Modesty and culture

How much do ideas about modesty, decency, and obscenity depend on cultural context? Consider that recently, actor Richard Gere was widely criticized in India for publicly engaging in a vulgar, lewd, obscene, immodest, and indecent act. He was burned in effigy, and a warrant issued for his arrest; he was called a sign of decaying morals, and of the erosion of values. What was his crime?

He kissed a woman, on the cheek, in public.

Since that infamous kiss, Gere has been subject to death threats. He faces private legal action for committing an obscene act in public. His arrest has been ordered, and a court has threatened to jail him for up to three months. One politician said that, “If I had been on the dais, I would have slapped him.”

All this for an act — public kissing on the cheek — that’s part of my own regular behavior, and that I see the bishop and other church members and leaders doing as well. I guess we’re all just obscene, vulgar, immodest and indecent folk. I suppose that anti-Mormons need not distribute their latest DVD in India; instead, they can merely tell people that Joseph Smith was known to kiss in public. Three cheers for modesty, decency, and public values.

How much of our own ideas on modesty and appropriate behavior are objective, and how much of them are cultural artifacts? Should the church simply adopt local cultural ideas and values — a hypothetical LDS church in India banning all public kissing? If not, what standard should it adopt? How can we objectively sort our ideas on modesty and obscenity from the cultural context that frames them?

75 comments for “Modesty and culture

  1. Proud Daughter of Eve
    April 26, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    A question for the ages, Kaimi.

  2. MikeInWeHo
    April 26, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Just FYI: It was more than just a peck on the cheek. He grabbed her around the waist, dipped her almost to the floor, then kissed her. Just the same, the Indian reaction still baffles me.

  3. April 26, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Did you see the video of that public kiss? It’s no kiss-on-the-cheek that is normal practice for Europeans. He was holding her, leaning over (forcing her to lean backward) for several seconds. It was the kind of kiss that if it were my wife I’d probably punch the him. I’m not justifying the extreme reaction of so many of the people there but I certainly don’t think it was appropriate. I understand the thrust of your post but saying “kiss on the cheek” (implying total innocence) is kind of a straw man because it was much more than that.

  4. April 26, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    …or, what Mike says.

  5. Ryan
    April 26, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    Wow Kaimi, I just watched the vid. You really did glaze over what Gere actually did. I can’t believe you compared his debacle to a kiss on the cheek greeting of your bishopric and other church leaders. If I saw my bishop do that to my wife there’d be hell to pay.

    Your hyperbolic description to serve your argument is disheartening.

  6. Ryan
    April 26, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Here’s what really happened

  7. Mark B.
    April 26, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    That’s almost as horrifying as George W. Bush giving Angela Merkel a shoulder rub.

    But I like the way Kaimi made it sound like a peck on the cheek. You’d think he was a lousy money-grubbing practicing lawyer, not a high-minded legal educator!

  8. tj
    April 26, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    i am now old,short,fat bald and ugly years ago i was just short,fat ,bald and ugly–but when i was in leadership roles some women at church would always want a \”hug\” i made sure my wife would be in the way and get hugged.
    We were always told at leadership meetings not to encourage contact with women other than a hand shake—so i learned to keep my wife by my side
    what richard gere did in india was in poor taste and showed a lack of respect for their customs
    guess i’m just an old duffer

  9. TMD
    April 26, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Of course what is considered modest is culturally defined. And there are clearly some near absolutes as to what should be covered (etc.) and what should not–people running around naked in public would be in opposition to almost any standard of modesty. But I think it would be wrong for the church to just blindly accept whatever local culture says. As Elder Oaks has noted, some such practices conflict with the gospel because they impose penalties on classes of people; and while people may make choices to conform to local standards in such situations, the church should not be adding to this.

    But I’m not at all sure that the church should be encouraging people to be in the avant garde of modesty–that could endanger members in some parts of the world, which is generally not a good idea, particularly over small things like the number of inches in a dress.

    As an aside, I think at least one part of modern american culture has grown much more modest in recent years–that of locker rooms and public showers. While, at least on the men’s side, ‘gang-showers’ and such were once very common, there is now a demand for stalls….and quite a good many places that used to be ‘gang’ are going ‘stall.’ Yet another culture shifting ideas of modesty…though perhaps in a counter-intuitive way.

