The Harms of Projecting the Mormon Male Gaze Onto Young Women


Last Sunday a male speaker visiting my ward repeated a variation of a joke that always makes me cringe, “the more doors that get slammed in your face as a missionary, the prettier your wife will be.”

All the versions I’ve heard of this joke have something to do with the hardships or accolades a young man experiences as a missionary (knocking doors,  saying prayers, being an AP, changing flat tires, days spent fasting, etc) and their inevitable reward of a “pretty” wife for doing so.

My heart rate rushed and my face burned as I heard the congregation titter in response. I looked around to see if I could find any other horrified or embarrassed faces. The young women near the back deadpanned the joke.

I approached the man afterward, thanked him for visiting our ward and for the other nice remarks he made in his talk, then asked, “When you made the joke about slamming doors and pretty wives, what did you mean by that?”

He smiled and told me it was something that he and the other missionaries would say to each other during tough times as a way to keep their spirits up. I was really glad to hear him explain the context and it gave me an appreciation for how difficult it can be for missionaries to stay positive about their work when everything feels like a failure.

I said, “I’ve heard this joke a lot, and I’ve also heard how it affects the young women and girls, including me. It can make us feel like a young man expects to be rewarded with a pretty wife after serving a mission, or that we’re a trophy he earns for enduring hardship.  It’s also hurtful because it makes us feel like we’re only valued for our looks, not for our kindness, or our personality, or our spirituality.  And for the women who consider their looks to be a little plain, it can make us feel like we’re not deserving of a man who worked hard on his mission.”

The man’s face was instantly compassionate and he said, “Oh, I’m so sorry! I never even thought of it that way, but what you’re saying makes sense. Thank you so much for telling me.”

I continued, “Thank you for hearing what I had to say, it means a lot to me that you’ll consider my experience.  From the perspective of the person who is made the butt of the joke, it can really sting. If you’re going to speak to audiences that include women and girls in the future, I’d recommend not using that joke again.”

He said, “Oh, absolutely. You’re totally right. Thank you so much for telling me. I’ll be sure to do that.”

We shook hands, wished each other well, and I breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that he was so receptive to the effects of perpetuating the joke. I have full faith in his integrity that he will think differently about addressing audiences with girls and women present, and I hope he’ll also think of what the young men internalize about women from jokes like that.


The joke described above is one of the ways the Mormon Male Gaze is projected onto the young women of our church.

The Mormon Male Gaze (from ‘male gaze’) is rooted in the flawed idea that a young woman’s body is automatically, inherently sexually alluring to the priesthood holding men all around her. She is alternately seen as a temptation to be eschewed or a reward to be given.  Both interpretations objectify the young woman for her body. When the Mormon Male Gaze befalls a girl, the young woman herself bears the burden of being appropriately alluring, so as to be a reward to “worthy” young men, while not being overly alluring to “tempt” other men. According to the many accounts I gathered, the projection of this Mormon Male Gaze is usually done by adult women to younger girls, or by women to each other.  The projection of the gaze exists even when the threat of actual gaze does not.

From a young girl’s first lessons on modesty, she is educated in the inevitability of the Mormon Male Gaze being upon her at all times. Girls are informed of this gaze by their parents, church leaders, seminary teachers, and sometimes even by the men or boys themselves.  She is told that men and boys will be looking at her, noticing her clothing, appearance and exposed body parts, and likely having sexually arousing thoughts about her if they find her “too” attractive.  The effects of this projection are deeply harmful to a young woman’s developing self-esteem, body image and internal sense of worth and beauty. It breeds tremendous amounts of sexual shame, which may follow her throughout her life. It flies in the face of other teachings our young women receive about their individual worth, and emphasizes that man truly does look on the outward appearance, despite assurances that the Lord looketh on the heart.

Projecting the Mormon Male Gaze onto girls is horribly insulting to men and young men as well, as it ungenerously presupposes that all men and young men default to seeing young women primarily as sexual objects.  It unfairly characterizes young men as walking erections, waiting to go off at any time, in no control of their own thoughts, and without ability to process their attraction or arousal in appropriate ways.  It is debasing to men and young men to speak of them having so little control over their minds and actions.

Here are some examples (as experienced personally by the group of friends I asked) of the ways we must STOP projecting the Mormon Male Gaze onto our girls:

The Lustful Priesthood Guardian Fallacy:  Young women leaders often prohibit girls from wearing shorts, tank tops, or swimming suits at Girls’ camp or other activities with the rationale “we don’t want to tempt the Priesthood leaders.”

Priesthood holders are present at Girls’ camp in case of emergency, to assist with Priesthood blessings for sudden illness or injury, and to help with various tasks around the camp. There are excellent reasons for prohibiting certain types of clothing at camp (ticks, poisonous plants, scorpions, sunburn, etc.) But telling young women that the men assigned to help, protect, and bless them are simultaneously titillated by seeing their bare legs or shoulders is alarmingly disturbing.

If a man cannot be trusted to be in control of his own mind when surrounded by girls at Girls’ camp or other youth activities, someone else should be assigned to go. If the men attending Girls’ camp knew they were described as being so easily “tempted,” would they stand for such assaults on their character?

Imagine a gender-swapped version of this: “Young men may not go shirtless at scout camp so they don’t tempt the women” and the utter ridiculousness of the statement is even more apparent.

We harm our girls and denigrate our men when tell young women that their Priesthood leaders are “tempted” by them.

The Pretty/Virgin wife as reward for man’s righteousness fallacy

“The more you pray on your mission, the hotter your wife will be.”

“The more doors you knock, the prettier your wife will be. If you knock doors in the rain, you’ll get 2 wives.”

“Stay pure to give the gift of your virginity to your husband on your wedding night.”

Leaders who require girls to accept the invitation of boys to dance at church dances.

YW activities which emphasize hair, makeup and grooming as ways to attract a husband.

“I bought you dinner and was a perfect gentleman all night; don’t I deserve a kiss?”

When young women hear that the most valuable attribute for attracting a husband is their appearance, and that their virginity can be given to a man like a prize, it reinforces the harmful dynamic that a woman’s power is found in her looks and her sexual availability.  It devalues her talent, brains, skill, intelligence, and spirituality. It can actually encourage her to compete with other girls, using her looks and sexual availability to get what she wants.  It unnecessarily focuses on what her body looks like as an ornament vs what it can do as an instrument, (including athletics, music, dance, etc.) Girls who don’t feel attractive or who don’t receive attention from boys may consider themselves less valuable as a wife, or less deserving of a loving marriage.  Some young women may under-achieve academically or professionally because they perceive their looks to be of higher priority and value for finding a husband.  Girls who have been sexually abused may try to make themselves intentionally unattractive to avoid further abuse.  They may feel they have no bodily autonomy, that everyone else is in charge of their body except them. Girls who are not virgins on their wedding night may feel unworthy of a kind husband or loving marriage. Young men may assume the faulty premise that they are entitled to an attractive spouse according to the barometer of their own personal righteousness. This sense of entitlement can lead young men into forcing unwanted physical contact on girls.

Men and women, parents leaders of youth, even youth themselves, must stop making jokes about pretty girls being given to men as rewards.

The Modest is Hottest/SexyModest fallacy

In order to be “hot” or “sexy” (alluring) to virtuous Mormon men, a girl must be “modest.”   The typical way modesty is addressed in church settings is less about moderation in behavior, demeanor or speech, and almost entirely in relation to hemlines and how much flesh is showing in which places. So while not showing too much flesh in the wrong places, a young woman is told she should still want to be seen as “sexy” or “hot” (read: sexually enticing or arousing) to Mormon young men around her.  But, girls are simultaneously told to avoid dressing in a way that will arouse young men.  Which is it? What an impossible, confusing mixed message!  A young woman can be attractive and fashionable without the burden of being “hot” or “sexy” at the same time.

“Modest is hottest!” as a catch phrase has got to go.

The women as gate-keepers fallacy

“It’s your job to keep the boys from going too far.”

“You don’t want to be the reason why a boy doesn’t go on a mission.”

“You have to keep the brakes on in your relationship. Once he hits the point of no return, he can’t go back.”

Women who dress immodestly “become pornography” to the men who see them. (As though walking-while-female were a sex act.)

When girls are told they are the gate-keepers to men’s chastity, many negative effects can take hold. Some girls avoid participating in sports, exercise or dancing to avoid being seen as a sexual object.  Girls may adopt rigid body motions to avoid revealing midriff.  They can grow to have an irrational mistrust of men having ulterior motives. Girls may become ashamed of going through puberty, of having their period, or of how their body develops. They may hold an unnatural or poor posture to avoid drawing attention to a large bust line.  Girls may intentionally wear unattractive clothing to prevent attention directed to their breasts or hips.  These beliefs can grow into unhealthy patterns of sexual shame, including “Good Girl Syndrome” which heightens sexual intimacy problems in marriage. Telling a young woman she has no ‘gas’ is just as bad as telling a young man he has no ‘brakes.’ (Watch this video for more info about sexual “gas” and “brakes.”)

Perhaps the most horrific consequences of this fallacy are that women may not recognize sexual aggression, harassment or assault. Even worse, by believing a man can’t control himself, she may blame herself for the acts of sexual aggression perpetrated against her.

For the safety of all our girls, we must stop telling them that they are the gate-keepers of men’s sexual restraint.


It is possible that some Mormon men and boys may assert their gaze on a young woman and entertain sexual thoughts about her. Those thoughts in their own heads are their own business, and are not the responsibility of the girl. We do not need to constantly remind our girls of the possibility of these thoughts, or even project onto them a gaze which isn’t there.  Our girls do not deserve the blame, burden, or insecurity that comes with worrying about what other people think about them. They need freedom to grow, express themselves, explore, exercise, and develop without shame.

Why do adult women body-police and shame girls about the ways men and boys are looking at them?  Why do men and young men talk about “pretty wives/virgin wives” as rewards for righteous behaviors? The lingering consequences of non-consensual, oppressive polygamy culture  are still hurting us today, especially in the ways young women and their appearances are treated. Some LDS women seem to have it encoded in their pioneer DNA to be threatened at the thought of their husbands seeing beautiful, attractive, fertile young women. Rather than resolving these insecurities with their husbands, some LDS women tell the young women to cover up and to be afraid of men’s thoughts about them.   Men and young men have grown up hearing that only the most elite and most righteous men were “given” additional wives in the early days of the church, and the “women as reward” fallacy has been reinforced ever since.

As leaders, parents, teachers and friends, we must stop ourselves and others from perpetuating these harmful ways of speaking to young women and young men. We should encourage our youth toward autonomy of mind and body, of dressing appropriately for their own comfort according to the activity they’re attending.  We should build the confidence of our young women by emphasizing their positive attributes and character as the most valuable contributions to their relationships. We must stop projecting our own irrational fears and insecurities onto them.

How do you experience the Mormon Male Gaze? Or how has it been projected onto you?


Violadiva is an oxymoron, a musician, a yogi, a Suzuki violin teacher, a late-night baker of sourdough breads, proud Mormon feminist, happy wife of Pianoman and lucky mother to three.

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149 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Having grown up being taught implicitly all these ideas and hearing these jokes, etc. I can say that it has made dating very difficult. I experience severe anxiety with men and have found it difficult to build trusting relationships because I was taught from a very young age that men were not to be trusted. That men saw me as only a sexual object/prize. I love that you bring up the conflict with what we’re taught in young women’s about our individual worth and divine nature etc. I was always empowered by these lessons and internalized the messages taught—I have a generally good level of self esteem and confidence in myself. I don’t trust men because I was taught equally that I am more than my body but also that men only want me for my body. The ideas cannot coexist and dating has been made an immense challenge.

    • Violadiva says:

      Such a real, and very painful consequence of a life time of being spoken to like this. The dissonance we create in young women by complicating their body image and sense of self is so damaging. Bucket loads of blessings on you, friend, in overcoming these challenges.

    • KLN says:

      “I was taught equally that I am more than my body but also that men only want me for my body. ”
      This puts it so succinctly and perfectly.
      My mother regularly reminded me that men wouldn’t want to be with me if I was fat. She weighed me from the time I was around 9 to when I was in high school. I have rarely even been overweight on a BMI standards (not that this behavior would be acceptable had that been the case – just an illustration of the rigidity of this attitude). I have atypical anorexia that took some ten to fifteen years to diagnose, and my mom to this day will remind me that men cannot be attracted to fat women.

      She was always baffled that I went on to express strong resentment towards men and a lack of desire to be with them. You can’t teach girls that all men will dehumanize them and expect girls to look forward to marrying one.

  2. This problem has gotten especially bad in my ward recently — even though we have no YM/YW program, and the YSAs in our area have their own ward. We have young married men speaking from the pulpit about their missions — one of them not long ago told us TWICE in the same talk that we know he was a good missionary, because just look at how hot his wife is. Then a few weeks later, his wife opened her own talk with “I’m the hot wife you’ve heard so much about.” I kid you not.

    Thank you for this post. Its content is true. Its tone is professional. It is a needed corrective in our culture.

  3. Bonni says:

    So many harmful effects of this that you described I have experienced. Most recently, the effect of being raised this way made sexual abuse harder to recognize, harder to report, and more traumatic to this day continued. I hope that I can teach my daughters to see through those fallacies.

  4. anon says:

    the most recent way I’ve experienced the projection of the Mormon male gaze from another woman was when she told me to cover my breast while feeding my baby in church. she didn’t want “the Priesthood” to see me nursing.

  5. SC says:

    On my mission overseas, it was called “wife points,” and elders earned their way to beautiful wives by knocking on doors despite bad weather, poor health, repeated rejection, or other discouraging conditions. In addition to the male gaze issues, my mission’s “wife points” fallacy additionally excluded female missionaries (“husband points” were never mentioned), pushed elders to disregard their mental health or potentially dangerous/unhealthy situations in pursuit of new converts/beautiful wives, and turned testifying of truth into a game where there were “points” to be scored, rather than truths to testify of simply because that was the right thing to do.

  6. AS says:

    This is amazing and I am sharing it far and wide (well, on Facebook, anyway). I feel this so much for so many reasons I’m not ready to share on a public space. Thank you!

