misogyny and modesty porn

misogyny and modesty porn November 30, 2016


A group calling itself “Traditional Roman Catholic” recently posted, on Facebook, a picture of an attractive plus-size model in cardigan and trousers, followed by a lengthy denunciation of her look, and what it implies about “our grossly feminized society” and “the onslaught of immodest fashions which have sadly been marketed through the once respectful fashion industry.” Here’s the link, if you want to start your day with a jolt of rage.

A modest woman, according to Traditional Roman Catholic, is a just woman, “because she renders to others what they deserve. In this case, other men do not deserve her nakedness or her sensuality, which are reserved for her husband.”

I’m a little taken aback by the assumption that my nakedness or sensuality are “reserved” for anyone. It’s very troubling to consider that Traditional Roman Catholic clearly can’t conceive of a woman as a self-owning individual, and has to conceive of her naked body in terms of whom she owes it to.

Of course, the woman in the picture was not naked, or even scantily clad. She was, however, wearing pants. Pants are a pretty serious no-no for Traditional Roman Catholic, which laments that priests don’t spend enough time in the pulpit detailing the dangerous sensuality of female bodies and clothing:

Why do they fear sermonizing about the virtue of modesty? And what types of clothing can be considered modest and therefore appropriate for Christian women to wear. Not only should they be condemning the onslaught of immodest fashions which have sadly been marketed through the once respectful fashion industry, but they should also be discouraging the subject of women wearing pants to church, the difficult details therein and their consequences.

The difficult details wherein? Wherein what? One is left to speculate as to whether we women are concealing “difficult details” within our sinful pants.

Of course, one is also left to speculate as to whether all this pants-wearing among men is similarly problematic. Do men not realize how visual women are? Did Jesus wear pants? No, I didn’t think so. Mary and Joseph wore pretty similar outfits. It was men who first deflected from virtuous robes towards the evil of pants. And for most of Western civilization, well-fitted pants and leggings – and high heels, even – were components of male fashion, allowing athletic men to flaunt their nicely rounded calves and lusty thighs.

I refer you to this piece by literary scholar Joanna K. Bratten, in which she writes:

By Shakespeare’s time the male leg as an erotic object had achieved a status rivalling that enjoyed by the female leg in the Mail Online sidebar, if his heroines’ lusts are anything to go by. In Shakespeare’s plays, any admiring discussion of the male body (even if ironic, as in Twelfth Night with Malvolio’s memorably cross-gartered, yellow-stockinged legs) tends to come from his female characters, and their praise frequently focuses on the leg: ‘He is not very tall; yet for his years he’s tall; / His leg isbut so-so; and yet ‘tis well’ (As You Like It’s Phoebe); ‘I know the shape of’s leg: this is his hand; / His foot Mercurial; his Martial thigh: / The brawns of Hercules’ (Cymbeline’s Imogen); ‘Romeo! no, not he; though his face be better than any man’s, yet his leg excels all men’s’ (Romeo and Juliet’s Nurse);‘With a good leg and a good foot, uncle, and money enough in his purse, such a man would win any woman in the world, if a’ could get her good-will’ (Much Ado About Nothing’s Beatrice); ‘I will drop in his way some obscure epistles of love; wherein, by the colour of his beard, the shape of his leg, the manner of his gait’ (Twelfth Night’s Maria). Even in the eighteenth century the leg retains its fetishised status, as male characters (the Fops in particular) took great care that their legs appeared in fine fettle, as Sheridan’s Lord Foppington complains ‘The calves of these stockings are thickened a little too much; they make my legs look like a porter’s’ (A Trip to Scarborough).

Traditional Roman Catholic remains, alas, unconcerned about the effect of the attractive male leg on female morality. It is concerned, however, with female weight:

We should also try and maintain good health and fitness which signifies our need and desire to discipline our physical, spiritual and mental psyche. Fitness is one thing. Vanity is another. Excessive body fat is s sign of poor health and sometimes a sign of self-indulgence and laziness. Some individuals may possess conditions we are in need of medical attention but for the most part, liberals are using the repetitive catch phrase of “no judgments” to encourage obesity. While “glamorizing” morbid obesity. Especially amongst women!

The woman in the picture is certainly not morbidly obese. However, she has curves. Curves are anathema in the world of modesty promoters, who fetishize images of slender white women, long-haired, laughing, obviously not post-partum. And this fat-shaming –  of a beautiful and healthy-looking woman – is especially troubling in communities which claim to applaud women for their childbearing. As one friend of mine said:

This is so obnoxiously judgmental that it makes me sick. It’s also really unfair to the many, many women who have young children and no spare time to devote to weight loss. I am betting that these folks also support having large Catholic families. Do they not understand how incredibly difficult it is to be perfectly in shape while raising many young children? Self-righteous critical perfectionism is also a sin, and I think it’s a pretty dangerous one.

It is not at all surprising that Traditional Roman Catholic also thinks that women who don’t cover themselves sufficiently are themselves to blame if they are the victims of harassment or even assault:

…a modest woman is by definition a prudent one; her prudence will save her embarrassing moments or even dangerous moments when a disordered or troubled male may consider an immodest woman’s attire as an invitation to lewd behavior.

(Because there are simply NO incidents of rape in fundamentalist Islamic cultures, where women are obligated to be swathed from head to toe!)

A lot of this is male guilt-projection, of course. As another friend pointed out:

Much of the modesty issue is male guilt for excessive porn use and masturbation being projected out on women and the need to control them – they need women in real life to be rendered sexually neutral – a woman is allowed to be sexual only in fantasy.

The whole tenor of the piece, with its disgust at our supposedly “feminized” society, with its loathing of female bodies not confined within narrow parameters, with its presumption that sexual sin is the fault of the women – indicates a deep core of misogyny, in reactionary religious circles. Being a woman at all is already a problem, as we have these inconvenient parts that are constantly luring helpless males to destruction. It is ironic, too, of course, that Traditional Roman Catholic obviously considered the picture of a happy, curvy woman in pants to be morally dangerous – and, thus, had to post and share it, so everyone could see how dangerous it is, so that everyone could scrutinize and anatomize all the details of her garb and that beneath it which they find to be dangerous.

This is radical objectification and depersonalization of the female body – depersonalization of female sexuality, and all of those elements of our bodily being that proclaim our sexuality. The failure to consider female interiority, and emphasis only on our appearance, and the effects of our appearance, is a denial of female spirituality, a reduction of female-ness to the bodily and material being so traditionally despised by the dualist purveyors of patriarchy.

This is modesty porn, and it is just as contrary to the dignity of the female, sexual person as any other kind of porn is.

I will close with a quotation from a very wise priest friend:

Jesus said, “If YOUR eye causes YOU to sin, pluck it out!” He did not say, “If HER clothing causes you to sin, get HER to wear something else!” Modesty propaganda that focuses on womenswear is like original sin: God confronted the MAN first, but the man blamed the woman.


image of shameless men flaunting their legs and codpieces is public domain, and found at: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Giorgione_011.jpg



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