Nuking the Modesty War, Part II: Stop Treating Men Like Pigs

This series is a response to this post about the evils of yoga pants. You can find Part I here:

Nuking the Modesty Wars, Part 1: Control Yourself, Not Women

Dear Christian Women of the Internet: STOP TREATING MEN LIKE FERAL PIGS

Seriously, even if they look at you with those big eyes that say, “it’s just so hard,” and “you don’t understand” and you feel really guilty because you don’t understand, don’t treat them like helpless lust-puppies. Don’t let them treat themselves like that. For the purposes of the internet, when your fingers get the urge to go type-typity on your keyboard to explain how HEROIC your boyfriend is for his daily battle against yoga pants, don’t instead. You’re not doing him any favors, and you’re certainly not making him look good.

When we dress in a way that has even the potential to cause a man to lust, we create an unnecessary war against his soul.

Think about that for a moment.

(Read the rest here)

Seriously, think about that for a moment.

That is some pretty messed up shizzle to say.

Hemingway famously wrote an erotically detailed passage about a woman’s hair. That’s right, ladies. Your hair has the potential to cause a man to lust. Better burn it, chop it, or cover it up, post-haste!

No? No one rushing for the scissors yet?

I get that you don’t want to tempt him. That’s admirable. That shows you care about him a great deal. Don’t suppress that instinct to protect him. It’s charitable to be conscientious of how you dress, especially if he struggles with lust…within reason. Don’t, for example, discard your pants. Don’t cover every single inch of yourself. It’s simply impossible to prevent every single situation that might arouse a man. Some men have a foot fetish. Should we really all give up our flip-flops and cover our pedicures so that no man with a foot-fetish ever stumbles again? Sometimes men get turned on by nothing in particular. A smell, maybe, that triggers a memory, or the sight of a curl falling against a girl’s neck. Do we invent an olfactory-suppressing anti-perfume? Ban curls, necks, girls?

The fact is, women’s bodies have the potential to make men lust, even the disfigured and mutilated feet of Chinese girls. All good things can potentially be turned and twisted by evil and sin. The flowy skirt you choose for Mass could be swept against your legs in a sudden gust of wind and the outline of your legs could catch a man’s eye. It could spark his desire. But the move from attraction to lust is on him.

Lust, as I understand it, is neither attraction nor desire. Lust is the entirely selfish desire to use another person’s body for your own pleasure.

“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

Would you like to reward passing men with a glimpse of your body?

Men who couldn’t care less about who you are?

(Read the rest here.)

What neither the author nor her boyfriend seem to understand is that if he thinks that her body is a reward for a man, that it is the sole reason she is worth “pursuing,” he is unquestionably one of those men who couldn’t care less about who she is. He’s one of those men who has bought into the lie that because he is helpless in the face of temptation, the fault must lie with the  temptress.

A woman who believes her body is a reward is a man is one who has forgotten, or who perhaps never learned, that we are more than the sum of our parts. It may be that no one has ever expected her to learn it, but she should.

Your body is not someone’s reward. It is you. Soul and body, inextricably linked. A woman’s body is not an object to be pursued. It’s also not a “stumbling block”, some kind of ever-present threat to a man’s purity of heart that must therefore be covered up.

Can you see why this is a self-defeating strategy?

Women are good and beautiful, including our sexuality. God made us that way for a reason. He also made men good and beautiful…including their sexuality. If we expect men to realize that our bodies are integral to our humanity, we must also realize that their sexuality is likewise integral to theirs. We simply cannot demand their respect if we refuse to give them ours.

Do not fall for the lie that a man cannot see the curve of a derrière without being immediately and irrevocably caught up in the throes of lascivious fantasies. Men are NOT helpless in the face of sexual stimuli. I can’t pretend to understand the effect women’s bodies have on men. I will never truly appreciate the depth of that struggle. Charity demands that we women not ignore that. But coddling a man is just as disrespectful as intentionally dressing to provoke lust.

If you hysterically try to remove all potential temptations for a man, not only in your own closet but in closets of women everywhere, on supermarket shelves, on Middle Eastern streets, you’re being just as cold and callous as women who dress seductively and enjoy the burning, unrequited passion they kindle. Both see men as little more than animals, and their own bodies as little more than objects of animalistic desire.

