Desire, Lust, and Daisy Dukes

Lots of nuttiness and hysteria has ensued since my post yesterday, notably on Mark Shea’s wall. Also, other sides of the story have come to light, along with more than a few accusations about me picking one side of the story and running with it.

Truth be told, I picked the story up immediately after it went up on Gawker, read Clare’s account, did a perfunctory Google search and found no contradictory accounts, wrote a slap-dash post because I was fuming but also needed to make dinner, and called it a day. I didn’t investigate because I’m a blogger, not an investigative journalist.

In the interest of fairness, there seem to be about a thousand conflicting “eyewitness” accounts about what happened. Many insist that it was Clare’s suggestive dancing that got her kicked out (although she claimed that she wasn’t dancing at all), and not her dress. If she was twerking like Miley Cyrus all over the dance floor, then sure, different story entirely. I have no idea what really happened, but the reason I wrote that post is more about the larger picture than this particular incident.

One of the reasons I picked this story up is the mindset that it reveals. You can see this mindset over and over in the comments, and even in the one rebuttal to Clare’s post that I came across.

Women use clothing and actions to attract men all the time, but as Christians and really just as moral people, ladies have a duty to dress in a way that earns respect and doesn’t tempt men and that is what this entire situation comes down to.

(Read the rest here)

Gosh, y’all, I’ve said this till I’m blue in the face and I guess I’ll just keep saying it till I fall over and actually die, because it is VITAL for Christians to understand and admit this if we ever want to have any kind of real conversation about true charity and true chastity. It is impossible to prevent any man from ever being tempted by you, no matter what you wear.

You can wear a sack, you can wear a bag, you can wear a mumu, you can wear a friggin’ burqa and still, it’s entirely possible for a man to be tempted when he looks at you. I wrote about this once before, and I’m not sure I can say it any better now.

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.

(Read the rest here)

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not saying it’s okay to wear a tube top and daisy dukes to church (or anywhere, for that matter, except maybe to bed). That’s an offense against chastity and against charity. It’s a double whammy,  because to intentionally provoke lust is to treat both yourself and the object of your provocation as a thing instead of a human being. It’s an offense against human dignity. It’s serious business — much more serious than the sin of lust.

But if the man you’re trying to provoke sees you, is immediately assailed by all kinds of sexual desires, feels helpless in the face of temptation and so removes himself from your presence in a desperate attempt to not buckle under the weight of concupiscence, then he’s a hero. Period. He is like the Iron Man of chastity. He’s awesome.

Wait, but he had sexual desires? Isn’t that a sin?

Nope. It’s not. Thoughts you cannot control are not sinful. Indulging in them, cooperating with them, turning a thought into an elaborate fantasy or, even worse, a reality, those are sins. This is why it is so grossly unfair to hold women accountable for possible temptation, or even actual temptation! It does not acknowledge that we all of us have thoughts that spring unbidden into our minds, and we must learn to reject them. That is self-control. That is temperance. It’s a virtue. But it’s a virtue that men are denied the chance to learn when they are told that those unbidden thoughts are the fault of women.

This is why I picked up Clare’s story. In her post, she said that she was being asked to leave because she “was going to cause the young men at the prom to think impure thoughts.” It is horribly unfair to put the burden of someone else’s thoughts on a young girl, or a girl of any age, or a boy, come to that, because (spoiler alert!) girls can think “impure thoughts” about boys too. A distinction absolutely must be drawn between deliberate provocation and being attractive.

Sure, there are going to be a thousand shades of gray in between those two things, and probably they are mixed together a good deal. But when it becomes a question of addressing young women and young men about desire and lust, it’s simply wrong to blame the girls for causing desire. As one of my commenters said, ” ‘causing the young men on the dance floor to have impure thoughts’?!? Oh, foresooth! What does that require for such ‘young men’? As I recall that age, a warm breeze could ‘caus[e] … impure thoughts’.” Instead, talk to the boys about self-mastery, and the difference between desire and lust…and at the same time, talk to the girls about the daunting struggle their brothers in Christ are facing. Talk to them about charity. Talk to them about chastity. Talk to them about rightly ordered love. Explain that while a man giving in to lustful thoughts is a sin, it is nowhere near as serious a sin as deliberate provocation, when to carry through on such a thing would be sinful for them both.

