We often speak today of the terrible toll that fatherless homes have on young boys. And this is true. Without a reasonably good (even though not sinless) model of manhood and responsibility, many boys lose their way. Fathers also play a large role in disciplining boys, especially as they grow older and become stronger than their mothers.
But missing fathers also bring forth terrible effects on many girls. Women, even young girls, certainly do seek and desire the love and appreciation of men and have a desire to be thought of as precious, beautiful, and lovable. Ideally a father is able to model for his daughter that a man can appreciate and love her for her own sake, apart from merely her physical charms and “curves.”
Learning this seems critical for a young girl, who is then able to discern the difference between this and the love of other men who may desire her in a more sexual way. That they have sexual desire for her is not wrong per se, but neither is it wrong for her to know that she is lovable for her own sake. Simply loving her for her physical charms is lust. True love is loving her her for her own sake. And even if sexual attraction is part of the picture, it is only part and she can know the difference. Having recognized that a man (in the first case her father) can love her in this fuller way, she is able to insist on it and discern when a young man’s “love” is too narrow.
However, when a young girl does not learn this from her father, she likely still craves the approval of men. But not having learned from her father how to discern the attention of men and not having experienced that she is lovable for her own sake beyond mere physical beauty, she will often confuse the attention that is lust with the love and approval she really seeks.
While I am no professional sociologist, it seems to me that there is a rather strong correlation between the decline of fathers in the home and the rise of immodesty among women. As a man, I find this rise odd and ponder why immodesty is so widespread among women. Why do so many women like to wear short skirts and tight clothes (which seem so uncomfortable) and walk about beaches in a state of almost complete nudity (bikinis)? Something is amiss and way out of balance.
At one level, 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 with our Sunday school teenagers. 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 really do know why, I don’t doubt that, to some degree, there is an innocence about what they do that needs to be schooled. In the past, fathers could help in this regard. 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, causing some young 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 girls that not everyone views their display so innocently and further that some boys/men are deeply troubled by the temptation it brings, especially as these girls get a bit older.
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, and scientists, indeed as whole persons with interests, needs, concerns, and richly varied lives. Fathers can have a critical role in teaching this to both their sons and their daughters.
In the past when I saw an immodestly attired young woman I would ask, “Where is her mother?” Increasingly I also ask, “Where is her father?” She doesn’t seem to understand men. She wants the attention of men but in a way that presses all the wrong buttons. Maybe she’s never considered that a man can and should love her for her own sake, beyond her physical attributes. Maybe she never had the chance to twirl her skirts before a father who delighted in her but without sexual motives, who could tell her she was beautiful and wonderful without the desire to exploit. Maybe she’s still craving this delight but is now twirling her skirts and revealing her beauty to men who cannot, or will not, admire her with such pure motives. And maybe she can’t tell the difference between lust (exploitative desire) and love (desire of her for her own sake) because she never had a father, a good father, there to model the difference.
Anyway, I know women are complicated and that I’m probably going to get killed by both women and men for this post. But before you lay me out, consider for your comment why you think immodesty is so widespread in our culture? I would appreciate it if we could avoid the “men are pigs”, or “these young girls dress like sluts” types of comments. I’m looking for understanding more than venting. I know we all have strong opinions about this topic and that some don’t believe there is in fact any immodesty at all (even in a tiny bikini (a view I think that requires real denial or serious blindness)). But the point I’d like to ponder is why.
I have written more on the questions of modesty here:
76 Replies to “Fathers and Daughters – Is This a Missing Key to Modesty Today?”
My pastor Father Marx just bought 1000 of these “My Life in Prayer” books, to be passed out. It is has the Marylike Modesty Handbook of the Purity Crusade of Mary Immaculate inside them. This purity crusade was blessed twice by Pope Pius XII. It was started by Father Kunkel who also had a monthly news letter. Pope Pius XII extended his blessing to everyone who was to further promote this Marylike Modesty Purity Crusade. Jesus commanded us to “Behold thy Mother” which means to imitate her virtues etc…. Many young girls are imitating other woman and making them idols, and many young girls have no devotion to Mother Mary, which is needed for her Immaculate Heart to triumph. Many people have no clue to what true modesty is. So many pastors, CCD teachers, chastity teachers, grandparents, aunts and uncles etc.. encourage our youth to dress immodestly…..they let even the youth come to CCD dressed immodestly, and tell our children that God is not offended by immodest fashions from the pulpit etc.. The brides are always posted with no sleeves and bare shoulders, with halter top dresses. Truly us parents can not do this without holy priests supporting true modesty. http://www.ecatholic2000.com/life/prayer138.shtml
Lisa, how do you buy those books? I am only seeing the online book. I would like to get some for my parish.
In dire need of instruction on proper dress for Mass.
In all honestly, I recall my dress as a young women was driven by what the other girls were wearing and what the boys paid attention to. In other words, if the boys were looking at some of the girls wearing provocative clothing and never at me, well, I guess I figured out I needed to wear something that would make them look my way. It is painful to be 14 years old and modestly dressed, standing on the sidelines at a high school dance, waiting to be asked to dance (and being ignored) and watching the girls in the “fashionable” clothes, with short skirts and low cut tops, dancing every dance and having fun. It doesn’t take long to figure it out.