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is SO harmful to single people in the church– men and women. It suggests that marriage of any kind is a reward for faithfulness. If there’s no spouse, then there must be some deep deficiency in the person since greater faithfulness= being worthy of love. It also reinforces the idea of relationships being a zero sum game. There are a limited quantity of “ideal” men or women, and every success by another human is a failure in your own column. The whole thing, as you’ve said so well, turns people into things and human connection into a competition.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Oh, brother. Another article that projects some undesirable trait or action onto an entire group. (And, as if a missionary joke is taken as more than a joke.) Move along. Nothing to see here.

    • Tim says:

      When it is prolific, and has real negative consequences on girls and boys, women and men, it is not a joke. If we spend more time trying to understand the emotional, spiritual, and psychological effects of our words and teachings on other people then we will recognize how even the little things can make a huge difference. I think you will find that if you speak sincerely with more people and ask them their thoughts and feelings, it will be revealed to you that the problem is wider and deeper than you might think.

    • Kel R. says:

      There is a lot to learn here. While you may not fall under this group, it is real enough for others. As much as you’d like to say that you do not fall guilty to this, your response shows arrogance in different areas. Not being open to an idea that effects others excludes you from the opportunity to look out for others; it puts their problems below yours. Trust me, as a guy who thinks he’s overall good, I sometimes find myself wound up with the attacks on men in media and more these days. Nonetheless, there is merit to this and a lot of other problems. Whether it applies to you directly or not, it is good to be aware and find some solution rather than dismiss it entirely.

    • Ash says:

      Agreed. The author is a “feminist”, so that explains everything (victim mentality).

    • Ziff says:

      Oh, wait! I have the interpretation! Anonymous is saying “I don’t experience this, so it doesn’t really matter.” Well done with the empathy, Anonymous!

      Also, Ash, I think Violadiva is an actual feminist, not a “feminist.”

    • Generic Name 1 says:

      Hmm seems like the strongest projection is coming from this comment. The examples used in this article are all specific and real – I have heard ALL of them in my lifetime, a lifetime spent deep within Church culture. I’m a male and I’ve heard them all. I saw my sisters wade through all of these challenges and I can speak firsthand to the shallow nature of those mission jokes.

      I’m not sure why you are so dismissive of this article – if it’s a political hangup or what. But I almost get a sense that this article’s main audience is meant for dismissive folk, so I encourage you to read it again (assuming you read it the first time), and think empathetically about what the message is. Perhaps you’re trying to pick a fight, I don’t know. I take this article very seriously because one day I may have daughters of my own, and the last thing I want is for them to feel like they are not worthy of love.

      • Generic Name 1 says:

        I caught up on the comments and would amend my original statement. But I still stand by my final comment about raising a daughter.

      • Minnie says:

        It’s a handful of different people all posting as “anonymous” I think your original statement concerning this “anonymous” person’s remark is accurate.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Let me first start off by saying that I know that everyone has different experiences with modesty and this is a real issue people face. I am not discounting anyone’s experiences or abuse in any way. However, when I first read this article I was a little annoyed because I felt one idea of men and modesty was being projected on everyone in the church and that everyone who has been through the youth program has had this exact experience and felt overly sexualized, which is not true. I was fortunate to be in a ward and have parents that taught me about modesty and sexual purity in a way that was always encouraging. It was always taught as a way to prepare me for future covenants that I would make. Growing up, I never felt like the way I decided to cover my body was to prevent the men in the church having temptation. I never felt sexualized or that I was responsible for other people’s actions. I have always seen modesty as something good for me, not for the people around me. As I was discussing this topic with my roommate, she told me many stories of how the lessons presented to her in classes were always negative and presented in a way similar to what was discussed in this article, that she needed to keep herself covered so that men wouldn’t be tempted or do anything to her. With that said, I can remember times where a young man in the ward would tell me or my friend to pull up the tank top we had on under our shirt because it had slipped down a little too low or would tell us our bra strap was poking out from the side of our shirt. I would always get annoyed because, while they might have been trying to be helpful, there was no need to draw attention to it or for them to take responsibility for how my clothes shifted throughout the day. This made me realize that the lessons I was getting from my young women’s leaders and the lessons the young men were getting from their leaders were probably completely different. Although I was annoyed at this article when I began reading it, I now appreciate it because it has made me aware of problems I did not know existed and helped me understand how others have felt. It is something that needs to be discussed. I think the change needs to come from leaders and parents teaching the youth what modesty is truly about and not that it is a protective measure to keep others from having innappropriate thoughts and feelings.

  10. Lesli Summers-Stay says:

    Many many years ago, our relief society had a special meeting about the importance of modesty for our young women. (and modesty meant hemlines, etc) They invited one of the bishopric in to speak to us. He was a middle aged (50’s) dentist. He spoke feelingly about how young women have no idea of the thoughts that their clothing puts in men’s minds, even middle aged men like him. He spoke about how even middle aged doctors like him have problems when young women wear revealing clothing. He said specifically that when he is working on the teeth of young women with low cut shirts he gets terrible thoughts in his head. He was clearly very earnest, and embarrassed to be using such a personal example, but the impression he gave off was that he was using himself as a concrete example even though it was embarrassing in order to show the youth and women in the relief society just how important how they dress is, and that it can affect older men as well as younger men. He was a nice guy. The women in the relief society were thankful for his warnings and told him so repeatedly. I was the only one there who tried to call him on it. I told him his thoughts were his own responsibility, whatever young women wore. Even though this was so many years ago, (and there are so many of these stories in my life), this one has stuck with me. No one liked my comments. The “walking pornography” idea is so pervasive in the church.

  11. gman says:

    There’s a lot going on here. A few honest questions:

    Is it “bad” for men to desire a pretty woman?

    Is it automatically “objectification” if a man finds a pretty woman sexually appealing?

    Could this not be just as easily seen as a compliment since the woman he eventually marries will be considered “an answer to prayers” and a “reward from heaven”? I don’t see how that is base. It could even be seen as romantic.

    In the name of avoiding potential feelings of shame, should young women not be warned about creepy men? I don’t like being characterized as creepy or sex-obsessed just cause I’m a guy, but I also know there are real creepers out there and not warning girls about that could lead to much worse problems than insecurity.

    If you yourself are saving your sexual expression for marriage, is it bad to want to marry someone who has done the same?

    • Dani Addante says:

      No, I don’t think it’s bad for a man to want a pretty spouse. After all, women want handsome spouses too. The bad thing is when the women’s way of dress is blamed for men’s inappropriate thoughts. Men are responsible for their own thoughts and shouldn’t blame it on women.

      I like the “answer to prayers” you mentioned, but not the “reward” idea. The idea of a woman as a reward doesn’t seem like a compliment to me, because I’ve seen this idea so many times in movies and books, when it talks about how “the hero gets the girl.” It’s always the women who are described as rewards. Women are not trophies to be won. They are active individuals, not passive.

      I can’t imagine a young woman not being warned about creepy men. I’ve been warned about this my whole life by my parents. On my mission, lots of creepy men would flirt with me and my comp, even though we were wearing winter coats. Creepy men will bother people no matter how the people are dressed.

      I think it’s good for people to save themselves for marriage. But when people talk about the law of chastity they usually talk about it as if it’s more important for women to be chaste. Chastity is just as important for men.

  12. Ash says:

    Typical victim mentality of a “feminist”.

  13. Martine Smith says:

    So many women now serving missions,and yet this has not translated into “if you’re a great sister missionary and take rejection well you’ll get a hunk for a husband.” I wonder why not?

    • Anonymous says:

      The same thing happens with the sister missionaries too so if you think they aren’t getting tracting points in the ran to get a hot husband it happens. I tracted a lot and got a hot husband!

      • Sister N says:

        Respectfully, this isn’t a thing. On my mission, we never talked about how attractive our husbands would be. The focus was on serving the Lord and nothing else. Besides, lots of faithful, obedient sister missionaries that I know have been home for years now and have yet to marry. Did they not tract enough? Were they secretly disobedient? I doubt it.

      • A. says:

        Never served a mission, but I was totally taught in YW that if I prayed more then I’d get a hot husband. And it worked. And I prayed for my babies to be beautiful too and that also worked. And I testify to this day that God answers prayers! Lol 😋

        But a little more seriously, and an honest question, where is the line between a little joke, objectification, and sincere answers to prayers?

    • Violadiva says:

      A few women I spoke to reported hearing the joke go the other way, but it didn’t seem to carry the same sting. My feeling is that the joke the boys tell came first, (given the age of the man speaking in my ward, all the way back from his missionary days, the joke must have been running for the last 25+ years to the present) and was built upon the “pretty wife as reward fallacy.” I imagine some groups of girls started using the opposite as a way to retaliate. The men’s joke feels like a big punch down, the women’s version of it a paltry attempt at a punch up. And the women’s version of the joke is lacking all of the other history and cultural baggage that the men’s joke comes pre-loaded with.
      Obviously neither should be used, but I think I see where the girls version comes from – an attempt to level a very tilted playing field.

      • FemAnonzi says:

        Long-time Mormon feminist and victim of the Mormon patriarchy here. I was told by a female leader as a flat-chested 12-year-old that my leotard was making it “hard” for a member of the bishopric to feel the Spirit at a mutual activity. I’ve been preaching the gospel of a lot of the sentiments expressed in this article for years. I just wanted to add, however, that sisters really do make the “more-rejection-hotter-the-husband” joke in the mission field, but I would have thought myself delusional if I had believed for one second that any of that hokum was real. I understand that the anecdote at the beginning was a useful rhetorical tool for setting up the larger more severe issues in this article, but I just want to defend the poor boys who make that joke. I think we could do a better job as feminists not to alienate the very people we’re trying to reach by –I’m sorry to say it– overreacting. I’ve never thought to be offended by this joke until I read your post, so I can image that less “woke” people who need this message would have a hard time taking the rest of the argument (a valid one) seriously. Maybe this is internalized misogyny, but I also think there are bigger fish to fry than making someone feel terrible for what was clearly an innocent (and I truly believe that) remark.

      • Violadiva says:

        Yes, the sister missionary version of the joke is occasionally told, and seems to have come from the men’s version of the joke as an attempt toward reciprocity. Without the same power dynamics, and societal history of women as men’s possessions, it pokes more fun at the original joke than it does threaten a man in quite the same way. I don’t believe my comments to the visiting speaker in my ward made him feel terrible. I was polite and kind, he was gracious, there was no ill will. To tone police a feminist as “overreacting” to the presence of misogyny is poor taste. The “poor boys” who make jokes about possessing women will make even better husbands if someone points out to them along the way that a partnership marriage is a much better “reward” than a trophy wife.

  14. Being disabled I was hit with this gaze in the hardest manner. I wasn’t thought of as pretty or even good looking. While at Ricks I got the message that I was poor wife material. I left Ricks depressed and angry. It hurt me deeply. I learned to use my head. In mormon culture I would not marry.

    I met a man who married me. the day we met I was wearing a turtle neck style dress and he said it was the sexiest thing!

    I’m now widowed and have left the church…too much junk to deal with. The gaze sent me grazing in another pasture and it is far better.

  15. JP says:

    Thank your perspective. I would agree with one of the comments that we are responsible for our thoughts…as a man…or woman for that matter. I heard President McKay say “reap a thought, sew a habit….” or something to that effect. But I also say physiologically, guys are just stimulated and attracted to the female figure, it’s a trigger…AND THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT AND THAT IS NOT A SIN!!! And because men are carnally minded, of course they say stupid stuff like “If I tract more, my wife will be hotter,” because a physically attractive woman is what they are after, its what they can do for motivation. And I would further add that I hope that my spouse I would find attractive…but if it’s just purely on looks…than that is a very shallow footing for a foundation. So we can teach virtue and class, along with self respect and discipline. On a different note, I’d like to say, in my personal opinion, we need to talk about sex in a mature way within the church. Stop tiptoeing around it. Sex is not a bad thing. Yet, there are many who choose to vilify it, dismissing its value and virtue within a marriage. Thank you for your article and appreciate your perspective, I don’t agree with everything you said, but I do appreciate your perspective.

  16. Ziff says:

    This is one of the best things I’ve ever read on the Bloggernacle! Thanks so much for hitting so many negative consequences and possible solutions for this problem, Violadiva. I wish every member, and especially every leader, in the Church would read it.

  17. SC says:

    Wow, the number of polygamy culturist/rape culturist replies from men on this post who insist that having a hot wife is within their rights is so, so telling. After I left the Utah corridor (with all of its lovely single ladies) for the east coast, Indiscvered a world where women of all shapes and sizes were happily married all over this place. All the angst about singlehood that seems to permeate Utah culture doesn’t exist out here—men here don’t shop for women based on looks as much and there isn’t the same scarcity of eligible bachelors, so women find mates more easily out here (maybe it helps them that there isn’t a patriarchy dictating to the women what kind of spouse they should be choosing). So I am reading these LDS men’s replies and kind of gagging right now—thinking I kind of want to root for my daughters to marry outside the church, because out here, the men don’t feel constantly entitled to a hot spouse. Sheesh.

  18. Jeffrey says:

    When YW are being taught to be modest are you assuming the YM aren’t being taught in their own seperate classrooms not to be chavanistic dickheads?

    Does the gospel teach us to be our brothers keeper or doesn’t it?

    • Ziff says:

      What the YM are being taught is not *at all* parallel to what YW are being taught. I’m all for YM being taught not to be sexists, and as a man, I definitely got some of that teaching at church. But I think it’s safe to say that YM are pretty much never taught that their value lies in their ability to attract a woman, but not be *too* attractive to women, else they cause the women to sin.

      And remember that all of this takes place in the larger context of a church where both YW and YM are taught at every moment in every church interaction that the church is *for* men, and that women are merely auxiliary. What message does it send when only YM are ordained to the priesthood, and they’re told that it’s the power of God on the earth, and that they have more power than the Pope, and YW are . . . told to prepare for marriage? What message does it send when YM perform a very public ordinance every week, with the priests standing in for Jesus himself? What message does it send when every sacrament meeting is presided over by multiple men, when men constitute the majority of the speakers, and when men typically speak last?

