Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jumping on the modesty bandwagon

Back in January, Aunt B. posted on Tiny Cat Pants about women's negative experiences in math class (unrelated to the math). The comments went off topic into a discussion of how men react to women's clothing. In May, Jen from Et Tu? posted a survey that was intended to determine which women's fashions cause men to struggle with chastity. At the beginning of this month, Veronica at Toddled Dredge posted about her experience with prioritizing a modest appearance. And then yesterday, I got the July issue of the Couple to Couple League's newsletter. It has a four-page article on teaching girls to dress modestly.

Apparently, this is a hot topic. (Although one may view my taking four articles over a six month time frame as evidence of "hot topic" status as proof of my limited reading material.) But there appear to be a significant number of people who miss the culture-specific nature of this message. The CCL article interviewed a woman who said, "But in the end, it all comes down to... Cover it up." This ignores the issues of comfort and freedom of movement that are legitimate reasons for wearing lower cut necklines in hot weather or pants (that show the shape of the legs) over skirts (which, when tight, restrict movement, and when loose, get tangled in certain work and sporting environments). And the fact that "it" is going to be different in different cultures: in ours, "it" is buttocks and busts, while in other cultures "it" is hair, or arms, or toes and ankles.

There are also many who claim that women's dress is the primary factor driving certain men's struggles with chastity. Which I can dispute just by observing my parrots. The cockatiel (male) seems quite happy to lead a celibate life as my pet. However, it is a struggle for the budgerigar (parakeet). He sexually harasses the cockatiel (the target of his affections is the same sex and a species three times his size) to the point that we have to separate them for several hours every day. Denied intimacy with another bird, the budgie then finds a mirror and engages in self-stimulation. Lest we think this behavior is limited to non-human animals, consider this comment:

Recently, on the Alan Colmes Show on Fox Radio, the host asked radical antiabortionist Neal Horsley whether it was true he had sex with animals in the past. Horsley replied: "Absolutely. I was a fool. When you grow up on a farm in Georgia, your first girlfriend is a mule." If that surprises some people, he added, "Welcome to domestic life on the farm. You experiment with anything that moves when you are growing up sexually."

So, my thoughts on women's clothing and men's struggles with chastity: they're only weakly related. However, that doesn't mean women should not dress "modestly". Clothing choices send a culture-specific message about how a woman views herself and how she wants others to view her. By choosing clothing her culture considers modest, a woman sends the message that she values herself apart from her sexuality, and that she does not want others to treat her as a sex object. Which I think is an important message, and the CCL article actually focuses mostly on that aspect (I intend to write them a letter thanking them for that approach). One can be modest without blaming women for the nature of men.

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