Saturday, April 26, 2008

FLDS on the Catwalk

In the opinion section of the New York Times, editorialist Timothy Egan had this to say a couple of days ago about the appearance of the FLDS women

You see these 1870 Stepford wives with the braided buns and long dresses, these men with their low monotones and pious, seeming disregard for the law on child sex — and wonder: who opened the time capsule?

Is Egan for real? Is he now the fashion editor for the paper? A better forum for his comments is the Discovery Channel's What Not To Wear. I mean come on, how pathetic is it that he is dissing this whole community because they favor modesty.

And how about the LDS that slam the FLDS for the same fashionable reasons. LDS members are bombarded with calls for modesty. But their sense of modesty seems to adjust rather nicely to changing fashions in the country at large. LDS dress modestly alright, but it’s relative. What is modest for many in an LDS ward today would likely be deemed immodest 30 years ago.

Don't get me wrong, I am not saying it is time to go back to wearing swimming costumes and I hate it that LDS church attire has practically become a uniform, but don't be so petty as to criticize people for actually dressing in accordance with their beliefs, even if they dress like their grandparents did.

22 comments:

Sanford said...

For a more measured slapdown of FLDS fashion sense see Rebeeca Walsh’s treatment of the topic. And here is a take by the Associated Press .

Fifthgen said...

It all raises the issue, "Which IS the most fashion-forward New Religious Movement out there?"

pb said...

I think the stepford wives comment refers more to the distinct lack of evidence that these women have a brain that propels them -- as opposed to a remote control operated by one of the elders -- than to their costume.

As to the modesty of the costume, frankly, I'm appalled that WJ has seen fit to allow the women to show their hair and their face. Surely the comeliness of these attributes -- fully exposed -- could lead a man into temptation?

Fifthgen said...

It is an interesting human characteristic that we seem to want to visually identify and/or distinguish ourselves. School colors, lapel ribbons (pick your color depending upon your cause), yarmulkes, rainbow flags or bumper stickers, gang bandanas, saffron robes. It is also interesting how these visual markers simultaneously bond us with some and separate us from others. Can you effectively develop an identity (cultural or otherwise) without distinguishing yourself from everyone else? Is having distinct cultural identity a bad thing? Does the Buddha have the answer?

jupee said...

Based on what I see coming and going from the Zen Center (three houses away from my house), I'd have to say that Buddha does have an answer. The answer is to wear exclusively black and drive an audi, mercedes benz, or bmw (your choice). The skinnier the better. Wearing a quiet pained expression is very acceptable.

I do not get what all the the fuss is about. I bet M&M had one of those dresses in pale yellow in junior high. Mine was a brown gingham because it matched my hair.

pb said...

fifthgen & jupee: well I'm not feeling the love, but I'm going to answer the question as it strikes me, which may not be the question that's being asked. Buddhist monks in Tibet and Southeast Asia are easily identified by their orange robes, shaved heads and sandals. I think that this tradition dates back to Buddha himself, who wore a saphron robe, but I'm not sure of that. At the zen center it is appreciated if bright colors are not worn, or so I was advised, the reason being that bright colors could distract people from their meditation. (I thought this was bizarre and silly but I did tend to wear somber colors when attending.) It is certainly true that the western zen tradition, as far as I can tell, does not adhere to the "3 possessions" tradition of Buddha's day, those being your robe, your sandals, and your alms bowl. I have no difficulty with a nun taking a vow and donning the habit, or a monk donning the robe. These gestures signal the commitment that they have made. Yet I find the burka repulsive. So what's the difference? I view the one as being an expression of the individual's commitment; the other I view as an oppression of the individual that centers around the need of a male hierarchy to outsource responsibility for its own sexual discipline. You can guess by my previous comment which I think the FLDS women's attire is more akin to. So maybe I'm making assumptions. That's the way I see it. Shoot me.

Fifthgen said...

So the Buddhist nuns are making the conscious choice to set themselves apart from the rest of society as a sign of their commitment. Admirable, or not?

PS: Are we sure the burkha or the prairie dress is not a sign of commitment for ANY Muslim or FLDS women? Or are we just not as comfortable with what they are committing to?

Sanford said...

I have wondered about the burka comparison as well. While the FLDS women don't cover their faces, they clearly have adopted what they consider to be chaste attire. We all, at least the people I know, have various modesty needs. I am not ready to become a nudist anytime soon and I always feel a little uncomfortable going without a shirt in public. So where does modesty become unhealthy? I think Burka's go to far but I don't have a problem with the FLDS attire but maybe that's just my cultural bias.

Kfram said...

I do think they are funny looking; but I really don't care what people are wearing. It's a part of their culture.

pb said...

fifthgen: I understand the desire to set oneself apart from society. I think it can be admirable. I admire many people who have done it. I guess it depends on context.

On 2nd question: Burkha or prairie dress could be a sign of commitment for a muslim or FLDS woman. The context casts doubt on the voluntariness of it for me. WJ is quoted in one of the news magazines this week as saying "perfect faith is perfect obedience" or maybe it's the other way around. That's perfect obedience to WJ as I understand it. I find that particular creed to be problematic. Especially when coupled with lack of education and coercive practices, such as punishing lack of obedience with social ostracism, deprivation of property, or in the muslim world, stoning to death.

