Saturday, July 7, 2012

On Immodesty (a response)

   Today I read an article written by a female Author that I greatly respect and admire, Shaunti Feldhahn. I was about teenage girls and immodesty. A topic that gets under my skin for a multitude of reasons. From the cringe inducing feeling I get nearly every time I leave my house and see over sexualised and suggestive clothing on incredibly young girls, to the defensive feeling I get when I remember being that confused 12 year old girl grappling with my new identity as a young woman with a sexual element to my being... to the pure anger I feel whenever these topics are handled in such a way as to let the entirety of the male gender off the hook, perpetuating a dangerous mindset and attitude towards women's and girl's bodies.

 {Image C/O D Sharon Pruitt}

   Let me start by saying that Shaunti is the first female Author whose book (For Women Only) on how to better relate to and understand men not only didn't offend me at all, but actually succeeded in handling the modesty topic in such a bold yet careful way as to make the case for modesty without inferring anything negative regarding women's bodies. Or their responsibility for mens thoughts about heir bodies. See, the thing for me is that, much like my stance on music artists with explicit content and parents of young, impressionable children, it is important in these conversations to always go out of our way to state outwardly that both genders have responsibilities. Yes, this should be a given, but in our modern world it is not.

   I agree with the principle Shaunti is getting at, which is that the majority of teenage girls honestly genuinely do not think through what images are elicited in the minds of teenaged boys (and grown men alike) as a result of the way they dress. And that the majority of teenage boys wholeheartedly believe that girls know exactly what their "outfits" make guys think... and that they choose their clothes knowing this. That it is intentional. They must want this reaction. But see here is where I get uneasy. It's true that due to the inherit differences in the way that the male and female brains are wired, these assumptions may seem rational and natural... but they also contain scary undertones about the messages that our society teaches children and adults alike about the female body. Assumptions about the correlation between the way a female dresses and what she wants as a result of it.

   So yes, I feel it's absolutely necessary to make this young generation of girls aware of the extent of the influence their clothing choices has on the thoughts of the opposite sex. Not just that it elicits attraction... but full on visual pictures in the male mind of things that they likely would only want thought about them by certain someones, intentionally not accidentally, and accompanied by genuine feelings of desire for a more complete companionship (more than just a physical encounter). We need to combat the message of our ever present media which romanticizes the idea of being "fantasized" about. They need to know that the reality is far from romantic and is not something to encourage, much less strive for (because lets face it, a lot of these girls aren't entirely innocent in their motives, though most are at least a little misguided). BUT! And that is a big but on purpose... we also need to be careful of two other extremely important aspects of this conundrum when passing this message along to girls. The first being that we need to make sure that they know that there is nothing wrong with their bodies. There is nothing wrong with them wanting to be attractive and dress in ways that make them feel attractive. It is far too easy in these difficult conversations to insinuate that the female body, especially the sexual components of it, are something to be ashamed or even scared of. That message can result in countless negative side effects and I am sure is responsible for a lot of the inappropriate dress to begin with!

   The other thing we need to be incredibly cautious about is ensuring that we make it completely clear that no matter how sensitive we as females choose to be regarding the struggles that come with possessing a male brain, ultimately, always... someone else's reaction to her body is their own responsibility. Yes, I 100% agree that it is the right thing to do, as females, to be conscientious of how our clothing choices affect males and when possible (without stifling her self expression or assigning an undue amount of mental/emotional effort on it) choosing things that wont add to the pre-existing struggle of our cohorts. But we absolutely must teach boys that the girls and women they encounter do not think the way that they do and as such they don't fully grasp the effect that their appearance has. Teach our boys to give grace on this matter. To assume the best intentions of every female they encounter. To assume that they simply want to feel beautiful and not that they are asking for their impure thoughts (or worse actions) and to treat them with respect regardless of how covered or uncovered they are. Teach them that their thoughts, while normal, are their responsibility and that they need to do the work of shutting them down and learn to respond to them appropriately.

   How about this... male or female, let's all just stop assuming that we know the motives behind someone elses choice in clothing and self expression. Let's give each other grace wherever possible. It's hard to be a woman and I am sure from what I've heard and read that it is hard to be a man. Let's cut each other a break in whatever way we can. For us ladies that may mean putting more thought into our wardrobe and for the guys it likely means treating woman as beautiful regardless of what they wear, respect them even if they're scantily clad and treat them as beautiful even if she's dressed sloppily to help her avoid the insecurities that often lead to the desire to dress in overly revealing ways.

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