  10. April 26, 2007 at 3:22 pm

    Maybe it was a little more than a kiss on the cheek, but it wasn’t by any means lewd. My brother and his wife have a collection of photos where they are kissing in much the same manner in front of nearly a dozen temples and other landmarks.

  11. Ryan
    April 26, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    In defense of Kaimi’s defense of Richard Gere:

    Gere was clearly just kidding around. To have critics announcing how he trampled on their culture and sensitive sensibilities wouldn’t seem so disingenuous to me if the actress he was kidding around with wasn’t dressed like a glamorized prostitute.

  12. Meg
    April 26, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    What isn’t about cultural norms?

    I live on a pretty average college campus (plenty of sexual immorality) on the East Coast. But guess what? You don’t see a lot of public displays of affection (unless large quantities of alcohol have been consumed). Contrast this to BYU, where incredibly tacky public and semi-public displays of affection abound.

    Yet, every once in a while, one of the larger classes will get streaked (even though our streaking team was apparently disbanded before my freshman year…) and nobody, including the administration and professors, thinks it is all that big of a deal. I can’t imagine the same thing going over so well at BYU.

    These two situations could both be considered examples of students engaging in “vulgar, lewd, obscene, immodest, and indecent” actions. The difference is in the reaction to them.

    Its all culture.

  13. Mark B.
    April 26, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    If being naked in a single sex locker room is immodest, we’ve really out blue-nosed the Victorians, big time.

    The reverse is probably true–we’ve become so obsessed with sex that a bunch of guys in the locker room can’t go about the business of showering and drying off and dressing without someone worrying about sex.

    It reminds me of an Eric Snider column where a BYU student spotted himself naked in the mirror and called up and reported himself to security or Standards or Ernie Wilkinson’s Gestapo.

  14. Ryan
    April 26, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    My brother and his wife have a collection of photos where they are kissing in much the same manner in front of nearly a dozen temples and other landmarks.

    And do you have pictures of you with your brother’s wife in the same pose? You see how it’s a little less appropriate?

  15. Mark B.
    April 26, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    It’s nice to see that Meg Ryan is (are?) commenting on this thread.

  16. April 26, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Gere was clearly just kidding around.

    That’s cultural too.

  17. Meg
    April 26, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    “Gere was clearly just kidding around. To have critics announcing how he trampled on their culture and sensitive sensibilities wouldn’t seem so disingenuous to me if the actress he was kidding around with wasn’t dressed like a glamorized prostitute. ”

    Well isn’t that the point? In this situation, it isn’t the dressing that is lewd; it’s the public display of affection. Our culture sees it differently than theirs does. This statement kind of emphasizes what we don’t get because of the culture gap.

  18. Mike
    April 26, 2007 at 3:54 pm

    I don’t think this is a simple case of the decadent west defiling some innocent native culture. It is a terrible misunderestanding of the meaning of certain actions. And possibly a lecherous old coot taking advantage of it. I know very little about the cultures in India. But they might be as foreign as that of Japan where I served a mission.

    I was told by a native Japanese companion on my mision that kissing was a western custom and that the Japanese did not kiss a couple of generations ago. Also, it was believed that westerners were cannibals and kissing was a suppressed impulse in that direction. If similar ideas are held in India, you can see how this might influence how this act is viewed.

    I remember one church talk where our native Japanese mission president told the members that kissing was forbidden because it was part of foreplay and in the same category as fornication. But then he said in English that this did not apply to the missionaries when we went back to America. We all laughed.

    The Japanese youth of that time (1970’s) did not kiss or hold hands in public. After my mission while in college in the Utah I dated three Japanese girls and they did not welcome any physical affection in public or private. Hand holding in private for a few moments was about as wild as it ever got. In one case we dated for 8 months. Perhaps they just didn’t like me. I distinctly recall several LDS weddings in Okinawa (closest temple was far away in Hawaii) and the newly weds did not express any physical affection in public. No holding hands, hugging or kissing. Nothing. They sat not very close to each other rather stiffly.

