Nuking the Modesty War, Part III: Stop Thingifying People

“It’s not as simple as that. It’s not a black and white issue. There are so many shades of gray.”

“Nope.”

“Pardon?”

“There’s no grays, only white that’s got grubby. I’m surprised you don’t know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That’s what sin is.

“It’s a lot more complicated than that –”

“No. It ain’t. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they’re getting worried that they won’t like the truth. People as things, that’s where it starts.”

“Oh, I’m sure there are worse crimes –”

“But they starts with thinking about people as things …”

(Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum)

Thinking about people as things. That’s what it comes down to, and that’s all it comes down to. When a man can’t look past a woman’s body long enough to see her as anything other than a thing he must have or a thing he must resist, his desire obscures her humanity. She becomes a thing. A thing to be either used or controlled, a thing that brings either pleasure or pain, a thing to ogle and use or a thing to cover and put away.

When a woman uses her body to entice a man, to manipulate him, to seduce and control him, she’s using him as a thing too, reducing him to a physiological response. But when she handles him with kid gloves, trying to keep every potential temptation at bay, she’s still treating him like a thing, still trying to control him. A man is not an animal. He is not a body with no soul. He is both, just as she is both.

The ways in which we thingify ourselves and each other can be so subtle. They can be difficult to recognize and easy to explain away. But if you really want to understand what the modesty war has become, you must learn to see the thingification of human beings for what it is.

The author of the original post opened it with this story, which inspired her to write about modesty.

As we walked into the estate store Mr. M glanced at my outfit. The pants I had found in my harried search were work out capris – otherwise known as yoga pants. “You know…” He said. “You are dressed a lot like those girls you always comment on at the gym.”

We had talked about this before. Mr. M has requested, not commanded, that I refrain from wearing the pants to the gym, and really not in public at all.  But I’d ignored the request, and here I was walking down the sidewalk in them.

“I was kind of surprised you wore them.” He said sadly.

(Read the rest here)

There’s so much thingification going on here that it’s breathtaking. Even just the throwaway phrase “girls at the gym” is total thingification. They’re not people whose human dignity should protect them from being nothing but targets of self-righteous gossip or cautionary plot devices in an internet morality tale. Their yoga pants give good Christians a free pass to view them as things.

Oh, and the boyfriend who requests that his girlfriend wear other pants because he can’t handle himself when she wears yoga pants? Oh, boy. Talk about self-thingification. He has either bought completely into the lie that he is, in fact, little better than an animal, or he just doesn’t want to pick up that cross. Either way, he’s perfectly okay with treating his girlfriend as a thing so he can let himself stay a thing, too. He asks her not to wear yoga pants, not JUST around him, but anywhere in public. Somehow I doubt he’s magnanimously concerned with the state of the souls of perfect strangers, since his own seems to be slipping beneath his radar. I’m betting he’s more concerned that no one else get to lust after those yoga-clad legs. She’s not just a thing, she’s his thing.

The fact that she makes a big deal about him requesting instead of commanding is seriously baffling.  It’s like she’s trying to convince herself that he sees her as a person who shouldn’t be controlled while he’s controlling her. He doesn’t make any effort to accept the fact that, hey, he asked her to do something and she didn’t do it, and that’s okay, because she’s a human being with free will. Instead, he waits until they are well into their date before telling her “sadly” how surprised he is by her poor choice in clothing.

Modesty stick+Guilt?

He treats her like a thing to be controlled so he can continue to allow himself to be a thing that doesn’t have to be controlled.

Her admonition near the end, though, is probably the worst of all.

Modesty affects us, ladies. It affects us greatly. It affects how we are perceived, how we are respected, how we advance in our careers, and whether we get asked on a date by a God-fearing, decent man.

For her, modesty has nothing whatsoever to do with the disposition of the soul or the formation of character. It’s entirely superficial, something that will make the ladies she is addressing more marketable, more appealing to their bosses, to men, and to the general public.

