Modesty is not a virtue

I've already done one post about reactions that I get when I'm dressed in vintage (basically, "great job conforming to traditional gender roles!", which, just, eww), and in the post I mentioned that there is another reaction that I get that I also hate. "It's nice to see a woman who covers up a little bit more. I hate how much skin women show these days. It's so slutty."
It always kind of surprises me when people actually say things like that. I will admit that most of people that I talk to on a regular basis fit firmly into the progressive, feminist school of thought, where it's understood that a woman's appearance is not a reflection of her character, and that enjoying consensual sex is not a moral failing. Those beliefs are so much a part of my world view that to hear anything else seems ludicrous. My instinctive reaction is to assume that they must be joking; people don't seriously believe this stuff, do they?
While I fully support every woman's right to be comfortable in what she's wearing, whether it's a pair of shorts and a crop top or a burqa, I hate the idea of modesty. Modesty, as a physical concept, is applied almost exclusively to women. Either their sexy, sinful bodies encourage men to lust after them and must be covered up, or their bodies must be covered up because... um, *mumble mumble* self respect. Even when it's not couched in terms of a woman's responsibility for a man's response to her, it still intrinsically links a woman's worth to the amount of skin that she shows. The idea that a woman who respects herself can dress any way that makes her feel good isn't even entertained.
IMG_1749
Slut.
The issue that I have with this "compliment" is the same one that I have with the other one - I don't want other people to project their assumptions onto my body. I don't dress the way that I dress (relatively covered up, most of the time) because I feel the need to hide my body away, but because it's comfortable for me. I'm not wearing my full-skirted, 1950s dress in opposition to another woman's bodycon mini. The only statement that I'm making is "I like this."
What I find really damaging about this attitude is that it comes, most often, from other women, and it's depressing how often it crops up. Even when it's not explicitly stated that way, seeing vintage loving women say that they hate mini skirts or booty shorts or other kinds of revealing clothing has the tacit message that covering up is better, and that they are better because that's what they do. It's a wonderful thing to take pride in yourself and in your appearance, but you don't have to look down on other people to do it.
The term "rape culture" has gained a lot of traction in the past few years, and I see this as an aspect of it. Women police other women's sexuality, and their perceived expression of it, because it makes them feel safe. Modesty and its enforcement is protection from the ills of the world. If you're good, if you cover up, if your sexuality is kept under wraps, then you can't be raped or abused. That's why you see the kind of vicious slut-shaming that is so distressingly common after something like Steubenville - the victims have to be made into the kind of girls who are "asking for it." If they're not, then other women have to face the scary fact that it could happen to any one of them.
I don't consider modesty a virtue. A virtue is something that improves the world - kindness, patience, generosity, compassion. It has nothing to do with how you look or what you wear.