If you have a dad loves you for you and shows it, chances are you’ll be able to overcome the temptation to try to attract the wrong kind of attention through dress. If you don’t have a dad like that, or he’s not that involved, chances are, as you mention in the article, you will do whatever it takes to get any kind of attention. And you won’t know the right kind of attention from the wrong kind until it’s too late and your heart is broken. Then you’ll wonder what you did wrong, but still won’t know. Not for a long time. Lots of women are still living that nightmare, even as adults.
Not being popular or not fitting in is very painful. It drives a lot of bad decisions, even in adults. It takes courage and a measure of self confidence to stand against the crowd and suffer the isolation it can bring.
I believe you’re right, Msgr Pope. It’s the fathers – these girls are desperate.
Msgr. Pope, thank you for your post. Let me say, before anyone comes after you for your thoughts on modesty, they’re going to have to come through me first. I’ve been a dad for 9 years now and my wife and I constantly work to instill a proper sense of modesty in our two girls. I have also, for my part, worked and prayed on how to model proper manly behavior for my girls. I pray constantly that there are men out there teaching their sons how to appreciate my girls for the beauty within. So, thank you for raising this subject. I am on the front lines of the battle in which I have to protect my daughters from the evils of the world and I appreciate your support and prayers in this regard.
In my case, I learned modesty from my mother. She taught us to always dress in a pretty manner, and not in a sexy one. This was during the tumultuous 1960’s. We always wanted to be pretty instead of sexy. Our culture promotes sexiness and not prettiness in order to elicit lust in men. Young women don’t what the word vulgar means today. In grammar school, the Sisters of St. Joseph made sure our skirts were a certain length. A dress code was enforced in society and stars like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly were role models for young girls. Lastly, girls were encouraged to grow up to be young ladies. You would be laughed out of the room if you suggested this today and conversely, that young boys grow up to be gentlemen. In that regard, the new movie, Cinderella, promotes nobility of spirit, beauty in women and handsomeness in men. Today, that mentality does seem like a fairy tale.
A wonderful reflection…and so much truth in it.
I think this is right on – my father, who passed away over 21 years ago, still has a profound effect on me and I am but 43 years of age. Many ask why I am not married (and never been married). Fundamentally, I tell them, it is because my father set the bar so high in his love and respect for my mother (and me) that I am awaiting a man who can attain the same (or similar standard). I would rather be single forever than to shortchange the lessons my father taught me about respecting myself for who I am and/or allowing a male to treat me less than who I am as a person before they could be a sutable partner. THANKS DAD! You were the best!
I think it’s so true. And I think it’s also true that in addition to being attentive to how modest our dress is, it can only benefit us to consider how feminine it is as well. One can be completely covered and yet have a masculine air, or at least a careless one. I think men are naturally more respectful of women who are comfortable with their femininity and acknowledge it in their dress. I cringe when I see young girls out in public in their pajamas with a messy ponytail…..who can respect that, at least without a mental/emotional struggle?
“I’m probably going to get killed …. But before … consider for your comment why you think immodesty is so widespread in our culture?”
Msgr., very good piece; though I think you overrate the innocence factor. Maybe I say this because I spent many of my younger years (<40) in a "sugar and spice and everything nice" state of belief.
If you think your piece is probably going to get "killed", consider this; why did Christ not choose any women to be among the twelve? (Honestly I think it's a question most priests will only discuss with very close priests or men who support a male only priesthood. I number myself among the latter.)
In Wild At Heart Eldredge claims God designed men to be dangerous, that written into the heart of every boy are the dreams and desires to be a hero, to be a warrior, to live a life of adventure and risk. In short, it is the nature of boys and men. I believe this to be the proper, intended, nature of men.
Likewise I think the things you mention touch upon the proper, intended, nature of women. To sum a large driver in this nature is one word – attention. I believe the nature of a women to desire attention is co-aligned with the nature to be social. And that these natures are proper and intended because they are foundational to what very young children need.
Said another way. Very young children need tremendous attention for two reasons. First their obvious helplessness; they would perish without constant protection and nurturing. However the second reason is the more relevant one to your piece. The development of young children, is 'properly formed', through the almost constant socialization attention of the mother. In order for a human to fulfill this 'constant' role requires something deeper and greater than mere emotional love. Men have deep, great, emotional love for the young and children. However the vast majority clearly get "worn out" more quickly than women. The reason, the difference, I believe is found in that which modern thought has rejected – the deeply different fundamental natures of men and women.
It is the nature of a women to need attention that gives a woman the ability to give the constant attention needed by the young.
This attention aspect is where I think your view of innocence and women runs into some trouble. And by attention I do not mean attention in a negative or nefarious way. The attention nature is good. However a nature is improperly formed is by definition a privation, which if completely disordered can become an evil. Which is clearly the end seen in some corners of culture today with immodesty.
In closing. There is a reason, a reason tied to deeply spiritual and nature truths, why Christ did not chose any women to be among His twelve. The reason was clearly not to limit or diminish women – as well-formed and knowledgeable Catholics know. But the things you touch upon, and the reason why only men were chosen to be among the twelve are intrinsically tied to truth and God's plan.
Thank you for the courage and faith to risk of "getting killed".