    I had a member tell me that the breast had not been sexualized on some of the remote Ryukyu islands where women went topless and touching female breasts was not considered any different than stroking a person’s arm. So it would be possible for an inexperienced remote branch president to excommunicate a guy for a simple kiss while above the waist petting might fly below his radar.

    They breast fed children in church in Japan without any effort to cover up and even during a couple of memorable missionary discussions. How can I ever forget a hot looking young wife who pulled her top completely off and put the baby in place while sitting about 2 feet away from me on the floor of their home. Once I happened to be tagging along when my exceedingly modest and deferential Japanese girlfriend was shopping for clothing. She couldn’t immediately see a dresing room so she just unzipped her pants and dropped them right there in the middle of the store. She put on this skirt and asked me if I thought it fit her, like it was no big deal. I also noticed that older Japanese women from the pre WWII era made little effort to keep their breasts covered up. The Japanese may be among the most modest people in the world, yet historically they bathed together in public. And they were awash in soft core pornography. Go figure.

    I think the point is that the same action can have a drastically different meaning in different cultures; although there is some basic biological unity common to all of us. I would be interested in the underlying cultural reasons why the people of India found this action so objectable.

  19. April 26, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    Out of all the ways in which dealing with various cultural and behavioral sensitivities can run up against the insistence upon “objective” standards, modesty has got to be one of the least important. Not that it is never worth struggling with; I wouldn’t like to see our Relief Society presidency forced into full-length burkas if they visited Saudi Arabia, and I think there are good reasons for that. But generally speaking, conforming to, or at the very least accepting, others’ standards of modesty seems like a really small price to pay along the path of cultural understanding. Richard Gere did not, in fact, have to express himself through an ostentatious bit of public smooching (which, unless I’m reading her body language completely wrong, the object of his affection did not appreciate); I can’t see any possibly objective principle being defended there.

  20. April 26, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    The actress was not dressed like a glamorized prostitute! You’ll notice her legs were completely covered. It’s American Women in knee-length skirts or shorts who are dressed immodestly in India.

    If you watch Bollywood movies, you know kissing just doesn’t happen. However, that dip-thing does, dipping a girl in the rain is the standard screen substitute for the kiss. Poor Richard Gere, he almost got it right.

    Indian Actress Aishwarya Rai (I know her from Bride and Prejudice) has been so popular in India that she was both the Pepsi Spokesmodel and the Coca-Cola spokesmodel at the same time. yet she has never kissed anyone on film.

    My guess is that the LDS in India have to please both standards: cover your legs to the ankles, and don’t show your shoulders.

  21. Matt W.
    April 26, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    The most worrying thing about all this is what if Gere’s kiss catches on? This could screw up the whole enjoyable Bollywood scene!

  22. Starfoxy
    April 26, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    I agree with RAF- she didn’t look at all comfortable. Also, one should consider the context that his ‘kidding around’ is happening in. India has enough of a problem with sexual harassment on the streets (commonly called Eve Teasing) that tourist guides give tips on how foreign women can avoid it during their stay, and local law enforcement agencies are putting a special effort into stopping it.

    Some people in India blame the importation of western decadence for the Eve teasing and Gere’s tasteless display probably confirms that theory. It seems to me that the leaders and courts are going after him to make an example out of him specifically as a westerner, and an Eve teaser.

  23. MAC
    April 26, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    There is more context than just \”modesty, decency, and obscenity.\” Many Indian sadhu run around India buck naked their whole lives.

    Nor is it Richard Gere getting lewd and pervy all of a sudden. I am sure that you could probably find any number of DVDs in india where Richard Gere is doing much worse for the camera.

    This issue is as much that Richard Gere did this to an Indian woman. The outrage is as much about cultural chauvinism as it is about cultural decorum.

  24. April 26, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    It seems to me that it is really hard to condemn any set of social norms or laws that is likely to result in the incarceration of Richard Gere.

  25. April 26, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    …if the actress he was kidding around with wasn’t dressed like a glamorized prostitute.

    What are you trying to say, Ryan?
    I can see that Gere was kidding, and I wouldn’t call his actions lewd, exactly. But it did seem unwelcome, and mildly manipulative and forceful. And for you to say that this was in any way invited by her or her fault for the way she was dressed is misogynistic and reprehensible. I’m very offended by your remark. Culturally speaking.

