Nuking the Modesty War, Part III: Stop Thingifying People

Nuking the Modesty War, Part III: Stop Thingifying People December 7, 2013

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



“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.

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