Please allow me to return to an issue I have covered before: modesty. While my more conservative circles of friends are still focused on the issue of ensuring female modesty, my more progressive friends are asking why there is no talk about consent, abuse, and respect of women.
Because I feel concerned about this discussion and because I do not want past posts to be considered lopsided on this blog (especially as my views have also changed through time... see here and here for older views), I want to cover this topic in a more holistic fashion. Most people discussing these issues have not bridged modesty and consent in a positive way... it's almost as though lack of modesty is seen as, 'asking for it,' when it comes to abuse or rape. From this and other behaviors we get the term, 'rape culture,' which suggests that we live in a society that marginalizes women, renders men irresponsible for their actions, and attempts to normalize objectification.
Let us begin by clearing up something: no matter how a woman or girl dresses, she is not asking to be hurt. Even if she is inviting our eyes she still has the right to be undisturbed in her person should she be uninterested in the advances of another. If a woman enjoys teasing men, it does not give anyone the right to abuse or coerce her into any act. (In a previous post I wrote, "A lady should never suggest that she is available for untoward purposes all day." For clarification, my intended meaning was to illustrate said attire as tasteless, rather than incitement for rape.) Furthermore, consent does not end at marriage: if a woman refuses a man's advance, he must wait. Women are not objects to be bought or sold, they are not the property of their husbands or fathers. Instead, I hold that women are beautiful, if perhaps fragile, creations that God has blessed the world with. It is in our respect of them that we men become worthy of our call to stand up for truth, beauty, justice, and creation. Men of worth are those who treat women, children, the elderly, the weak, etc. with honor and compassion.
Currently there is a good deal of confusion about gender roles and sexuality. I will cover the fashion elements of men's sexuality in a future post (the idea that men dress badly in order not to appear gay), but it does relate tangentially to this topic. Today's man often feels uncertain in modern society with the rise of women with more advanced degrees, the suggestion that more men lost their jobs during the recession than women, and the fact that some writers have questioned the utility of men. The wrong reaction to today's social trends is to attempt to instate patriarchy and control of women. Women are not to be feared, they are to be praised and encouraged! What we need to discover, is the answer to the meaning of the soul of man. That's why I believe that those who think that the definition of manliness is found entirely in sports, fitness, dressing poorly, GTL (Jersey Shore), military service, fighting/blowing up things, subjugation of the weak, objectification of women, etc. have it completely wrong. It's in the discipline of the soul, the discovery of beauty and the protection of the innocent that real strength and manliness is found. It is in this understanding of masculinity that we can work together with women to create a better, fairer society for all of us where we seek to encourage opportunity and success for everyone. Putting others down does not make us the better person, all that does is make us bullies; let's be above that!
Returning to modesty, it is true that the way a women (or in fact a man) dresses will affect the perception of those around them. It is for this reason that I encourage all people to dress with good taste. However, as I have stated in other articles, I hold the principles of beauty and elegance above the arbitrary conservative concept of modesty as merely involving covering up oneself to prevent lust.
To view modesty as a matter of preventing men (who apparently have no control over their actions) from lust is completely and utterly perverted. This suggests that men are debased animals without self-control, which directly implies that men are not responsible for their actions. If men are not responsible for their actions, then they need not worry about the protection of the their fellow human beings. In effect, this removes all expectations that a man should build his internal character like I discussed earlier. This is completely stupid and the most insipid amount of nonsense imaginable. Like I said in the beginning, no woman or girl deserves to be hurt.
Furthermore, why are we working so hard to prevent 'lust'? The only reason I could consider justifying the whole 'women must cover up to prevent sin' concept is if we were actually preventing a primary danger to society. The problem is that the concepts of beauty and lust have become so confused lately that out of fear of lust we have also blocked out beauty. God created us to enjoy beauty and he created men to desire women. To go against this is to fight against the natural order of creation. To desire that which is beautiful is not wrong in and of itself; however, to act upon said desires in a way that hurts others is definitely wrong. If a man seeing a beautiful woman becomes attracted to her and wants to have her physically against her will, the issue was not that she was attractive: the problem here is that he had no intention of respecting her in the first place because he does not see her as equally valuable. This goes back to my paragraph about what it means to be a man: appreciating beauty and protecting the innocent. Additionally, as a man I can assure you that choosing to enjoy what I see is much better for the soul than constant condemnation and guilt over concerns of 'lust':
I feel less confident I can accurately 'draw the lines', but I care less about this nowadays. My main goal is to treat women with respect and to enjoy beauty generally. As long as men aren't abusing women, are treating them with respect, and being careful to remember that women are equally important to men, I think we can stop worrying whether or not people are being caused to 'stumble'. In short: I'm done with the guilt-based culture that does not lead to any greater actual holiness. (Source: Recent facebook comment I made on a related subject.)Returning to the concept of beauty, I would also add that personally I believe women are the most beautiful of all God's creation. As a result, the tasteful display of the human form is something that is quite enjoyable to look at. Again, tasteful is a concept that is difficult to entirely explain. Like I said before, décolletage is an example where some would see immodesty, but I see beauty. For reasons of taste, it is generally advisable to be careful that the overall 'skimpiness quotient' of a garment is not inordinately high. However, lower necklines, tight pieces of clothing, shorter skirts, etc. can all be at times part of very classy and tasteful outfits. The difference between inappropriate and appropriate, I believe has to be one of discernment and carefulness to pair the right situation and body-types with the right outfit at a given time.
Lastly, I want to briefly touch on the feminine. While I have become quite progressive in some ways as can be seen above, I still retain some vestiges of the past. My philosophy has been to let all ideas face the challenge of alternate viewpoints in order to determine if they stand up. There is no point in holding to an idea that is indefensible. As a result, I would volunteer that at least personally, when women dress in more traditionally feminine ways I find the contrast with men and the elegance resulting from good taste to be highly attractive. Is this a moral imperative? Will a woman go to hell for not having long hair and a skirt? Certainly not! I do not believe that God is judging people in that way. However, as an aesthete, I definitely enjoy the classically elegant woman. For this reason, I encourage all things that are feminine and pretty, partly because they are delightful and partly because I'm jealous that God didn't make me a woman to enjoy them myself. Let men have their own clothes... skirts, dresses, and all manner of feminine clothing look so lovely; to discard them in favor of traditionally masculine attire is to create a much more boring wardrobe!
To conclude: consent is the beauty of the practice of mutual respect, modesty should be the use of good taste in dress (not covering up simply to prevent lust), and femininity is lovely and delightful.