  26. April 26, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Richard Gere has the best head of hair of any Hollywood actor. I’ve wanted his hair since I was in my late 20s. Other than that, I can’t say much for the man. He definitely tries hard. He learned some Japanese so he could appear in one of Kurosawa’s last films. He learned to tap dance (to a degree) for Chicago. He was a fine receptable of Louis Gosset, Jr.’s abuse in An Officer and a Gentleman. He appears to be moderately better read about world events than, say, Sean Penn. But really, that’s about it.

  27. Julie M. Smith
    April 26, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    As long as we are on the subject: interesting that saris don’t always cover the stomach: I regularly see Indian women here with floor-to-ceiling coverage–except for a few inches of midriff skin.

  28. April 26, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    And, he’s way hot.
    But I would have slapped him, too.

  29. DKL
    April 26, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    It’s worth noting that Mark Twain, in The Innocents Abroad, said that the reason why middle-eastern women covered their faces is because they were obscenely ugly. Have things changed? or is it safe to say that this is still true?

    Back to the cultural standards issue: Perhaps US reaction to the Beatles hair or Elvis’s pelvis (aren’t you glad he wasn’t named Enos?) are comparable to the reaction you describe to Gere’s promiscuity.

    Russell Arben Fox, as far as hair goes, Richard Gere is a distant second to Andy Griffith. Furthermore, Richard Gere’s most compelling role was, far and away, as the tycoon-cum-whore-lover (street walkers don’t really look like Julia Roberts, you know) in Pretty Women. Aside from the fact that Eleanor Donahue (AKA Betty from “Father Knows Best”) deserved an Academy Award nomination for her role as department-store-clerk-cum-whore-helper, Pretty Woman was a piss-poor movie. And given how great their hair is, the connection between Richard Gere and Andy Griffith via Eleanor Donahue (who also stared in the Andy Griffith Show) is nothing short of eerie.

  30. Dan
    April 26, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    I’ve spent several months in Southern India over the past two years working and have found the concept of modesty heavily connected to the idea of parental respect. Gere may have shown utter disrespect to the woman’s parents, since parents often reserve the right to determine who their daughter should marry and have physical relations with.

    While a child may have some influence on the process, in the end the parents decide after a very formal selection process that considers horoscopes, opinions from astrologers and respected family members and friends, interviews with prospective spouses and their families, and the casts of the individuals involved.

    I asked one 23 year old engineering project manager (gold medalist in mathematics) what she thought about the idea of her parents retaining power over her social life. She responded (a close paraphrase), “I trust my parents completely. I believe they know what is best for me.”

    Maybe it wastn’t just a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Maybe it was Gere taking from this woman’s parents their perceived right to decide what is best for their daughter. Another perspective to consider.

  31. Doc
    April 26, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    All I can say Kaimi, is a profane culture obviously is going to be unmoved by profanity, likewise a vulgar culture vulgarity and so forth. While many push the wall further and further, we should not be shocked when that those cultures that do not push this direction find extreme distaste for us. They just may not want to be dragged along.

  32. Brad Kramer
    April 26, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    This isn’t Gere’s first public mis-read of cultural values either. In a September 2001 9/11-benefit concert in MS Garden, he was booed off the stage for having the audacity of suggesting that healing comes from forgiveness and not from vengeance. What a chump.

  33. MAC
    April 26, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    So do we let him slide? His multitude of artistic accomplishments excusing his embarrassing the Buddhists and enraging the Hindus?

    Or can we just ship him off to the gaol?

  34. Veritas
    April 26, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    Julie (#27) – the most interesting part is when the sari-wearing women have been endowed. They don’t adapt the Sari at all :)

    I would say this is giving India a much stricter rep than they really deserve. I understand their outrage at the lack of respect shown by Gere, but in all my time spent in India, I never had an issue wearing shorts, and I definitly didn’t experience any outrage from anyone when they witnessed my public displays of affection. This is less about a general rule, and more about a public figure doing it for all the world to see.

  35. April 26, 2007 at 5:29 pm

    “As far as hair goes, Richard Gere is a distant second to Andy Griffith.”

