Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Spirit of the Law

I was shown an article today outlining the banning of skinny jeans from BYU-Idaho campus. Yes, you heard me. The banning of skinny jeans. Don’t believe me still? Enjoy:

First and foremost, this isn’t a rant about skinny jeans propensity for immodesty and what the benchmarks and standards are for what is “too tight… too form-fitting... too “skinny””. What I’d like to bring up is something that has always… what’s the word…. “irked” me about certain rules and restraints upon grooming and dress standards inherent to BYU campuses. Also, this is not a rant about BYU, rather, a discussion on the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law and what it actually means to choose to adhere to principles vs. being forced into compliance by rules.

What irks me most is the lack of individual accountability (intricately connected to agency) that many of these regulations discount. Some of these regulations I see as flirting with the line of “force” vs. “choice.” I understand as a religious institutions, the BYU’s (Provo, Idaho, and Hawaii respectively) they must uphold religious precepts and therefore, cannot very well support or accept lack-luster standards of their student body. Nor can they very well afford to implement regulations without subsequently enforcing such regulations. This I like about the BYU’s and their Honor Codes. Not only are these honor codes rather audacious albeit conservative when it comes to “societal standards” but these standards are not swayed by the whims or fancies of fashion, media, and other “moderninities.” As VP Henry J. Eyring says in the article, “fashions will come and go.” BYU’s student body, for all intents and purposes, actually looks pretty upstanding most of the time. As to what that translates into when you reach into the cockles of the heart or even more simplistically, into the recesses of a dorm room is a different matter. But that’s life… that’s people… no one is perfect. The institution must uphold what it upholds because it's representing a belief system the the world, and I for one admire them for doing so despite the fools who mock.

That said, this lack of personal accountability for your own thoughts, actions, and perceptions of adhering to regulations of the institution you have agreed to be a part of has, once again, gone beyond the realm of self-governance and independent religious commitment and into the realm of force that’s completely based on the personal ideas and standards of whomever happens to be working in the testing center that day. THIS is what I have issue with. What is a standard of “too form-fitting” and how does one decide what is form-fitting and what is not? Who is the ultimate judge of whether a woman’s butt curvature is too accentuated by her jeans that she may not take a test for a class? Should it not be the woman’s decision as to what she feels is appropriate and adhering to the regulations she so agreed to when she became a BYU student? When are the students themselves given the freedom and ability to interpret these standards for themselves? Joseph Smith once said, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” Some regulations are not allowing for self-governance and I find this stifling to the spiritual growth and strengthen of beliefs.

I feel that there are instances, much like this skinny jean scenario, where adherence to correct principles goes beyond logic and reason and accountability and essentially, the spirit of why BYU asks its student to dress appropriately. Rather, the letter of the law is blinding the spirit of the law. 

And here is the law via BYU-Provo

 “Immodest clothing includes short shorts and skirts, tight clothing, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and other revealing attire. Young women should wear clothing that covers the shoulder and avoid clothing that is low-cut in the front or the back or revealing in any other manner."

I feel this is a reasonable standard to set for students that attend these institutions, and furthermore, I think that students who sign the honor code should be expected to take personal responsibility for such. 

Here is BYU-I's Honor Code for grooming standards for women:  

A clean and well-cared-for appearance should be maintained at all times. Clothing is inappropriate when it is sleeveless, strapless, backless, or revealing. It should not have slits above the knee or be formfitting. Dresses and skirts must be knee-length or longer (even with leggings worn).

Pants, slacks or jeans should not be patched, faded, frayed or torn and must be ankle length—no capris or shorts may be worn on campus. Hairstyles should be clean and neat, avoiding extreme styles and unnatural colors. Caps or hats should not be worn in buildings. Excessive ear piercings (more than one pair) and all other body piercings are inappropriate. Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas. Flip-flops and other casual footwear are inappropriate on campus.

They are basically similar in every way. However, the difference here lies with institutional interpretation being forced upon students or allowing students to interpret this standard for themselves.

There needs to be a line where the institution gets involved and where it is left up to student accountability. In the case of BYU-I, I feel flip flops, overalls (though let’s be honest… no problem there), shorts (at all), and apparently now skinny jeans is institutionally over-stepping the line of self-governance and forcing their students to apply their understanding of the rules “their way.” I recall a little council in heaven where there were two individuals offering to fulfill a heavenly plan and one was about CHOICE while the other was about FORCE. Mull that over. Naturally there will be those students who roll into the Creamery with cleavage up to their eyeballs and attempting to pass of their boy-cut panties for shorts exclaiming, “This is how I interpret the Honor Code!” In such extremity, clearly, the institution is without question required to address such instances. But again, I’m not talking about the black and white – I’m taking about the gray that encompasses self-governance simply because individuals think, feel, interpret, and apply principles differently. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Then again, I went to the University of Utah.