      And none of this even touches what goes on at a general level, where the governing bodies of the Church are made up entirely of men, with women at the general level being at the same level as the General Sunday School Presidency, called for a few years and serving only when called by men over them. And most importantly, what message does it send when these men at the top of the Church hierarchy routinely talk about the importance of women as being useful objects in their own lives, with hardly a mention of women’s own experience as being important? The entire structure of the Church practically shouts sexism, and you think that a few YM leaders teaching YM *not* to be chauvinists is going to overcome that?

    • Moss says:

      Jeffrey, you’re making it about men. The point of this article, and Ziff’s comment, is how women are impacted by everything at church being by men and for men and about men- even how women and girls are treated, taught, and talked about is all centered on men. Please listen to how being raised this way alienated many of your sisters from the men around them and from their own bodies.

  19. Aubrey Barton says:

    I was molested by my grandfather from the ages 9, 10 & 11. Then I entered young women’s. I was taught that the way I dressed and acted would make a worthy priesthood holder feel or think a certain way. I shoved down my abuse because of the shame that I tempted my own grandfather, until years and years later. I didn’t come forward with my abuse, I all my little sisters were abused after me and dealt with the same issues of shame, and guilt that was perpetuated every Sunday at Young Women’s. Modesty needs to be taught in a way that empowers young women, and doesn’t hold them accountable for young men’s thoughts and actions.

    • Violadiva says:

      Aubrey, I’m so sorry for this awful thing that happened to you. I believe you, and I know it wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry that the people and systems closest to you made it worse instead of being able to protect you and your sisters from further harm. I’m praying down all the blessings I can for you and your sisters.

    • WT says:

      Blaming the victim must stop. This article exposes the pathetic members that refuse to take responsibility for their own actions. That being said we live in a overly sexualized society that tries to tie sex to everything.
      I teach my children that you choose to be modest due to the power you hold not because you are ashamed of yourself. And the principle doesn’t stop there. We should be modest in everything we have been given power in.

  20. May says:

    This article is painfully accurate. Being told “your worth is more than rubies” while also hearing about all of the young men & priesthood holders who were addicted to pornography was internally deeply conflicting. I was the only girl required to wear a tshirt over my Nike one piece at youth conference because it was distracting to the husband’s/priesthood. We had a member of the bishopric give a lesson saying “Whatever skin is showing, can be touched. So don’t show any skin you don’t want others touching ladies. What message does it send if you are a “look but don’t touch,” this isn’t a museum!”
    Equal parts “You’re priceless, let your light so shine!” vs “Cover yourself up & hide who you are it’s too much for the guys to handle.”

  21. May says:

    When I was 17 getting my YW recognition award, the bishop said over the pulpit, “Don’t be fooled, even though she has a body of sin, her heart and actions are pure. This is her 2nd medallion & 2nd Honey Bee.”
    I was 17. The congregation laughed and thought it was funny how red in the face I was. The bishop & bishopric also made many jokes throughout my yw years about how “I should watch out, I should lock my doors at night, being the girl all the boys loved and all their mother’s didn’t, ‘if I was a younger man I would’ve loved to take you out’, etc.”
    I was more pestered by the grown men in church as a teenager than I was of other actual teenage boys. In Bishop’s interviews they would always repeat law of chastity questions as if they just couldn’t believe my answers of “nope, I don’t have any problems/concerns to clear up”, the fear of being the busty blonde slut was so strong that I didn’t even let a boy kiss me until I was a returned missionary and 21 years old. I had always felt branded with a scarlet letter because of how I looked when I didn’t even do anything remotely sexual or out of bounds.
    I also served a mission and heard “the more doors you knock the prettier your wife will be” and “the more doors you knock the more righteous your husband will be.” So pretty women = righteous men apparently.. I also heard more often than my heart likes to admit “the more doors in the rain you knock, the more wives you will get in the Celestial Kingdom,” which was such a lovely thing to hear the elders repeating as a sister missionary.
    I quickly came to realize that no matter what I wore- disrespect & blame were thrown at me regardless. I was cat called just as often by priesthood holding Mormon men in Utah as I was by random men in England, whether in skinny jeans as a teenager or in soaking wet black baggy ankle length skirts as a sister missionary.
    Women are not prizes to be won. Women are not responsible for men’s thoughts & actions. Yet it’s been implied in every word & deed in doctrine & culture.

    • Jan Signore says:

      May, I am so sorry for the experiences you have had, for the blatant sexism you were subjected to at church. It is so wrong and such a betrayal of trust in what should be a positive, loving, and safe place to worship and learn of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
      I agree with your conclusion, it is deeply rooted in our culture and structure. I hope we can somehow change our church culture and practice to regard women as truly equal. It seems a gargantuan task.

  22. Mike says:

    5 sisters, 4 daughters, and my first granddaughter to be born next month. Developmental psychologist specializing in adolescence. Thanks for the perspective.

  23. Title 9 says:

    Wow interesting piece that brings up many points but completely ignores women gazing on young men. Yes, women gaze on men. It is a 2 way street, and using this authors logic would throw many women under the bus!

    When I was a self-conscience and awkward 9th grader I heard Candace telling Heidi and Holli (the twins) in Mr. Smith’s 9th grade government class how hot the new boy in class was, Chris. Candace went on about how she was dying to meet him, and actually quoted the Pointer Sisters classic hit “He’s so shy, but so good lookin.” Just think of the emotions that ran through my developing mind, the gender stereotypes thrown on me by these young ladies, the GAZE!!!! I was not good looking, and I felt society’s norms, female norms, and expectations on me and I was not measuring up. These institutionalized expectations were and are harmful!

    After college I was slow to find meaningful employment. I was dating Natali. She dumped me because, as she so well said later, she found a man with “a real job.” An accountant. I was crushed. I was castigated for not measuring up to her and societies expectation of being the male breadwinner. I was not man enough- the Female Gaze of what a man should be- that male pressure to provide, I was a failure at that point in my life. Thankfully I found work and became a productive member of society, good enough to win female approval and finally was good enough that I was deemed worthy of female acceptance.

    Yes, there is women gaze. It is harmful. It is institutionalized. It is both in the Church and in society. Would someone write an article about how Women Gaze is real and needs changing from the top down?
    In the spirit of ERA, Title 9, and all things equal, we need to address Women Gaze with equal column inches as this issue addressed here. And I am serious.

    • KLN says:

      Hi, here’s a huge organization of women working to dismantle the idea that only men can be breadwinners in the Mormon church.

    • Ziff says:

      I’m sure the Exponent will be happy to publish such a piece when the church at the general level is entirely run by women, who get to enshrine their female gaze in church doctrine, policy, and folklore.

      Also, don’t forget that you’re welcome to start your own blog and write about whatever you want!

  24. Michnellelurv says:

    When I was at the MTC we had Elder Ballard come on and gave a talk and also had a question& answer afterwards
    One elder came up and asked if he worked hard he would get a hot wife. He told said that his mother was way better looking than his father and it was mind boggling to him that his dad married a good looking women. Elder Ballard pretty much dismissed home for that stupid question.
    In dating for me has been rough. I know that I am not a traditional beauty. I even had a senior missionary told me that. I only get mltr beautiful the longer they got to know me. In this quick to judge culture componded by social media I am left in the dust. I even had a “priesthood” holder friend tell me that the reason I am single is that I am unf***able. I am like thanks dude. I even lost 125 lbs and I still wasn’t good enough for anybody.

  25. I grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon polygamist group. Our shaming was equally as oppressive, and my experience was that the Mormon Male Gaze was not only effectively projected on us, as girls, but ever present in reality.

    Living polygamy does something to a man. It changes him and how he views the world around him. It debases all females in his life and lowers their status to being mere property: a commodity to own and trade. Our value as women was measured by our outward appearances and our fertility.

    It wasn’t just a fear in our DNA that we were threatened by younger, hotter, slimmer, funnier, more fertile females it was our reality.

    Everything in my life revolved around the great power of priesthood that men held, and their position in the Church.

    Men pounded their chests and bragged about the *number* of wives they had, and the great quantities of children – sons had great value for “increasing a man’s kingdom” and girls gave him bargaining power.

    It was a rare occasion to hear a man refer to his wives by name – unless he was shaming her for some offense. Even that was another effective way of silencing us and keeping us “in our place.”

    I grew up extremely trusting in the word preached across the pulpit. I naively thought that men had only the purest of motives. I held onto that delusion until I was presented with irrefutable proof otherwise. Sadly, sexual assault, molestation, incest and all manner of other abuses are rampant in polygamous society. In every polygamous society I have knowledge of, it is the same story.

    Having read many of the stories gathered in the Protect LDS Children campaign, sadly I see that there is a similar – though not as rampant problem – in mainstream LDS circles. The biggest difference being that they don’t outwardly practice polygamy.

    Once a man accepts and lives with multiple women – especially if they take underage “wives” – they toss out their moral compass. I have witnessed it and been in the receiving end of much unwanted and uncomfortable attention as a young girl.

    Our group practiced arranged marriages, so it didn’t go much beyond ogling and being sized up.

    My opinion is that any society that gives unequal power, value and worth to men will always be a harmful place for women. Period.

    The Patriarchy destroys us as a whole.

  26. Kam says:

    Soooo I agree and disagree with a lot of this. With the jokes about getting a prettier wife..I honestly feel like I’ve heard them more from women than men. I felt like almost all the sister were saying that on my mission. I’m not saying it’s okay and I’m sorry for pain felt by those comments but it’s wrong to just put the weight of that on men. I also feel like it dismisses any pain men may have felt because of women that have made those comments.
    The teaching that we control men’s thoughts is a problem and it is definitely a problem within the church but it’s important to note that it’s not just a problem the churches culture alone, has created. We can all admit it’s a very worldly belief. If you go to a club and look at many of the women, they will be dressed in suductive clothing to attract others attention for various reasons. I don’t believe women wear super tight, short, racey dresses cause it’s comfortable and to not be seen. I would also NEVER say a women is deserving of something she doesn’t consent to or that she’s “asking for it” no matter how she is dressed.
    When I was dating I totally picked my outfits in ways that would influence my dates thoughts. I wanted them to be attracted to me so I’d dress in a way I thought would do the trick. Not because I thought nobody would want me otherwise but because I wanted to find someone that thought I was beautiful. I know that no matter how I dressed I could attempt to influence but not control a mans mind. That’s completely their responsibility! In one of my old profile pics I’m wearing a shirt that I love and feel so pretty in but I did begin getting comments from some punk guys that they appreciated the way it clinged to certain places on my body. Those were usually the last comments before I kicked them to the curb. That was still my profile picture when I met my husband. He never said a word about it and it wasn’t long ago I brought it up to him. He promised that before we were married he hadn’t noticed. I mean, it’s totally possible it crossed his mind but he was amazing enough to control his own thoughts and not dwell on it. He also makes me feel like the smartest and funniest women so it doesn’t bother me at all that he noteses those things now and that he makes me feel beautiful. If all he saw in me was my appearance that would be hurtful but it would also be hurtful, to me personally, if he didn’t like my appearance.
    Most important I think everyone needs to know these issues aren’t a gospel problem..more of a culture problem. In fact the gospel teaches us otherwise. It teaches we are each children of a king and as royalty we owe it to ourselves to respect and love our bodies and hold them sacred. The cheesy “my body is a temple and you don’t have a recommend” is actually an awesome quote. I feel like modesty is more about showing gratitude and respect for these beautiful gifts gods given us. I believe our leaders warn us to dress modest to protect how we view ourselves. I believe they want the same for men but culture has sadly taught how they dress is less important.

    • Kam says:

      Also sorry for spelling/punctuation errors. it’s 3 am….

    • maeve says:

      Kam thank you for pointing out that these issues are societal issues perpetuated outside of gospel truths and in my experience more from women than men at church.

    • Minnie says:

      I agree that this is totally a cultural problem. The Gospel of Jesus Christ requires that we love others without regard to their appearance, and that all humans are their own autonomous, independent creatures who can choose for themselves.
      Sadly, the way these concepts get conflated with doctrine is in the many verses in D&C 132 which talk about women being “given” to men (David, Abraham). The concept of a woman being the possession or prize of men requires both cultural and doctrinal debunking. (might want to check out the author’s linked post about Polygamy culture for more context on that.)

      Also, perhaps you intend to prove the author’s point, but this comment you make above……

      “If you go to a club and look at many of the women, they will be dressed in suductive clothing to attract others attention for various reasons. I don’t believe women wear super tight, short, racey dresses cause it’s comfortable and to not be seen.”

      is a perfect example of a woman projecting the male gaze onto other women. By extending intentions and motive onto women you don’t know based on their form of dress, you objectify them. Perhaps that’s a bit of an unrecognized bias you may want to examine.

  27. Anon says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this article. It put into words so many things that I’ve been trying to explain to others but didn’t know how to. I’m still trying to figure ito how to reverse the belief that my worth is based on how I look and dress.
    I also want to add that this kind of teaching causes a lot of shame and confusion for men too. My husband struggled with pornography for a long time and built up a lot of shame from that. He was very open about it while we were dating, and worked very hard to overcome it. But still sometimes when he sees an “immodestly” dressed woman he gets triggered and shameful and starts to ask why women can’t just cover up. I have tried explaining to him that it’s natural and normal to find other women and even their body parts attractive, but his attractions are not her fault and that it’s up to him how he deals with it, and that simply finding another woman attractive is not cheating on me. We don’t often teach that there is a difference between attraction and lusting. I think that the boys and men in the church grow up feeling that they should blame women for their sexual arousal and that when they find someone sexually attractive it is inherently a sin and something to be ashamed of, even if they don’t do anything about it. The message that they can’t control themselves is extremely harmful too.

  28. Anonymous says:

    As someone who grew up as a member of the church and heard many of these words growing up, I found this article fascinating. I am still an active member who “made some mistakes” a few years back and lost my virginity. I’ve been able to repent of my mistakes and look toward the future, so much so that I’m getting married in the temple next month. My future husband is “still a virgin” and the statements you made about virginity are absolutely accurate. I regularly worry that he’ll feel as though he deserves someone who is still a virgin. I worry that he’ll be disappointed on our honeymoon thinking that I should know what I’m doing because I have experience. I worry that he’ll think less of me in the moment because he’ll be thinking of my past mistakes. This rhetoric is absolutely real and absolutely dangerous. I hate that I’m struggling and that my leaders projected these thoughts and opinions on me because I’m getting married – I should be so excited, not terrified.