Our bodies are more than objects of desire, nevertheless they are objects of desire. And that is not an inherent evil. The fact that men find women’s bodies beautiful and desirable is good! The fact that women enjoy being desired is good! It is not a sin for a man to be sexually attracted to a woman. It’s not a sin for a woman to enjoy that attraction and to reciprocate it. That’s kind of how marriage happens and babies are made. The sin is when sexual attraction is divorced from virtue, when there is a desire for one part of someone without respect for the person as a whole.

Men are worthy of respect as full, complete, good human beings. It feels so stupid to type that, because it’s such an obvious thing, but I’ve seen women who hold a man in the highest of regards express resigned contempt when it comes to his sexuality. It shames me to say it, but I’ve been that woman. I’ve treated my husband like his sexuality is a pitiable but inexorable thing, instead of an integral part of the man I love.

The idea that men are sexual animals is a lie that is fed to us on all sides. Do not buy into it. Do not let him buy into it. He is so much more than that. Your responsibility as a woman is not to protect a man from every potential temptation. He is not your child. He is not your pet. He is not a helpless slave to the forces of female sexuality. He is a human being, a body and soul created by God. Your responsibility as a woman is to treat him like one.

If you coddle a man because you think he can’t control himself, he’ll believe that he can’t control himself. If you showcase your cleavage because you think men are only after one thing, he’ll believe that one thing is all you have to offer. A man’s sexual desire is not merely some biological fail-safe to ensure the survival of the race. It’s intricately tied up in who he is and how he loves. If he doesn’t develop the virtue of chastity before marriage, his desires will still be unchaste within it. He will still be tormented by lust. And you will both suffer for it.

Not even dignerriers?

I’m not saying we should all just wear yoga pants to help men develop self-control and chastity.

I’m saying that if we understand “modesty” to mean nothing more than dressing to prevent male lust, we don’t understand it at all. There is an indefinable mixture of virtue, charity, chastity, and humility that must come together in a woman’s soul to produce a true modesty.* It is not a set of rules. It can never come down to degrees of tightness or inches of flesh. There simply is no way to prevent physical attraction and desire. If we set about to eliminate lust by eliminating the cause, we can only end by eliminating ourselves. 

Men are not beasts. They are capable of attaining great virtue and resisting enormous temptation. The best way we can help them is by letting them.



*It’s indefinable for me because I don’t have it down yet.


  • Andrea Mercer

    A-freaking-men Calah. Perfectly put.
    You are officially my hero for writing this post.

  • Lindsay Amery Stehno

    Fabulous. Completely fabulous. Extremes are nearly always a bad idea, and you’ve expressed that so clearly.

  • mandamum

    It seems sometimes even the idea/ideal of modesty can become an idol (or turn the female form into one) (a la Anchoress’ recent writings on idols). Thank you for both these posts, Calah.

  • Will Duquette

    Yup. This is all true.

  • Tom Collins

    Your argument fails because it depends on this faulty assumption: “It is not a sin for a man to be sexually attracted to a woman”.

    We now have scientific proof, through eye tracking technology, that men automatically sexually objectify women whenever they view them:

    Supposedly, objectifying women is lust and a sin:
    This must mean men are constantly sinning. Whenever they view a woman, they are guilty of the sin of lust.
    Does this mean all men are going to Hell? Nah, not all of them. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that all who believe in him shall have eternal life.” – John 3:16. Jesus concluded his sermon on the mount by telling everyone they needed to be forgiving in order to obtain God’s forgiveness (Mathew 6:14-15). So, some men will be forgiven.
    But does this evidence mean this article is pure bunk?

    • CS

      yeah….What you are doing here is not Science, friend. It is pure, desperate re-focusing back on your own mind as the center of all reality. That right there is will get you in trouble a whole lot faster than lust.

    • QDefenestration

      Did you even read the article you yourself posted to back your argument?

      “But it’s not just men who do it — the study found that women look at other women’s bodies, too.”

      Then there’s this little methodological problem: “(Only women’s bodies were viewed by study participants.)”

      And finally the fact that *nowhere* was actual objectification linked to anything in that study. The closest is random evolutionary psychology hypotheses (and evolutionary psychology regarding sexual matters is increasingly notorious for being built on really sexist assumptions rather than actual evidence).

