :)

Praise God for having a job!