    • Violadiva says:

      My friend, I wish I could come to your wedding shower, give you a big hug, and tell you this in person, but anonymous internet blessings will have to do. Have you talked to your fiancé about these concerns, or met with a Mormon sex therapist yet? I hope you have the chance to do so. In the meantime, you might recite these affirmations to yourself every day until the wedding: I am worthy. I belong. I am loving and loved. I desire, and am desired. I am powerful and wise. My past created me but it does not define me. I choose my own future. I own my sexuality and can express it without shame. The sexual response of my body was created for my pleasure. No good thing is lost to me or will be withheld from me. I am worthy of a loving husband and a fulfilling intimate life with him.
      Congrats, and good luck!

    • Arose says:

      Do you think he feels any of these same insecurities? It would be worthwhile to have this conversation with him before the wedding night. If he is the man you know he is and who you know you want to marry, he will respond kindly and help you and maybe you can help him too. I think these insecure thoughts happen before marriage no matter what happened in the past, and the best solution is to talk about it together.

      I and my husband were both virgins when we were married and we have had our own issues and insecurities about sex, especially because we hadn’t really been taught well about it beforehand, and were too scared to “sin” to read any helpful books that could have made the first year much better.

      On the flip side, my best friend was not a virgin at marriage and had lot more knowledge about these things than me, but had similar concerns as yours. Or maybe other concerns like other partners to compare.

      But either way, keeping it inside of you doesn’t help. Sex is supposed to strengthen the bond between you and your spouse, but when we hold in our fears it cripples it. When I talk with my husband my insecuiirties go away and I realize they are in my own mind not his. Or that his insecurities are present too. It helps us to talk and reassure each other we are not alone in this.

  29. Jeff Crookston says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve got two daughters who I want to enjoy their young womanhood and life beyond without shame or obsession.

    I really appreciated your thorough treatment of the topic. I also really appreciate the sensitivity with which you treated the topic. You confronted problematic aspects of culture with explanations of the negative results. You did not resort to emphasizing bitterness and to shaming those who perpetrate the problems. Your tone and sympathy for all sides wins support without triggering dismissal/defense. I wish to lean to do that myself when arguing for principles I advocate.

  30. C Marie says:

    You make some good points, however I must admit that many of these imperfect explanations helped me to improve my choice of dress as a young woman, begin to practice the principles taught, and eventually develop a true testimony of modesty (in dress, in word, and in deed). Having developed a deeper testimony and understanding of this principle, I can definitely see how there is much lacking in the way that our young women have been and are being taught. I would love to see an article written on how you think modesty and chastity *should* be taught. I think more positive examples of this are needed and would be greatly appreciated.

    • Violadiva says:

      I’d be happy to point you in the direction of the many, many existing lesson plans about how to teach young people to have a healthy concept of chastity.

      The purpose of this post is not to put more responsibility on girls and women, especially in regards to them not understanding or practicing modesty appropriately. The point of this post is to illustrate why we MUST remove the projection of the lustful male gaze. It’s not kind, true or necessary to burden our girls with that type of emotional anguish. Even girls who are perfectly, appropriately following church dress codes receive the projection of this gaze, and it is inherently harmful to them. See May’s comments above for examples of virtuous, chaste, modest girls being the recipient of harmful comments about her body.

  31. Kathy says:

    Thank you for this well-thought out article. So much good information and, sadly, so much baggage to undo!

  32. Hailey says:

    While this article presents some valid experiences, one of the aspects that I disagree with is the idea is that priesthood holders (or men in general), should be expected to have complete control of their thoughts, even when exposed to stimuli. Especially when many men are naturally predisposed to being highly visual. My questions is…do we as women hold ourselves to the same standards? If we could perfectly control our thoughts, wouldn’t we eradicate depression, emotional eating, or comparing ourselves to others? I don’t think it’s depreciating to think that part of our divine role as women is to be a help-meet for man and do our best to support them in their weakness. I know so many men personally who strive to do the same for us.

    • Title 9 says:

      Wow well said Hailey!

    • Jan Signore says:

      Hailey, I agree with some of the points you make. However,I don’t think there is an expectation that anyone (including both men and women) can have complete control over their thoughts, seeking to achieve that is part of one’s journey in life.

      The point here, to me, is that women are not responsible for men’s thoughts, nor men responsible for women’s thoughts. We are all responsible for our own thoughts, no one else. While either gender being thoughtful and choosing to be modest in their appearance is a great choice, it is up to the individual to make those choices.

      On a slightly different note, I feel we need to stop demonizing our sexual feelings and drive. They are God given and a beautiful thing, an integral part of mortality. I do not view a man’s sex drive to be a weakness, as you express in your post. I do believe this kind of sexual attitude that seems to be present in the church can be so damaging to a healthy and happy marital sexual relationship.

      I would also add that depression is not a matter of the way one thinks. It is a complex disease and to put forward that it is something that can be controlled by thoughts would be very painful to those who suffer from it.

    • Violadiva says:

      I agree that both men and women should take accountability for their own thoughts, as part of the ongoing course in self mastery that we’re all engaged in through life.

      To compare a woman having depressive thoughts to a man having sexually objectifying thoughts about a young woman is a false equivalency. Depression is a complex illness that affects people against their will and choice.
      Men are capable, thoughtful creatures who can see someone attractive, even experience a natural sense of excitement or arousal about what they see, and yet still choose NOT to have objectifying thoughts or attitudes about what they see.
      There’s a tremendous distinction. It has everything to do with free will, choice, and agency.
      I do not believe that a man’s sexual response is a weakness, nor can he always control when his body gets aroused, and that’s totally fine. I do believe he’s in complete control of what he does (and thinks)(and says) next. If a man is aroused by a young woman at church, he might think to himself “hmm. There’s an attractive young woman. And I am having a sexual response to her figure.” No shame or judgment projected onto himself (or her) for having a physiologically normal and healthy response. I would have a big problem if a young man saw a girl, had a sexual response to her appearance and then said, “there’s an attractive young woman. And I am having a sexual response to her figure. And that’s bad! And I’m bad! And it’s her fault! And I’m going to tell her to cover up because she should not be making me feel this way!”
      And then, like anonymous comment above, the Young man (or older man) makes a comment to the girl about her appearance. There’s a big difference between those two scenarios. One, I’m totally fine with. The other is a part of the huge cancerous tumor in our culture that I’m trying to cut out with this post.

  33. Ben says:

    I agree with the sentiment, completely. I do have an issue with the term “Mormon Male Gaze”, as the term Mormon now sticks out and implies an inherent hostility towards the Lord’s church, which it didn’t seem like you were attempting to imply.

  34. Monica Morela says:

    Interesting article that brings up so many different issues regarding sexuality and the female body. From an outside perspective I think that being raised this way would make recognizing sexual abuse harder to identify, report and recover from. In my mind this type of thought is largely part of a seductress narrative within religious circles as well as popular culture.

    I would highly recommend the Globe and Mail article Unfounded by Robyn Doolittle. In 2017 she investigated the high rates of sexual assault cases that were reported as unfounded by police. The article goes into great detail, but what the term unfounded means to those who experience sexual violence is that what happened to them really did not happen, or in other words it suggests that the victims are lying. The unfounded classification widely used in justice systems is indicative of how the general population views and treats those who are victims of sexual assault. In my opinion society tends to err on the side of blaming the victim. By assuming the victim is telling lies, one removes the accountability from the perpetrator and turns it back on the sufferer.

    When reading this article I continued to dwell on similarities between the ‘male gaze’ described above and the classification of unfounded.

    One thing that I am unsure of though, is how to change the harmful male gaze. Doing away with dress codes and stereotypical jokes that perpetrate the ‘modesty is hottest’ fallacy are good starts. But I question whether measures like this will truly change anything within conservative mormonism or popular culture. Any ideas ladies?

    • Aspen Dalton says:

      I have a few ideas. For one, I’m currently a YW leader and the updated Preach My Gospel lesson plans do not have any of these harmful stereotypes or stories included, and instead focus on how you personally could recognize and avoid temptation. We are getting updated lesson plans with the new home curriculum as well, so hopefully those lessons will be similar, if not even better. If leaders stick to the lesson plan, and don’t include traditional cultural stories or metaphors that are misleading or harmful, that would be good.

      I also feel that as millennials (who have participated in the #Metoo movement) grow up and become leaders, we will change the dialogue within the church. Hopefully……

      Also making sure to respectfully speak out, as was done in the article, when we see these stereotypes being perpetuated.

  35. Aspen Hassell says:

    I agree that this joke has got to go. I even admit that in Young Women’s, we would make the same joke about the boys (“The more prayers you say, the hotter your husband will be.”) I would love to see more teachings about how to develop relationships and keep them healthy instead.

  36. Mary says:

    I’m going to respectfully disagree with the comments about our needing to teach modesty–in both dress and behavior. I have been out mentally and emotionally long enough that I have investigated other religions and life philosophies. I see all this modesty rhetoric as choosing to live small. I don’t believe our Heavenly Parents would have that. I believe that an oppressive worldview would have that.

    Beautiful? Own it. Intelligent? Flaunt it. Incredibly brave? Put that light on a hill and let it shine. In teaching modesty, there is a little bit of shaming going on.

    I’m even all for the the men who are staunchly patriarchal owning it and letting us all know about. Same goes for the creepers. Lets us know who they are. How nice it would be if Joseph Bishop would stand up in church and say, “my name is Joseph Bishop and I’m a sexual predator”.

    I’m sure this could be coming off as facetious, but I mean it very sincerely. Yes, there’s room for tempering things with class, consideration and dignity, but I am no longer an advocate of modesty. Fortune favors the bold and teaching our young women to be bold will be teaching them to stand up to those projected male gazes.

  37. Anon says:

    Alma 39:3-4 is a great scriptural example of man’s duty to cross himself, the woman’s actions or appearance regardless. The whole chapter speaking to Corianton is full of great teachings. (Cause I’m pretty sure the line about wicked harlots is literal, and not calling all women harlots)

  38. This is a very interesting article that brings up some valid ideas. However, what are you suggesting we do about this? Stop teaching modesty? That is definitely not the answer according to the leaders of the church. Obviously, young women need to have some instruction on how to dress. What do you propose we do to teach our young women? What doctrine do you have to back up what you are saying? I would love to see some general conference talks or scriptures that back up your ideas. Thanks!

    • Violadiva says:

      What I’m suggesting with this post is that we remove the verbal threat of the lustful man’s gaze as a fear tactic for teaching young women ANYTHING about their bodies, clothing or appearance. I was very clear in the specific steps we should take toward that end.

      The purpose of this post is not to put more responsibility on girls and women, especially in regards to them not understanding or practicing modesty appropriately. The point of this post is to illustrate why we MUST remove the projection of the lustful male gaze. It’s not kind, true or necessary to burden our girls with that type of emotional anguish. Even girls who are perfectly, appropriately following church dress codes receive the projection of this gaze, and it is inherently harmful to them. See May’s comments above for examples of virtuous, chaste, modest girls being the recipient of harmful comments about her body.
      I’d be happy to point you in the direction of the many, many existing lesson plans about how to teach young people to have a healthy concept of chastity and modesty.

      But to your request for doctrine to back up what I’m saying, will the words of Jesus do?

      “27 ¶ Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
      28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
      29 And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”
      Matthew 5:27-29, wherein the sin of lustful eyes falls appropriately on the person looking/lusting.

      And from Alma, as mentioned just above, holding his son Corianton accountable for his own actions: “9 Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things.” Alma 39:9

  39. Janie says:

    This reminds me of the post that went around about women wearing leggings as pants and that the woman who wrote the article, thought men might have inappropriate thoughts about her so she no longer wears leggings. She only wanted her husband to think anything sexual about her and out of respect for him she changed her style… the whole thing made me angry. So it’s a woman’s fault a man has sexual thoughts? So are we not supposed to wear a tight shirt because men can see the outline of breasts? Or a nice form fitting dress? I was in 8th grade when my grandfather wouldn’t allow me to go to the gas station with him and my other cousins because my shorts were “too short” and that will make boys have bad thoughts about me. I didn’t understand. My parents allowed me to wear them, it’s not like my butt cheeks were hanging out. I refused to change my shorts and have rejected the idea that I have control over another persons thoughts ever since. Everyone controls their thoughts. I’ll wear my leggings, tight tees, tanks tops and if someone thinks a sexual thought about me then that’s on them. I find it rude, this culture acts as if it’s wrong to be attractive or appealing as a woman but heaven forbid you be ugly either. More women in Utah get plastic surgery than anywhere I can think of besides maybe Hollywood. Although I wouldn’t call it the Mormon male gaze, I’ve always heard it referred as all men are tempted. Like they don’t have a ounce of self control. Ridiculous. Great article.

  40. David says:

    Since this blog was founded by April Young Bennett, may I ask if you are you a member of or do you affiliate with the ‘Ordain Women’ movement? I ask to place in proper perspective how much authority you give to the word of God as revealed through his living prophet versus your own opinions.