I think this would also be an appropriate time to point out the difficulties of trying to adhere to strictly to a grooming code given the mirage of body types that make up college campuses. I am containing most of my comments to females as grooming standards tend to effect them more so than men. Something that may seem revealing or low cut on a woman who, say, is very busty, and has significant butt curvature may look completely acceptable on a woman who perhaps has little curves, a small bust, and no butt. The later woman may wear a simple boot-cut jean while the former could get away with strait up leggings. The “tightness” factor could by all accounts and purposes be the same, but it is the body shape and difference that can make a pair of skinny jeans (or a t-shirt, or a skirt) look very different from one body to the next – from one booty to the next. Some women will always look curvier than others and they should not have to adhere to a different standard, in my opinion, for something that was bequeathed upon them by genetics. I only ask they be self-aware. In fact, I was told once because I was short, I should wear crewneck t-shirts because taller guys might be able to look down my shirt.


My response, “Well maybe they shouldn’t try to look down my shirt regardless...” I’m not dressing like a marm simply because men taller than me (read: that would be 98% of men) have wandering eyes.

I’d like to give you some more real life examples of similar double standards I experienced while spending time on a campus.

#1 - I was involved at BYU-Provo campus for some time and in that time, I quickly learned that things I had not noticed living outside of the “Honor Code” I had to start taking notice of very quickly. Like 5:00 shadows. Can I tell you how my male employees would take advantage of my “beard” ignorance  and wander in with their stubby faces because they knew it wouldn’t even register with me? Imagine their surprise when I started remembering and sent them home for a shave. Scally-wags!

Anyway…. Better example:

I run in running shorts. What? Yes. My running shorts aren’t long shorts, but they aren’t short shorts really. They are running shorts hitting me probably about mid-thigh. Now, as standards dictate on campus, students are asked not to wear short shorts and skirts. Of course I knew this, but it didn’t compute to running shorts for me. I don’t know why. Probably because I’d never had to think about it before as I attended the secular school up North (or any other school in the nation) where showing significant butt cheek out the bottom of your Daisy Dukes was common classroom attire. I was reminded very quickly of this “no short shorts fact” though as I had to leave from running the BYU outdoor track (with another girl who was doing so in a sports bra and shorts only – just pointing it out) through campus for something. As I was walking on campus, I noticed I was getting some curious looks. One such fellow almost tripped over himself, gave me a gawking up and down, and then shook his head and “passed by on the other side." It was then, when I followed his gaze, it hit me. I was wearing “short shorts”. Now, I’m 5’1 and don’t boast a lot of “leg”, but never the less, they were shorter than probably is customary for campus wear. I blushed and felt ashamed. That shame, however, turned to annoyance when, as I watched this pimpled sweet spirit walk away, I noted that he in fact was wearing flannel teddy bear PJ bottoms, an old “BYU Basketball 1997” t-shirt with holes, and fuzzy slippers. I REPEAT, flannel teddy bear PJ’s, a wholly old t-shirt, and slippers. If I might now QUOTE from the BYU Honor Code: “A clean and well-cared-for appearance should be maintained... Shoes should be worn in all public campus areas. Flannel teddy bear PJ’s. Perhaps Mr. PJ’s and I should’ve thought twice before venturing on campus in our attire. But the thing is, I was the only one getting side glances. I was the one who was breaking the rules. And though I won't deny that in my ignorance I probably was breaking the rules, so was this gentleman. But I also know if someone were to report us - the PJ boy wouldn't have even caused an eye to bat. Why? Because no one things "sexy" about flannal pj's... and that's really what it's about. Sex.

#2 - Student complains of unseemly ankle bearing. I once had a student email the department I was housed in complaining that he could see the ankles of a woman on one of our posters. I was silenced mid-scoff by the faces of colleagues who were actually considering his complaint as legitimate. Ankles?!? As professionally as I could muster, I offered the following logic, “If this student is getting off because of women’s ankles, might I suggest he has bigger problems then our small marketing department should be encumbered upon to address?” Call me devil's adovcate.

