Modesty P2

Via the always-excellent Bruce Gerencser I found a post that ties in with an earlier post of mine on modesty. This post is by Debbielynne Kespert and it concerns the idea that a woman’s outfit leads men to sin.

Over a year ago, I tried to encourage a young Christian woman to dress modestly. You would have thought I’d counseled her to murder little children! All her friends wore their clothes that way, she reasoned, so who was I to tell her what to do? She was only following the fashion trends!

Fast-forward to Christian Twitter this past week, where a pastor bravely offered a man’s perspective on Christian women who dress provocatively. I’ve seen a lot of Christians vilified for standing on Biblical principles over the years, but never to this extent. According to his critics, he’s objectifying women while ignoring the responsibility men have to control their lustful thoughts. His critics ask what gives men the right to say when a hemline is too high, a neckline is too low or an outfit is too tight. They claim that, once again, men are oppressing women.

It’s entirely possible Ms Kespert is referring to the tweet I wrote about in my original post, judging from what she’s had to say, though in truth there are many Christians (and followers of other religions, and for that matter non-religious misogynistic trolls) who judge women based on what they wear, and use what a woman wears to mitigate the circumstances of their assault (or absolve the guilty party completely). I don’t see anything brave in the pastor’s remarks – they are not unusual and the Internet (including Twitter) is filled with various versions of his argument.

I have no problem agreeing that the Lord holds men responsible to control their thoughts. Jesus Christ certainly made that point abundantly clear:

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. ~~Matthew 5:27-30 (NASB95)

That statement doesn’t sound to me like He winks at the sin of men who look too long and savor their fantasies. He has no trouble saying that such secret sin deserves damnation. So please don’t read this piece and decide that I’m beating up on women while saying “boys will be boys.”

If I understand Ms Kespert correctly, a man who has lustful thoughts of a woman who is not his wife is the same as a man who commits adultery? Surely a man’s private thoughts are nowhere near as bad as the act itself? But I suspect I know where Ms Kespert is going with this…

Men definitely need to take control of their minds, but we women have a responsibility not to place stumbling blocks in their paths. We can look down our noses all we want, correctly calling out their sin, but we must understand that we can either shield them from temptation by dressing modestly or incite temptation by dressing provocatively. If we choose the latter, Jesus has some sobering words for us:

Men will find ways to indulge in lustful thoughts irrespective of a woman’s state of dress. The thoughts themselves are rooted in natural biological urges. Women have the same thoughts. I regard Gal Gadot and Scarlett Johannson as two incredibly beautiful women, and my wife regards Chris Evans (Captain America) and Adam Driver as two sexy, hunky fellas. I do not consider her unfaithful to me if she imagines steamy scenarios, for I know she loves me. The reality is more important than the fantasy – what we say and do to one another should count for more than an internal monologue or imagined experience.

Therefore, expecting women to dress in a certain way because a man might have a sexual thought is placing undue responsibility on women, over a natural thought that men experience pretty much every few seconds! This demand that women be ‘modest’ to protect the thoughts of men is overbearing and it’s also pointless! With no external stimuli whatsoever a man can fantasice a great deal! The only way to control a man’s (and a woman’s) thoughts is to convince them even the merest hint of something sexual is bad and evil, which is something organised religion has invested a considerable amount of time to doing. Maybe instead of all that effort to suppress natural desires and emotions (which creates confusion and emotional damage later on), the Church and other religious organisations could devote time to building homes for the homeless, or feeding the hungry?

“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. ~~Matthew 18:7-9p (NASB95)

And don’t you dare manipulate verse 7 by emphasizing the word “man” to get yourself off the hook! God doesn’t judge women more leniently than He judges men. If we come to church, work or even the grocery store dressed in ways that might cause men to look at our bodies, we share in their sin.

Emphasis mine. Why should a woman be held responsible for the thoughts of a man? Men will find a way to conjure sexual fantasies regardless of how women dress. Women are not responsible for that and should not be expected to be. This argument is exactly the same as the idea that a woman dressed in anything revealing is responsible for being assaulted. The mindset is identical. Indeed, the argument can and has been used to excuse men from punishment for sexual crimes. ‘She wore a short skirt and I couldn’t help myself!’

Again, I know there are men that will lust after a woman even when she completely covers herself. In cases like that, women bear no guilt. It’s sad that I need to pepper this post with so many caveats just to fend off “what about” challenges that seek to discredit the truth that how we dress can (and often does) elicit improper reactions in our brothers.

Let’s accept the premise that dressing in certain ways does, in fact, encourage men to entertain sinful thoughts about us. Once we acknowledge our part as stumbling blocks, shouldn’t we ask ourselves whether or not we love these brothers in Christ more than we love our cute clothes? Christian love sometimes requires us to sacrifice our personal freedom for the sake of our fellow believers. Instead of judging our brothers for their sin, shouldn’t we love them enough to do whatever we can to discourage them from sinning?

Emphasis mine again. How about asserting than men are not slaves to base instincts and that men cannot hide behind this idea to then blame women for misconduct?

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