Nuking the Modesty War, Part I: Control Yourself, Not Women

I saw this post on Facebook last week and I’ve been mulling over a rejoinder ever since. There is so much wrong with it that at first I thought it was too much to even bother with*. Plus, I’ve been over and over the modesty wheel. I’ve written snarky, insightful, and downright hilarious posts about the modesty war. There’s not much more I have to say about it.

Except, dammit, there is. I’m fecking done dancing around this issue and trying to point things out gently. Enough is enough.

Dear Christian Men of the Internet: STOP TRYING TO CONTROL WHAT WOMEN WEAR.

The “modesty” battles have become poisoned through and through. They started (perhaps) with something good: a genuine concern about increasingly revealing fashion trends of the 21st century. Perhaps, long before the days of the internet, the men involved in them even had a valid complaint. I mean, here were these men in the early 60′s who grew up with women wearing stuff like this:

and then all of the sudden one day the female half of the country got out of bed and put these on:

What the…so many knees…with the thighs and the calves and the…where do even put my eyes? Too many legs! Legs everywhere!

I can totally imagine these poor men, utterly bewildered, stammering out requests for pants. I can totally imagine the way they must have felt their honor and virtue being shamelessly attacked every time they left their house. I can totally imagine that must have been super, super hard.

But that was fifty years ago. These 20-year-old men walking around with the albatross of YOGA PANTS around their necks must have forgotten that the world of their early toddlerhood was dominated by this:

I’ll see your black cotton yoga pants and raise you SPANDEX AND NEON!

Classes full of women dressed exactly like this were held in glass-front, ground-floor buildings on busy streets. Ask your dad how much time he spent battling against the pervasive, lust-inciting influence of Jazzercise. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Oh, what’s that you say? None? None? But how could he possibly have kept himself from the daily, hourly temptation of lust if he didn’t do everything within his power to get those girls to cover up already, for the sake of his immortal soul?

The same way men have (and have not) for centuries: self-discipline.

But you don’t understand, I can hear you protest. Men in centuries past weren’t faced with such pervasive temptations everywhere they turn!

You’re right, they weren’t. And you’re right, I don’t understand. My husband can try to explain it until he’s blue in the face, but I still won’t really get the way men react to visual stimuli. That doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic…I am. The thought of my husband being tempted several times a day by the skin-tight leggings of a co-ed who’s 10 years younger than me and 4 children more nubile makes me furious. Fast-forwarding a few years and imagining my son in my husband’s place breaks my heart. But I cannot change the world beyond our door.

They will be tempted. They will succumb. They will also overcome.

Trying to eliminate the threat of yoga pants one blog post at a time is a complete, utter, and ridiculous waste of my time. I can’t fight that battle for them, nor should I. My job is not to eliminate the threat. My job is to help them grow strong enough in virtue to face it on their own two feet.

It’s not a mark of virtue to admit to a woman that you can’t control your lust when she wears yoga pants. Asking her to change her attire because you either cannot or will not change your behavior does not signal strength of character. If my husband came home and confessed that he could no longer teach classes because all the girls in his classroom wore yoga pants, I’d tell him that he’d better close his eyes and think of England while giving the lecture, since our kids have this pesky need to eat.

If my son said to me what the men in the post said, this is how I would respond:

“If you can’t handle working out at the gym because all the girls wear yoga pants, stop working out at the gym. If you can’t handle the yoga pants on the barista at the coffee shop, buy a coffee maker and make your own. But at some point, you’re going to have to figure out how to handle it, because this is the world we live in. No matter how difficult or unfair it is, you still have to be virtuous. It may require heroic effort. Do it anyway.”

I’m not a glutton, that cookie and brownie sundae was just asking for it.

I know it sounds harsh. I have this crazy addiction to sugar. It’s impossible for me to resist. When I try to resist it, I can hear it in the pantry, see it on the shelves of the grocery store, imagine it in all its ice-cream-and-cookie-with-brownie-crumbles glory.