    • KLN says:

      “Tell me your opinions on an unrelated topic because I want to ignore your opinions here even if they are fully compatible with church doctrine”

      • davidbolden says:

        I explained the relevance of my question. It’s a very fair thing to ask. If you are an apostate, or affiliate with apostate organizations is a temple recommend question with profound implications. The lack of a direct answer actually answers my question. The irreparable harm she and others within this movement have caused should not be minimized merely because she has touched a nerve with some, while spewing lies, half-truths, and blasphemy. I am not willing to parse out her words to find the bits of truth which lurk within because it requires me to soil myself with her brand of hatred and feminism, which I believe is rooted in the teachings of Satan. There is nothing to be gained from passively accepting apostasy. You either believe the church is true and we have a living prophet – or you do not! You can’t ask us to listen to your words, while you deny the prophet out of the side of your mouth.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      davidbolden please take note, you are in violation of Exponent II’s comment policy (copied below)
      1. No ads or plugs, no personal insults
      2. No four letter words that wouldn’t be allowed on television.
      3. No mudslinging: Stating disagreement is fine — even strong disagreement, but no personal attacks or name calling.
      4. Try to stick with your personal experiences, ideas, and interpretations. This is not the place to question another’s personal righteousness, to call people to repentence, or to disprespectfully refute people’s personal religious beliefs. (

      • davidbolden says:

        I intend no disrespect or insult. We are all God’s children and deserve respect. It is a matter of simple fact that the ‘Ordain Women’ movement is an apostate organization. I don’t say that to demean anyone, but to state a simple truth. Kate Kelly was excommunicated for organizing it. I honestly and sincerely asked a very frank question about the author of this article – and I would still appreciate an answer because it will influence how I and others perceive the article itself. If it is the work of a concerned individual who has experiences to share, we can all learn together. If, however, the author is an apostate who does not believe in the prophet, and can’t say with honesty that she has a firm testimony that the church is true then that’s an entirely different matter, don’t you think? Of course, since you brought up the issue of rules rather than contest my point, I suspect you have a bit of sympathy toward the movement yourself. Or am I mistaken?

    • Ziff says:

      David, If your goal is to learn only from “prophet approved” sources, I think it’s unfortunate that you’re so narrowly restricting your view of the world by believing that church leaders are without flaw. But if you’re open to hearing from your fellow church members, even if they maybe dare to notice problems with the church, then you should keep reading this blog. It might expand your view of how others around you experience the church. I’m a man too, and I know reading the writings of Mormon feminists has really opened my eyes to many issues that I never would have considered on my own, and that I also never would have heard about in official church sources.

  41. meagleg2322 says:

    Having dated both members and non-members, I can personally attest to the gate keeper mentality. In ALL of my relationships with members of the church, I am the one who draws the line during intimate encounters. Never was I asked if things were alright with me and many times I was coerced into doing things I did not want to do. Only when I physically removed myself from a certain situation did my ‘boyfriend’ of the time stop. However, in the same situation with a non-member significant other, I am asked, at every single stage of intimacy, if I am okay with what’s happening. Every time. Without fail. And the real kicker? When I tell non-member men to stop because I am uncomfortable, they do. Immediately. Without hesitation or question.

    Why? Because they are aware that my body is MINE and that I deserve respect. I am not a prize and I AM a complete human being without them.

    The only reason I can pin for the difference I have experienced here is the mentality outlined in this post. Where men are not in control of themselves and women are in charge of keeping everyone righteous. It’s destructive and it took me way too long to learn that men are responsible for themselves and that they can be sincere and understanding and RESPECTFUL of me, my thoughts and MY BODY.

    This has got to change. It’s toxic and wrong.

    • KLN says:

      I’m happy that your experiences have been so positive. I’d caution those reading not to expect non-Mormon men to be universally respectful. They often suck, too, and sometimes in our eagerness to point out the particular harms of Mormon patriarchy, we fail to acknowledge that a broader patriarchy with some different rules is still in effect outside the church.

  42. Tristan says:

    I agree with most of the principles presented by the author. As a gay Mormon, I don’t get tempted by women no matter what they wear, so I don’t know how relevant my opinion is. However, modesty is a tricky principle to teach and no one is perfect at it (The same goes with the Law of Chastity). I think it really boils down to your intentions when it comes to how you dress. If you’re intending to draw sexual attention by your attire, you’re being immodest. I also feel like “avoiding the appearance of evil” and seeking to be “above reproach” would warrant erring on the side of caution.

    Virginity is too often seen as a bigger deal than repentance. Obviously, breaking the law of Chastity is a significant sin, but defining someone by the worst thing they’ve ever done is not what the Savior does and neither should we. If I ever somehow get married, virginity will not be nearly as important of an issue as a strong relationship with the Savior.

  43. Father of 4 says:

    The crux of your argument comes in the fourth from the bottom paragraph where you say the following:

    “It is possible that some Mormon men and boys may assert their gaze on a young woman and entertain sexual thoughts about her. Those thoughts in their own heads are their own business, and are not the responsibility of the girl….Our girls do not deserve the blame, burden, or insecurity that comes with worrying about what other people think about them. They need freedom to grow, express themselves, explore, exercise, and develop without shame.”

    What you are actually saying here is that the way that women (young or old) dress or act has no bearing or influence on people around them. That the reaction or thought about such dress is a problem only for the viewer. To advocate that a woman (young or old) bears no responsibility on the thoughts of others by the way that she dresses is wrong. Full stop.

    Let me give you an example. Suppose I showed you photos or video of your spouse in a compromising position with another woman (or you saw it in person). Is the reaction you understandably would feel only your issue or does your spouse also have a responsibility to avoid the appearance of evil? Let’s say that when you confronted your spouse about what you saw, he reacted defensively, stating that you were being old-fashioned and needed to get with the times; that you were overreacting. And lets say that you saw other photos and video (or caught him personally) in different situations with different women. Again, would your feelings toward what you saw be only your responsibility, or would your spouse bear some of that himself?

    Take the original situation which prompted you to write this post. You felt uncomfortable and looked around the congregation to see if anyone else other than yourself was upset at the words that the speaker in your congregation made during his talk. That missionary joke was distasteful, and you let him know about it. What you did, and how he reacted were both appropriate. However, if we were to take what you are advocating for in this post regarding women and their dress, the logical extension would be that your reaction to the speakers word’s are not his responsibility. He can say what he wants, regardless of how it makes you feel, and that to tell him of your feelings regarding his words restricts his “freedom to grow, express [him]self, explore, exercise, and develop without shame.”

    It is obvious from your post that you would not agree that the speaker’s words do not influence the hearer. Neither do I. Yet, you do argue that what a woman (young or old) wears carries no responsibility on the reaction or thoughts of how she is viewed. The only difference between a reaction to a women’s dress and the speakers words is the sense that is being stimulated. Both visual and auditory imagery can have a powerful impact on others.

    Each individual is responsible for their own thoughts, words, actions, and dress. To separate, however, the responsibility that I have to speak respectfully knowing what an impact my words can (and will) have on others, from how I dress and how that will (and does) have just as large of an impact on others, is something that really cannot be done.

    Does how a woman (young or old) dresses excuse a man to make unwanted advances? No. Does it excuse a man to making lewd comments? No. Does it justify a man in committing rape (ie. she provoked me by the way she dressed and was asking for it)? Absolutely not. Men’s thoughts and actions are their own and they need to own them. By the same token, women (young and old) need to own the responsibility that they way they dress does influence others, for good or ill.

    • Ben says:

      Wow, some really interesting points here. I think you and Violadiva both have really good points from different perspectives. Bottom line for me is that any true principle is not taught effectively out of fear, but out of love and respect for ourselves, for those around us, and for God.

    • Mary says:

      Our emotional reaction is determined by the thoughts they think. A person that sees a picture of a spouse being unfaithful, could also be happy. They could want to swing, have an affair or end the marriage. The OP could have thought the joke hilariously appropriate and went home to instruct her daughters how to behave.

      Having said that, a dress code could be in order.

      • Ben says:

        I think the point was not the specific emotional reaction, rather that the picture, or situation, itself was part of the equation.

      • Mary says:

        Yes, there is stimulus and response, but the response can change according to what I will call the stories we tell ourselves. It is possible to change your response if you change your point of view.

        Very much the same way two people can view an optical illusion and see two entirely different things. It’s the same picture, but the disparate backgrounds about color, shape and context will impact how a person interprets the picture. It’s by one person educating another about their point of view that each person is able to see what the other person is seeing. The picture still hasn’t changed but the people viewing it now see it differently.

    • Violadiva says:

      Father of 4, After wading through your strawman argument, it seems that you’re trying to convince us (or yourself?) that some amount of objectifying and judging a woman for her appearance is necessary and appropriate. By centering your comments on the responsibility of the woman and deflecting responsibility away from the true focus of the piece (those who use fear-based or shame-based language to threaten or harass young women), you are providing a real-time example of how the projection of the Mormon Male Gaze works to blame and place unnecessary burdens on women in the church.
      If our young women were taught an authentic sense of modesty in word, deed and appearance, without the harmful influence and consequences of the projected male gaze upon them, think how much more healthy, honest and earnest they would be! A true sense of modesty would emerge, motivated by a healthy sense of self and love of God, not by fear of man.
      Let’s not redirect where the fault lies in the way the culture of objectifying girls for their appearances has hurt all our youth, young women and young men.

      • Father of 4 says:

        I quoted verbatim the summary paragraph from your original post. I then took your experience in the sacrament meeting you attended to illustrate my point that the speaker of language and what an individual wears share responsibility for their words spoken and their appearance respectively. Moreover, they share responsibility for how others react to those words and to their appearance. That is not a straw-man argument. It is not even a complicated one. Certainly it is not something that anyone reading this blog needs to “wade” through.

        Nowhere in my response did I say or suggest that men are not responsible for their own thoughts. Nor did I say or suggest that men are not responsible for how they respond to stimuli that they encounter. I am not “deflecting responsibility away from” anyone. Rather, I am stating that responsibility for ones thoughts and actions resides with the individual (whether they are the one projecting an image or reacting to it).

        When you make a statement like this:

        “Our girls do not deserve the blame, burden, or insecurity that comes with worrying about what other people think about them.”

        It is you who is the one who is actually deflecting responsibility. To say that women (young or old) are immune from worrying about what other people think about them is to strain at credulity. Both men and women judge me by my appearance every single day. Is that judgement “necessary and appropriate?” That is beside the point. What is the point is that men and women are judged by their appearance. That is life. It is reality. It has been that way and will continue to be that way as long as we use our vision to see and are allowed the freedom to make decisions with our moral agency. Because of that, I am responsible for my dress, manner, and speech and the image which that projects.
        If I behave in an untoward manner, speak unkindly, or dress provocatively (however you choose to define that term), I am accountable for how such actions, words, and imagery may effect other people. The same is true for you or any man or woman.

      • Violadiva says:

        Father of 4, the straw man argument you used was about my husband getting caught in a hypothetical affair. Not even remotely the same thing as men projecting their lustful gazes on young women.
        We’re in agreement that all individuals are responsible for their own thoughts, words and actions. I do fundamentally disagree with the premise you’re standing on that people can be judged for their appearance in equal measure to the things they say or do. By ascribing motive or intention to a person after just seeing their appearance, having not heard them speak nor seen them act is objectification. Kind of like judging a book by its cover. Although I do see your point that you’re considering the way they dress before leaving the house that morning as an “action” that can rightly be judged, I disagree that a person’s intentions can be judged on appearance alone, absent words or actions to go with it.
        Though judging people for their appearance unfortunately does occur in society and at church, it’s not doctrinally defensible in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and runs contrary to the teachings of looking at people “on the heart.” That’s why I’d like to see Mormons doing less, not more, of it.
        I’d recommend you spend some time reading and researching on the Beauty Redefined site so you can have a more comprehensive concept of this as you teach it to your children.

    • TheWanderingLost says:

      I have to disagree here. Men sexualize *everything*.

      In the 1800’s. men sexualized ankles and wrists. In the early 1920’s, men sexualized calves and knees. As the hemlines rose, so did the parts they sexualized.

      What men have done, is become desensitized. Take a man from the 1800’s and drop him into today’s society, and he will be sexually overwhelmed.

      So yes, women indeed bear absolutely no responsibility for my thoughts.

      And I’ll freely admit, I grew up in Utah, and as such I am extremely uncomfortable in the presence of certain things. Exposed cleavage make me uncomfortable. So do exposed shoulders. And as a sign of desensitivity, exposed bra straps used to make me uncomfortable. Now, I just find it gross and low class. As my exposure to exposed shoulders and cleavage grows (not that I am seeking such experiences out, mind you) I expect to become desensitized.

      • Violadiva says:

        TheWanderingLost, your characterization of men sexualizing everything is not accurate. Some men, yes. Maybe even a majority. Many men are able to see a human form, both male and female, and not sexualize any of it. I give men way more credit than to accuse them of that.
        But your objectification of a woman as “gross and low class” for seeing her bra straps is pretty disturbing. The sooner you can separate a woman’s appearance with any judgments about her as a person, the better off you’ll be.

  44. Tim says:

    Father of 4 makes some valid points. We are not islands. Being social creatures, and living in a society, our behaviors (words, actions, dress, etc.) do impact other people. The real question then is not binary of whether or not a person’s dress impacts another person, but rather in setting rules along a spectrum of what is socially acceptable or not, and deciding limits for both the person wearing the clothes (or other behavior) and the person influenced by the clothes and behavior. I think most people on this blog believe the current line in the Mormon culture and within the Church is in the wrong place, and simply advocate for less authoritarian controls over women, and less shaming of women. But there have to be guidelines and limits. I doubt anyone here would defend any woman or man showing up to church totally naked, or even topless. That would violate generally accepted social norms. However, a naked person does not justify sexual assault. And we should be able to separate the two. But I think the real argument here is not about being naked, or being assaulted, but more about the length of a skirt, the sleeves on a shirt, and shaming comments. I think many of us simply want to move the needle a little so our daughters, sisters, wives, friends, and all women (young and old) can live without feeling regularly shamed or responsible for the bad actions of other people.

    • Risa says:

      Please tell me where else in your culture you see women showing up to public places totally naked or topless on the regular?

      Most Mormon women I know just want to be able to wear trousers to church.

  45. Tim says:

    I never said they do, nor men either. That wasn’t the point. The point is that somewhere between naked and wearing a burqa is an appropriate manner of dress, which is socially acceptable dependent on your society. Who sets the rules? That is the challenge, we each fall somewhere different along the spectrum.