Dear Msgr. Pope,
I agreed with you completely. I often say to myself, when I see young women in mini skirts with no stockings or figure clinging clothes with high heeled boots, what is her Mother thinking sending her out like that? Besides being excruciating cold and uncomfortable – the fad wear is unattractive, untailored and yes immodest. Diane Keaton said once she likes to be fully dressed. She understood tailored clothing which covers is beautiful, tasteful and classic. Clothes and tattoos mean something. I heard a story of a young woman who embraced Islam because it taught you must be modest and she wanted to be seen for her personhood first not her body. Christianity has always taught to respect the person but I fear once Christian societies cease to understand this. Life is no longer sacred and the human person is a commodity. If people are offended by stating the reality, I challenge them to think critically how they and their children are dressing. God’s peace. Respectfully, Caroline
Dear Msgr. Pope,
I feel that you article addresses a very important issue of today. I would agree that most women do not realize how immodest their dress actually is. I was a devout Muslim for 14 years and am now in RCIA, and thus have a different take on modesty than Christians who have been Christian all their life. I think many woman fail to realize the effect of how they are dressing. However I think much of the confusion comes from the fact that when you say it is okay to wear a skintight swimsuit showing cleavage and all of your legs, how can you object to a mini skirt. The skirt is definitely more modest than the swimsuit. You could say well it is not appropriate to wear a swimsuit in church; and while this is true, it does not teach women that they should not reveal that much of their body in public. I was happy to see swim pants for sale in LL Bean last summer. As long as this conflicting message is being sent, I feel their will be no progress. My two cents anyway.
My take on today’s culture is that people in the younger generations have no clue about the meaning of modesty. Furthermore they are being raised by parents and teachers who also have no clue about such matters. So, at least two generations are clueless, and perhaps more.
To even speak to someone like that about modesty is like speaking a foreign language that they have not been taught. Where does one begin?
Pope Francis says things like “go to the margins,” or “meet people where they are.” So, where to begin? It’s tough to answer.
I will say this. I had an experience this week of being invited to a clothing party that is something like a Tupperware Party. The event had nothing to do with church or some conservative group. I was impressed that the clothing, which was for spring and summer, did look modest. Some choices were more modest than others, but none were too revealing. For those that were on the border of immodest there were ways to wear something under or over those garments.
Even modest clothes can appear immodest if they don’t fit well.
My final thoughts are that this situation of widespread immodesty is difficult to solve. There’s something bigger that needs to be in place, and I think some of the others who commented alluded to it. It’s a sense of the sacred. What is holy? How do we behave in the presence of holiness? How does that apply not only to our attire, but to our whole demeanor? Where I live there’s no reverence, even in church, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
What I have trouble understanding is when the fathers ARE there. I see many families (in church) with teenage girls barely clothed, and dad sitting right there. Are they not embarrassed to have their girls dressed like that?
i can be very embarrassed but my wife gives me the eye roll and tells me to “leave her slone”
in our house the wifey is the final arbritor
Well then, after reading this article and the pretty good comments, you have some way to respond. . .to assert you legitimate authority as husband and father. Can your wife read this article and the others Msgr. Pope has written? This is important for spiritual health!
He married her. If she doesn’t know the meaning of modesty, then why would her daughter?
Don’t let an eye roll intimidate you. It’s time to take control and asserts your authority as father to your daughter.
Wifey is doing major damage to your daughter.
Her well being over a lifetime is worth fighting for, even if the first few months you fight primarily to regain your parental rights and authority.
Otherwise you get to watch the reverberations of your hesitance deteriorate your daughter’s future with a good man.
I have 4 children, the oldest of whom is 6. Of three who can talk (2 boys, 1 girl), they all know the phrase “Modesty!” and when to use it. My only objection to the article is that it singles out girls. Boys can also dress immodestly, but this is largely ignored.
Perhaps you could describe what you mean by boys or men dressing immodestly? We hsve less to cover and my own observation is that even at the shore most men wear large baggy shorts. But again i am curious what you mean by male modesty. Perhaps you could give examples? Also i did link to an article i wrote in an attempt to discuss it several yrs ago.
Msgr. Pope, I don’t know what itunkin will say, but I think men have as much to cover as women do. Shirtless men (except in a few rare situations), men wearing sleeveless shirts that reveal buff, muscular arms, men wearing short-shorts (not necessarily tight–in fact, loose short-shorts on men can be *more* of a problem when they sit!), men wearing inappropriately tight jeans that force a women’s eyes to the “crotch area” or to his well-formed backside–all of these are dreadfully inappropriate and immodest. We women may have to be a bit more careful about the upper body (especially since Americans seem incapable of seeing even the slightest bit of skin accidentally revealed by a nursing mother who is *trying* to stay covered as anything but highly sexual), but I would argue that men, having more to reveal (inadvertently or otherwise) on their lower halves have a serious duty in charity to avoid tempting women. If only they would adopt the fully-modest clothing worn by St. Joseph as their model of modest attire!
(If you detect a bit of humor in this post, it may be there intentionally. However, if you think men’s clothing is rarely or never immodest in the sense of attracting women in an unchaste way, this is not true.)