And yes, I also am not comfortable with what the women are committing to, primarily for the reasons above stated. It appears to me that if a muslim woman in afghanistan, or a flds woman in texas, can be said to be committing to something, that thing would be slavish obedience to authority and the negation of essential features of one's humanity.

sanford: I have no trouble with people having different modesty needs. I have trouble with "modesty" being imposed from above, i.e., by WJ. I also do not think it is coincidental that the most sexist social systems have the most restrictive dress codes for women. It becomes women's responsibility -- not men's own -- to curb the male libido.

Fifthgen said...

One difficulty here seems to be determining, as an outsider, when a religious group crosses the line in honoring the agency or humanity (or whatever you want to call it) of its adherents. Of course you would prosecute criminal conduct. Beyond that, I do not believe that any organization, including religions/sects/cults, should exercise "control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men." Rather, organizations and people should use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love and kindness. I am not sure, however how we decide which organizations fail to meet this standard, and what we do about them. Ridiculing the appearance or demeanor (i.e., “Stepford Wives”) of the adherents just seems like another form of misdirected social ostracism to me, but I do not have a solution - - beyond persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love and kindness (which I wish I were better at using).

reddirtgirl said...

Okay, it may be petty but I would rather see an FLDS woman in her prairie dress than an LDS woman in her fashionable low rise jeans with her garments hanging out for all to see.

Yes, really. In Provo. Numerous times.

pb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jupee said...

Totally. Especially is it's a muffin top.

Fifthgen said...

Isn't that why the "Shade" was invented?

Sanford said...

The more I think about the less the burka thing works as a comparison. A burka makes a woman indistinguishable from other women. A prairie dress on the hand other is simply out of fashion (mainstream fashion that is). That’s why the NYT writer’s slam “1870 Stepford wives with the braided buns and long dresses” is such a cheap shot. He is saying that because the FLDS women don’t dress in a contemporary manner, they must be brainless followers. I don’t think following mainstream fashion trends proves your independence of thought. And as to the subjugation of women, it has been pointed out to me that the FLDS men have a manner of dress that is comparable to the women. The men always wear long pants and long sleeve shirts. They may not be sporting pastels but they are covering up a just as much skin as the women.

kframpton said...

I agree with reddirtgirl. I see LDS ladies all of the time at school with their garments hanging out when they bend down. And when we are with my husbands family...YIKES. I can't stand those lose rise jeans.

Think about the dress this way:

Would you rather have your 16 year old daughter wearing a mini skirt with a thong and a low cut tank top or "poly fashion"? yeah, their dresses are not looking that bad to me either.

pb said...

fifthgen: I think you have identified precisely what the issue is. As an outsider, how can we know whether a religious adherant in a restrictive sect acts voluntarily or not? And what does voluntariness mean in the context of children born into the sect? Is is possible for a child born into the flds sect to make any choice when their lives are so restricted? I also agree with you that the 2nd big question is, what do we do about it, if anything?

Everyone seems to agree that we prosecute the crimes. The question that is more difficult is whether we take action to protect the children, and if so, what action do we take, and why. We shouldn't take action to protect children from being raised within the religious traditions of their parents. We should take action to protect children from becoming the sexual partners of adults (since we now define this as abuse, though it would not always and everywhere be defined so). The flds problem seems to fall somewhere in the crossroads, which is why its so interesting.

sanford: I also agree with you that the pastel dress / burkha comparison is not exact, or even particularly close. The only point of similarity that I wonder about is, again, the voluntariness of it. Do the women really choose this mode of dress, or do they simply do as they are told by the elders? The answer ultimately, I guess, is that they choose to obey the elders in all things. Presumably, there would be some avenue of escape for most if not all of the women if they chose to take advantage of it. So live and let live.

But can't we still make fun of them? That seems unduly restrictive to me. Clearly fifthgen's approach of persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love and kindness is better, but I will have a hard time participating in the conversation with these restrictions.

jupee said...

I don't see the FLDS thanking their emancipators. Does that trouble anyone?

Fifthgen: Putting frosting on a muffin doesn't make it go away.

jupee said...

pb: What is the true "voluntariness" of any of our actions? If coercion is a crime, humans are ipso facto criminal. Let's lock up the free press first. I've been inculcated! Do you really think that we think for ourselves? What evidence points towards that?

Why is the FLDS system worse than the capitalist system that was shoved down my throat, unbenownst to me? I don't remember choosing the consumptive, exploitive ulcerative-collitis-inducing lifestyle to which I belong. It's what I was taught and look what it's doing to the planet and other people in the world. I bet the FLDS use a whole lot fewer resources than most Americans. How do we choose which non-voluntary choices are to be enforced against one's will (or lack thereof)?

And as for all the shocking sex . . . how old were you when you first got your groove on? How old is the oldest man you've dared cherish?

Oh and I heard almost 10% of those FLDS children raised on farms have suffered broken bones. We know that from the involuntary x-rays. This thing walks like a witch hunt.

In the words of Michelle Obama. "Really now."

pb said...

jupee: I believe in free will because I have no choice. Perhaps that's the same reason I believe I think for myself. I do know for sure that I don't do what Warren Jeffs tell me to -- so I've got that going for me.

Fifthgen said...

jupee: I wish the shade cured the muffin top. I would by one.