So for the past few weeks I’ve been sharing about the topic of modesty and grace. And I never really intended for the series to take most of the month of January, but such is the pace of things at My Ears Are Tired. If you’re just now joining us, here are the links to the previous posts so you can catch up…
And so today we tread cautiously, tentatively, into murky waters; I want to take a look at who bears the weight in this modesty debate because one of the greatest reasons given for women keeping covered is that we don’t want to cause our brother to stumble. And while this is most definitely true, does the full burden of our brother’s firm footing fall to us as women or do they bear some of the weight as well? Let’s take a look at what others have to say about this….
As I mentioned in previous posts, I read several blogs and articles preparing for this topic, and one of them was this one by Preston Yancey at prestonyancey.com. He wrote the following this past February –
We were sitting in the upstairs portion of the church, the long hall with the offshoot rooms, in the largest one where the choir would practice, that night arranged with foldout tables covered in opaque white plastic, little red cards on the table in front of us with Comic Sans TRUE LOVE WAITS embolden across the top.
I was told that women should cover their bodies, lest they tempt men to stumble, that a v-neck could be the undoing of a man of God, that Scripture gives us a clear example—Bathsheba at her bath, enticing David by her nakedness—and that it is a warning to us all of the danger of our bodies, which have become the guilty ones.
So I signed the red card in front of me with a teenage scrawl and vowed then and there as a pledge to God and my genitals that I would never lust again.
I believe this lasted about an evening.
When it was over with, when the pledge had been broken…I wondered what the point of it all had been. Was it simply a setup to shame me, a guaranteed trap I would stumble right into as quickly as I had raised the pen to promise that I would never compromise myself or another man’s future wife.
Notice the central focus of this discussion, to this point, has been about me.
Women should cover themselves up lest men stumble implied that men could not help but stumble.
We had no control in the matter.
If I lusted, it was her fault. She chose to dress the part of my desires. I was only being natural.
Yancey goes on to say in the same post,
The story of David and Bathsheba is perhaps one of the most misinterpreted passages in the Text.
A close reading reveals that several narrative clues point out that David purposefully coerced Bathsheba when she was doing nothing more than the faithful working-out of the levitical code,having ended her monthly cycle and bathing herself as an expression of her purity before God.David was the one who violated her purity, who sinned against her. It wasn’t because she was undressed, but because David acted on his sinful desires.
I resent the culture of modesty that has shamed all of us into thinking modest is about dress codes or property when modest is about a faith worked out humbly, together, respecting image of God in one another, and before and within and a part of our God.
And people are hurt.
And people are angry.
And it’s a confusing time to try and discern what we should do, what we should say.
Because I do think we should still wear clothes, that some things are immodest…and that sexuality isn’t a no-strings-attached freedom.
But if we are not dignifying men and women alike in these conversations, we’re missing the point.
It needs changing.
It needs healing.
It needs Gospel.
He says more on the topic, but the idea is here. And this is a man writing this. Not, I don’t think, because he wants to exploit women, but because he sees this as being more about grace and the heart than rules and necklines.
In June 2013, Christianity Today posted a very interesting perspective on this topic in their “Her-meneutics” section in response to the viral video by Jessica Rey on the Evolution of the Swimsuit. CT’s article was called Don’t Blame the Bikini, Blame the Bikini Culture. Here’s some of what they had to say:
Swimsuit designer Jessica Rey’s presentation “Evolution of the Swimsuit,” …has certainly grabbed Christians’ attention. In it, she traces the historical development of the itsy-bitsy bikinis that have gone from unthinkably scandalous to completely normalized in a matter of decades. Her presentation also addresses—though indirectly—the power of culture to shape our vision, particularly our view of the female body.
In her talk, Rey shares data from a neurological study of the male brain:
‘Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tools, such as screwdrivers and hammers, lit up. Some men showed zero brain activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that lights up when one ponders another person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions.’
These findings are significant, but they also beg an important question: Why do men perceive women’s bodies this way? Scientific findings show that the brain is essentially plastic. It can be shaped and formed and changed by our environments. This means that not all neurological responses are hardwired. Some are conditioned.
In the case of women’s bodies, it’s very possible that men have been conditioned by culture to have a Pavlovian response. Just as dogs grew conditioned to be stimulated by the ring of a bell, our culture has trained men to respond in certain ways to the sight of a female body. This conditioning becomes most apparent in comparison with non-Western cultures, where modesty standards differ.
Western culture conditions our brains with a very particular image of women, seen on TV, the Internet, magazine covers, catalogs, or billboards, where women are portrayed as beautiful objects, or seductresses. Even the most wholesome images communicate this message, using a beautiful female face or slim figure to draw our attention.