I basically agree with you about men wearing shirts. I never go out without a shirt even though I am old white and fat and would not entice anyone. However, many women disagreed in previous posts that shirtless men was a problem. As for tight jeans on man I almost never see it, but I’m not exactly noticing much about men anyway.
Msgr. Pope, at one time the Church did ask men to keep shirts on as a matter of modesty. I’m another woman who finds that to be a temptation, especially if it’s a man for whom you already like… tight jeans on men are also more common now and can also be a temptation, likewise with low riding swim trunks. I think today’s men are much more vain– there are even advertisements for plastic surgery for men, which used to be nearly unheard of in the past. But yes, in general, immodesty tends to occur more frequently with women’s fashions and men, in general, struggle more with purity and chastity when visually stimulated. Nevertheless, men need to be modest and aware of how the tightness of their clothing (or lack of a shirt) can tempt some women.
Erin, women are largely not visually stimulated creatures, we are more prone to mental and emotional stimulation. Men, on the other hand, are visual creatures. It’s ok that we are different. Women should not try to compete with this aspect, it diminishes both who we are and who they are. Because we can turn it off (since its foreign to our created selves) we expect them to as well. In contrast, how many of your girlfriends have cried to you about their emotionally “distant” boyfriends. Same issue, men were not created with that as their top seller, so they can turn it off, so to speak. We all know they feel, and deeply so, but expression of that feeling is really a chick thing.
I’ve seen tight jeans on a man but all I could think is “that can’t be comfortable”.
I see a whole lot of he should/she should on these replies, but at the end of the day I hope we are all thinking “I should”. Accepting ourselves as made by our Creator instead of as made by our “entertainment” industry would move us quickly toward that goal.
All due respect, C Beltz, but I think you’re over-generalizing.
Some women are not visually stimulated; some are. Some men are not mentally or emotionally stimulated; some are. Certainly when a man tears up as he holds his newborn it’s not a visual thing; certainly when a woman redesigns her living room color scheme for the third time it’s not because she’s emotional about color.
Women *do* notice when a man is attractive. What is specifically attractive may vary–for some, it’s the face or eyes, for others, it’s the width of the shoulders or the strength of the arms, etc.
But the difference, if there is one, is that men’s clothing styles have tended not to exaggerate or draw attention to the things women like to look at in the past. But that is changing. And the more men dress in tight shirts or jackets, tight jeans, revealing shorts, sleeveless tops or shirtless looks, the more young women will have to fight for “custody of the eyes” nearly as much as young men do.
Look at the watches of the men in your congregation. Men can show off skin, but the thing I see more of is that men dress and behave to flaunt their wealth. Expensive cars and hobbies fall into this category.
Different topic. Greed is not the same is lust.
It would also be helpful if our spiritual fathers (priests) would speak about modesty at Mass. Most are afraid to say anything and let the immodestly dressed women go on with it. And I think especially young women are unaware of how it affects men. But even the women can be distracted (what will happen when she sits down?) and I know my husband and sons will be affected too. The girls need to be told that it is inconsiderate to dress skimpily for Mass; how will they know if no one mentions it and their parents don’t either.
Women: how would Our Lady dress?
Sometimes fathers may be a part of a real problem in teaching or failing to teach their daughters. A year or so back at the Academy Awards, the daughter of a male entertainer attracted a lot of attention, mostly not favorable, for behavior very much on camera. To that time, she was mostly noted for appearing in a children’s oriented TV series. Her father is still very much alive.
This has nothing to do with the responsibilities of Christian parents to teach their daughters. IMO it is a bad example of parental instruction.
I was a teenage girl during the “mini” skirt era. They got shorter and shorter in the magazines and on TV; consequently mine did as well. One day I was walking through the living room on my way out of the front door. My father looked over the edge of the evening paper he was reading and said, “Aren’t those skirts getting a little short young lady?” That’s all it took. Nothing more needed to be said. Fathers and their opinions are crucial.
One problem, even for those with fathers, is that in our highly sexualized culture the fathers often express approval (wittingly or not) of immodestly dressed women or of those who are merely physically beautiful. In addition to asking “why does she dress that way,” we must also be asking “why am I attracted to someone who dresses that way?” And along with that, mothers can easily emphasize and reinforce the cultural values too, either by their own dress or by praise for the immodest. It irks me to see an immodestly dressed girl, particularly at mass; but more often than not the mother is doing her best to dress the part of the girl too. We as fathers, and husbands, must make it a point to develop our tastes for modesty and express that taste openly.
Though I agree wholeheartedly that the absence of the father can have disastrous effects on their daughters, there is also a great deal of blame to lay at the feet of some mothers. Mothers who dress their little (preschool) girls up like Malibu Barbi, mothers who dress like floozys themselves, mothers who actually buy such morally repugnant outfits for their teenage daughters.
Case in point, my daughter’s school had a dance a while back. Two of her friends had on dresses so tight and so short they were barely able to get out of the car without revealing too much. These were 13 year old girls. They neither had the means or money to buy these dresses on their own, and even a part time father would have drawn the line. It was their mothers who took them to the store and paid with their daughters innocence.
Teenage girls full of their own pride think they should be allowed to dress provocatively, that boys should be taught to be chaste. SMH.