    I disagree, DKL. Griffith’s hair went all white while remaining full, which is certainly impressive. But Gere for years had this salt-and-pepper thing going, which has gradually evolved into an equally envy-inducing silvery grey. It’s just awesome hair. Better than Griffith’s, better than Bono’s hair in Rattle and Hum, better than Brad Pitt’s in Legends of the Fall, better than John Edward’s. His hair alone has more style and sophistication than many actually existing fashion designers, to say nothing of Hollywood stars.

  36. DKL
    April 26, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    No. No. No. Russell, that’s so off-base that it makes my teeth hurt.

    First of all, no hair-hierarchy is plausible that does not place Elvis squarely at the top. Second, John Edwards has the hair of a rebellious 13-year old from 1986. Third, Bono and hair? Fourth, Brad Pitt’s hair in Legends of the Fall didn’t touch his hair in Fight Club.

  37. Ryan
    April 26, 2007 at 5:37 pm

    And for you to say that this was in any way invited by her or her fault for the way she was dressed is misogynistic and reprehensible.

    I’m not sure that word (misogyny) means what you think it means.

    I think I made it quite clear that I think Gere went over the line even from an american cultural perspective. My clothing comment had to do with the fact that she has chosen to display publicly the fact that she is not as hardline in her definition of morality as other devout Hindus:

    Said Shetty: “I understand this is his culture, not ours. But this was not such a big thing or so obscene for people to overreact in such manner,”

    So don’t call my comments misogynist when I am simply pointing out something that she quite freely recognizes

  38. mlu
    April 26, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    The way modesty is expressed is cultural, but I believe that many girls are naturally modest–boys too though not so much–looking down and away from some kinds of attention. Mostly my visits with my granddaughters and the early age at which they begin exhibiting modest behaviors–without apparent teaching–leads me to think modesty is a natural thing. The fact that they are capable of exhibiting modest behaviors while undressed illustrates that the natural tendency diverges a bit from cultural expectations. . .

  39. April 26, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    If DKL and RAF will allow further nominations for Best Hair, I submit David O. McKay.

    And Yul Brynner.


  40. Kaimi Wenger
    April 26, 2007 at 7:05 pm


    You’re right about the midriff-showing saris. They may be (compared with kissing) the best example of the interesting differences in cultural norms, because the two cultures come down completely differently on them.

    Kiss in public? Mormons say it’s fine, Indian say it’s immodest.
    Bare midriff or shoulders? Indians say it’s fine, Mormons say it’s immodest.

  41. Kaimi Wenger
    April 26, 2007 at 7:07 pm


    Good point — if this was sexual harassment, it’s not welcome. However, the quotes I’ve seen from news stories suggest that it wasn’t — that she was giggling as she was kissed, and that it was part of their ongoing flirtation over the evening. She may have been surprised by the kiss itself, but doesn’t seem to have objected to it or been offended.

  42. Kaimi Wenger
    April 26, 2007 at 7:13 pm


    This raises the real question — which T&S blogger has the best hair? Out of the guy co-bloggers I’ve met, I think it has to be Nate. Matt’s is too flat, Greg’s too utilitarian, Gordon’s too unruly. Nate manages the tidewater look alright, and the red goatee really sets it off his ‘do, creating an interesting sort of viking-yuppie amalgamation.

    Alas, none of the T&S crew can really hold a candle to Steve Evans’ hair. This is to be expected, though, as the man spends an hour or more on his coiffure each morning. John Edwards has really got nothing on Steve.

  43. April 26, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    I thought coiffure was against the word of wisdom.

  44. April 26, 2007 at 7:57 pm

    William, it’s to be used sparingly and only in times of fashion.

  45. April 26, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    And do you have pictures of you with your brother’s wife in the same pose? You see how it’s a little less appropriate?

    That would be completely inappropriate because it violates a violation of both my of our wedding vows, not because there’s anything particularly wrong with the display of affection.

  46. April 26, 2007 at 8:37 pm

    doh! well you know what I mean.

  47. Mark B.
    April 26, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    I haven’t got a Dick-Cheney-expletive-ing clue.

