Wednesday, September 18, 2013

On Modesty Wars and Shirtless Guys

So there was this hullabaloo on the internet circles that I frequent, with a mother of a bunch of boys writing (somewhat in a huff) to teenage girls about why they should be more modest. And then this led to a firestorm of accusations of hypocrisy, because she illustrated the post with family beach pictures, which had her sons shirtless.
And the modesty wars went full force etc etc.

So. That being said, I was thinking about this. And I was reflecting on my perceptions on modesty and shirtless guys and all that as a teenage (and college age) single girl.

First off, everyone is different. But I suspect, on average, guys are much more vulnerable to girls showing more skin then on average, girls are to guys showing more skin. Ofcourse there are lots of people who don't fall into the stereotype I just made (girls who struggle with visuals, guys to whom its no big deal). But if there were bellcurves on this, I suspect the center of the guys' bellcurve would be a lot more shifted to the "tempted by visuals" then the center of the girl's bell curve.

Going by my extremely empirical and scientific method of myself, and based on TV advertising, and TV shows made for a target audience, it seems that on average, girls respond more to other things (guy cuddling puppies, big dark eyes, adoring you, "I understand", etc...).

Now, there are the averages. (Why I think the mom probably didn't think of it) But real people make up the tails on the bell curves. And the struggles of the under-represented still matter (Why the mom should have thought of it.)

So then I reflected on how did I, as a single girl between the ages of 13-21, feel about guys not wearing their shirts in public?**

I always felt kind of this awkward and painful jolt of involuntary pity, like they were trying really really hard to prove something. And it just hurt.
It had nothing to do if they were ripped or not. It had everything to do with this feeling of desperation to impress that reeked of painful insecurity.*  Because, I mean, would Aragorn son of Arathorn, or Luke Skywalker, or Steve Rogers ever take off his shirt near girls, so he could show off his muscles?

So, yeah.

Anyways, while I think I can see both sides of this debate, the one side afraid that Christians will fall off the string-bikini-trashy-dressing in an attempt to be culturally relevant or cute, or just plain be the frog that boiled to death. The other side sees Christians falling off the other side of the horse, with burkha's and a blame-the-woman mentality leading to blaming rape victims etc.

Both sides have certain things right. Modesty wars are never just about one gender. We have a duty not to lead others into sin, but we also have a duty not to be led into sin.

I think the biggest danger in the Modesty Wars, is to let the fear that the one duty will be minimized, allow us to minimize the duty we think less important.

That is, by insisting girls should be modest, we can implicitly send the message that guys can't help themselves, and that immodest girls are open range (an attitude one sees in many Muslim countries).

Or, by insisting that guys should be responsible for controlling themselves and their thoughts, that girls should be allowed to wear whatever the heck they want. Freedom in Christ and all that.

But we musn't minimize either. We must maximize both duties, not to lead and not be led, into sin.

As women, we musn't let our desires to be pretty or true to our own sense of style, or fit in with other girls, supersede compassion for the weaker brother who is struggling. Or say that if he has issues with my style, its his problem. Because it's just not kind. On the one hand, it's me-me-me and the other, it's someone else.

As women raising sons in this screwed up world, we must teach them that they stand accountable to God for their thoughts and actions, and they must see a daughter of God in every girl, no matter how she's dressed or what she does. Yes, they've got hormones, and God wired certain things in us to ensure the propagation of the human race, but they are called to something higher than animal instincts, to valor, and courage, and kindness, and seeing people with God's eyes.

The biggest fear I have for the Modesty Wars, is that in seeking to attack hypocrisy or legalism, we will minimize our own sins (of lust, or of selfish immodesty). Minimizing sin is the root of so much screwed-up-ness in the world. We have to name it for what it is, if we are to be healed from it.

So, in the thick of these Modesty Wars, let us never forget that we are called to emphasize both duties, the duty to not lead others into sin, and the duty not to be led into sin. And may we never seek to minimize our sin by blaming it on the other sex, or someone else.

That was, after all, the first sin after the fall.


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*I'm not even counting the guys that were showing off without insecurity....like they spent hours working on, tanning, and adoring their own muscles...Narcissistic..  So. Not. Attractive. Echo died)

**I realized, the only time as a teenager that the act of a man taking off his shirt in public impressed me, was when I had a head concussion and was bleeding heavily, and this pot-bellied middle aged guy was freaking out and gave me his shirt to stop the blood while he was calling my mom. It was precisely because he was thinking so little of himself, that he gave me his shirt.

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