Wednesday, May 30, 2007

To Sleeve, Or Not To Sleeve?

I've been reading a forum discussion on modesty of dress, particularly dressing modestly for Mass. As we all know, this is a huge problem, especially in summer months, when so many men show up for Mass dressed in shorts and sandals, wearing tank tops, 'muscle' shirts, or tee shirts with obscene messages on them. Clearly, we must all do our parts to speak to our sons and nephews about the serious need to dress appropriately for Mass, so that our girls won't constantly have to avert their eyes and guard their minds against improper thoughts.

I wish.

No, the discussion as usual has centered around that perennially favorite hot topic, "What Women Should/Shouldn't Wear to Mass."

I don't mean to trivialize anyone's sincere concerns about modesty. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, after all, and it is possible to make the choice to dress in such a way as to be committing the sin of immodesty. If we desire to use our bodies and our clothing to inflame or incite someone else to commit sin, then we are being immodest.

I think most people would agree with what I said just above. Unfortunately, most discussions of modesty I've participated in have had a tendency to disregard the question of intent, and instead have focused on three separate issues: 1) What is appropriate to wear to Mass; 2) What articles of clothing are always and everywhere immodest, and 3) What reason do we have to violate the clear guidelines and standards of the Church?

Let's tackle these in reverse order.

What reason do we have to violate the clear guidelines and standards of the Church?

People who take this approach point to various times and places where various guidelines concerning dress have been given. One oft-quoted phrase was that of Pope Pius XII who, in the 1940s, was asked his opinion of what women teaching in Italian schools should wear to preserve their modesty. He replied "Below the knee, halfway down the arm, and two finger widths below the collarbone." Since this is considerably less 'coverage' than that afforded by the habits of the nuns teaching in Italian Catholic schools, one could speculate that the Holy Father was making it clear that the lay teachers could be dressed quite modestly and appropriately without needing to wear a habit-like garment; yet this quote is pulled out of context and used as a kind of "always and everywhere" statement of what Catholic women should wear.

Another example given is that of Padre Pio, who refused to hear the confession of any woman whose skirt wasn't at least eight inches below her knee. Setting aside the silly image of the good saint holding up a tape measure and frowning at some poor woman whose skirt only dropped 7.75 inches below the knee, we have to admit that it is no longer customary for a woman to wear skirts this long all the time; and as hemlines have risen and fallen considerably since Padre Pio's day, it's doubtful that he'd take issue with Pope Pius XII's less detailed "below the knee" idea.

Still others point to the guidelines required at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome: no miniskirts, no shorts, and covered shoulders. While these minimal guidelines seem quite sensible to me and to many others, the fact of the matter is that they have never been universally imposed; and that is the crux of the matter.

You see, there are no "clear guidelines and standards of the Church." I think most people would agree that it's a good idea to dress modestly for Mass, both for men and for women, but specific guidelines about appropriate and inappropriate dress are properly the decision of the local church authority: the bishop, and the pastors of the churches under his guidance. What will constitute modest dress may vary widely by geographic locality and local culture and custom; there simply isn't one definitive, enforced standard, no matter how hard we may try to create one.

Which brings us to the second question.

What articles of clothing are always and everywhere immodest?

If you've begun to suspect that this might be a trick question, you catch on fast. The fact of the matter is that, as I defined above, modesty is more a matter of intentions than of specific articles of clothing. Few people place an infant in a tiny shirt and diaper with the idea that allowing her to show so much skin might be immodest; many moms of girls find cute dressy one-piece pantsuits for baby's first Christmas, because baby's at that age where she thinks it's hysterically funny to pull her skirt up over her head. But baby isn't being immodest; she's not capable of immodesty.

Are there pieces of clothing out there that reasonable people might find immodest? Sure. But what is immodest on one person won't always be immodest on every person, making it hard to define what exactly constitutes immodest clothing.

A spaghetti-strap sundress may be cute on a five-year-old; it's less cute on an eighteen-year-old, and unless the eighteen-year-old actually looks about twelve, chances are this dress won't be her best choice for Sunday Mass. But is the dress, itself, actually immodest? Possibly, but only if it has been designed to be revealing and arousing no matter who wears it; and few pieces of clothing actually match that description.

