Skirt Length Doctrine: Modesty Gone Wild
Updated: Dec 9, 2019
Imagine visiting a church website and clicking on their “About Us” link to find, among other cherished doctrinal positions, a skirt length doctrine. Imagine attending a membership class and as they review church positions on various beliefs, they include an appropriate length for skirts.
The length of the female skirt is such a cherished issue in churches, I wonder why they don’t list it as a church doctrine. Yet, this modesty concern is not just in our churches. It's throughout our culture. It's talked about by parents, grandparents, teachers, school administrators, employers, coworkers, males and females. The world cares.
I don’t mean to imply that distractingly short skirts are not inappropriate for certain settings. I’m not implying that television programs with exposed female legs are not using a marketing ploy. I realize when we drive by car wash fundraisers, we will notice the girls in short-shorts. We understand the dynamics.
WHAT MESSAGE DO WE SEND?
It’s not just the extreme about which we care. It is not simply those using legs to sell their ideas or products or their services. It’s the rest of us fine-tuning this issue with doctrinal fervor: two inches above the knee, one inch below the knee, she should be able to touch the hem with the tips of her fingers while standing, skirts should cover the knees while sitting, skirts should flair, oh my gosh she crossed her legs and anyone can see all the way up!
I recall a female student over 5′ 10″ frustrated with the “no more than two inches above the knee” rule. Her long legs had a tendency to break that rule. Come to think of it, it’s not really the skirt that is so important. It’s the legs. And the knees. Skirts are fabric, but legs…that’s skin.
The amount of leg we are allowed to expose is a culturally driven issue. It’s not determined by exegesis. It’s not written in the Bible; it's not written in the sky. We decide by what our culture says and then, depending on our religious affiliation, we go more conservative than the culture. Easy-peasy: we are now declared modest. Decent people. After all, there was a time when knees were not the gauge, ankles were.
Relative visiting church: “Did you notice that one woman in the very short skirt?”
We had all seen her.
“How inappropriate,” he said.
He didn’t know she was doing more in that church than anyone else. He didn't know she was a new Christian bringing her extended family. When I told him, this silenced him–momentarily.
When I was growing up, it was common to see a lot of leg on females. Skirts had inched up over the decades to cover just below a girl’s posterior. I was not one of the privileged who had this freedom. The church I attended frowned on any skirt above the knee. I could not figure out why a girl in my class, a pastor’s daughter, was allowed to wear short-short skirts, but I could not.
Being on the receiving end of this focus, I’m wondering if people understand the impact this “doctrine” has on young females. Why are their legs such an interest to all? I’m not being stupidly naive with this question. Of course, legs are sexually attractive. I’m asking a different question: Do we want to send the message to our girls that skirts and legs are what we think about the most when we consider them? Why are Christians, many of whom do not wish to give consideration to culture, so culturally bound?
It’s not really about what message females in short skirts send; it’s about what message a short skirt doctrine implies about us.
THE DILEMMA OF THE MODESTY CULTURE
This is the dilemma of the modesty culture. An overt focus on covering female anatomy is just as much an obsession with the female body as a focus on uncovering it. Why, if the culture is obsessed with skirt length, can’t the church place more value on the person? Instead, the church is reacting to culture, not superseding it.
I don’t see cultural influences as inherently bad. We can’t avoid the fact that spirituality is expressed through culture. But when an issue such as this becomes quasi-doctrinal, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves why? Cannot we be blind, to some degree, to the length of a female’s skirt in order to see her intellect, her gifts, her contributions, and her emotional and spiritual needs, while at the same time not negating her sexuality?
Do we really have to say this to the church? When Jesus addressed this issue, he never suggested that females needed to cover themselves. Instead, he said the person who lusts after a woman should pluck their own eyes out. I’m wondering why that is not a doctrinal position. We can point to scripture for it. Hopefully, we understand he was using hyperbole, but where was he placing the responsibility?
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