  46. Ellie says:

    Okay. So yes to all the things. But we do this to men too. On my mission I earned hot husband points for knocking doors and having a rough day. Men are constantly objectified for their money in the church. Don’t marry him unless he can provide for you so you can stay at home all day whether you have babies or not. Young men are told that they must put making money before their happiness if they are to be a righteous priesthood holder. Girls won’t date a guy who doesn’t pay. You’ve heard the three p’s of dating, planned, picked up, and paid for, all of which are the men’s responsibility. Guess who has to set up the chairs, take out the trash, move every person moving into and out of the ward, etc. Not because women can’t help. We just don’t want to. Menial labor. That’s what the priesthood is for. I’m not discounting what you’ve said above, I’m just saying that men are discriminated against in the church too. That can be your next blog post.

    • Violadiva says:

      Yes, I discovered that while the men’s version of the original joke has existed for much longer, the women’s version of the joke is also said occasionally as an attempt toward reciprocity. Of course neither version are true or helpful. And you’re right, there are as many (or more!) unfortunate consequences of toxic Mormon masculinity that our men and young men experience regularly. The “sole provider fallacy” you touch on seems to affect many men in our church. I’m working with a group of men now on a companion piece so anyone who is worried, “but what about the men?” can stay tuned.

      • Tim says:

        There is actually a long list of male challenges, in and out of the church. Some might seem silly, or small compared to female challenges (discriminations); but the fact is that our society still has expected gender roles and stereotypes. Here is a starter:
        1. Men are assumed to be sexual deviants, or at least more dangerous. That is why there is a policy prohibiting men from teaching classes alone. Although I think that policy was recently expanded to women also. Why do we assume that all men, or a majority, ogle women and young girls? Many men are presumed guilty and have to work hard to prove their innocence.
        2. Why do men have to wear white shirts and ties? If you don’t wear the official uniform you are deemed less faithful or valiant. Seriously, many men purposely avoid the white shirt and tie because they know it will automatically disqualify them from certain callings which they don’t want.
        3. Men with facial hair cannot serve as ordinance workers in the temple. I don’t know if this is universal across all temples, but it is a policy in many temples. Why are men judged by their facial hair?
        4. Men are expected to serve a mission, for women it is an option. Men who choose not to serve are judged to be less faithful, or even worse, have some unresolved sin.
        5. There are more callings for men, which could be construed as more responsibilities. I know, I know, women can argue that they should be considered for callings such as ward clerk or executive secretary; but currently men are expected to do more in the church.
        6. Similar to #5, for too many men the callings are a burden to be away from home and family (stake presidencies, high council, bishopric). We are told family is priority #1, then are asked to spend 8 hours away each Sunday.
        7. Preside in righteousness – Why is the burden on the husband and the father? Maybe I would like my wife to preside, and I can play the supporting role.
        8. Provide for the family – Try being a stay at home dad and endure the ridicule, the jokes, the awkward stares and comments. Try being ostracized by not filling the stereotypical provider role. Why do we shame those wonderful men?
        9. In a failed marriage it is usually the husband who is assumed to be the guilty party. This goes beyond the church and is an unfortunate social prejudice.
        10. Single men are a menace to society. Brigham Young taught this and it has been perpetuated ever since. I had a 30 year old single male friend interview with a general authority for a church employment position and the general authority asked him if the reason he was single was because he was gay. Really. This is crazy. Single men assumed to be gay? Crazy.

      • TheWanderingLost says:

        Tim, in regards to number 2, I remember my dad asking me why we would all want to look the same?

        He said he would find that rather boring.

        When I attend, which lately is never, I utterly refuse to wear a white shirt, and I also refuse to wear the noose.

  47. AHFC says:

    I found the original post and /all/ the comments enlightening. I have throughout most of my life, in one way or another, like many women, experienced the shaming, objectification, victim-blaming, gate-keeping expectations and pretty-woman-as-reward mentality described in the post and comments, including /very/ rude remarks by locally prominent leaders. I hope bringing these kinds experiences to light in the frank and respectful way this author does will empower men and women to make corrections and move closer to a Zion society, rather than retain what we refer to as a “Mormon culture.”

    I also appreciate the perspective that we can and often do influence others by our choices, even though we may not be responsible for them. If that is not so, why share the gospel, or bear one another’s burdens, or share differing points of view?

    I even appreciated the comments that carried a rather dismissive tone, because what we say about others says far more about ourselves than it does about the people of whom we speak.

  48. Risa says:

    The only modesty discussion that needs to take place came from Jesus. He never admonished women to dress “more modestly.” In fact he told men that if they couldn’t look at a woman without lusting after her to pluck out their eyes.

    So any church that projects the male gaze onto women and tells them to dress modestly for the sake of the men is going against Christ.

    Start plucking out those eyes, men.

  49. Keep It REAL says:

    Very fascinating read. I am not really sure where to start so I guess I will start with the things that resonate with me. I applaud the conversation regarding how women deserve and should be treated very much. As a young women, I developed an attractive figure early and which I gained a lot attention from men of all ages. I have dealt with sexually objectifying comments, stares, taunts & harassment in the workplace throughout my life and its pretty crappy to have to deal with another persons poor behavior. I was a very social, responsible & outgoing teenager who dressed modestly but it wasn’t long before I became very keen of the power I had to influence those around me by how I talked, treated others and yes, how I looked. Nobody indoctrinated me on this, it was mearly through the interactions both good and bad that I had experienced with many young men in my life. With that said, I dated a lot really great guys throughout my life too, eventually marrying one of them. 🙂

    With that said, I am so intrigued with this idea of the Mormon Male Gaze. Mostly because of my lifetime of male experience noted above. I keep asking myself why I have have not experienced ANY of the scenarios you are passionately implicating as the status quo. You speak as though, these are the teachings of the church and it is accepted and seen as truth by all members of the church which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I can tell you from my experience for 40+ years in the church this is not even remotely been my experience or that of my circle of friends. I am not sure how you could possibly paint it as fallacy but Men, not just Mormon men, are sexually attracted to women but not necessarily to all women of course. It is a fact of nature, not a subjective reality or fallacy made up. Women too find men appealing but the intensity and response of a woman to a man is not even close to the same because we are different in many ways, including physical response to the visual of the opposite sex. I also have never been instructed by any leader nor have I instructed anyone (have served my entire adulthood in the youth on ward and stake levels, thats 18+ years) that they must dress modestly as not to tempt the priesthood! Standards of modesty (see For the Strength of Youth) are taught as a matter of respecting our bodies and inviting the companionship of the Holy Ghost into our lives, to be a good influence and light to others.

    Another fascinating implication made within the article you referenced is how the male dominated media extorts women and uses them like pawns and possessions to be used for their purposes. I could see how this thought could come to mind but lets finish that thought. I wonder why the researcher failed to mention the impact it has on someone who is naturally triggered by such images? Men’s completely natural and normal response, the one they were born/wired with, the one they as male “media dominators” are familiar with… the very thing being completely manipulated and extorted BY the women who are hired and complicit in objectifying themselves for whatever the male camera mans purpose is!? Which ultimately the end goal is filling their pockets with mens money, right? It works, because its real, not a fallacy. Let us also not forget that men everywhere good and slimy are bombarded constantly with images that are intended to allure and feed this natural response to the point that it literally takes root in their minds (neural programming & sexual addictions come to mind). As a wife and mother of all boys and a confident to many of my girlfriends whose good husbands have become ensnared in the webs of pornography, I truly have compassion over the media’s constant fight over their minds and hearts! For it is being fed to them at every turn. Frodo hold their apple beer! Being born this way is not an excuse for them to let their guard down. It is so important not to forget how very real the struggle is at times and how it requires great determination and commitment on their part not to slip into the natural man so to speak.

    “Responsibility/Class/Maturity/Respect” -You referenced once the idea of the role reversal, so lets go with that. I think we both agree that men absolutely have the choice and power over their thoughts and attitudes when they do find themselves in a situation where they feel a physical response toward a woman. Fascinating again to me again as it seems you give women a hard pass on their responsibility in the equation which is the harms of adopting co-dependent coping mechanisms, which are undoubtedly projected onto men in the scenarios you have listed. You expect a maturity, awareness and self control from men that you do not expect from women. Any person who feels offended by another does so by choice, including women. The great power in that realization is that means you have also have a choice NOT to become the victim of the offender whether intention or unintentional. It may be the guy is a complete jerk but it also could be he is very much like the visitor in your sacrament who was completely well meaning and could never anticipate how you process, attach meaning and implicate his words either. Whether intentional or or unintentional his actions/words do not reflect on your worth. Stop internalizing it and for heavens sakes don’t allow that internalization to oppress or hinder you in any way! If you believe the teachings of the gospel that you use in your defense, don’t waste your energy wallowing on someone else confused perception of yours. You are not an object to be acted or “befallen” upon. Taking on those feelings positions you as such. For example……

    The missionary joke. It’s light hearted and has no intentions of objectification or somehow seeing a woman as a possession to be awarded. Men are pretty simple creatures and it therefore the meaning intended is also. Who doesn’t hope for an attractive spouse? Let’s be real, everyone appreciates that. Yet again, you over simplify this and what you don’t consider is that being attractive is an equation, not a period. There is someone for everyone but what I find attractive will most likely not be what another does. If you feel bad about yourself so much that this kind of a joke makes you feel not worthy, those thoughts are YOURS and yours only to own. Stop the negative self talk. I promise when you start to love yourself there are many someoneS out there who will find you attractive!! Confidence, kindness, intelligence, hobbies, talents all play into the “attractive” equation. My husband has repeated the joke throughout the years and it doesn’t bother me in the least. Use your intelligence and energy to support yourself, instead of blaming/projecting your feelings on men. “Modest is Hottest”, a clever catch phrase created BY young women is not intended to fully define modesty but focuses on one benefit which simply means “you are at your best when you show respect for your body”. Never heard of a mormon man knocking doors for a second wife, thats a new one and honestly not one latter day saint men desire. I am sorry but when you reach for the polygamy, you really just expose yourself. Totally ludicrous.

    In summary, Women are not responsible for mens physical response or the thoughts they choose to entertain but neither are the men responsible for the women’s. Both men and women influence those around them by the words they choose and how they carry themselves. However, it takes maturity & grace (fruits of the spirit) to demonstrate empathy for men/ women by respecting his/her struggle by supporting him/her in it.

  50. Father of 4 says:


    This is in response to your reply on 11/28 at 11:49am. This site will not let me reply directly to your post for whatever reason.

    You are making two assumptions. First, you are assuming that your husband is having an affair. I did not state that he was. Instead, I said he was in a compromising situation. That could mean any number of things. My point is, that an such image of your husband will create a reaction in you, regardless of the situation in which the image was captured, just like the reaction you felt to the speakers words regarding his use of the missionary joke. That is not a straw-man argument.

    Your next assumption is that the premise I am standing on is “people can be judged for their appearance in equal measure to the things they say or do.” That is not my premise. My argument is that people are judged for their appearance. Period. Sometimes the weight of that judgement will far outweigh what they say or do. The image a person projects can (and at times does) create such a glare that it outshines what how a person speaks or acts. (To this day, I still vividly remember President Ezra Taft Benson speaking in the Priesthood Session of general conference in his white shirt, sans suit coat. I have no idea now what the message was which he gave that Saturday evening, but I can still see him in his white shirt and tie.) At other times, the weight of a person’s appearance will factor less, once you have additional information. Just as you correctly point out that a book should not be judged by its cover, so you also will agree with the phrase “who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say.” And a person’s appearance definitely plays a part into who a person is, sometimes more than what they say.

    Finally, I am glad that there are people who take the time to create and maintain sites such as Beauty Redefined. Both men and women need more positive role models in their lives. I have tried to be such a role model to my family and will continue to do so. Such modeling, and what I have advocated for in our interaction does not detract from such a message. Failing to acknowledge that appearance matters, that we will be judged by others for it, that it is only a male’s perspective problem, and that women do not share in the responsibility of their own appearance and how that effects those around them, does.

    • Violadiva says:

      Father of 4,
      Given your stated argument that “people are judged for their appearance. Period.” – do you think that’s how it SHOULD be? Do you think that’s in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ? Do you think judging people for their appearance should be allowed and have a place in the cultural expectations of the church? Or do you think the teachings of the church should make us better people than that? Rather than reinforce those harmful patterns of judgment, shouldn’t the teachings of the church emphasize that we love and accept people, regardless of their appearance? From the leper, to the woman found in adultery, I can’t think of one time when Jesus shamed someone for their appearance, minus Matthew 23 where he condemns the hypocrisy of the scribes and pharisees. I lost track of the number of stories I heard where a young woman was shamed at a church activity for what she was wearing, sometimes being sent home to change. Many of them never returned to activities afterward. Should we encourage our youth leaders to police the appearance of our youth at activities, or should we encourage youth leaders to accept the teens as they are when they show up to activities? I don’t argue with you that people do judge others for their appearance, men and women, but I take great issue with the idea that such a poisonous way of treating people should be sanctioned by church culture. And of course I believe that neither women nor men should be the perpetrators of such actions.
      To your final point, appearance only matters to those not looking “on the heart.” I want Latter-Day Saints and their unique culture to be better than “the world” by changing the way we judge others for their appearances, not by reinforcing it. Certainly men experience shame and judgment, but rarely to the extent that they experience anywhere near the severity of the consequences I listed for young women.

      • Father of 4 says:

        You are getting off the point of our discussion. It is not whether judgement over appearance should happen.

        My point of disagreement with you is about where the responsibility lies, either within or outside of the church. I quoted your statement that…

        “Our girls do not deserve the blame, burden, or insecurity that comes with worrying about what other people think about them.”

        That statement, on its face, is wrong. What a person thinks about me is dependent on what I wear, how I speak, and the way I behave. If I dress provocatively, speak unkindly, or behave inappropriately, I deserve the “blame, burden, and insecurity” that comes with that. Regardless of whether it should happen is beside the point. It does happen and will continue to happen, inside and outside of the church. Am I now, or have I ever stated that judging one because of their appearance is a good thing or that more of it should take place? No.

        Here is another quote:

        “Should we encourage our youth leaders to police the appearance of our youth at activities, or should we encourage youth leaders to accept the teens as they are when they show up to activities?”