  48. DKL
    April 26, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    Ardis, I’ll grant David O. McCay, since non-celebrities aren’t expected to have such great hair.

    If you’re going to nominate Yul Brenner, then you’ve also got to nominate Bruce Willis.

    But the more I think about it, the more obviously wrong RAF is about Gere. Even Chaim Topol has much better hair than Richard Gere.

  49. It's Not Me
    April 26, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    I guess I don’t get around as much as some of you, because I don’t know this Indian actress. And frankly, I think you’d have to know her somewhat to come to the conclusion that she was clearly uncomfortable with Gere’s behavior. I don’t think it was as clear as some here have indicated. She was laughing.

  50. April 27, 2007 at 2:11 am

    Here’s what I got out of this: modesty is cultural, but haircuts are to be judged on a fixed continuum, with David O McCay on one end and Andy Griffith on the other.

    And Dick Cheney invented the ‘f’ word.

  51. April 27, 2007 at 5:19 am

    Re # 40, great point Kaimi.

    In Kaimi’s defense as well I think I should note that Shipa (the singer/Bollywood actress he kissed) pointed out that what Gere was doing was trying to please the crowd through reenacting a scene from Shall We Dance. To that extent, it was just acting and not even a real kiss. I do not know what in Indian culture or subcultures would make the kiss obscene (Kaimi correctly notes that it is not obscene in Western culture, and I would add even for the most prudent of people). But I wish that the reaction wasn’t so extreme.

  52. April 27, 2007 at 5:26 am

    I think RAF is probably thinking about Gere circa late 1980s.

    DKL — Bruce Willis and hair? Nice way to make your point! But I fully agree with you re John Edward’s $400 thirteen-year-old haircut.

    Although I can see the interest in being prematurely gray (this helps especially for baby-faced men who are trying to be lawyers), I think Pierce Brosnan’s hair beats being prematurely gray for its own sake.

  53. April 27, 2007 at 9:05 am

    Eh, a bunch of pretty boy comb addicts. My vote for best actor hair goes to Steve McQueen.

  54. April 27, 2007 at 10:35 am

    I confess that I’ve been wanting my hair to go gray since around age 23, but I’m not sure, John, if this is because I have a baby-face or some other affectation. (A contempt for youth, perhaps?) I will confess that I grow a beard because I have no chin (seriously, I don’t–my head just slides right down into my neck and chest, like a Muppet), and so thereby attempt to give my face some definition.

    Also, it is true that I first was struck my Gere’s awesome hair in the 1980s (remember First Knight? terrible movie, a stupid retelling of the Lancelot story, but Gere’s flowing salt-and-pepper locks were stupendous), but I believe it has remained awesome in the two decades since. You guys just don’t appreciate how cool hair roughly the shade of platinum truly is. (Bill Clinton shoots for this, but fails.) Sorry, I stand by Mr. Gere, or at least his hair, which outacted Julia Robert’s hair in Runaway Bride by a mile.

    Finally, I really did seriously consider putting Peirce Brosnan’s up on my list, but he didn’t have a YouTube video of flunkies combing his hair for him, so Senator Edwards won out.

  55. April 27, 2007 at 10:39 am

    McQueen’s hair was nothing special. His eyes though…shivery cold. He was Paul Newman’s evil twin.

  56. April 27, 2007 at 11:40 am

    “McQueen’s hair was nothing special.” Exactly; a man’s hair.

  57. DKL
    April 27, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    McQueen’s hair in Papillon or Bullitt are too influenced by the 1960s. But his hair in The Magnificent Seven is indeed tremendous.

    But if you’re serious about hair, and you like youtube, then you mustn’t miss this little gem.

  58. DKL
    April 27, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Oops, that should have been this little gem.

  59. jjohnsen
    April 27, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    “It’s worth noting that Mark Twain, in The Innocents Abroad, said that the reason why middle-eastern women covered their faces is because they were obscenely ugly. Have things changed? or is it safe to say that this is still true?”
    Didn’t you watch the clip? She’s gorgeous.