Do you see the problem? Modesty is here a tool to be used in order to achieve a desired effect, to manipulate the impressions of others by manipulating the appearance of the self. Women aren’t people with souls who ought to be striving for virtue. They’re objects on the Christian market. Men aren’t people with souls who will find a woman attractive because of who she is. They’re consumers shopping for a good Christian wife. Modesty is necessary to play this game, to make these things seem like things these other things will want. The fact that it’s a Christian market as opposed to the nightclub/bar scene “meat” market doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a market.

See the one in the middle? She didn’t cover her shoulders with modesty and now no one wants her

Once you realize that the Christian market is indeed a market, you can see that modesty isn’t the issue; trends and standards aren’t the issue. The issue is the love — or the lack thereof — in which we see ourselves and others. It’s not an issue of our external appearance but of our internal disposition, and it’s not just an issue that effects how we dress. It’s an issue that effects how we live our whole lives.

“Modesty” is just one manifestation of the fact that it’s so much easier, infinitely easier, to treat people (ourselves and others) like things instead of like people.

It’s so much easier to thingify myself than to pick up my cross. It’s so much easier to lament my German/Cherokee ancestry and the short hausfrau stature it bequeathed upon me than to stop eating ice cream. If my body is a thing, I’m just a victim of it. And if I’m just a victim, I can blame someone else. If I can blame someone else, I don’t have look at myself.

In the same way, it’s much easier to thingify the Ogre than it is to treat him like a human being. It’s easier to be frustrated that he’s hardly ever home, complain that I have no help, and generally exist in a state of perpetual martyrdom than it is to remember that he works too, all the time, and that he gets tired too. It’s easier to blame him for everything that’s difficult than to remember that he’s my partner, not my enemy. It’s easier to demand that he give more so my burden is eased than to ease his by sacrificing my desires.

I’m not a thing. Neither is he. All virtue, whether it be the virtue of marital sacrifice or the virtue of chastity, begins and ends with the greatest commandment, to love the Lord with all our hearts, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Somehow, I think, if we remember that, then “modesty” becomes a non-issue.

So I hereby invoke the nuclear option on the modesty war. It is over. There is nothing more to say, nothing more to debate, no point more specific nor encompassing than this: people are not things.The word “modesty” itself has become a big guilt stick that we use to hit someone when we don’t want to take the time to treat them like a human. So here:

That beach is composed of the word modesty, collected wherever it appears on the internet and in awful self-help books and sent here to be eviscerated

You can’t even use the word anymore. It’s been apocalypsed. From now on if you want to complain about yoga pants or (God help us) leggings, you have to actually think about the person wearing them and the people looking at them. You no longer have a big stick to hit them with.

Now stop obsessing about yoga pants and hemlines and start treating each other like  human beings.

(And for crap’s sake, girls, leggings are NOT PANTS. They aren’t even yoga pants.)

The rest of this series can be found here:

Nuking the Modesty War, Part 1: Control Yourself, not Women

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

Now that I’ve won the modesty war, what’s the prize? It’s not a war over land or anything real, it’s mostly a war over yoga pants, so shouldn’t Danskin offer me a lifetime supply of free yoga pants? I could really use some stretchy pants to eat ice cream in.

  • Kate Friend

    If only ending a debate were as easy as winning it.

  • Kate

    Yes! This is the best! No more obsessing over modesty talks!

  • Mark.

    The most profound th

  • Tom Collins

    What constitutes “modest” or “immodest” depends on what society considers proper for specific places and circumstances.
    Back when the Polynesian islands were first being discovered by Europeans, the island women were all topless. They felt no shame about it, because in their society it was perfectly proper. They were modestly dressed by their standards.
    The men wore loincloths and the women wore primitive skirts. The women also could have dressed in loincloths, but they chose to wear skirts instead. The reason for this is probably the same reason women have been wearing skirts for thousands of years in most civilizations around the world: to cover the intimate details of their sexuality.
    The island girls were dirt poor. All they had were grasses, leaves, and feathers to clothe themselves. But even they had the dignity to wear skirts.
    Just a thought I’d like to add to this discussion.