There is a time and a place for deliberate provocation, and when you’re married, deliberate provocation is freaking awesome and totally fun…if you have learned chastity, charity, and rightly ordered love. If you haven’t, it’s painful and disappointing and damaging. These teenagers need to be allowed and encouraged to develop these virtues now, because they are the same virtues required of married people. Blaming girls for being shaped like girls and getting hysterical over unbidden sexual desires does not teach virtue. If anything, it cuts the legs out from under these kids, giving them reason after reason to avoid the hard and heavy work of learning to be good.


Don’t Feed the Trolls, or Be One
Let’s Speak Truth in Smack-down (and love, obviously)
How to Destroy Your Marriage In One Easy Step
Sex Breasts and Babies
  • Cheryl Ruffing

    I always enjoy your posts, Calah. (Perhaps I should make an effort to read them more often.) I agree that I am not responsible for the actual thoughts and actions of another, but my behavior, attitude, clothing, words, etc. can (and do) affect the thoughts and actions of another. If I’m in a bad mood and take it out on the cashier at the grocery store, I may very well ruin her entire day, by turning her thoughts and actions as black as mine.

    I, like you, get tired of the modesty police, especially when it boils down to little more than un-Christain judgment, holier-than-thou platitudes (and attitudes), gossip, and slander. Perhaps we would all be better served by praying more and talking less.

    That being said, it seems to me that too many people want to ignore human nature. Over the years, I’ve learned that it is the first thing we should consider, and I tend to think of it as the lowest of the low. Thanks to human nature, we tend to think only of ourselves. Thanks to human nature, we experience thoughts and impulses that might very well harm the dignity or physical/mental/emotional well-being of another person, and we want to act on them. It seems to me that much of Christianity is about rising above human nature: striving for humility instead of placating pride, finding value in suffering, making sacrifices for the good of
    others, and saying “no” to selfish impulses/temptations. But not everyone feels compelled to (or are even aware that) they should work to overcome their base impulses. I’d say that too few do, and it would behoove us all to keep that in mind. We cannot control the thoughts and actions of others, but pretending that something we wear, do, or say will have no effect on those around us is dishonest and naive. As I tell my kids, people should not judge us at all, especially by the clothes we wear, the words we say, and the things we do, but people will judge us. That’s human nature. Therefore, if my kids want others to think well of them, they’ll be careful with their clothing, their words, and their actions. It’s about personal responsibility, recognizing human nature for what it is, and being good examples for others.

    As far as Clare’s story goes, I’ll say this: I don’t believe most of it. Want to know why? For a number of reasons, but mostly because I just read a conflicting account here: that I choose to believe over Clare’s story. Want to know why I choose Callie’s take over Clare’s? Because when someone writes about how wronged she’s been and titles it, “Fuck the Male Patriarchy,” I have to wonder about: her real motivation for writing, her maturity level, why she feels compelled to make excuses for her choice in clothing, and why she wants to publicize her experience. (Besides, if she really wanted to make a case about “male patriarchy” — can patriarchy be anything but male? — perhaps she shouldn’t have made it sound like it was really about a woman with an axe to grind using the thoughts of males as an excuse.) Callie’s post, in contrast, is well written, mature, points out incosistencies in Clare’s story, and seems to be motivated by a desire to defend others, not herself.

  • Sir Mark

    I agree with your main idea. However, if the young lady in question was in fact twerking, then you were being uncharitable to the folks who disciplined her. They were in the right and you made an untrue allegation. You may be only a blogger, but you do have some obligation to refrain from passing on rumors.

    My wife who is a teacher once called a parent whose daughter was wearing an unbelievably inappropriate outfit. The mother of this girl yelled and screamed at my wife claiming that my wife only picked on her daughter because she was overweight. The mother said that she, herself, had bought the outfit for her daughter. My wife was dumbfounded. Well, long story short, it turned out that the daughter was only wearing the top of the outfit.

    You see, the truth is important, no matter what point you wish to make.