Sometimes I cry because I’m fat. The women of yesteryear, who had to work all day for their food, didn’t have Food, Inc refining sugar and carbs by the truckload to sell dirt cheap to housewives like me! It’s not fair. Sugar is just everywhere. And it tastes so good. My body is programmed to respond favorably to sweet things and to crave them. It’s literally a battle against my body to abstain!

Again, I hear you protest, that’s not the same thing!

You’re right, it’s not. Sugar isn’t a person with a soul. Sugar actually is evil, through and through. That makes it a lot different.

The girls in yoga pants that you can’t stop lusting after are people. They probably shouldn’t be wearing those pants, but you can’t force them to stop. I can just ban sugar from my house; you can’t ban women from your life. At some point, you will have to find some way to live at peace with women and our dubious clothing choices, or you will forever be a slave to lust. Women will truly become your enemy as you try with increasing desperation to control what we wear so you are not forced to grapple with controlling yourself. You will hate us in the end, but no more than you will hate yourself.

*Never fear, gentlemen, I’m not here to unfairly demonize you and give Jazzercise Girl a free pass. There really was too much to handle in a single post, so tomorrow I’ll be yelling at the women.


  • Lindsay Amery Stehno

    Had to resist the urge to throw the computer across the room while reading the post about the yoga pants. o.O Thank you for not doing that and instead writing a thoughtful, well reasoned response to this silliness.

  • Caroline Moreschi

    I made the mistake of clicking on that link. Perhaps the worst sentence was this: “But if we give them nothing to look at, how often do you think they would be tempted to lust after us?”

    Stop the presses! If women would just stop… existing… then men wouldn’t have to worry about lust at all. Right?

  • FatherMapple

    When put in bad circumstances, God usually changes the person and not the circumstances.

    The things we call Miracles in the Old Testament, like parting the Red Sea, sending fire from the sky, droughts and plagues, or mysteriously smiting 10,000s of Philistines in the night, were considered simple things compared to the forgiveness of sins, which Jesus did and was called a heretic for. The Pharisees knew other forces could do “magic” but that the forgiveness of sins was a thing only God could do.

    So, therefore, the greater miracle is probably the person with self-control having a lapse and sinning despite their control, and then God forgiving that sin anyways once confessed. But like St. Paul said in Romans, we shouldn’t sin more so that grace and miracles can happen more often… that’s not being very grateful for our salvation.

    • Tom Collins

      I’m grateful for my salvation every time I look at a woman.

      • FatherMapple

        I think you’re confusing two things, as mentioned elsewhere in the comments. Despite what the study says, it must be possible to look at something without lust or else Jesus never would have been able to gaze upon any female human. Yet we know he did and interacted with women, even women apparently attractive enough in form or manner to have 5 husbands and other paramours. Yet, Jesus was found to be without any sin that he committed himself – the only sin he bore was as a substitutional sacrifice. Therefore, if committing the sin was truly “automatic” and we could not help it, then Jesus, as both fully human and God, would have sinned too. But he didn’t. Therefore, since he flesh was just as our flesh, and as we are called to be like Jesus, then it must be possible for men and women not to lust by automatic response.

        • Tom Collins

          According to what I’ve read, the Greek word interpreted as meaning “lust” in Matthew 5:28 may more accurately be interpreted as meaning “covet”. Covet means to blamefully desire something that belongs to someone else. This interpretation may make Mathew 5:28 more sensible, as Jesus used the word “adultery”.
          In either case, we need to keep in mind Jesus’s intent during his sermon on the mount. What he was trying to banish was the sense of moral superiority some feel by following the letter of the law of Moses, while not proactively trying to do good.

  • Stacie

    Modesty in demeanor is just as (if not more) important as modesty in clothes. I just finished the book “These Beautiful Bones” by Emily Stimpson, and she has a whole chapter centered on modesty of not only the body, but also on how we act. As this article points out, lust has always been around, regardless of the style of clothing.

