Director of Academic Resources Stephanie O’Brian and senior Caitlyn Denison were heavily involved in planning Harding’s first Sexual Assault Awareness Week in April of 2017 and also helped to create HU Brave, a social media campaign and now campus organization that aims to diminish the stigma surrounding open conversation about sexual assault.
“Men almost get a license to be visual and make judgments about a woman, and it’s like our job to protect them from that,” O’Brian said. “And I want to give men more credit than that.”
Denison said the rhetoric used when discussing men and women in regards to modesty is often harmful.
“In my Bible class, we were reading a book that was about men but it was written for women, kind of like a guideline,” Denison said. “Mind you, this is an entire class full of women. But there is a chapter in there about the visual rolodex, and it’s about how men can’t help themselves from looking. And they store those images in their minds.”
Denison believes telling men they are visual, while telling women they are to be lusted after, cultivates problems that Christians fear: problems that cannot be solved with dress code.
“To me, modesty is less about clothing and more about your personality or your spirit,” Denison said. “I think when we teach women modesty, the first issue there is that we teach women modesty. If you’re going to teach them to dress ‘appropriately,’ then why aren’t we teaching men? … I feel like the modesty that is described by today’s Christian families is supposed to be this blanket term for everyone, and that’s not really how it works.”
Denison added that playing on gender stereotypes in this way is detrimental to Christian families.
“Teaching women who are about to be wives that you need to always appreciate your husband how he is because he’s just going to look at other women and that’s how it is — that’s wrong,” Denison said.
Senior Ethan McGaughy said that growing up in the church, modesty was something that was taught specifically to girls.
“Guys were taught modesty as in what we should want in a woman,” McGaughy said. “Modesty for women was taught with certain length specifications … On one youth group trip (in high school), someone pointed out to me that my shorts were much shorter than any girls’ on our trip because they were told to follow a modesty rule that no one enforced on me.”
McGaughy said he disagrees with the way modesty is often taught.
“I personally think whatever someone wears is their own choice, and it is each person’s duty to decide what clothing gives off certain messages in our culture,” McGaughy said.
Denison said she refuses to speak on modesty in such a way that discredits men or shames women. She also spoke of shaming questions that she received after her own rape. According to Denison, these types of questions can be detrimental.
“I was asked several times like ‘What were you doing that night?’ or ‘Were you leading him on?’” Denison said. “For the record, it was New Year’s, and I was wearing jeans, tall boots, a long black shirt and a green vest, so it wasn’t anything wild or crazy.”
Denison said she is passionate about modesty because enforcing a dress code does not protect people from harm, nor does telling people they are visually-oriented keep them from harming others.
According to the oxford Dictionary, rape culture is defined as a “society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” Denison drew a parallel to modesty culture, which often suggests that a woman must protect a man from sexually sinning because of her body.
“I think this is one of the more dangerous epidemics in our culture,” Denison said. “It fuels nothing but this assault and rape culture. It’s terrifying how it all connects.”