Recently there has been a lot of discussion revolving around the subject of modesty. It seems to have been touched off by one woman’s blog post about her decision to limit when and how she wears Yoga pants. That post set off a firestorm of criticism and has led to a vigorous exchange on the subject with a lot of arguments flying both ways. The scope of the discussion has broadened beyond any particular article of clothing to the whole concept of, and rationale behind what we call modesty. Illustrative of this is the fact that those who criticized the post did so using arguments denigrating the entire concept of modesty as opposed to simply arguing that disallowing Yoga Pants was going too far. Matt Walsh made this very point in his post on the subject, and in much greater detail. I observe it here in order that the reader may understand that the debate is not a “what is modesty?” discussion, but a “should we be modest at all?” discussion.
With that understood, I want to address one particular argument that I often hear from those arguing against modesty. It runs something like this: “It’s the man’s fault for looking. A woman is not guilty for a man having looked at and lusted because she wasn’t the one who did it.” It is usually offered in response to the objection made by those in favor of modesty that dressing a particular way would illicit wrong thoughts in others.
This argument is 100% correct.
The woman is not guilty for what any man does as a result of seeing her. Ever. At all.
She is, however, responsible for her own actions. She is guilty or not guilty based on what she, of her own free will, does or doesn’t do. In the same way, the man is also guilty based on what he does of his own free will. (And rest assured, there is no way that a woman can dress which can deprive a man of his free will.) That means that if she dresses immodestly and presents a “stumbling block” to those around her she is guilty for having placed the stumbling block whether or not anyone actually stumbles over it. In other words, if a woman dresses immodestly and not one man takes a single glance at her she is just as guilty as if 100 men had lusted after her. She bears no guilt for the looking, but she may or may not bear guilt for the tempting. This is called personal responsibility.
Let me make an illustration. Let’s say my boss provokes me by belittling me and calling me names. Let’s say further that he is rude and unkind to me often. Would he be wrong to do that? Sure he would. Does that make it right for me to curse at him and punch his lights out? Absolutely not. If we were both to do those things, then we would both be guilty, but only for the things that each of us had actually done. He would not share my guilt nor I his. (And rightfully, I would probably be the one going to jail if I punched my boss’s light’s out since that is a worse thing than what he would have done.)
Let me reiterate, I and those like me are not now, nor have we ever argued that women are to blame if men think wrong thoughts about them. Women are responsible for the tempting – not the looking. In fact if you only take one thing away from this post then let me break that down into a mantra: “The tempting – not the looking.”
There is another rather nasty variant of that argument that accuses proponents of modesty of contributing to “rape culture” by saying that women should dress modestly. (I’ve already covered what I think about that term in a previous post.) I address this argument last because I feel that it does not deserve the respect I gave to the previous one. Besides being slanderous and unjust this argument fails to recognize that when it comes to rape the question of modesty is more one of practicality than morality. Dressing immodestly may or may not lead to sexual assault, but that is a safety consideration and not a moral one. The moral outlook is not effected by any tendency towards being victimized because, as stated above, the woman is in no way responsible for what any man does. But when anyone raises the safety question the anti modesty crowd immediately pounces on them with hideous accusations of thinking that an immodestly dressed woman deserved to be raped. That is slanderous, dishonest, and unhelpful to the discussion.
I don’t think either form of the argument will be going away any time soon. I think most people who make it are simply being deliberately obtuse about what proponents of modesty are saying. This is not uncommon as it is often much easier to combat a caricature of your opponent’s argument rather than the real thing. At the very least, anyone who just read this post ought to know better than to accuse us of blaming the woman for the looking.