Modesty is one of those unavoidable topics that comes up when faith and femininity come around. The past three summers, I had the treat of having a modesty/dress code talk of sorts with staff at a Christian summer camp. The difficulty with modesty is that irregardless of what you've dressed your body in, the observer is also responsible for what they perceive. A man or woman could be completely covered and could still ogled by another with lustful intentions, and that sin belongs to the ogler alone.
With that that being said, we do owe our brothers and sisters in Christ support in our shared goals of a holy life. This means dressing and behaving in a modest manner that does not create unnecessary temptation for those around us.
It can tempting to take modesty to two extremes: pushing the blame entirely on the wearer or entirely on the observer. The wearer cannot be held responsible for the decisions made by another; whatever is being worn does not justify the observer's actions. We are each responsible for our own sinfulness. However, dressing with intention to lead another to sin has its own implications for the wearer. Intending to cause another to sin is a sin.
Modesty demands a middle ground. There is no sin in making an effort to look nice or to dress yourself in a way that is empowering. Wear that dress! Style your hair! But when the dress gets tugged down to show a little more cleavage or the shorts are chosen because they are just so short... we are allowing a master manipulator lead more than just ourselves astray. We may not be our brother's keepers but we are called to love and support them!
Growing up Catholic, meant growing up in a world where almost all of my spiritual guides were portrayed as or were men. There are many things I love about the Catholic church, but the unavoidable truth is, it is ran and written by old men. We portray God as a man, Jesus was a man, and the Holy Spirit is a dove or tongues of fire. The only woman I saw pictured in the church was Mary. The only roles I saw for women were as mothers and sisters. and I resented that.
I can't pinpoint the moment I began to identify as a feminist. I don't recall the first time I heard or used the word, let alone the first time I used it to describe myself. I was drawn to books and movies that featured strong female characters even as young as first and second grade. I inhaled Harry Potter, and with it, Hermione Granger. My favorite moves were Mulan and Anastasia. The women I admired most in the church were killed for their faith (St. Joan of Arc, for example). And this identity, as a young feminist, whenever it did begin, was at odds with my faith from the very beginning.
But it did not have to be.
The Bible is filled with strong women of faith who all walk different paths. Women who were faithful wives and loving mothers, others who are wise queens, women who are servants to their community, even warriors who saved entire nations! But we hear so little about them. The communion of saints is full of resources, not just St. Joan but others who did great things for church and their communities! Which is why as we explore women of faith in the Bible, I also want to explore our varied paths and purposes as women of the church. God blessed us with so much, more than just the fertility we are so often shamed for; our fertility, our gifts, and our own unique versions of femininity is meant to celebrated, not hidden.
The first thing, and most important thing I want to share with you is that feminism and faith are not at war with one another. Taking pride in your sex and what you offer the world, no matter how stereo or unstereotypical that may be is not a sin. The church needs women, not just as mothers, but as sisters, friends, teachers, leaders, and so much more. Set aside all you think you know about your role in the church and come explore and consider with me the various places we can serve and the impact we can have. Remember that feminism is not one-size-fits-all, it is not a dirty word to avoid. You can be a woman of faith and feminist; a faithful servant of the church and proud to be a woman.