Are sleeveless tops immodest? Again, not necessarily. They may be, if you're wearing one amidst a group of people who never bare their arms in public; the sight of 'arm flesh' may seem like a forbidden pleasure to them, and if you know that, and wear it anyway, you may be crossing the line. However, it would be hard to argue that the average American is going to be inflamed with passion at the sight of a bare arm; partly because sleeveless tops are quite a common article of clothing, but also since so many of the women who will wear sleeveless tops look positively dreadful in them. There is nothing particularly titillating about the sight of a pale, flabby, fleshy middle-aged arm hanging out of a sleeveless top; but that brings us to the third question.

What is appropriate to wear to Mass?

Previous generations had this whole question so much easier, didn't they? Clothes were relatively expensive, so most people had two separate and distinct categories of clothing: everyday clothes, and Sunday Best.

Even after World War II, when synthetic fabrics made more clothing options available, the average woman had three or four categories of clothing: 'house' clothes, 'street' clothes, 'evening' clothes...and Sunday Best.

There was some overlap, of course. A 'street' suit, which was often a nice skirt and jacket, hat and gloves optional, could be worn to Church as well. And a tea-length evening dress might look nice at Easter or Christmas, for that extra-special touch. Or, one's Sunday Best dresses might be pressed into service for an afternoon out, or for dinner with one's husband at a nice restaurant. But one's everyday, around the house clothes were clearly too casual to wear to Church, or indeed, even to the grocery store.

Sigh.

We live in a casual age, in a casual society. "Business Casual" has almost become the new "dress code;" one is seldom required, at least in the societal echelon to which I belong, to dress much more nicely than that. The kind of dress I buy to wear to a wedding was once the kind of dress women wore every Sunday, complete with stockings, closed-toe shoes, gloves, and a hat. The kind of dress a woman might wear just out to dinner might be seen at a formal occasion, if then; people go out to eat dressed in the same everyday clothes they wear for everything else.

I think many of the people who bristle about "modesty" at Mass are really upset about the declining standards of dress in general, and about the trend to push the envelope toward more and more casual clothing. Are sleeveless tops really 'immodest' in the sense of being likely to inflame passions or cause impure thoughts? Or are they, generally speaking, just representative of our falling standards of dress, of the trend toward more and more casual clothing for every event of our lives?

I really do think it comes down to a concern about dressing appropriately for Sunday Mass, not dressing immodestly. After all, the people who raise 'modesty' concerns about a sleeveless top or a nice pair of slacks might find it hard to raise these same concerns if the woman wearing these articles of clothing is sitting beside them at daily Mass; we tend to accept that people will come to daily Mass wearing what they need to wear that day. It's only on Sunday, when we gather as a community of the faithful for our chief act of worship of the week, that some people find the casual, even sloppy nature of some of the clothing to be deplorable; but let's be honest, here: that's not about modesty, for the most part. Because if it were about modesty, if it were about offending our Lord, then it would be equally offensive to show up for daily Mass dressed that way, wouldn't it?

Is it right to expect that people will make some special effort in their manner of dressing for Sunday Mass? I think it is. We are gathering as a community, as a family, to participate in the act of worship which our Lord instituted. Our attendance isn't optional on Sunday as it is every other day of the week; we make a special effort with the flowers and the music and even, in many places, the incense on Sunday. Why not dress up a little, too? It's not a bad idea.

But it's not mandatory, either. We don't know whether the jeans-clad man beside us is wearing the best thing he owns, do we? We don't know whether the woman in the sleeveless top is clueless about how her arms look, or if she's suffering terribly from hot flashes, and thinks it's better to go sleeveless than to drip with perspiration. It's pretty hard to judge the hearts and motivations of those who sit around us at Mass, and it's pretty petty of us to try.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to see people dress nicely at Mass, either. But we can only really make those decisions on our own behalf, or on that of our family. If we are motivated by respect for God and love for our fellow man, then we may certainly make the effort to see to it that we, and our spouses and children, make a little more effort in our dress on Sunday morning than we do on Saturday night. But we may not judge others for not doing so. This is one of those times when we may lead by example, or not at all. It would be uncharitable of us to place a heavier burden in this area on our fellow Catholics than the Church herself chooses to place.

