Enough is Enough

In the Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd, Sue tells the story of one Autumn afternoon that she stopped to see her fourteen-year-old daughter, Ann, at the store where she worked. She entered the store and saw Ann kneeling on the floor of the toothpaste aisle stocking the bottom shelf unaware of two men approaching her.

"The men stopped, peering down on her. One man nudged the other. He said, 'Now that's how I like to see a woman -- on her knees.' The other man laughed. Standing in the next aisle, I froze. I watched the expression that crept into my daughter's eyes as she looked up. I watched her chin drop and her hair fall across her face. Seeing her kneel at these men's feet while they laughed at her subordinate posture pierced me through."

Today, on my way to OCU to do a bit more studying, I had to pass a man on a bike on a slim stretch of sidewalk in front of Pirates Alley Picture Frames on 23rd. He was clean cut, wearing a short-sleeved button up plaid shirt, shorts, and sunglasses. Totally normal. He stared at me as I passed and said "what are you doing" at the same time I began nodding a thank you for letting me pass. I went the few extra feet to push the button for the crossing signal and he said "You need to cover up your body more."

I looked at him, confused. That was the beginning of his rant about how I needed to wear more clothes because I was being indecent. I needed to be more modest. I should be arrested because of my indecency, as should all women who don't cover up enough. Women who dress as I was dressed are the reason why society is so bad. We tempt men and mess with their minds. All societal ills on the backs of women.

My light couldn't turn green fast enough. He continued on, never moving, but I could hear him going on and on until I was over a block away. When I was out of his sight, I called OCU security.

This man was, very obviously, the victim of mental illness, or really bad at recovering from a failed pick-up line. Either way, no matter how irrational he was nor how much that contributed to a very uncomfortable situation for me, the words flying out of his mouth were words I've heard so many times before in various places, mostly in terms of morality, modesty, purity, cleanliness, etc. in terms of women and how what they do, say, dress is responsible for the temptings of men. He wasn't saying anything new, he was just saying it without a filter.

This man had learned all of the things I've been taught for my whole life, but here's the thing: I just don't buy it. Not a word when it comes to who is responsible for what in terms of modesty and temptation. Obviously, nobody taught this man that he is in charge of his own thoughts and actions. Modesty is not what a person is wearing. Modesty is the attitude of the person, male or female. A topless woman in a remote village is no less modest than a woman wearing a burka.

I, BrieAnn Lund Johnson, an endowed mormon woman who always wears two pieces of undergarments [a top with sleeves, and bottoms that go down to my knees], am no more modest in my appearance than a woman wearing a tank top and shorts that don't make it past mid-thigh. What matters is the decency with which you present yourself. I don't want to deal with the superficiality of whether or not some skin shows when my daughters arms are raised, or if the tips of her fingertips go past the bottom of her shorts. I want to teach them how to be proud, and to carry themselves with dignity. They're not just a body, they're a mind, and a spirit, and too much emphasis is placed on the physical. I developed a horrible slouch in middle school and high school. Shirts were never long enough for my super long torso, and the only way to keep my midriff from showing was to slouch. I crumpled myself trying to conform to this very particular standard of physical modesty.

But this isn't just about modesty. What he said was not just about clothes. Just as I was his example of a harlot, he is my example of something going too far. We live in a country that boasts freedom, but women are still oppressed in the patriarchal system that so many societies continue to perpetuate. The exchange between him and I would never happen in reverse. And this was just a verbal exchange. This was a minor assertion of superiority over me. I am lucky.
Too many women are not.

My security was temporarily violated, my heart rate elevated. I recently heard the story of a woman in the DRC who was given two choices by a rebel: Rape or her husband would be killed. She chose rape, and the husband she saved in that choice left her because she was no longer "clean." Women whose bodies have been overpowered have not lost their sacredness. They are still "clean" and "pure" and "perfect" and "whole." And all of the other words we use that mean the opposite of less than. Our bodies are always sacred.

We live in a society where sexual violations are atrocities. [So long as the woman didn't get what was coming to her because of the way she was dressed, right?] There are too many things that happen to women and girls all over the world that we can hardly fathom, but encounters like the one I had today that lands so small on the scale that it's hardly a blip remind me that there is a long road ahead for all women. I live in a society where I have more power, even if my power is limited by outdated cultural norms. I have power to stand up and be a voice of equality for women around the world. Our bodies are our own. And we are more than just our bodies.

After a glimpse of self reflection, Sue Monk Kidd says:
"Those men with their blithe joke had no idea they had tapped a reservoir of pain and defiance in me. It was unstoppable now, by any earthly force. I walked toward them. 'I have something to say to you, and I want you to hear it,' I said. They stopped laughing. Ann looked up. 'This is my daughter,' I said, pointing to her, my finger shaking with anger. 'You may like to see her and other women on their knees, but we don't belong there. We don't belong there!'"
My finger is shaking in anger. These are my sisters. They are mine, and enough is enough.

PS: If you're wondering what I was wearing, that very thought defeats the purpose of what I've said, but to satisfy curiosity, I was wearing some bermuda shorts and a t-shirt.


  1. Well said, BrieAnn. I think all ills in our society would mend themselves if people just took responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. It's easier to blame someone else than change ourselves.

    Modesty is tricky. I totally agree with all you said, but I do believe there is modesty in dress. Just as there is modesty in speech, thoughts and actions. I believe, a woman in a burka is much more modest than a woman in a bikini.

    But I don't agree that we should cover up to keep the thoughts of men pure, which is often taught(I had one of my laurels bring that up in class not too long ago). We cover our bodies properly to show the respect that we have for our bodies and see them as the gift that they are.

    PS I just have to add this: Your heart might soften a little when you have a boy. I feel I have taught my boys well, but I know it is getting hard for them starting puberty. Their little minds don't know what to do sometimes.

  2. And, you are right. We are lucky woman to live as we do. There are too many woman who suffer in this world because of the superiority men feel they have over us. Far too many!

  3. I love your passion to fight for women. Beautifully said. And although I also believe there is modesty in dress, I strongly agree with your desire to teach your daughters that they are more than a physical body. Sometimes that message is hard to teach to girls these days.

  4. Kendra sent me your way and I just want to tell you that this is completely perfect. Thank you!



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