      • CS

        Not to mention the fact that the study doesn’t address the origins of these “looking” behaviors. We are ALL part of a culture that objectifies women’s bodies and we are trained up in it from childhood.

    • Jim Russell

      Tom–you are not expressing the teaching of the Catholic Church.
      There is nothing “sinful” to be found in a properly ordered eros.
      And the word “lust” may refer first to the mere *temptation* (because of concupiscence) to willfully engage eros in a disordered way, or it may refer second to the concrete *act* of the will that results from succumbing to that temptation.
      But no matter how you slice it, “whenever [men] view a woman, they are guilty of the sin of lust” is an absurd and a non-Catholic assertion.

      • Tom Collins

        Is it possible for a man with a normal sexual instinct to go through life without lusting? I don’t think it is. The study I cited proves that we predisposed to objectifying women.
        This means we can’t possibly reach God by being “pure”. The only way to the Father is through Jesus Christ.

        • Jim Russell

          The only way to purity is through Jesus Christ.
          It is Jesus Christ who *calls* us to a mature purity.
          The study cited proves the existence of concupiscence.
          Jesus Christ proves the existence of *grace*.
          And His Church teaches that this same grace is the remedy for concupiscence.
          Men (and women) are called by Christ to respond to His grace and be liberated from the domination of concupiscence so as to experience the true freedom that only purity in Jesus Christ can bring us.

          • Dan F.

            Well said

          • Tom Collins

            The Council of Trent decreed: “If anyone shall say that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he who falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the contrary, that throughout his whole life he can avoid all sins even venial sins, except by a special privilege of God, as the Church holds in regard to the Blessed Virgin: let him be anathema.”[7]

          • Tom Collins

            There is no such thing as purity for us. Only those who receive a special privilege from God are allowed to be pure.
            I know that my salvation rests entirely on the mercy of Christ, not on some sort of spiritual perfection that is unattainable.

          • Jim Russell

            Welcome to the “special privilege from God” that Trent mentions–it’s called “grace.” :-)
            Trent does not disagree in the least with what saintly writers such as that Mystic Doctor of the Church, St. John of the Cross, have to say about the way of Christian perfection. We are *all* called to holiness and Christian perfection, according to the Church’s teaching. We are *all* called to purity of heart. And Mary is, herself, the unique example that makes clear to us that such purity is possible for the human person. Her unique privilege in the order of grace is a sign of hope for us that, while no one else can attain to the level of sanctity of her “fullness of grace,” we *remain* called to always say “yes” to God’s grace at every moment of our lives.
            Yet, as Trent makes clear, grace isn’t merely a magic bullet that automatically keeps us from ever sinning again–we *always* retain the possibility of falling. Even so, real virtue is undeniably attainable in this life. There is definitely “such thing as purity” for us. it’s in the beatitudes:
            “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

          • Tom Collins

            Not all men are called by God into lives of chastity. If it were possible for most of us to pure, we wouldn’t need God’s mercy.

          • Matt Kososki

            “Not all men are called by God into lives of chastity.”
            –Um, no. Chastity is the proper sexual behavior according one’s state in life, whether it is married, unmarried, or celibate.

          • Tom Collins

            Yeah, and if everyone on Earth was “proper”, we wouldn’t need God’s mercy. Life on Earth is imperfect, and this is a part of God’s design. God made us imperfect so that he could have mercy on us.
            You guys can go ahead pursuing perfectly virtuous and chaste lives, but me, I don’t want to drive myself nuts worrying about it. I think I’ll take Jesus’s advice and try being forgiving instead. Good luck to you.
            “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

          • Matt Kososki

            So then if you’re not going to bother pursuing perfection, why insist women dress themselves modestly? If you’re not going to even try to pursue perfection in the virtue of chastity, why even bother with any of the other virtues or commandments (Like not stealing)? After all, Christ did say “Not everybody who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven”

          • Tom Collins

            I’m not insisting women wear burqas. I’m not “insisting” that women wear anything. I’m hoping that women will realize that their booties will be objectified if they wear booty pants.