  • Tom Collins

    Skirts protect women from sexual objectification. If a woman looks like a piece of ass, that’s what men will think about her.
    Christian men are forgiven for their sinful lustiness. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16.

    • Broken Whole

      “If a woman looks like a piece of ass, that’s what men will think about her.”

      I believe that, as Christians, we should all be capable of looking beyond someone’s personal appearance to see them as a full human being. If I walk past a homeless person who looks like a dirty and discarded object is my only choice to perceive them as actually being such? Surely I ought to be able to recognize them as a loved child of God—at the very least, I ought to strive to see them as such.

      “Skirts protect women from sexual objectification.”

      Except that they don’t. Women can be treated as sexual objects even if they are covered head to toe in a burka. Perfectly modest looking women can be—and are—still the victims of everything from sexually harassing comments to actual sexual violence.

      I’m not saying that women should dress in a highly sexualized manner. But I think that’s because women should recognize that they’re not sexual objects (no matter what they’re wearing) and they certainly have no duty to respond to the culture’s demands that they present themselves as such.

      Frankly, I think it’s a bit awful that women are given two fashion choices in our society: dress scantily in order to gain the approval of men or dress modestly in order to gain the approval of men. How about not letting the constant specter of the male gaze completely determine how you clothe yourself?

      • Tom Collins

        But women (and men) actually are sexual objects. Here’s the study to prove it:
        Accept the fact that men are going to ogle your bottom if you don’t cover it.
        I think it is important that we stress the fact that Christ forgives men for doing this (so long as they are forgiving themselves). If

        • Broken Whole

          I think you’re confusing two quite different things. Saying “men and women treat each other as sexual objects” (duh) is different than saying that they actually *are* sexual objects. This is roughly akin to saying that people have affairs and thus marriage, in its nature, is not monogamous. Marriage, as understood by the Church, *is* monogamous, the fact that people violate the true nature of marriage does not, in fact, change its nature anymore than treating people as objects actually *makes* them objects.

          Secondly, the study you cite has absolutely nothing to do with how people ogle each other based on their clothing—the study was designed to test response to different body types.

          Thirdly, who was arguing that Christ didn’t forgive sins?

          All that being said, when someone on the internet starts talking about men “ogling my bottom,” I begin to suspect that I may be feeding the trolls. I felt it necessary to point out a few things in re: to the posted study; but, having done that, I bid you a good night.

          • Tom Collins

            What the study I cited above proved is that when a man looks at a woman wearing yoga pants, he is going to lustfully look at the booty first. It’s an automatic, knee-jerk reaction.
            The article’s author insinuated that Christ wouldn’t forgive this sin when she said “for the sake of his immortal soul”, then offered “self-discipline” as the only means for dealing with lust.

          • Matt Kososki

            Am I to understand that whenever a man looks at a woman in yoga pants, he has no ability to resist looking at her butt and every time he does it is with lust and sexual objectification? You make it seem like us fellas have no control over our wills!

          • Tom Collins

            If the USA Today article I cited is correct, men (and women) automatically objectify (lust) a member of the opposite sex whenever they spy one. This is like an automatic, knee jerk reaction. Lust is a sin, so does this mean we are all going to Hell? No. Jesus told us to forgive others so that we can obtain God’s forgiveness. I deal with my own wretched sinfulness by trying to forgive the trespasses of others.
            What women need to realize is that if they wear something revealing like yoga pants, men will lust and objectify them. This is a natural reaction, and there isn’t any avoiding it. Some women are fine with this. There are a lot of women in our society who like being totally naked in front of men, and they work as strippers. I try not to judge these women, because Jesus told us not to judge. But what women need to know is that if they want men to notice more than their buttocks, they need to wear something other than skin tight pants. Seeing a person’s inner beauty is pretty difficult when you’re blinded by sex.

