The modesty doctrine has come up in my Facebook readings again, and I think it high time to address some underlying assumptions in a lot of the post I have seen that tend to worry me as a Christian husband and father, but first a disclaimer: I find the idea of modesty to be a good one, but I find our interpretation and implementation of the idea to be oppressive at best, and downright ungodly at the heart of it. I find we tend to believe lies about men, lies about women, and general lies about lust (which is why modesty is so important…or is it?). I will tackle lies about what lust is and lies about women in other posts, but here dear reader, I tackle….
Lies we believe about Men
Lie #1 – Men Lust
Okay, so this one is not a lie per se, but hear me out on this. Yes, men lust. Yes, women lust. What? You say….Women lust too? Why…yes they do, dear reader. I am *not* going to pick on romance novels or anything else here, but some women have a problem with lust. Some men have a problem with lust as well. Lust is a human condition that God says he can deliver us from. I am not advocating for lust here, what I *am* advocating for is for us to examine what we have believed.
When you saw the statement of “men lust” you probably thought…well…duh! Everyone knows that. The problem with that kind of acceptance is the assumption that all men lust. I am tired of the assumption that I have a lust problem simply because I have a penis. Using blanket statement like this, I believe, caused more harm than good. The headline should read some men lust, but we don’t really believe that, do we? We have been taught that any red-blooded American male will be aroused at the sight of a pretty woman…and we accept that as the gospel truth. Well, friends, that is wrong. We have pre-judged half of our congregations with that one statement and assumed them guilty until they are proved innocent.
Lie #2 – (Immodest) Women Make Men Lust
There are two problems with this statement, First that men lust because of the immodest woman (making it her fault…hence the word ‘make’ in the headline) and men only lust for immodest women. I will tackle whose fault it is for men lusting in the women’s section below, but let me speak to what makes men lust here. Ask 10 people what makes them lust and you will get 10 answers. Assuming we are talking about sexual lust and that you asked males (see the section above), most answers will be focused on some female feature. Probably, but not always. As a man who struggles with lust myself, *anything* can set me on that path…and I mean anything. The swoosh on a diet coke bottle looks like the line of a female body (down from the waist, out over the hips and back in again) and I am off! It’s an extreme example to be sure and a bit exaggerated, but it’s not that far from the truth (don’t freak out if you are in my church and reading this).
Ask anyone who struggles with sexual lust and they will tell you that they get going from the weirdest things…completely caught off guard at times. Satan prowls around looking for those openings, and any opening will do. Bottom line? I don’t need a scantily clad woman to make me lust, I do that all on my own, and I am responsible for that, thank you very much! The assumption that immodest women are needed to make me lust (or are the cause of my lust) is something that needs to go. We have placed the burden of the sin of sexual lust on the object of the sin and not the person who is actually doing the sinning. I don’t know…is it a Godly thing or a “satan-ly” thing to blame other people for your own failings and faults? I trust that you can make that decision for yourself. I can blame the makers of Coke or the marketing firm that came up with that logo if I want to, but I’m not thinking I’m putting my attention in the right place.
Lie #3 – All men are leg and/or boob men
Short skirts and low cut blouses…Satan’s playground. It seems to me that the modesty doctrine tends to have an aversion to knees and cleavage. We assume that the shorter the inseam on a skirt and the larger the real estate of the decolletage that is showing, the higher the propensity of lustful thoughts. I’m not so sure. All ‘modest’ fashion is based on this. Defining modesty in terms of longer skirts and higher necklines based on the idea that lust happens when more leg or cleavage is showing is terribly misguided. If ladies *really* want to take care of their brothers in Christ by dressing in such a way to not allow them to view what arouses them (assuming they are aroused by sight and that all men are aroused by the same thing…see section 1 and 2), we should probably know what arouses guys…and it ain’t cleavage or lower thighs. Sorry.
AskMen.com did a survey to find the most common fetishes of their readers (and their readers are used to pictures of scantily clad women in their magazine). Out of the 10 top fetishes, 5 were about female body parts, two were about specific clothing and 3 were sexual acts. Boob and/or legs…not on the list. Braids and pony tails were this highest ranking female attribute at #4. Number 5 was fingernails and lipstick. Number 6 included both feet and hands, body piercing came in at #9 and just making the top 10 at #10 was…stomachs. Yup! The ladies who wear knee length skirts and turtleneck sweaters with their open-toed shoes and painted nails are killing us! Braid your hair, and put on lipstick and we are done for. Vixen!
My point here is that there is an underlying assumption that if women cover their lower thighs and all their cleavage, all will be well in church because those are the two areas that men are interested in. That assumption is just flat wrong. If ladies truly wanted to keep men from stumbling, they need to spend less time on their hair (particularly avoiding braiding or pony tails), they need to don shapeless clothes, refrain from wearing lipstick or painting their nails, and embrace closed-toe shoes. Oh… and gloves. Gloves would be a must!
So, what do we do if the standard for female modestly isn’t rooted in the idea that men lust, caused primarily by women wearing low-cut tops and short skirts? Well, first, we need to stop assuming that all men lust. One of the tenets of the modesty movement seems to be based in the fear of making men lust. I have once heard that the opposite of love is not hate, its fear. Perfect love casts out fear. If you are dressing because you fear men lusting after you, you have a fear problem and some of the men *may* have a lust problem.
Second, if we are honest, we can hold the people with the lust problem responsible for their own problems. We need to stop blaming women for the faults of those who lust, men or women. I don’t think it’s a woman’s responsibility to dress in a manner that would keep me in check. If a Coke bottle might set me off, a woman will not have any chance at all, and dressing in a knee-length skirt and a turtleneck sweater doesn’t always help. Every woman I know wants to feel pretty and that they look good. If they are pretty and look good, I am sure somebody (not just a man) with a lust problem could make them into the object of that lust. Whose problem is that again? Yes…the one who is doing the lusting. You have been paying attention all the way to the end! Good work, beloved reader.
Lastly, I think even if we get rid of these underlying lies, we still need to be upfront about what constitutes acceptable attire. Short hemlines do not mean immodesty, and conversely, long hemlines do not ensure modesty. Perhaps modesty could be detached from fashion altogether. Perhaps we start talking about how God wants our best instead of what the fashion and morality police think lustful men need.