‘Modesty and Lust’

Not for the first time, I have found myself aware of a dubious post regarding women and modesty. This time it’s via the good work of my friend Bruce, and it concerns this post by one Tom Brennan.

I’m not going to quote Mr Brennan’s entire post (you can read it at his site if you are inclined), but there are a few highlights I want to focus on. Firstly:

Second, I do not have the right to say that since his response is his responsibility I have no responsibility for his response. “Wait. You just said he is responsible for his own actions.” Yes, I did. But I believe I should put the weight on myself on either side of this transaction. In other words, if her immodesty provoked me to lust, I should bear that responsibility. But if my grievous words stirred you to anger I should own some of that. I bear some measure of culpability.

Emphasis mine. Perhaps I am wrong here, but reading between the lines a little, I find myself drawing a disturbing conclusion here. The thought process certainly appears to be one of ‘if I dress provocatively, I should own some of the response/reaction to it’.

Mr Brennan goes on to quote stories that clarify what he means, and it appears it’s exactly what I thought:

We see this played out in real life in the case of Balak and Balaam. Balaam taught Balak to send his girls to the Jewish boys to seduce them away from Jehovah. Was each Jewish man still responsible for their sin? Yes. Were Balaam and Balak innocent? Not on your life. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication (Revelation 2.14). Or lets take David and Bathsheba for another example. He should not have lusted. She should not have been immodest. He could not blame her for his sin, but she still bears some culpability scripturally.

Emphasis mine again.

What sort of responsibility does a woman bear? What is the line where this responsibility switches from the provoker to the ‘provokee’? If the man touches the woman without her consent because she is wearing a tight t-shirt and short skirt on a sunny day (or because she is confident in her body and rightfully showing that), surely any and all inappropriate contact rests on the man’s shoulders?

Historically (and currently) a woman’s appearance remains used as mitigating circumstances in cases of sexual assault. ‘She wore something sexy and my client was not in control of his actions’. I call bullshit on that. I was recently made aware of a quote via Twitter, concerning how lesbians behave around scantily-clad women. They are far more restrained in their behaviour, which suggests the problem is not the outfit the woman is wearing.

An immodestly dressed woman is like a cigarette at a gas pump. The cigarette does not explode; the explosion comes as a result of the inherent instability of the fuel. But whoever lit the thing is an absolute fool. I can hear the responses being typed furiously all the way from Iowa. “Well, he should control himself!” Amen, sister, amen. He should walk in the Spirit and thus not fulfil the lusts of the flesh. And you should not run around half-clothed.

Emphasis mine once more. There is no burden of responsibility upon the victim of sexual assault. It is entirely upon the individual who proves unwilling to control themselves (and in most cases, it is a question of will, not ability). If you are at the beach and women are walking around in bikinis, or dressing for warm weather, you are perfectly capable of not trying to assault them, touch them, cat-call them, or make them uncomfortable in any way. It’s a choice to do any of those things, and there are no mitigating circumstances for doing so.

If you fear you cannot restrain yourself, seek professional help. Do not look to excuse your actions because of what she was wearing.

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