    • margaret1910

      I suspect that ease of urination is why they wore skirts.

    • QDefenestration

      So women wearing pants is immodest.

      Yep. troll.

      • Tom Collins

        The Hawaiian women wore skirts instead of loincloths. None of the Hawaiians had pants.
        They weren’t prudish by any stretch of the imagination. The women were topless, there was a lot of sex going on… but the women wore skirts. The Hawaiians must have felt that covering the booty was the proper thing to do. I wonder why

        • QDefenestration

          Well Marge had a great answer, which you ignored.

          • Tom Collins

            Her answer was repugnant to the Islanders dignity. It’s in keeping with these articles, which are repugnant to human dignity.

          • margaret1910

            How is my answer even a little repugnant to the Islanders’ dignity? I
            was absolutely serious and I fail to see how noting the difference
            between men and women wrt waste elimination is an assault on anyone’s
            dignity.

          • Matt Kososki

            It’s probably because any reference to a woman’s anatomy is enough to cause Tom to start thinking about a women’s anatomy and automatically thingify her (Which is, of course, what “lust” supposedly is) and is “repugnant to the Islanders dignity”, reducing them to the level of mere objects.

          • Petticoat Philosopher

            What I want to know, is why do men get to where pants then if pants are about covering “the most intimate parts of sexuality?” I have noticed that the general trend among males tends to be that they also have their genitals between their legs and that they would be even more concealed by skirts than they would be by pants. (In fact, this applies more to men than to women because, well, there’s more showing on the outside that could be hidden by loose cloth…) So why don’t men have to wear skirts for the sake of modesty? Of course, there are many cultures around the world in which men do wear clothing more similar to skirts (or robes). And in South Asia, The shalwar kameez, which is loose pants with a tunic, is worn by both men and women. In fact, although I don’t have a citation, I have read that a man wearing this clothing is always supposed to have the drawstring of the pants tucked in. Having it hang down between his legs would be considered extremely vulgar for reasons I’m pretty sure everyone here can figure out. So really, Tom’s whole line of argument is silly. Women and men around the world wear all different kinds of clothing and many cultures seem to understand that both men and women have sexual organs and they are found in the same place on the body!

          • Tom Collins

            Urination is not the reason why Hawaiian women wore skirts, and it is repugnant to even suggest such a thing. A disgustingly condescending thing to say about Hawaiian culture.

          • QDefenestration

            When clothing is not a luxury, it tends to based around function.

            Also, you ignored, on the previous article, the fact that your supposed scientific evidence that all men objectify women was revealed to be pretty much bunk.

          • margaret1910

            exactamundo..i do think there is a reason why external genitalia is covered. My point was that the difference between HOW we cover them may be more about other function. For God’s sake, I never suggested that these women wore skirts in order to make them sexually available. My point was that men and women must urinate relatively frequently..and that it is easier for women if they don’t have to take their clothing off in order to do so..if that is treating anyone with an assault on their dignity..then i must say..that is just stupid.

      • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

        What could one expect from a Mr. Collins?

        • Calah Alexander

          I’m re-reading Pride and Prejudice, so I just got this. And snorted. Lit-geek five.

    • Thomas R

      Looking it up there were cultures in Asia where women wore something like “trousers.” And from what I recall peasant women in some rural parts of Europe wore something like “pants” for fieldwork.

      I think, from what I read, the ideal of modesty is to not dress in such a way that flaunts one’s wealth or is intended to provoke lust in the other. (Aquinas didn’t necessary specify which gender trying to bring lust.) Which could lead to rather interesting notions. A woman wearing a long skirt could very well be “immodest” by this standard if the skirt is ostentatiously expensive and intended to accentuate sexual characteristics. A man wearing pants could be immodest if they are designed to accentuate his sexual characteristics and/or display his wealth.

