The video below contains a fascinating interview between Sean Hannity and two women on the question of immodest dress as a dangerous thing for a woman. It would seem that a Toronto police officer was quoted as saying, “Women can avoid rape by not dressing as sluts.” He said this in the context of a lecture to college students about a recent campus crime wave. He has since apologized, but some will not accept it, or do not think he was specific enough in his apology. His remarks have touched off worldwide protests in Europe and also in Boston and New York by women who engage in what they call “Slut Walks.” In these, they dress provocatively and carry signs that denounce the blame the victim attitude of the police officer and others who explain rape by blaming the victim.
OK, so lets all admit that there is nothing that justifies the rape or assault of any woman. Further, the officer did not need to speak of women as “dressing like sluts.” It is possible to counsel caution without resorting to such terminology.
But the reaction has gone to the other extreme by insisting that there ought to be no thought women should give as to the way they dress, and the effect it may have on others. You will see in the interview how one of the women Mr. Hannity interviews gets more and more extreme as the interview progresses. She begins saying “Just because a woman dresses provocatively does not mean she welcomes an abuser.” OK, fair enough. And even if she is attacked, there is no justification for it. But that said, is there no legitimacy in advising women to refrain from provocative dressing? Men too, for that matter, though the physical dangers to them are far less. Further, is it legitimate to talk to women in our life about ways to reduce their risk without being called sexist, and told that we are blaming the victim?
A Central Problem – One of the women says, “In dressing provocatively a woman is saying, I am asking you to look at me as a sexual object, instead of a woman worthy of respect.” The other woman responds, “There is nothing wrong with looking like a sexual object.” And this pretty well spells out where many in our culture have gone. Intentionally provoking a purely sexual response not only tempts men, it also diminishes women by encouraging the notion that sex is the main thing.
There is surely a time to provoke and celebrate a sexual appeal and joy…, in the marriage bed. But outside this context, women ought to be seen more richly as wives, mothers, sisters, daughters, teachers, scientists, indeed, whole persons with interests, needs, concerns, and richly varied lives. That many women are advocating a hypersexualized notion of who they are by taking “slut walks” (the protestors’ term not mine) is a sad commentary. It is one thing to protest the “blame the victim” remark, but calling it a slut walk is to go further and advocate immodest dress and raw, unintegrated sexuality. That is not helpful to women and I suspect most women do not appreciate this sort of “advocacy,” or the extreme comments rendered by one of the women in this interview below.
Some younger women really don’t seem to know – That said, I have come to discover, through discussions with women on the issue of modesty that many (especially younger) women really don’t have any idea the effect that they have on men. I have confirmed this in discussion among our teenage Sunday school kids. In discussions moderated by women, many young girls just haven’t figured it all out yet. When asked, “Why do you dress that (provocative) way?” they often say, “I don’t know, it’s……like……y’know…..comfortable???…..It’s like…….cool??”
While some of them may be fibbing, and they really do know, I don’t doubt that, to some degree, there is an innocence about what they do that needs to be schooled. Some years ago I remember a remarkable little passage by John Eldridge, in the Book, Wild at Heart that decoded something I have noticed even in the youngest girls:
And finally, every woman wants to have a beauty to unveil. Not to conjure, but to unveil. Most women feel the pressure to be beautiful from very young, but that is not what I speak of. There is also a deep desire to simply and truly be the beauty, and be delighted in. Most little girls will remember playing dress up, or wedding day, or twirling skirts, those flowing dresses that were perfect for spinning around in. She’ll put her pretty dress on, come into the living room and twirl. What she longs for is to capture her daddy’s delight. My wife remembers standing on top of the coffee table as a girl of five or six, and singing her heart out. Do you see me? asks the heart of every girl. And are you captivated by what you see? (Kindle edition Loc 367-83)
Perhaps it is this innocence that has gone somehow wrong, has been untutored, and thus, causes some younger girls to dress immodestly. And many of them bring that into adulthood.
But even if their intentions are innocent, it is not wrong to teach them that not everyone views their display so innocently, and further than some are deeply troubled by the temptation it brings, especially as these girls get a bit older and more vivacious.
So where to go? From the Christian point of view modesty is reverence for mystery. Modesty accepts the norm that there are some things that are simply private and meant for the intimacy of marriage that are not to be disclosed in a general sort of way. Further, modesty respects the fact it is wrong to unnecessarily tempt others. And many do easily fall prey to sexual temptation. To simply disregard this and say, “Well that is their problem,” may well be to lack both charity and a realistic attitude.
That said, the word unnecessarily is important in the phrase, “it is wrong to unnecessarily tempt others.” For it is not always possible to protect others from all temptation, and we ought not impose unreasonable standards and expectations upon women. Some men are tempted just by a pretty face. That doesn’t mean we ought to expect women to hide their faces. It also pertains to women to have curves that appeal to men, and to expect them to never manifest any curves at all, also seems unreasonable.
Hence the word modesty comes from the word “mode” meaning “middle” or “mean.” So modesty involves observing a certain middle ground wherein we do not oppress women (or men for that matter) with severe standards and cumbersome cover-ups. But neither do we neglect to understand that some degree of charity and understanding is due to those who are possibly tempted by tight or revealing clothing and immodest postures or movements. It is wrong to tempt others when we can reasonably avoid doing so. But inhuman and unreasonable standards are also to be rejected.
The bottom line is that immodest and provocative dress is both imprudent and uncharitable. The officer involved used inappropriate language to convey his “advice.” But to advise women appropriately how to reduce their risk of rape does not ipso facto equate to blaming the victim. A little equanimity in the issue is helpful, though sadly rare, in our easily offended and strongly polarized culture.
I have written more on the questions of modesty here:
As always I am interested in your thoughts.