  60. Nick Literski
    April 27, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    These issues are far more culturally-dependant than most think. In our own culture, we tend to think that people in “the old days” were much more modest in attire, etc. In fact, quite the opposite is true. If you were to look at fashionable dresses from the 1840s (real ones, not the ones that senior LDS missionaries wear in Nauvoo, which happen to be 1850s to 1860s styles!), you might be shocked at the abundant cleavage that was shown. At the same time, however, Brigham Young considered the waltz to be obscene, and fought vigorously against women exposing their ankles to public view. Men’s trousers didn’t change much at all during the first half of the 19th century, but as the buttoned fly became popular (no zippers to be had, mind you), church leaders condemned them, calling them “fornication pants.”

    Ultimately, modesty is a state of mind, based largely upon the surrounding culture.

  61. Bill MacKinnon
    April 27, 2007 at 2:30 pm

    Hi Nick. A technical question: I realize that zippers didn’t come into use until the 1930s, but I had assumed that buttons were used for flys during the mid-19th century as well as pre-1930s. . With buttons out too, what was used? Medieval codpieces a la Chaucer and Shakespeare?
    /s/ One Who Needs to Know

  62. Lily
    April 27, 2007 at 4:00 pm


  63. Lily
    April 27, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    I mean, the pants were laced, like a corset.

  64. Mark B.
    April 27, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    I suspect that they wore overalls, which wouldn’t have had a fly. So you’d have to unlatch the straps that went over the shoulders to gain access.

  65. Scott
    April 27, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    I wonder what the folks in India would\’ve thought of Gere\’s urban-legendary gerbil episode.

  66. April 27, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    See comment 37 here for the history of pre-front-closure trousers, and the lack of evidence for attributing the label “fornication pants” to Mormon leaders.

  67. Kaimi Wenger
    April 27, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Good point, Nick. My wife studies fashion history, and she’s pointed out to me on more than one occasion that the “good ol’ days” were not always as modest as the present, sometimes in surprising ways. There were many times when great deals of cleavage were the norm, and even some periods of English history (parts of the 1600s as I recall) when it was quite normal and socially accepted for women to wear dresses that left their breasts completely bare. So we’re not necessarily seeing a modern erosion of a longstanding older standard; rather, the idea of a superior older standard is mostly a (historically inaccurate) perception of our own time.

  68. DKL
    April 27, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    Nick, I agree with you that there’s altogether too little Mormon bosom on display in Nauvoo.

  69. Wesley Powell
    April 28, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    This conversation has been very interesting, even with all its twists and turns. This modesty issue is always a hot topic in our LDS culture. I\’ve heard so many definitions of modesty, that I don\’t know what modesty is anymore. I was on the phone this morning with an LDS lady that was having a swimsuit party with her daughters. Out of curiosity I had to ask what a swim suit party was, then she said a person was coming over with a catalog of modest swim wear and some examples to show them. I know this is pretty common for young women to want a swimsuit that doesn\’t show the belly, or the cleavage, or much of the back, but legs, arms, shoulders, etc. are just fine being uncovered. From what I\’ve read on previous posts, this swimsuit would be completely immodest and perhaps even scandalous in other cultures.

    I\’m sure this is nothing new and you\’ve all heard it before, but here is where I am confused. This same lady just got back from a trip to Korea and went to the public bath houses on many occasions. In public bath houses you don\’t wear anything except for the key around your ankle or wrist. Everyone is completely naked, so where does the modesty come from? Is modesty in the frame of mind or in the clothes? Do the clothes make us modest? I have also heard this lady comment that she goes skinny-dipping when she goes to the lake, because that\’s how she grew up, which negates the need for the swim suit party in the first place. Can Mormons be skinny-dippers and still be good modest Mormons? Now I\’m confused.

  70. Captain Curmudgeon
    April 29, 2007 at 10:49 am

    \”Can Mormons be skinny-dippers and still be good modest Mormons?\”

    If not, then my scout troop and my priesthood quorums and all the general authorities from the 1950s were not good modest Mormons. We all swam at the Deseret Gym and swimming suits were not allowed. (Same true for boy\’s gym class at Granite High.)

  71. April 29, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Weasley Powell asked,

    >>Can Mormons be skinny-dippers and still be good modest Mormons? Now I’m confused.

  72. John
    April 29, 2007 at 3:58 pm

    > Can Mormons be skinny-dippers and still be good modest Mormons?

