Friday, June 28, 2013

Modesty

So, I want to talk about something that's a recurring popular issue and I'm probably going to get into hot water about it, too. See, I'm going to talk about modesty... from a guy's perspective.

Now, I've read many blogs and articles from the perspectives of religious fundamentalists, femininists, pop culture writers, clothing designers, and young, modern Christian women. I've seen articles claiming it's the guy's responsibility and some saying it's the ladies' responsibility, but they're usually all from a lady's perspective (with exception to certain fundamentalist voices staunchly proclaiming that it is the ladies' responsibility).

What I have not heard, however, is the perspective of a conservative, Christian, 20-something guy. Hence, this blog.

The three main views I have found are:
For any of you caught off-guard at the third, so was I, but I digress.

I want you to take a look at that first link, the Bible passage. It's one often used to discuss modesty and often, it's used heavy-handedly. I want to draw your attention to one phrase, five words, that stands out to me: "... with decency and good sense..."

Well, as we all know, decency means conforming to a standard of respectability, right? Well let's also tale the word apart. Decency can also mean "being decent" (decent, of course meaning appropriate, marked by moral integrity, conforming to standards of propriety, etc). Additionally, good sense means, well, good sense.

Now, let's look at the issue. The most common reason Christians advocate modesty is to prevent a man from lusting and falling into sin (that's the common, layman's opinion anyways). The first feminist perspective is a reaction to this idea, saying that modesty is one of men's ways of impressing their dominance on women and the second feminist perspective is a reaction to the first saying, "It didn't work; women are more marginalized and mistreated, especially sexually."

So, whose responsibility is it, men's or women's?

I say both.

Men, frankly, you are told to stay away from lust by Christ Himself when He equated lust with committing adultery.

Women, how can I put this? Let me give you an illustration. Let's use the stereotype that women love chocolate. If a woman is trying to avoid having chocolate, it can be fairly easy if she only sees chocolate once or twice during the day. Conversely, if every person she passes throughout the day is carrying chocolate and a sign saying "Free Chocolate," it become so much more likely that her defenses will be worn through and she'll break down and eat some chocolate.

What I'm trying to say is that men love the female form and, unfortunately, far too many of us  try, covertly or overtly, to ogle, peer at, admire, stare at it. This is wrong, I will admit that; it dehumanizes women and demeans them in the men's minds. Then there are the few, the [sometimes] strong who try their very hardest to look each woman they see in the eye and only the eye. I consider myself one such man.

It's hard. It's even harder when talking to or seeing a woman wearing, for example, a top with a large decolletage or clothes that show every "hidden" curve. It's hardest when a fair majority of women are wearing such clothes. Even business/work clothes show or "hint" at the woman's entire body and let's not even start on the beach!* 

It's not just about the clothes, though. Actions play a significant role, too. Remember the small fact that people were offering chocolate in the story? An attitude of immodesty makes it just as hard, if not more so, for guys.

How, then, does being free from modesty empower women? If anything, it makes women more victims to men's lusts and desires at the same time as it wears away at men's defenses and, after the wall has fallen (if it was even there to begin with), it often feeds men's lusts.** It strongly promotes the objectification of women (how many centrefolds are fully, if not modestly, clothed and are conducting themselves?) and fails to place women on even footing. 

That's not the freedom and equality for women that feminists of yore were seeking and I'd be willing to bet it's not what the average woman on the street desires. So, feel free to dress up. Make yourself look beautiful, if you so desire, but be conscientious of how and why you do so. At the same time, let's not deride anyone who decides to go to extremes to cover up. Frump is such an ugly word. And men, the same goes for you, too. How we dress and act can be just as bad.

So, there's the good sense. Now, men and women, let us conduct ourselves and clothe ourselves with decency. That means:
  • Men, don't look.
  • Ladies, please don't show.
  • Men, don't show.
  • Ladies, don't look.
  • Men, compose yourselves as would a gentleman, seeking not one's own benefit at the expense of a lady. (i.e. don't take advantage of a woman)
  • Ladies, assume the bearing of ladyhood and act not in a manner provoking ungentlemanly behaviour.
  • Men, be a man and don't act in such a way to make a woman act in an unladylike fashion (I mean this in two ways, men: don't provoke her to lust and don't make her feel she has to fight for her life or dignity. If she feels unsafe or is saying "No!", stop!)
  • Ladies, please don't act in such a way as to take advantage of a man.
Modesty isn't a set of strictures (oh the irony), but a lifestyle. It's acknowledging the failings of the people around you and acting in such a way as to accommodate and uplift them. If you don't mind drinking alcohol, but you're with someone who does, then don't drink. If you're dining with a Jew or Muslim, don't eat pork. It's common courtesy. I'm just asking that ladies and men would do the same with respect to how they dress and act.

*See Evolution of the Swimsuit, by Jessica Rey
**I'm not saying immodesty causes sexual misdeeds, injustices, exploitations and the like. These cancers stem from a culture of sexual devaluation and "freedom", but they share the same root as much of today's immodesty. So, while immodesty does not cause these issues, it doesn't stand idly by, either.