Undoubtedly, Rey brought attention to important data. When men associate the female body with objects, not just theoretically but neurologically, we can be sure that our culture is sick. However, additional neurological research points to a societal dysfunction that runs far deeper than bikinis. When men associate the imago dei in women with an inanimate tool, then a more comprehensive restoration is in order, one that promotes theological correction, cultural healing, and renewed vision. To this end, we need to dig a bit deeper.
I’m getting a little tired of seeing modesty refer to the clothes we wear. Modesty—and conversely, sexiness—is communicated through our body language and attitude, not so much what we wear or how much skin we expose.
Those who are “worried” about the male reaction to the female form need to remember that men will still find women in conservative, one-piece, adorable Jessica Rey swimsuits sexy, while not every woman in a bikini will be a turn-on. There’s no hard-and-fast-rule for how we guard our beach bods from the male gaze. And I’m not sure there should be.
Women getting noticed by men for their looks isn’t automatically cause for outrage. Far from it! It’s not wrong for a man to notice a beautiful woman, her face, or even her body. We were all made to notice and appreciate beauty in all its various forms (thank God for that). It’s what the man does with his “noticing” that can cause trouble, but that’s not a woman’s responsibility.
For instance—and this is not a perfect illustration as I’m comparing an object to a human—it’s not wrong for me to notice a beautiful home, to be drawn to its come-hither wrap-around porch or its curving turrets or bulging bay windows. It’s when I start coveting it—or berating myself (or God) for not selling enough books to afford it—that the problem starts. But it’s not owner of the beautiful home’s fault. The owner shouldn’t be forced to “cover up” her house so I don’t sin in my covetousness. House envy is my issue to own. And lusting after a woman’s body is a man’s issue to own. Let’s let them own it.”
Earlier I shared that my husband grew up part of a very legalistic ministry. Young men were required to wear white button down shirts and dress pants and girls uniforms were a white blouse and long skirt without slits. Teenagers were sent off to work with this ministry and would live in dorm-like settings for months. Understandably, ministry leaders were very concerned about the implications of having a few hundred hormone-ravaged teenagers living in such close quarters for months on end and much discussion was had about purity of heart, mind, and body. But, as Matt has shared with me, when so.much.focus is placed on “the purple elephant” of the other sex, eventually all you can think about is the purple elephant. And so the rules got stricter and wackier until they became a cumbersome, heavy yoke for these teens to bear, rather than an opportunity for them to learn how to handle their thoughts and God-given emotions with grace and love. And in our discussions through the years, particularly, about the Bikini Wars, Matt has said many times if a man can lust after a woman in a formless blouse and long, flowing skirt, he can lust after anything, so no amount of fabric will ever be enough to keep a man from lusting. Which means, at least some of the burden is on the man – to control his eyes and his thoughts and his actions.
In my research, I read one article by a woman about “the day she wore yoga pants”. And while the post was not one I necessarily agreed with, I found that some of the comments were interesting. I particularly appreciated what one man had to say on the topic, “I wasn’t going to respond,” he wrote, “but I’ve seen so many of these posts and all have been mostly by women, who is commenting? Mostly all women…have you ever stopped to wonder why that is? Because real men aren’t concerned with this “lust problem”, and the only ones who are, are “christian” men. Real men are like Mike Stanton who posted above about his reaction to a good looking woman, “It’s about the same feeling I get when I drive by a nice car on the road. “Woah, that’s nice!”, and then I go back to whatever I’m doing.” …Lust is not looking, lust is the desire to replace your husband/wife with someone else. Appreciation is not lust and those who have a problem need to deal with that on their own. It irks me that so many go around shaming women into following a bunch of rules that no one has any business making up!!”
When we were dating and would go to movies or watch television and a bedroom scene would come on, my not-yet-husband would avert his eyes and look away. That spoke so much to me and showed me, for the first time really, that men can make a choice to do better, to be better. When we travel to the Caribbean, as I’ve said, there are topless women. My husband is not distracted by them; his eyes are for his bride. He makes that choice.
I firmly believe men and boys can learn to handle what they see. Yes, I understand that their optical nerve is connected to their penis, but I believe it can be rewired and that they are able to be stronger than the world around them – because the power of Christ lives in them. And I realize that the overt sexualization and objectification of women is everywhere. But to me, that makes it even more imperative that our boys and men learn how to handle these images.
If a man is a believer, he is not held captive to the desires of the flesh. He is able to do differently than the world expects of him. He is able to rise above. Honestly, I believe that even if a man isn’t a Christian, he is capable of better, more. But those with the power of Christ in them – they have the Creator of the universe to draw strength from. So, let’s not lower the bar and weaken our men mentally and emotionally. Let’s build them up and exhort them to a higher view of women and of themselves. This is not a license for us to be grace-less in our choices, but it celebrates the freedom we all have because of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.
Tomorrow, Lord willing, we will wrap this series up with some thoughts on where to go from here and how to change our view of modesty to one that is more about grace and the heart and less about outward appearances.
For His Glory ~