        The answer to that question is a resounding yes. We should encourage our youth leaders to police the appearance of our youth at activities AND we should encourage youth leaders to accept the teens as they are when they show up to activities. It is not an either/or statement. Rather, it is a both/and statement. Furthermore, we should encourage our youth to not have such a fragile psyche (and testimonies) that if they are asked to go home and change, they are then so damaged that they never return to youth activities. Both the youth leaders and the involved youth need to realize that it is just an article of clothing. The leaders should not think that a YM or YW is a hooligan for dressing in a certain way, and the involved youth should be charitable toward the leaders recognizing that the leaders are just trying to uphold the standards of the activity they are participating in. It is not, nor should it be, a one way street. Blame is not to be laid solely at the youth leaders’ feet. What is the point of standards at youth activities (or the gospel in general) if we are continually making exceptions? Repentance in the gospel is not about changing the commandments. It is about changing ourselves, so that we can more fully keep those commandments.

        I have spent way too much time being involved in this discussion. I am sure that if I met you in person, we would have a lovely conversation. I appreciate the effort you are putting in to try and make the world a better place in the best way that you know how. Best to you and your family.

      • Violadiva says:

        The point of my post, and the point of engaging with you in these comments has always been the same: I posit that girls and women in the church should not be burdened by the threat of a lustful Mormon man’s gaze as a fear tactic for how they present themselves or how they look. I used scripture, reason, fairness and personal experience to illustrate my view. You argued your point to the contrary. I am neither convinced nor moved by your argument, but acknowledge that you are entitled to your own opinions. Thanks for stopping by the blog and taking the time to read.

      • Keep It REAL says:

        It is very important to remember that the youth are given and reminded frequently the standards of dress before any activity but especially water related ones. When they show up in a bikini without a tank top over it, they arrive knowing it is not acceptable. They have several choices here for which they are responsible for. They could have grabbed a tank top, borrowed one from a friend, buy a modest suit since they will most likely experience in this in the future over and again or they can show up completey disregarding the standards that have been taught. There are consequences to choices. When you teach the youth respect for their bodies and those around them, they are in a better position to feel the spirit. Their focus pivots from the attention they seek through what they are revealing to the actual purpose for the activity which is to build strong relationships with other good kids while enjoying wholesome recreation. We had many pool parties as young women when there were no priesthood holders present, yet the standard is still expected. I acknowledge about hearing others who have had well meaning leaders not deal with these situations appropriately and that is unfortunate. However, the responsibility lies in the choice the youth makes and the attitudes and coping mechanisms they or we as members choose to adopt. We can be a victim because we chose disobedience and didn’t like the consequence or we can come with an obedient heart willing to please God. God loves us all exactly how we are now AND he also expects us to live the commandments He has given us. He would always expect his children to be treated with love but that expectation does not push standards taught aside either. Expecting and holding those standards as leaders does not dissolve our love for His children.

      • Violadiva says:

        Keep it REAL,
        Please note the distinction I was very careful to make: nowhere in the original post or follow up comments have I suggested that youth not be given a dress code and expected to follow it. My point remains that we must remove the verbal threat of a lustful Mormon man’s gaze as a reason for doing so. As I said in my reply to Father of 4 above: “If our young women were taught an authentic sense of modesty in word, deed and appearance, without the harmful influence and consequences of the projected male gaze upon them, think how much more healthy, honest and earnest they would be! A true sense of modesty would emerge, motivated by a healthy sense of self and love of God, not by fear of man.”

        For examples of mormon women who have been the recipient of the Mormon male gaze, and experienced psychological and physical harm as a result, please read the comments above. Though you may not have experienced this yourself, please don’t discount the lived experiences of others as less valid or REAL.

      • Keep It REAL says:

        Violadiva I understand. I haven’t discounted others experiences based on mine, I just disagree how you paint it as common practice and that projecting the male gaze is what the church teaches because it is not. Though I have never experienced it in the church from my leaders or the leadership I have been part of, I acknowledge it happens but it is the exception not the rule. Exceptions are still worthy of a conversation and awareness. As I said in my first response, you are concerned with this burden being placed on women’s shoulders but the only person who can do that is the woman and I think if you truly want to empower women you spend the time educating them on how to cope in healthy ways rather than blaming peoples missteps for our feelings, particularly the unintended ones. It keeps them in the position of being a victim which is the only thing that can poison the woman. There will be people all through life who will say and do things that a person doesn’t like. I have endured things nobody should have to experience. It is not right. I get it AND would urge women not to be a victim to others whose perception is misaligned with yours. It is 100% a choice how you let the actions of others affect you. With that said, there is a full spectrum of male sexuality out there both in and out of the church. Should a man look upon a women with only the most honorable thoughts toward her? Absolutely! However, we do women young and old a GREAT disservice when we try to pretend that there aren’t men who have not mastered themselves or even want to. Men who don’t respect and honor women will not guard their inappropriate thoughts, they indulge them. This is not a woman’s fault but she still has A responsibility to herself. Therefore, it takes wisdom and maturity by a woman to take that knowledge and use it to protect & respect yourself as a women. Women should be motivated to dress modestly for many reasons but you cannot turn a blind eye to this. It is not a matter of placing the responsibility of a slime balls thoughts onto the women but rather a knowledge of the reality of how some men choose to operate and this can lead to them making more bad choices that could continue to affect you. Therefore it is not a vain projection, when women are given warnings with good intentions but slightly miss the mark. It is a very unfortunate reality that we as women must consider when making our decisions on what we wear and how we carry ourselves.

  51. Tim says:

    I think both Violadiva and Father of 4 are correct and I have quite enjoyed this discussion. I think the difference really lies in the degree and kind, as well as circumstances, when we discuss clothing and appearance.

    It is a general truth that women should not be judged, criticized, or shamed for their bodies, size, shape, or clothing; for showing cleavage, shoulders, thighs, bra straps, etc. However, this is not an absolute truth or moral. Again, degree and kind. I hope we would all agree that it would be inappropriate for any person, male or female, old or young, to walk into a sacrament meeting wearing a thong bikini and pasties. It would also be only normal, and perhaps appropriate, to make an immediate emotional judgment, and to immediately reprimand the person for doing so.

    So this is an extreme example, and that is the point. Our individual morals, values, and sensitivities lie along a spectrum. We each draw the line somewhere and then get offended or even outraged when someone else draws the line elsewhere. We should try to understand why we each draw the lines in different places, and try to converge our sympathies.

    The way we dress does affect other people – like it or not. And yes to Violadiva, we imperfect people should learn to better control our own responses, I totally agree. But I don’t think Violadiva’s argument at all was in reference to the extreme. I think she was pointing out the everyday normal occurrences, and the over sexualization of what most people in our larger society would consider normal. I perceive that the Mormon culture has oversexualized and objectified women, even if inadvertently or unconsciously.

    Comments and jokes that appear to be innocent can be hurtful. I was appalled at Dallin Oaks comments back in August when he gave marriage advice listing five things a husband should say to his wife: “I love you; I am sorry; Yes, dear; You look good in that; and, We can’t afford it.” And I have no problem criticizing him because his statements violated my own personal morality. But I have to assume he had no malice of intent, and was not aware how hurtful those comments were, or even how he was reinforcing gender and marital stereotypes that can be hurtful.

    I appreciate all the comments on this post. Even when we disagree I love the journey of exploring thoughts and ideas, and learning together. Thank you all.

  52. Amelia says:

    Thank you for this article. It brings up serious points for reflection. I am left wondering however, what are your suggestions for how to replace these problem behaviors?
    The first step of correcting a problem is being able to realize it exists.
    I think there are many readers in LDS culture who are unaware of these issues, and so this article does a very thorough job of explicitly recognizing what the issues are and why they are a problem- even for people who may initially resist or be inclined to reject these ideas.

    However to the faithful LDS person who reads this, recognizes the fallacies you bring up, and sincerely wants to correct it in their life, but also believes strongly in the principles of chastity, modesty, and knows the realities of temptation, you haven’t given them suggestions on what to say instead, and how to teach these principles correctly without denigrating or objectifying young men and young women.

    In my experience, it is one thing to recognize the problem exists. But if all you can do is to recognize the problem, but don’t have a model of correct behavior to replace the problem behaviors with; I.e. examples of how to still teach the principles of chastity and modesty and self-restraint while at the same time correcting this major cultural problem you bring up- then the reader will end up rejecting either your counsel and go back to the problem behaviors, or reject the standards in an attempt to align themselves with your arguments, because they don’t understand how to hold them both together.

    There is a need to explicitly describe how to hold both the standards and fixing the fallacies in the same cup, so they don’t appear to be mutually exclusive.

    I have my own ideas about this, but I’m curious as to what you will say to that person. How do you personally hold them both together?

    • Violadiva says:

      Amelia, thanks for the comment. As I’ve said in a few replies above, I think the most helpful thing we can do for our Young women is to first remove the verbal threat of a lustful Mormon man’s gaze as a consequence for anything to do with girls’ bodies or appearances. That should be an obvious first step.
      If our young women were taught an authentic sense of modesty in word, deed and appearance, without the harmful influence and consequences of the projected male gaze upon them, think how much more healthy, honest and earnest they would be! A true sense of modesty would emerge, motivated by a healthy sense of self and love of God, not by fear of man.
      There are countless excellent resources for what to teach instead, and how. I’m happy to refer you to the Beauty redefined site, which has made this type of body-positive messaging their work and mission.
      Also worth noting is this essay by Lisa, 13 articles for a healthy chastity.
      Other ideas are available in the Exponent blog YW lesson plan archive.
      Removing the harmful patterns of verbalizing the projected male gaze will leave space for women and leaders to consider what a more pure or authentic internal motivation for dress and appearance might be like.

      It’s important to also consider the psychological harm done to young women who are otherwise very appropriately dressed and yet still receive these projections of the gaze (as is described so well in a number of the comments above.)

      I think what to say instead is already a part of our doctrinal makeup, the words we need to use are already at our disposal. Love one another, judge not lest ye be not judged, look on the heart not the outward appearance, if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out. The answer to me is always less judging and more Jesus.

  53. Val Weaver says:

    Sorry in advance for the super long comment.. it was an interesting article and point of view, and while some of the things in here are true or make sense for some I actually have a lot of problems with it. I think there are differences between leaders and how they teach things, and also how some people understand or interpret what others say. I must’ve had great leaders because I never thought dressing modestly was shameful or that men at church were looking at me if I didn’t. I was taught that it was for God and as respect to our bodies and that men are taught to dress modestly as well but don’t have as much of a hard time because worldly culture doesn’t objectify them by their clothing as much. I do understand and don’t expect men to be perfect, so I also dress modestly in that respect, but that is also because I would not be perfect if they walked by immodestly dressed! At girls camp we wore swimsuits, and some wore tanks to sleep, it was never an issue or something leaders chided us about. But I’ve always seen modestly as a blessing and a way to prepare to go through the temple. As years go on the modest dress becomes a bigger and bigger problem and I think some leaders are just desperate for a good way to explain its importance, and end up saying things they shouldn’t. I think addressing virginity is slowly getting better, and if people are feeling guilty after a mistake because they are worried about judgement when getting married instead of the fact that they sinned, would be wrong. If you repent afterwards there is no room for guilt, shame, or feeling unworthy. And I know men have been pressured just as much in that regard. Those are not things I say lightly or without understanding of either. As a sister missionary we had the same jokes about having a handsome husband, I agree that the reward culture should go, but I also think some overly think it and then blame the Church altogether for every silly little thing members come up with, which is also wrong. The members are not perfect and how things are taught should be addressed, but at the same time, this article is too much. I feel bad for those who have grown up and felt like this after learning gospel principles. This is why personal study and revelation are important. You hear something ridiculous, you pray and know that’s not how the Church works, and you have to realize that most people do not actually believe or act this way and that members make mistakes. Thank goodness we have all realized what is being done wrong and can now teach it properly to future generations with home centered church. I think we just need to be positive about the future and make sure as leaders and teachers we do what is right.

    • Violadiva says:

      Hi Val, thanks for the comment. I’m really glad to hear that you had excellent leaders who taught you positive and uplifting messages during your youth and beyond. I agree with you that we can have hope for a very positive future, and that we want our leaders and teachers to get it right. I also agree that everyone should use their own powers of discernment to weigh how they feel about what they’re taught from (admittedly imperfect) church leaders. The examples I used in this article stem from a years-long accumulation of the stories of women: how they felt as girls, how they felt as young single adults, how they feel as adult women now. From their hundreds of comments and stories, I gathered similar examples and clustered them together in like-categories. A companion piece about the unique cultural pressures men encounter within Mormonism is in the works.

      I’m confused about what you think is “too much” about this article. Do you mean to say that since the occurrence of this Mormon Male gaze is not as prevalent in your own experience, that it shouldn’t affect these other women? Or that if it did happen to these other women that they should shrug it off as some random member making a mistake? You say, “Thank goodness we have all realized what is being done wrong and can now teach it properly to future generations…”
      With all due respect, I don’t think “we all” have realized the wrong and harmful patterns that are being done to young women and girls in the church, therefore what prompted this piece in the first place – to point out a really important and meaningful change we as a church culture could make. I think everyone needs to improve the way they speak to and about girls, from local leaders all the way up to the messages and materials that are shared from general church leadership. Sometimes those changes start with a grassroots groundswell from members at the local level. My goal for this piece is to have positive impact for change on those who might otherwise have perpetuated these harmful ways of speaking to young women. Thanks for taking the time to stop by, read the piece, and leave a comment. Hope you come back for our other content, too!

  54. 8472571 says:

    It took a little an hour of reading the comments to finally understand your actual objective:

    “Please note the distinction I was very careful to make: nowhere in the original post or follow up comments have I suggested that youth not be given a dress code and expected to follow it. My point remains that we must remove the verbal threat of a lustful Mormon man’s gaze as a reason for doing so.”

    This is not what I took away from your initial article. While you clearly made the point that you disagree with some of the non-doctrinal reasoning that teachers sometimes provide for teachings regarding modesty, and explained how that reasoning is unhelpful, the original article is not clear at all that in the end you still think a dress code is appropriate or helpful. While you may not have said that there should *not* be a dress code, you also didn’t explicitly say that you still think that there *should* be a dress code, just different teachings for *why* a dress code matters. That confusion is what seems to have led to a lot of the comments.

