I am currently in a state of shock. I just found this t-shirt online and it’s forced me to think about Mormon missionaries in a completely unexpected way — some of them are regarded as Mormon sex symbols.
A Mormon mission is an eighteen-month evangelical service to bring the restored gospel to the masses. Men may go at age 18, women at age 19. Needless to say, chastity is a requirement. With that understanding, you’ll understand my shock when I realized that many female missionaries (Sisters) actively want to feel hot and desirable — so much so that it’s apparently quite appropriate to wear t-shirts designed to illustrate their potential as a Mormon sex symbol.
I somehow assumed that Mormons (and other religious conservatives) genuinely believed the bullshit about being modest to avoid tempting men into sin. Instead, they (assuming they’re heterosexual) want men to look at them and find them attractive. They find that just as gratifying as the rest of us do. (Being sexually objectified in this manner can indeed be gratifying, but it can also be demeaning, shaming, intimidating, etc. I’ll attempt to clarify that at another time.)
I feel like I haven’t really explained what I’m talking about. Let’s look at the first shirt; the text reads “Sorry Mister, I’m a Sister.” The only way I can interpret that is that the woman wearing the shirt expects men to be looking at her with desire. She’s not guarding against such looks, she’s acknowledging them and even communicating to the men in question. She’s not making any attempt to deflect such attention, or indicate that it’s unwanted; while the mission is a (temporary) priority, the first word on the shirt is an apology for her unavailability.
I suppose it’s possible that these women are genuinely thrilled to be in the chaste environment of a mission, but have been conditioned by their patriarchal society to always be available to men. Maybe I’ve completely misinterpreted the message; maybe it’s triumphant rather than smug. For 18 months these women are virtually untouchable; they are completely devoted to their missions, free from the normal pressures of college and dating.
And while for some women that may be exactly what the Sister shirt means, I don’t think there can be any ambivalence about the message this shirt sends. “Modest is Hottest” is quite clear. These women are finding fascinating ways to reconcile the church’s doctrine of modesty with the human desire to be found attractive.
I’d like to be clear that I am not condemning these women in any way — obviously I see no problems with an interest in sex. However, I see hypocrisy in the idea that modesty is sexy and that Mormon sex symbols don’t exist. Conservative religions like the Church of Latter Day Saints spend a great deal of time telling women that we need to cover our bodies and that we should be ashamed of our ability to lead men into temptation. I am (irrationally) shocked to learn that even the church’s own foot soldiers have a discrepancy between their spiritual ideals and their choice of garments.