Which brings the accountability discussion full circle. Immodesty is a “women” thing. Is it not? Societal standards, the nature of women, the nature of men, it all coagulates together upon the fact that men are more aroused through visual stimuli than women and women’s bodies are generally the object of that arousal. I get it and I agree that as a woman, I have a responsibility to not be the proverbial “Potiphers wife”… displaying my womanly wiles for all to partake. But I do not think that my responsibility to be aware of my womanly effect on the male gender also encompasses their responsibility (or lack thereof) to maintain self-control. They are accountable for their thoughts, feelings, and “triggers” and therein lies my biggest irk of all. Men and women are both responsible for the image they project, but also how they internalize an image that will inevitably be projected upon them; skinny jeans being the lesser of those projected images I expect. Mr. Ankles email was somehow justifying a thought or (assumption here) action or pattern of actions he was involved in and instead of taking personal accountability for a human weakness, placing blame upon a woman's ankles. I perish the thought of this poor fellow ever living anywhere else but Utah, or turning on the TV, or going to the grocery store or hey, even going to church. I assume if it ever came down to mandating burkas on campus, he'd sounds the rallying cry.

BYU-I campus cannot keep their student body from viewing skinny jeans, flip flops, skirts, cleavage, ankles, and any other fleshy or curve hugging fashion, trend, or natural endowment that is rampant in every other corner of the world. They can ask their students not to partake, and they can ask their students to adhere to these standards, but they cannot keep them from, at some point in their lives, dealing with “the world” as it is. As Elder Holland so aptly put it (and I paraphrase) we must live in the world, just not of the world. We still must live IN the world. We must adapt and build up resistance and learn to make choices and uphold standards when our environments tell us we’re ridiculous or archaic. I admire BYU’s for upholding that standard – but only to the point where it still allows student agency and speaks to the spirit of “why” rather than the paternal “because I said so, that’s why.” We must still take accountability for our choices, thoughts, actions, and apply those principles and concepts we are taught through prayer and individual interpretation. We are taught correct principles, and we govern ourselves.  

Now don’t misread me here. It’s not that I think BYU (or any religious institutions) student bodies consist of only drones that can’t make their own choices and govern themselves. They can. Regardless of institutional codes and regulations, I know there is still personal choice to follow those regulations when no one is watching, when your boyfriend keeps trying to push your limits, or when you are home alone with a computer and internet connection. I get that. But for me on a personal level, attending such an institution didn’t appeal to me simply because I wanted to make sure I was making those choices, setting those limits, and following those standards simply because it was how I chose to live my life; not for fear of punishment, being caught, or being shamed. I also realize, because I was born and raised in rural Utah, I felt an even greater need to do that. Make sure my identify and convictions were what they really were beyond my parents house rules, and my cultural surroundings. I could only do that by not going to a school where they were similarly enforced through crime and punishment. Weird logic, but it works for me. And makes sense too - as most BYU students are NOT from Utah and thus, have likely already had their spiritual mettle tested many times through out their life.  I wanted to learn to govern myself and I’m glad I get to wear skinny jeans and date bearded men while I do it. That's all I'm sayin.


Jessica said...

Sooooo I read about this yesterday and may or may not have left a snarky comment on BYU-I's first article about the whole debacle- read here-

So there's nothing wrong with standards. It's ok and awesome for institutions to have standards, but my objection, similar to yours, is the way the standards are enforced. Seriously. Read that article- the director of the testing center (a university employee, not an ecclesiastical leader) basically says "if you're wearing skinny jeans, you're not worthy of the Spirit". Wait, what? What the what? I'm still baffled by his comments.

And of course, there's the inconsistent way the policy was being enforced- in this article, a student was told by a male employee that her pants were too tight, so she couldn't take the test. She pointed out other girls in the line whose pants were tighter, and a female employee even stodd up to him, pointing out that here jeans were tighter, but he belligerently insisted on following his own counsel.

The whole thing is just. so. ridiculous. I can't even handle it.

Jessica said...

Also: mmmmmm bearded men. The severe lack of them was the one major drawback of attending BYU.

Andrea Jolene said...

Eye roll. What a loser. This is what I mean - how can one student force his interpretation of a standard upon ONE person how he sees fit. Fool.

Jaime Van Hoose Steele said...

Ankles are very sexy! That poor guy was being subjected to them at a religious school!?! Terrible!!

Ps- Beards...mmmm!! :-)

Andrea Jolene said...

Right? Everyone knows a bare ankle is the gateway drug to sex. Stop the insanity!

Unstoppable Lindsey said...

And.....scene! WHEW! Best read I have had in a long time suckafriend. Might I include my FAVE phrase: "I recall a little council in heaven where there were two individuals offering to fulfill a heavenly plan and one was about CHOICE while the other was about FORCE" SHAZAAM!

You have power my sister! Extreme power. Makes me wonder what you look like in a bathing suit!

Andrea Jolene said...

My suckafriend! I miss your suckface!

Andrea Jolene said...

...that's suckaface... though suckface is pretty funny.