          • Matt Kososki

            I have two problems with your response. 1) If lust is an automatic, knee-jerk reaction and not an act of the will, how can it be a sin? I submit to you that there is a difference between healthy, sexual desire (Which does not see the woman only as a sexual object but as a person) and lust (Which reduces the human person to only their sexual values). If you cannot look at an attractive woman in yoga pants without objectifying her as a mere sexual object (Lust), then I submit to you that you have not achieved psychosexual maturity. 2) Most women who work as strippers don’t do it because they like to be naked in front of men, but are forced to because of economic circumstances.

          • Tom Collins

            Is there a difference between sexual desire and lust? If you are looking at a woman’s sexy body and she is not your wife, aren’t you desiring something that is forbidden?
            Maybe lust is an automatic sin because it gives God an automatic reason to keep some men out of Heaven.

          • Matt Kososki

            I said there was a difference between sexual desire and lust.

            When a man looks upon a woman’s body, one must take into account the intention of the man and the particular context. Is it a deliberate gaze? Is he looking at a work of art with nudes in it, his wife, or some stranger? How is he viewing the woman: as a human being with sexually attractive characteristics or merely an object for his sexual pleasure? I’ve spoken with artists who’ve had to paint nude women for classes, and they’ve assured me that they can look upon a “woman’s sexy body” without objectifying her as an object for their lust.

            I’m pretty sure God doesn’t need to have “automatic reason[s] to keep men out of Heaven (As if lust were strictly a male problem).

          • QDefenestration

            Again, the article doesn’t prove what you think it does.

            “(Only women’s bodies were viewed by study participants.) Both sexes fixed their gaze more on women’s chests and waists and less on faces.”

            Unless you also claim that all women are lesbians?

            You should read the actual text of articles, not just headlines, before you toss them around.

          • Tom Collins

            The science in the article proves that people are inclined to “thingify” women’s bodies. We are more likely to gaze at the sexual areas of a woman’s body than at her identity (face). Stopping thingification isn’t as easy as Calah would want people to believe, because it is a part of our instinct.
            Why would women look at other women’s lady lumps? I dunno… maybe they’re scoping out the competition.

          • QDefenestration

            Still a leap that has nothing to do with the actual study done, just with your own conclusions.

          • QDefenestration

            Still nope.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Frankly, I think it’s a bit awful that women are given two fashion choices in our society: dress scantily in order to gain the approval of men or dress modestly in order to gain the approval of men. How about not letting the constant specter of the male gaze completely determine how you clothe yourself?

        Wow. All I can say is “Bravo!”

        • Tom Collins

          Whenever you leave your house and go out into the public, people are going to look at you.

    • GeekLady

      “Skirts protect women from sexual objectification.”

      Bullshit. I’ve heard too many male conversations about how skirts provide for “easy access” to buy this rubbish.

      • Tom Collins

        I think skirts are sexy and flirty without being overtly sexual. That’s if they aren’t too short. A Christian woman could wear a skirt and happily know that she is being sexy and modest at the same time.

        • GeekLady

          I have too much Christmas knitting left to continue arguing with such feckless invincible ignorance.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      If a woman looks like a piece of ass, that’s what men will think about her.

      Only men who are inclined to reduce women to “pieces of ass.”

  • GeekLady

    Oh, that yoga pants essay was a painful, ridiculous read. There are so many things wrong with it I barely know where to start.

    No, I know where to start. Mr. M is bad news, and if I were her, I would dump his ass for such impertinence.

    What pisses me off most about current language about modesty is how it is exclusively applied to modes of dress. Usually for women, heavy modesty mavens throw in fairly token complaints about men dressing modestly as well. Yet the definition is far broader (and less focused on neck & hem lines!) than the current conversation allows.

    Modesty is the quality of being unassuming and moderate in one’s behavior. Of not drawing attention to oneself, especially to one’s best traits. This certainly applies to dress, and many women dress immodestly in that they dress to deliberately draw attention.