    • Violadiva says:

      My actual objective is that we remove the verbal threat of a lustful Mormon man’s gaze as a reason to teach our girls anything about their bodies or appearances.
      Full Stop.
      I purposely avoided making any statements for or against “modesty standards” or dress codes because that would have redirected blame and responsibility back onto girls. It’s curious to me how a number of the comments went straight there; as though blaming girls is a given, that the men’s gaze is inevitable, and that it would be impossible to teach modesty without at least referring to the men’s reactions in some way. Is it really that difficult to conceive of the possibility for teaching girls about their bodies and clothing without referring to men’s gazes?
      For the leaders and teachers of YW who are feeling puzzled about how to teach girls about modesty and dress codes without these kinds of threats, it opens the door of possibilities to teach them any number of other ways of framing it. I don’t suggest what those alternative should be, countless other women have written excellent lesson plans for these types of things. Dress code and modesty are mammoth cultural constructs, definitely not anything I could tack on as a side-point in this blog essay.
      Comments which redirect to the girls’ modesty and dress code standards just derail the salient point of the OP.

  55. Molly says:

    “It is possible that some Mormon men and boys may assert their gaze on a young woman and entertain sexual thoughts about her. Those thoughts in their own heads are their own business…”

    When you say this, it reinforces the belief so many pervy men have that thoughts aren’t sins. It is not true. My sexuality is MY own business. It is a private, sacred thing between me and my husband and God. No one has the right to think sexual thoughts about me. Men need to be taught it is not OK to use women sexually in their minds.

    • Violadiva says:

      “When you say this, it reinforces the belief so many pervy men have that thoughts aren’t sins.”
      I made no claim to judgement about whether their thoughts were sins or not, simply that the thoughts are the business of the man thinking them. If they are sinful or not, that’s his business. I’d be very uncomfortable convicting anyone of Thoughtcrime, as it’s not my place to judge the quality of the thoughts other people think.

      “No one has the right to think sexual thoughts about me.” — even better, no one, not man or woman, has the right to verbally project the real or imagined sexual thoughts of others onto you, yeah?

      • Molly says:

        You are missing the point. It’s not your job to “judge” men’s thoughts – it’s humankind’s job to try to live up to Christ’s standard of kindness (and yes, He says thoughts are sins: if a man looks on a woman with lust, he has committed adultery in his heart. And as Alma 12:14 says: “Our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us… and our thoughts will also condemn us.”) If we want a better culture, it’s our common job to find ways to encourage ourselves and others to find ways to achieve Christ’s standard even when it seems hard or impossible. It’s really unhelpful when feminists don’t realize that the man’s behavior is only a manifestation of the inner person and refuse to address his inner person. The best you can hope for in that scenario is a begrudging change of behavior in that one instance rather than a change of heart.

      • Molly says:

        Also, my sexuality is mine to give. ONLY by my consent. Why is my consent only relevant at the stage YOU deem it relevant (words and deeds) and otherwise (in thoughts) irrelevant, not mentioned, or even judged as impossible to hope for? Who are you or him to judge that about my sexuality? Consent at all levels matters, and when we don’t honor that fact in our discussions, we perpetuate rape culture.

      • Violadiva says:

        Hey Molly, I don’t think we disagree here. In the OP, I say this about men:

        “Projecting the Mormon Male Gaze onto girls is horribly insulting to men and young men as well, as it ungenerously presupposes that all men and young men default to seeing young women primarily as sexual objects. It unfairly characterizes young men as walking erections, waiting to go off at any time, in no control of their own thoughts, and without ability to process their attraction or arousal in appropriate ways. It is debasing to men and young men to speak of them having so little control over their minds and actions“

        I give men a lot of credit for generally going about their day and choosing not to sexualize or objectify the women around them. Unless they give me some reason to believe otherwise, I’m happy to give them the benefit of the doubt. I definitely don’t want to accuse men of having thoughts they don’t actually have. And since I’m not in their heads, reading their thoughts, the only thing I can do is respond to the information I’m given, which would be their words or actions. Their thoughts alone are between them and God. But to your point about the inner man, of course I want men to have healthy and happy internal and external lives.

        According to the accounts I gathered, and as stated in my OP, it is more often women who project this gaze onto girls, having little to no idea what the men ARE actually thinking.
        It seems like one big thing we could do for the men is to stop accusing them of thoughts they might not actually be having.

      • Molly says:

        Violadiva, You are making an excellent point there, and I appreciate it.

  56. Lola says:

    As a Young Women, I’m glad that I haven’t been taught these misleading teachings. I dress modestly to prepare myself for me and my future family, not to, as you said, tempt the males in the church. Half the things you have said were true but your opinions on certain topics I felt twisted the truth a lot. Your opinions look like complainants about the Prophets modern revelations from God, and turned it into ‘Us girls should be careful because males can’t control themselves’ ‘We cant do certain things, dress a certain way because we need to protect the males integrity’. When in fact this church teaches openly and regularly about agency and how we have a choice and that consequences, whether good or bad, will come from those choices.

    • Violadiva says:

      Hi Lola,
      Thanks for the comment! I’m really glad you made it through the YW program without anyone projecting these harmful (and false) teaching on you. It seems like you’ve developed a healthy sense of self and confidence in your own skin.
      I don’t think I twisted the truth or complained about modern revelation, because all of the statements and fallacies I pointed out ARE in fact, against the gospel of Jesus Christ. If people (men and women) were able to remove the verbal threat of a projected Mormon man’s lustful gaze on a young women, it would bring that person more in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. If the threat of a man’s gaze were removed entirely from any teachings directed at young women about their bodies or appearances, a young woman could more easily develop a confident sense of self and authentic modesty in word and deed. Likewise young men would not be automatically condemned for having thoughts they aren’t having. I think the benefits of removing this type of language will deeply impact and improve the lives of young women and young men.

  57. Zero says:

    I really liked this post and how it made me think. I’ve don’t have many good marriage examples in my life and probably don’t expect to get married myself. I’m not “confident”, a “go getter”, or a “take charge” kinda guy and that’s what I’ve seen many woman want in a man so I don’t have much to offer. So I totally can feel the sympathy when woman are told they are only valued for appearance. I work with several woman in science and greatly value them the same as everyone.

    Do great marriages actually exist?Should I even bother trying to get married when all the marriages I know of are a battle between genders and unhappy?

    • Moss says:

      “Do great marriages actually exist?Should I even bother trying to get married when all the marriages I know of are a battle between genders and unhappy?”

      This is a great question. The ones that I see that I would consider “great” are a partnership and a result of communication and work and maybe even therapy. But you bring up a good point: I wish that we prepared our youth better for marriage. We talk a great deal about how important it is, but I wish our conversations at church centered on how to create and maintain good relationships instead of just the importance of forming them.

      • Zero says:

        Thanks for your response. I guess part of the problem is just expectations! The church teaches great principles. I think the best way to teach youth and children to value the importance of marriage is to have a good marriage ourselves! Same with any gospel principle really. Living the gospel will always be more powerful then talking about it. But good to know there are happy marriages out there.

    • Violadiva says:

      Thanks for the comment, Zero. You bring up another side to the “patriarchy hurts everyone” dynamic – the idea that certain types of extrovert, high income, sole provider, church leader status-type-men who “preside” are the most desirable type of Mormon man to be. There’s a post in the works about this, but it’s a shining example of how the presider model leadership falls so short in marriages. Both men and women should be seeking “peer marriages” or partnership marriages. In her book called “Love Between Equals,” author Pepper Schwartz describes a peer marriage thusly: “a collaboration of love and labor in order to produce profound intimacy and mutual respect.” Such marriages are characterized by: 1) shared parenting and household duties 2) equal decision-making power 3) equal financial control 4) equal work status.
      I think if marriage is something you ultimately want, looking for a “peer marriage” would be less likely to have internal battles between genders and create unhappiness due to inequality.
      Women are taught that their power lies in their appearance, men are taught that their power lies in their accomplishments. The best messages to send our youth, and internalize ourselves if we missed the memo, is that the best relationships are built on partnership, not power. I think a vast number of the single women in the church are looking for a great, satisfying, equitable partnership. Keep looking!

  58. Carolyn Augustine says:

    I found this article interesting. I am a mother of 4 who experienced secondary infertility, so my 3 youngest children are being raised in a completely different decade than their 21-year old sister. I feel I could spend 6 hours or so reading through the comments here, attempting to understand the issues at hand. Thanks for giving so much for everyone here to think about, digest, and internalize.

  59. Amber says:

    Wow! I have never read an article that so fully encompasses what it was like growing up in the church. I’ve been overweight my entire life and it has ALWAYS been an issue that somehow because I’m not skinny, I’m not worthy of a husband. I would even make the self deprecating joke of ‘I know I don’t fit the typical Mormon Wife Mold, but I’m still pretty great!’

    I remember when I was 25, I felt I was ready to go through the temple and receive my endowments. I met with the stake president and he told me that he didn’t think I should go through. That I should try and lose weight so I could attract a husband (I was currently attending BYU-Idaho) and then go through with him! I was devastated. Once again, my physical appearance was being equated with my worthiness. I think that was the point when I started to really question the church and it’s teachings. And to be honest, I haven’t been an active member since.

  60. Violadiva says:

    To the commenters who have asked for suggestions on how to teach a healthy modesty, this article has excellent suggestions. Highly recommend.

  61. Violadiva says:

    Circling back to link together my follow-up piece about the harmful effects of patriarchy on men and boys that a number of commenters requested above:

  62. Christina D Perry says:

    I’m not active in the church anymore, and thought that I had fully worked through any issues from being raised in it. Reading this article just brought a flood of emotions as I realized that I do in fact still have some internalized issues from the way the church places value in women’s looks, virginity, etc. After reading this, I sat in horror and thought of the many amazing, beautiful, talented, smart, funny women I grew up with who have crushing self-worth issues and permanent feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness. It was heartbreaking to realize that these issues in myself, and in so many that I love, likely is tied to some internalization of these unfair and untrue values.

  63. Apelila says:

    I thought this was an insightful and well written article….right up until the end. To think that this culture is a result of pioneer women and polygamy…. I’m sure those things had a part to play, but it is FAR from the only things that have contributed to this phenomenon. I speak from experience as a beautiful young woman who was afraid to look into the mirror for fear that gazing upon my own body was sinful. I got my misconceptions not JUST from being a member of a church, but from attending school, speaking to strangers (I can’t TELL you how many people I never knew kept telling me to be a model XP) and I’d like to add that I attended school in two very radically different states. All of these problems are felt by Christian women everywhere in the United States. I’ve lived around in more than just 2 states and I’ve seen it. This is by far not just a Member of the Church of Jesus Christ problem, this is a United States Christian problem as well. This is a result of the Puritans, the witch hunts, the great enlightening 1 and 2, the Bible Belt… the list can go on, and even farther back. You forget that members weren’t born from thin air, they were converted from these other religions, these cultures and countries. Many of them brought their ideas of womanhood and chastity with them. And polygamy was not just a “Mormon” thing either. Every culture has had a history of polygamy or some form of it at some point, the members of the church just held onto it a bit longer than the rest of the United States.

    And these ideas are not just perpetuated by women, but when it is, it’s for a multitude of reasons. They see young women as a threat is one of them, but not every women who perpetuates these beliefs see their daughters as a threat to their husbands and sons. It’s also because they believe with every fiber of their righteous desires that what they have been told all their lives about men is true. I believed many of these horrible things discussed, until I came to terms with my body insecurities and questioned why they were the way they were.

    I can go on about how these things came to be, but the real question we should be posing, is how do we undo centuries of conditioning on common misperceptions of womanhood and he value it poses to humanity? How do we help our daughters fight against these seemingly rigid and disturbing ideals that seek to harm them? These are the game changing questions, the ones I ask myself everyday. How do I protect my daughter so that she doesn’t see her body the way I did when I was young?

  64. Mike says:

    Well said, Apelila. Important points.

  65. Natalie Westwood says:

    I served a mission over a decade ago. I wanted to serve a mission because I felt like it was the right thing to do and good use of my time and resources. I wanted to be a part of the armies of The Lord just like they had taught me at Youth Conference and EFY.

    That ambition was very quickly shattered. My presence on the missions was met with a great deal of hostility. In a mission of over 300 missionaries there were only about 25 to 30 sisters. Sisters were actively excluded from activities and events going on in the mission because zone leaders and district leaders did not want it to be a temptation for the elders that there were females present.

    I was informed many times in no uncertain terms by different elders that only girls that look like trolls served missions and that a girl that was not actively ugly must have ulterior motive‘s for being there. I was labeled The Husband Hunter.
    Outside of a few elders that were my friends, I was considered a pariah and a couple of my friends even got in trouble for being so.
    The false rumors that went around the mission about me were both disgusting and grotesque and completely broke my spirits.

    I later learned from one of my friends that he had witnessed a group of about 5 priesthood holding Missionaries discuss in what sexual positions they imagined taking me in their fantasies. The most difficult part was the prevailing opinion amongst the elders and even some of the sisters that this was normal and acceptable behavior for a bunch of guys. It was even said by a few that I deserved it and was asking for it simply by being present.

    I started believing that it was my fault. I got scared and even frantic. I approached the mission president’s wife to have her look at my wardrobe and make sure it was all appropriate. I cut my hair and stopped wearing makeup to remove any sort of perceived allure. It drove me into a very deep depression that took years to overcome.

    I have precious few fond memories of my mission and those good ones that I have are often jaded by the horrible nightmare that was my experience serving in God’s army. I returned home two months early with a nervous break down.
    I do know many sisters that experienced wonderful missions and have beautiful stories to tell their daughters. I guess my skin just wasn’t thick enough to endure the humiliation put upon me.

    When my daughters eagerly talk about going on missions and beg for stories from my mission, I give them very generalized answers and quickly change the subject.

    I cannot bring myself to tell them that the church policies and programs put in place to try and teach youth morals and values ended up coming together to form an accepted mindset that facilitate and supported the worst sexual-harassment experience of my life.

  66. Micah says:

    As a young woman in the church, I always heard these jokes as 2 sided. We would encourage classmates to pray because the more you pray in church, the hotter your future husband gets.

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