      As for Polynesians many to most Polynesian cultures did have a “looser” view of sexuality than Christian teaching does. To deal with the amount of unintended children that could cause the Tahitians, I believe, practiced widespread infanticide. So I’m not sure they’re even the culture that would fit your values.

  • Matt Kososki

    Excellent series! From now on, instead of the word “objectify”, I will exclusively use the term “thingify”.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    If I ever meet you, I owe you a drink just for this series of posts–and an extra for getting Granny Weatherwax into it. This debate has been such a source of irritation for me. What is modest dress is affected by the culture, the environment, the activity being done, and the individual’s purpose in that culture, environment, activity, etc. We do not need to all swath ourselves in burkas (when I look at my post-4-babies body, some days I’m tempted to), or even dress like my Mennonite friends (who I’ve never seen engaging in this type of modesty debate), to be a modest person.

  • Cordelia

    YES! What can I say that won’t sound like hyperbole? How about just…yes. Or maybe…amen. Yeah, that’s good. We’ll go with: “Amen, sister! Preach it in the streets!”

    As well as, YOU WON! And Danskin totally owes you. And I will NEVER AGAIN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE SO HELP ME GOD ever again utter the m-word.

  • Tree

    The ad in the middle of this post is (ironically) selling yoga pants and says “Your butt will thank you.”

    • Calah Alexander

      Ah, Tree, but your butt WILL thank you.

  • eskvar

    A few random thoughts:

    Am I the only one who thinks a lot of these “my husband doesn’t want me to wear yoga pants” type posts are really a form of “humblebrag”, you know, claiming to say it’s about being nice to the poor menfolk when they’re really saying “check it out, I’m so hot men can’t possibly help but lust after me unless I go out in a potato sack”?

    My real feelings are yoga pants are summed up by the lower left flowchart on the chart you posted, essentially unless you going to or from yoga, don’t wear them in public. I’ll also possibly accept currently infected with a terrible cold or other illness and need to drag yourself to a drugstore so you can grab some medicine then return home to crash.

    Giving advice on whether a particular outfit is modest is best left to mothers, sisters, and really good best friends, not random strangers on the internet. (I’m not married, so I can’t say whether or not husbands are to truly be trusted with input on women’s fashion)

    • Caroline Moreschi

      Ha! I totally wore yoga pants in the dark and rain to get medication for my husband at the nearby Rite Aid. If someone had said shit to me, it would not have ended well for them.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        That sounds dangerous. Did you at least pair them with a reflective jacket or *something* so that you could be seen crossing the parking lot?

    • http://www.geeklady.wordpress.com/ GeekLady

      Husbands CAN give excellent input on what you’re wearing, if you can convince them that it’s safe to do so. Mine does. But he feels (relatively) safe telling me that an article of clothing is unflattering.

      However, I think yoga pants are acceptable clothing for working out in general… and as I can’t afford a fancy gym membership, you ought to find me eating pavement in them at 5am every other morning. Whatever sartorial problems yoga pants may present, at least they won’t fall off thanks to an insufficiently deep rise, and at this point, not spontaneously falling off is all I feel I can ask.

  • Bob

    Calah,

    You want us to focus on who the person wearing whatever article of clothing is. I am with you all the way. I want to ask though why we wear clothes at all? Are clothes simply functional? Or do they express something about who we are? Furthermore, we must admit that we choose to wear certain clothes out in public. In a space where there are people who do not know our hearts. We must admit that we express something to them by what we choose to wear. Modesty is supposed to be an inner disposition, the manifestation of that inner disposition “could” be what someone wears. Thus, is it entirely wrong to allow what clothes someone wears to be a part of our decision about what their inner disposition is? If all we are allowed to do when coming to know someone is dwell in the fact of their dignity as a child of God (which I do think is primary and fundamental and can cause us to come to someone without hate but only love) what use is there in trying to come to know someone otherwise? What other things can we appeal to to know whom they are?


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