A show like Toddlers in Tiaras should never be acceptable, a 9 year old girl should never act in a movie that portrays her as “beyond her years”. We have lost sight of the line that protects our children because we all fail in recognizing their inner beauty. We praise shallow things and avoid difficult discussions and then judge ourselves great parents (role models). We have lost our way and our vision for the future.
Lord Jesus, have Mercy on our children and on us.
I’m with you 100% on this one, Msgr. Pope. I have had these exact thoughts as to why young girls behave the way they do. So often have I noticed the difference between young girls who have loving, caring dads and those who do not. And the difference in (their) outlook is astounding. This is especially true where a father has abandoned his family such as in the case of divorce. Divorce, to me, is the modern-day cancer that is (potentially) more damaging than the physical kind.
Fathers have no power in our society today. The divorce and domestic violence culture have neutered husbands and fathers. Divorce and domestic violence are designed to put men in their place, to be submissive to women or face the consequences. Children who are annoyed by their parents (and especially fathers, who are portrayed as violent, wife beaters and abusers) can call the police or complain at school or their doctor and have the father removed from the house. The Church has been silent regarding their support of fathers and marriage. We are now reaping that silence.
very perceptive, beautiful and sad theory – impurity and immodesty seem to go together with girls and women competing for deceptive attention from males, not their true beauty– brothers also are protective, with smaller families, less of that traditional protection- girls/women need to learn to value themselves for their inherent worth as children of God -not modeled in the media
It’s too bad you didn’t see fit to publish my response. I really didn’t expect you to publish anything that disagreed with your stance. That’s okay, I’m going to post it on other social media and hashtag you. Copy and paste is my friend.
Why is it on the woman to dress a certain way? Why can’t men exercise restraint and self-discipline? Are men REALLY so powerless and weak that they can’t treat women with respect and not constantly sexualize them?
I am not sure I recall seeing your comment. Perhaps you used certain words that the filter flagged and sent your comment away. I did ask for comments focused on the topic and I would say that this comment that did make it through does not really comply. I asked for comments as to why people thought immodesty was a problem and what they thought of my connection to missing fathers. I asked commenters to avoid the men are pigs and women dressed as sluts extreme. You have not complied here and are using the “men are pigs” (animals, can’t control themselves) argument. Its old, tired misandry. Thanks for the hashtag anyway, I always appreciate traffic here even if some comments end up in the filter trash.
i think the point here is that she is saying men really aren’t pigs, but that this post implies that they are by putting the onus on women. some women may not cover themselves as much as is thoughtful, however a man is still required to treat her like a lady. the Muslims place a very high value on female modesty, in fact much more strictly than Christians…..so we must really think through what we are saying when we approach this topic. a girl or woman can very easily get the message that *simply by virtue of being a woman* , she is dangerous to men and a stumblibg block to them, that her body is shameful and to be hidden. this is what leads to much sexual dysfunction as well as eating disorders, etc.
No, none of this is the point of this article at all. I am asking what people think of the thesis, not that men have problems or that women do. The question is what do you think about the connection between Fathers, daughters modesty and the sense of self worth. LS is taking us off topic. If you will read MY comment carefully your will see that I DON’T accuse her of calling men pigs. Read Carefully. But frankly, away with this side debate, it isn’t the point of this article.
I think the Muslim women take it to another extreme. Who wants to be covered up like a ghoul in a black tent? I remember seeing devout Jewish men and women dressed in 90 degree heat going to their synagogue dressed incredibly modestly and well. I was so impressed.
I think you are correct. Immodesty is without a doubt a result of the marginalization of fathers.
Our clothing sends a message. I truly believe that a woman’s attire can send the message, “All you men beware! There is a man in my life who loves me dearly. He would kill and die defending my honor.”
On the other hand, immodest clothes send a message, “I am vulnerable and seek attention. My dadģhusband couldn’t care less what happens to me.”
Absent fathers and weak, selfish mothers are a toxic combination. It horrifies me to se moms who encourage their young girls to dress provocatively as some sort of vicarious thrill. Strong women want to be valued for who they are, not for their individual body parts. Three cheers for strong and loving dads-they are worth their weight in gold!
My father always made sure that my sisters and I dressed modestly. We couldn’t leave the house with short skirts on. But, he rarely complimented us or told us we were pretty. It would have helped so much as we were definitely
“out of style “.
He was right, but needed to affirm us as precious daughters. We needed both to be healthy.
This is a good Christian song about women’s beauty.
I had breakfast recently with a friend of mine who is a devout Catholic and an executive with a Catholic book publisher and very well read. Somehow we got on the subject of the family or the decline of it and he told me that there is statistical evidence that a father has an even greater effect (positively or negatively) on his children than does their mother. We did not get into the details of his sources and he was not trying to diminish the importance of a mother in any way. He simply said that if a father is not present to his children as a strong role model, the statistics show that they are not likely to turn out as well even if their mother is a saint and a strong practicing Catholic who takes them to Mass every Sunday by herself. In other words, the effect on the children (and how they are likely to turn out as adults) is more a factor of the way the father behaves than the way the mother behaves. In today’s world, such a remark sounds very old fashioned and patriarchal, but he cited me statistical percentages that must have come from some study.