    Well, we believe that there is opposition in all things. So if there is lewd, sexual nudity, there must also be chaste, innocent nudity.

    Of course, accepting that means severing the belief that all nudity is sexual. And I don\’t think the Adversary wants you to do that. It\’s too effective a tool for him.

    Consequently, I\’m betting that the Korean bath house mentioned above didn\’t hold any more temptation for the men than any public pool in Zion. Maybe less … hiding things invokes imagination, which always fills in the blanks better than reality would.

  73. April 29, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    I’m betting a lot of money that the Korean bath house to which the woman went was a women-only bath house.

  74. Mardell
    May 4, 2007 at 2:31 am

    The idea of an earlier modest era is definitely a mis-preception of our time.

    During parts of the mid 18th century, women often wore gowns that showed cleavage all the way down to the nipple. Then, during the 1780s, a Greek/Roman revival in fashion resulted in women trying to imitate what they saw as Greek style (based on statues). They wore single layer white linen dresses and doused themselves in water. (Later historians jokingly referred to it as the Pneumonia style). Needless to say, a single layer of wet white linen doesn’t hide anything.

    Fashion goes in cycles, some are more revealing and some less revealing. It hasn’t been anything like a straight line downward from an older more modest era to today.

    But then, every era finds a golden age before it.

  75. Mary
    June 2, 2007 at 12:01 am

    I attended high school in the 1950\’s. In those days we girls always showered in the communal showers in the girls locker room after gym class. It was a locker room full of about 40 to 50 girls at a time all of whom were walking around totally nude without a care in the world.

    We just accepted that that was the way it was, you get sweaty and you take a shower, it\’s just girls and the female gym instructor in there so there\’s absolutely no real reason to care who was seeing you in the nude!

    We would litterally do almost everything in the nude, be it shower, blow drying our hair, doing our makeup, and carrying on conversations.

    But here\’s the thing…there was absolutelly nothing sexual about it in any way! Again, it was just females, we all had the same parts, none of us had anything that the others had never seen before, and we would not have dreamed of not taking a shower! To not shower would have been disgusting to us!

    At the same time almost all of us were conservative around boys and men.
    We would dress in conservative clothes, we wouldn\’t talk about sex, and certainly would not have sex before mariage!

    Fast forword to today…I swim 3 nights a week at a local YWCA. In the locker room most of us women who are over the age of 40 do not hesitate to shower in the nude in the communal shower room or to change in and out of our bathingsuits in sight of other females, or to have a short conversation with another woman while we are undressed.

    However, I see teen girls who will come into the womens locker room wearing clothes that cover almost nothing. If their wearing a skirt it\’s so short that you can litterally see their underwear if they have to bend over even just a little bit. When they take off their skirts you find that their underwear is the kind that is just a string that is only covering the crack of their butts. And they will wear those same kinds of bathingsuits too, and nothing changes on mens night either, or when their are small children around.

    You would figure that these girls love to showoff their bodies so much that they would not have a problem with taking a shower in the locker room, but for some strange reason all of a sudden they seem so modest. They will shower in their bathingsuits and then change in a toilet stall.

    I understand what we girls did in the good old days. We knew that there was nothing to be embarrassed about when it came to showering in front of our fellow female students. In fact, in a completelly non-sexual way it was kind of fun to be able to freely walk around in the nude without caring who saw you. It was actually a great female bonding experiance because it was just the girls.

    What I don\’t understand is what so many of the girls of today are thinking? What is it that tells them that it\’s perfectly fine to be nearly nude in public in front of boys and even dirty old men, but yet it\’s not acceptable to allow other females to see you nude in the shower?

    If anyone can explain the thinking I would really love an explanation!

    If you ask me I would much rather INNOCENTLY see a totally nude woman or girl showering in a locker room than to see a nearly nude woman or girl on TV or going up the escalator at the mall. I sometimes take my two grandaughters swimming with me at the YWCA, if they see a nude woman in the locker room I know that it\’s not sending them a bad message. In fact it might help to show them not to be ashamed of their bodies. But I hate to think of what their \”learning\” when they see the trampy clothing that some females are wearing at the mall or even in school!

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