    And part of modesty is dressing so that one’s clothing is suitable to the activity one is currently engaged in. Wearing yoga pants to *gasp* exercise! (at a gym!) is hardly immodest. It would be much more immodest to wear a Victorian tea gown. Or a burlap sack. Or a business suit. Or a tutu.

    I know men are much more visually stimulated than women. And women don’t get a pass when they dress more and more provocatively in the effort to attract attention to themselves. But the cure here is to look at and see the other person, instead of as just a sex object or attention giver.

    This desire to control another’s dress or behavior is a fundamental rejection of seeing the other person. It’s just a different way to look at the person and see a thing.

    • Caroline Moreschi

      Thank you!! What exactly did this Mr. M character expect? This is like thinking we need to be covered to the ankles at the beach.

  • Broken Whole

    Oh, I totally succumbed to temptation and read the yoga pants article. Oh my. Also, is it just me or do these two quotes sound like they could have come out of Fifty Shades of Gray? :

    “I picked at the tag on a buffet table, glancing at myself in a mirror in the corner. It was just one request he had made – a request based on what he knew of his own male mind and the minds of the men around him. But I wanted MY way, so I ignored it.”

    “The more you cover up the more [a Christian man] will want you. Men like mystery, and when you reveal that mystery walking down the street, there is no reason for them to pursue you. They’ve already gotten their reward.” – Mr. M”

    I’m with GeekLady, Mr. M is bad news—all questions of sexual politics and modesty culture aside, this really sounds like someone in the throes of a dangerous, controlling relationship

    • Caroline Moreschi

      Yep, I kinda want to contact this woman and tell her she needs to get out, ASAP. This guy is nothing but bad news.

    • GeekLady

      I just want to clarify that I don’t know anywhere near enough about Mr. M or his relationship to the author to make any sort of statement about the dangers of being in a relationship with him. I just think that, in this incident as she relates it, he was impudent, ungallant, and unmanly.

  • Jim Russell

    “Except, dammit, there is. I’m fecking done dancing around this issue and trying to point things out gently. Enough is enough.”
    Here is my basically ironic observation: It seems you are asking for men to account for their *own* interior modesty of speech and thought–which is *exactly* the right thing to point out.
    But, then again, look how you’re pointing it out…

    • GeekLady

      I fully support the use of the word ‘fecking’ in this post.

      First, because ugly ideas deserve ugly words and this discussion is chock full of ugly ideas.

      Second, because ‘fecking’ is presumably related to ‘feckless’, which means “lacking in efficiency or vitality, unthinking and irresponsible.” Calah’s post is not at all lacking in feck.

      • Jim Russell

        Ugly ideas actually do not deserve ugly words, as far as I can tell from my understanding of Church teaching.
        Rather, there is a real interconnection between modesty of speech and thought and purity of heart. Ultimately the same impulse of concupiscence disorders our passions in both areas, which was my basic point. The call to interior purity of heart necessarily involves accepting personal responsibility in the “heart” not only to avoid lust by “seeing rightly” but also by “speaking rightly.”
        But please consider this a very tangential observation to this post–which is itself right on the money.

  • Dan F.

    Slow clap. Bravo Calah, bravo

    • Kaitlin Jean Finn

      hush you, you’re just thinking about how i could ban sugar from our house and solve all our problems.

      • Dan F.

        quiet woman, and get back in our kitchen. ;)

  • Michelle Marvian

    This may be the worst analogy you have heard all year, but here goes.

    When I take my daughter for her routine MRI, there is a sign on the wall that asks those who are waiting to kindly not eat since the children who are about to undergo the test are fasting. It’s called common courtesy and it extends toward our fellow man when we decide what to wear today.

    But, you know what? Some people still do. Maybe they didn’t see the sign. Maybe they have glucose issues? It’s possible that they weren’t taught well. Maybe they are just rude, I don’t know.

    It takes maturity to see the light, I believe, in this and other areas of life. I could have cared less about a LOT of things when I was young. But, I hope echoing your point, since I was taught right from wrong, including modesty and why, I eventually fell back on that rock.