I also asked him why he thought that was? On the surface, you would think that a heroically virtuous mother would offset most of the negative effects of a missing or sinful father on their children. His reply was simply that the mother and father assume two very different roles within the family. She is the heart, the nurturer, and the caregiver of the family and he is the rock whose job it is to instill moral virtue. Again, that’s not to say that mothers don’t have an important role in setting a good example and instilling moral virtue, but the children are MORE likely to turn out like the father (good or bad) than the mother when they grow up. I hope this doesn’t offend anyone. I’m just passing along what someone else told me recently that seemed pertinent to this posting by Msgr. Pope.
I think you’ve really hit on something, Msgr. My siblings and I had a really loving, attentive father with strong morals and high ideals. Dad had four daughters. The oldest three of us had very close relationships with our father and spent lots of time with him even during our teenage years. We were modest dressers, to the point that our friends sometimes joshed us about our “old lady attire.” And, while I can’t honestly say that our father was one to comment or compliment our looks very often (I think he worried it would encourage vanity), he always expressed his appreciation of other traits he observed in us, like patience, intelligence, generosity, kindness, courage, etc. We still attracted notice from some of our male peers, too– though much of this was under the watchful eye of our father; and if he disapproved of any of these young men, he never hesitated to share his misgivings with us.
Our father died, though, when our youngest sister was only 11. Her teen years looked very different from those of her three older sisters. I think the lack of a father during that crucial formative period really impaired her ability to relate to males in a healthy way. Our mother, for reasons I won’t get into, was mostly oblivious to the problem and reluctant to intervene in general. My youngest sister adopted a pretty provocative manner of dress as a teen; this, coupled with the fact that she was uncommonly beautiful, left her vulnerable to the wrong kind of attention and, yes, she most definitely DID have young men take advantage of her. Thanks be to God, she eventually saw the light and changed both her clothing choices and some of her other habits; still, it’s very sad to think about some of the awful experiences she had to endure in order to acquire that hard-won wisdom.
Also, the oldest three of us are all married (happily so), and most people agree that each of our husbands have several character traits that are very reminiscent of our late father. I know that has nothing to do with modesty, but I think it speaks to the long-term, positive effects of a really good dad in a girl’s life. I think women with excellent fathers are more likely to be wise in choosing their husbands.
It’s not a complicated problem in my opinion. Today for some reason some men are more feminine and women seem to take a masculine role. During my school years during the 80’s and 90’s the agenda was to try and enforce this blurring of lines through the curriculum. Most films these days try to show the father as a buffoon and the woman as the high flying boss of the family. When marriage scenarios occur they are shown in a transparent form.
Yes, right on target, Christopher! The new “gender” identity movement is continuing this at the detriment of our society, even more than it already has been. In an earlier response, a woman referred to the movie currently in theaters, Cinderella. This is an excellent film that has none of these themes. Cinderella is portrayed beautifully, as is the prince, Kit, who also has strong men around him. Sadly, these films are extremely rare, but hopefully, this trend is changing.
Thank you Michelle, You helped us by recommending Cinderella. We have a 3 year old Daughter and an 18 month old Son. We do not have TV so that we can control what they are seeing but we do let the kids watch DVDs.
It’s been quite hard trying to find films that do not have either an animal’s rights agenda, children that are disrespectful to their parents and families that are portrayed incorrectly.
Christopher, a wonderful line in Cinderella was given to her by her dying mother, “Have courage, and be kind.” Have courage, we need that today! There is good out there, but you do have to be careful, and look for it.
We have 5 children, age 19 to 5. Our oldest is in seminary, and even there, he’s finding that our world here where we raise our children carefully, watching what comes in by TV, movies, music, is rare. He told me one of his biggest adjustments has been to being around language and jokes we did not use or tell here. Perhaps you can tell, we homeschool.
All this to encourage you and your wife!
Courage…and be kind.
Wow ! Your approach to immodesty is very simplistic, almost “if you cover a woman’s body you eliminate a man’s lust”. Since lust begins from within this will never work. Christian parents teach modesty to boys and girls. As you said in your experience most girls are clueless as to what effect they have on men, that should give you some insight. Girls/women for the most part don’t dress to provoke lust in men. The basic human want and need to be part of society or a group might be a better place to start. The culture of the today is broken and yes that includes broken homes. I don’t believe it is so much absent Fathers that drive immodesty, I think it is more disengaged parents in general, and parents that themselves do not participate in their own religion or practice Christian morality. We need to educate all our children about modesty. We need to educate about the fact that lust comes from within and stop placing the onus on girls/women causing men to lust/sin. Your reply above is telling when you state that you “don’t exactly notice much about men.” I would think that to present a fair and even commentary/blog on modesty that you would become more observant about men’s behavior and dress not simply relying on the phrase “as a man” so often.
I don’t think it is as simplistic as you allege. Perhaps you yourself are simplifying the point made here which is not intended as a stand-alone explanation for the problem of lust but as a factor. You might wish to read the others articles to which I link and realize that one short article isn’t going to cover everything. I am well aware that lust comes from within. What IS simplistic is to think that the exterior plays no role.
I did read your posts from 2010. What struck me is that you do try and garner information about modesty (male/female) from the women that respond, and perhaps form the women you know in a parish setting. But perhaps that is a very limited view, (hmmm …”as a Catholic woman how should I answer a Priest about modesty and sexuality…..) It may limit the scope of input because of your role as a Priest.