          • Jim Russell

            Tom, do I have this correct–your strategy is to embrace Jesus’ message of mercy but *reject* Jesus’ call to Christian perfection?
            What did Jesus mean when He said “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48)?
            Catholic teaching would also conflict with your claim that “God made us imperfect”–no, *sin* (including the effects of original sin, which wounds the goodness of our human nature) makes us imperfect. By definition, God cannot “make” imperfection.
            Which is exactly why God wants us all to strive for perfection: Because “perfect” is exactly how God wants us all to be, despite the presence of sin and its effects in our lives.
            Another big ol’ Catholic “both/and”….

          • Tom Collins

            God is love, and God is perfect, therefore love is perfect. Because human beings are not capable of being perfect like God, a perfect God for us would be a God who is forgiving.
            In Matthew 5:48, Jesus was telling us that we should try to be loving and forgiving.

          • QDefenestration

            Given his numerous non sequiturs, I’m calling troll.

          • Tom Collins

            My Bible says “blest are the single-hearted”, which would be those who serve God for non selfish reasons.

          • Jim Russell

            Which translation? Also, if you don’t mind clarifying–I’m presuming you are a fellow Catholic (particularly since you quoted from the Council of Trent)–am I correct in thinking so?

          • Tom Collins

            It’s the New American Bible published by Catholic Publishers Inc., copyright 1971.

          • Alexander S Anderson

            Who invited the Jansenist?

          • Tom Collins

            I’m not denying we have free will, and I believe Jesus died for all humanity.

  • QDefenestration

    Thank you so much for these posts. It is extremely tiring seeing again and again my friends and peers being told that on *our* behalf, as men, they must avoid x, y, and z pieces of clothing. Because men are lust machines activated by the visibility of a naval.

  • Michelle Marvian

    You seriously need to read:

    For Women Only, Revised and Updated Edition: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men by Shaunti Feldhahn

    • Dan F.

      I’ve never even heard of that book and just from the title I can assure you that it’s full of crap

      • Michelle Marvian

        Actually, it’s based on interviews/questionnaires from men. A consensus if you will. But hey, anything that brings understanding and harmony to a marriage is a good thing. Like any book, you take what is good and leave the rest.

        • Petticoat Philosopher

          A consensus of men? Gosh, those must be a lot of interviews considering there are 3.5 billion men in the world!

          Seriously, you can find men of any opinion and, if you are employing selection bias, you can find ones that say what you want them to say to fit your preconceived notions. Any book that professes to give women they key to “the male mind,” as if there weren’t a lot more than one, sets of my BS detector.

          • Michelle Marvian

            Are you trying to insult me?

          • Michelle Marvian

            If we women, (we meaning the ones who suffer with PMS), got together and came up with a general agreement of our symptoms as a guide for the men in our lives ~ fathers, sons, husbands, friends, would you think that was a good idea? The truth is: While equal, men and women are different. I applaud any effort to try and understand one another. I know that if I’m not in the mood, I shouldn’t wear my yoga pants around the house. It is out of respect for my naturally “visual” virtuous husband who finds me very attractive. It’s called common courtesy. Any idiot knows that all men are different.

  • Julia Benson

    Ha! Thanks for this post. I saw the yoga post a couple of times and something about it rubbed me the wrong way…didn’t have the time to think about or pen a response. Glad you did!

  • Sarah

    I’ve been struggling with the idea of modesty for a long while now…and don’t have it “down yet” either. But I’m consistently uncomfortable with the idea what modesty = x, y and z and if you stray even a mm, terrible things will happen. I have come to the conclusion, as you have, that modesty is mostly an internal disposition, rather than mostly external….which is why I loved your line: There is an indefinable mixture of virtue, charity, chastity, and humility that must come together in a woman’s soul to produce a true modesty.* It is not a set of rules. It can never come down to degrees of tightness or inches of flesh.
    Thanks for this. I’ll be coming back to it.

  • GeekLady

    The following is a vaguely recollected summary of something I think Michael Flynn posted once up on a time:
    The medieval idea of virtue was that it was poised in balance against two opposing vices. Thus cowardice was opposed to courage, but so also was foolhardiness.

    Can I just say how clearly you have cast modesty in this light? You’ve written down what I have longed to say but for which I have been unable to adequately organize my thoughts. Thank you.