Of course exterior plays a role on our sinfulness, God created us human and relational, but exterior presents a temptation only. We sin when we submit to it. Our fallen nature inclines us there, but Christ came to give us an alternative toward salvation. As you said in one of the articles, it is achievable through Christs redemption. I think we all agree that our culture is broken. For me the answer is Christ’s Saving Grace. He points us to God’s original plan of creation. We all need to look to pre-fall in the light of Christ Redemption.
And yet why would you constantly tempt someone? Current fashions and the media flaunt temptations on a daily basis, from women on the street to the magazine covers in the grocery store checkout line. The evil is everywhere.
An alternate view: In general men today don’t want wives like Audrey Hepburn plays in old movies. Men do not want responsibility. They marry help mates that raise the children and work full time. Their hands are idle. They leave their wives and children claiming they fell out of love or irreconcilable differences. Their daughters know regardless of what they say that they abandoned their family for carnal and ego desire. These daughters then permeate all of society from the role models down to the grade school daughters and leaven all. The problem you see from immodesty is really a larger societal shift from mans lost sense of duty-his lost sense of responsibility and obligation and the incredible rate of divorce. The fallout daughters are using their sexuality improperly since their Fathers are using their Mothers and not serving them. We are told that women want birth control, but this goes against the nature of women. Women were designed to procreate. Man invented birth control and women “your desire shall be for your husband” adapted to the desires of their men. Women largely are still serving their children and in some cases their husbands. Men largely serve themselves. You are correct regarding lost innocence.
Not ALL fathers of daughters abandon their families.
My BW and I have been married nearly sixty years, have two sons and three daughters. Our youngest daughter died of cancer a couple of months before her 45th birthday, leaving her husband with their 3 kids, of whom the younger two were still in the primary grades at the date of her death. Our other daughters have each completed thirty years of marriage and counting, with nine children between them and still with their first husbands. All daughters have been (and are) women of prayer.
Since our daughters married (at ages 22, 25 and 28) and freely chose to bear children, I conclude that they believed that their mother, a college graduate, was basically happy in her vocation. Contrast this with the adult population of Japan, where women coming of age after the American occupation, observing their fathers working late or staying out late with others, concluded that their mothers were NOT happy, and have declined to wed and bear children.
Even in our parish there have been some husbands abandoning wives who had borne five or more children. I understand that a man can feel both trapped by responsibilities and blocked from promotion where he is living and working. If you learn to pray with your steady date BEFORE you make the decision to marry, and maintain the prayer life together, the Lord seems to provide graces to fulfill your vocation. We try to pray the Rosary together daily, and since my retirement from paid work, attend weekday Mass together often.
But then, before our marriage I spent over four years praying that God would give me my to-be-wife as a marriage partner. Be careful what you ask God for; He may say “yes!”
A quick Google search revealed that it is women, not men, who initiate the majority of divorces. And yes, women do want contraception as much as men want it. Pitiful, but true. Men are behaving badly, yes, but so are women.
You are absolutely right. Girls without a father or a good father figure in their life, a male figure who pays attention to them for who they are, DESPERATELY seek attention from males. The way they dress is the most obvious way. Even when they dress in a provocative way, they want a man to treat them like they are precious. The attention they get becomes a vicious cycle of attention seeking and never getting the love they so desperately need.
A father who does not correct his daughter for the way she dresses is actually hurting her. A wise priest once said, “Teach your daughters to seek to be loved, not desired. Teach your daughters to love, not seduce.”
I am a woman and a mother. I know this from personal experience. We now have a culture of women and men who have not truly known a father’s love. Seeking our Heavenly Father is the only answer. The spiritual fatherhood of priests is also SO important.
God Bless you!
Excellent reflection, Msgr. My mother and father divorced while I was away at college, but that doesn’t mean that he was “present” in the home during my formidable years. Since I didn’t receive the attention from him that I craved as a little (and only) girl in the home, I believe this led to seeking the wrong type of attention in my early adult years. Thank God for His mercy in sending me a husband who understands the role that a man plays in his daughter’s life. Thank you!
Great article, again, Msgr! I could not agree more. My father was no saint, but he did take the time to remind me how smart and pretty and brave I was….and also perfected the phrase, “WHERE do you think you are going dressed like THAT, young lady?”
Men, especially young men, tend heavily toward being aroused by sight….not a problem in the joy of marriage, but potentially dangerous when young women and girls do not understand the difference in male and female sexuality. I really thought the crop tops and short-shorts that were the rage in the late 70’s were just “cute”, and would have cheerfully worn them had not my father (A) explained the way ‘boys think & react’ and (B) kept me in the safety of the house until I changed into something more modest.
Yet another sad example of what happens when the family and understanding of gender differences become historical novelties…
‘The Dress’ of the current Cinderella is undoubtedly the wedding dress.
YOU ARE RIGHT, Monsignor. I have a 4year old daughter and she acts this way, ie, twirling. Even now we talk about modesty, where shorts under dresses/skirts, and about Mary and saints on virtues. God love you.
And women have said it is thr man’s fault if looks with lust, etc. and not her’s if dresses inappropriately.
I’m quite shocked that someone in your position seems to be ignoring the fact that nearly every mention of modesty in the Scriptures refers to avoidance of flaunting one’s wealth rather than covering one’s body with swaths of fabric.
You are simply incorrect about your assertion here. You may wish to have reference to the Greek lexicon and perhaps reference the Hebrew too. Also avoid comments that reference me. I am not the point, the point is the point. Stick to the point and speak to it.
The Greek word αἰδώς is even stronger than the English word modesty (which refers to the “mode” or middle ground between two extremes). But the Greek word αἰδώς is translated as shame. Strong’s Greek dictionary defines it aidos as coming from a (as a negative particle) and eido (through the idea of downcast eyes); bashfulness, i.e. (towards men), modesty or (towards God) and in this case translated awe — reverence, shamefacedness. When St. Paul says, And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty… (1 Cor 12:23) or says to Timothy to treat the elder women too as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, with perfect modesty (1 Tim 5:2) etc he is not talking about wealth. The word clearly does reference proper decorum in dress that maintains a healthy sense of shame for displaying certain parts of the body that ought not be displayed but reverentially covered. The word refers to a proper dress and decorum that does not require others to look away or keep their eyes downcast.
Perhaps the closest verse to your view is 1 tim 2:9
Ὡσαύτως γυναῖκας ἐν καταστολῇ κοσμίῳ μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ σωφροσύνης κοσμεῖν ἑαυτάς, μὴ ἐν πλέγμασιν καὶ χρυσίῳ ἢ μαργαρίταις ἢ ἱματισμῷ πολυτελεῖ
also women in apparel respectable with modesty & Self-control to adorn themselves not with braids & gold or pearls or clothing costly
However modesty (aidos) is distinct from and several concepts away from polytelei (costly). Modesty is linked with sophrosunes (referring to soundness of mind, i.e. clothing should be modest and bespeak that which is self-controlled and indicative of a sound mind, not immature, indiscrete, foolish etc. And YES clothing and appearance should not be excessively adorned (kosme = cosmetic) or costly. But these are separate concepts added to modesty not the same as it.
Splendid article, thank you Monsignor Pope ! I always claimed that modesty is the most beautiful feature in any woman. thank you again for your article and may God continue to bless you,
Janet Smith in Contraception, Why not, attributes women’s lack of modesty to the pill’s effect of making women less attractive to men. The immodesty is an attempt to overcome the lack of pheromones that would otherwise attract men.
I used to think that boys learn to be men from their fathers…so girls must learn to be women from their mothers.
While it’s not all or nothing from either parent, I’ve learned more and more that boys AND girls learn their outward selves and how to relate to others both from their fathers.
Fathers set limits and boundaries and enforce discipline (both external and internal).
Without fathers, we have no limits, no boundaries, no discipline.
Competition for a man…..ANY MAN is fierce!
Women have to show what they got to get any attention at all. Men are attracted primarily by what we see.
Heck, recent survey says that the number 1 important thing a woman looks for in a man is THAT HE HAS A JOB!
Not difficult to reach that high-bar standard!
Please read pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body. It is so amazingly genius. Among many treasures it contains, it says that a man is in some way meant to uncover, discover and reveal a woman’s beauty..the man! I feel this is something father’s should note. I learmed to dress modestly from my mom however, my actions proved otherwise. Modestly must touch the heart and mind, it’s not just how you wear something.
Father — Thanks for writing this.
Thanks Mgsr Pope – it’s rare to see an honest article on modesty, but this is a crucial matter, and needs to be professed even at the risk of death 🙂 because girls’ immodesty triggers the spiritual death of so many young men who aspire to be chaste.
At a certain point in development girls notice that boys begin to treat them in a new way. The boys suddenly like to be around them, will pay attention to them, try to get them to laugh and even do things for them. In short, the girls realize that they have sexual power – and they like it. They sometimes, in certain circumstances, see some other girls as a threat to this sexual power. To hold on to it they compete through clothing and behavior with the other “top” girl(s) for it. This is why the clothing gets smaller and smaller, the girls are competing.
The biggest obstacle to modesty is a complete void of modesty rules. The only authoritative, clear cut, unambiguous, direct rules with inches or ratios on modesty that I could find from the Church were written in 1930 by Pope Pius XI and they are so ubiquitously ignored, even by the most devout Catholic moms and daughters, that I can’t help but to think that they are no longer in force.
I asked my parish priest to provide such an authoritative document in late spring and he has yet to get back to me. I suspect it doesn’t exist. So we parents of teenage girls are left flailing in the wind of cultural norms. If you could provide me with such a thing I would be deeply appreciative and I would be able to give it to other parents who, like me, really want it.
As to the fathers roll in all of this; I do have a friend whose husband doesn’t like his wife, or daughters, to dress in a way that I would call modest but that he calls frumpy. He is a devout Catholic but he won’t let them wear ‘frumpy clothes’. He doesn’t mind tight shorts that have about a 2 inch inseam. He doesn’t mind a bikini either, but he assures his wife that he will not let his daughters wear immodest clothes. He was formed in this culture so he can’t judge it properly. If I had an authoritative document he would certainly adhere to it.
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