27 comments:

Sheila said...

Excellent points. Normally I cringe at such discussions among Catholics, especially when discussing modesty and breastfeeding. Someone will argue--with no real authority or logic--that the breastfeeding mom needs to shut herself away to avoid inflaming the sexual passions--ordered or disordered--of any man that might see her. I agree especially with your final paragraph: we can really only make those decisions on our family's behalf. I dress a lot more casually (nice jeans) to Mass because I am breastfeeding (pregnant at times) mother. (When I was a svelte single woman with time and energy, I had different priorities and obligations. That said, I do make a point of wearing make-up and jewelry to Sunday Mass. Oh, and this all reminded me of a funny moment years ago (mid 80s?) when my sister and I were attending an Opus Dei Mass in NYC. My sister arrived wearing something sleeveless, causing me to gasp. "But," she insisted, "it's Laura Ashley." I always enjoy your blog.

4andcounting said...

Interesting topic of discussion. My husband and I volunteered with the HS Youth Ministry in our parish for a few years and one of our ongoing discussions with the teens was about how to dress for Mass. We tried to stress the idea that you wanted to make a special effort for God, as if you were going to a fancy meal. After all, it is the wedding banquet of the Lord. We talked a lot about how one dresses really can affect their mental approach to their task. This seemed to sink in a little more than harping on modesty. We did have issues with teen Lectors and EMs dressing too casually (in our opinion anyway) to be serving on the altar.
I always tease my husband that it looks like we are going two different places when we leave the house for Mass. I tend to dress up every week and he usually wears nice shorts or jeans. I think part of that is because he has to dress nicer for work every day, whereas my weekday wardrobe is decidedly casual. Our community is definitely a casual one (partly b/c of the building), but I still choose to dress up. It is just a part of preparing for Mass that I have known since my childhood. I wasn't even allowed to wear jeans to Holy Days of Obligation growing up! I love dressing for Mass--it makes it more special.
Great topic!

hisdivinemajesty said...

While you made many points, and while I disagree with many of them, I'll just share my thoughts which I am quite sure you will not accept. You said in sum: "I think many of the people who bristle about "modesty" at Mass are really upset about the declining standards of dress in general, and about the trend to push the envelope toward more and more casual clothing." That really isn't the case. I would agree more with Pius XII's advisor and Padre Pio. If it is a case of a declining standard of dress, that doesn't mean we ought to simply go along with the decline. Catholics if anyone should live up to the highest standard out of love for God and love of neighbor, both of which are of the essential of the Christian perfection we seek. Regardless, it is beyond a certain standard of dress in aesthetical bounds. It is about modesty. If I go to Holy Mass and a woman is dress in a short skirt and a tight shirt it is (a) distracting and (b) a possible near occasion of sin. Of all places women - and yes modesty does apply to men too - ought to dress modestly at Mass. As a man I don't think I should have to actively divert my eyes from a woman's outfit at Mass. If I can look at her outfit and see parts of her body that may possibly incite desire, then that is a problem. It is not just about how we present ourselves before God but also how we express love of neighbor. Am I really loving my neighbor if I do not take into account how my dressing my affect him? We are called to love our neighbor even above ourselves. Love calls for sacrifice. At times a person - man or woman - may have to sacrifice something out of what is best for another. The issue does also apply to how we present ourselves for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. If we wear the same outfit to Mass that we wore last night to go to the bar, then there is a problem. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest, most sublime, most awesome event of our week. No one dresses in jeans for a wedding, do they? Why for Holy Mass? It may be true that the man or woman sitting next to us is wearing the best they own and perhaps it isn't the greatest outfit, but it is not our place to judge them. We're not to sit there and think, "Well look at him." No, we may very well think the best: perhaps they don't know any better or perhaps they don't own anything better. That is fine. People need to be able to come to the Holy Mass in less than perfect clothing but that doesn't mean it is acceptable (and less than perfect here doesn't mean immodest, it means less 'dressy'). While my judge isn't to judge my neighbor, God has called each of us as orthodox, faithful Catholics to love our neighbor - that love includes not leading them into sin and helping them see why we must dress in certain ways. Our modern days are sad ones and Catholics cannot simply go along with the flow. We must live according to the beat of a different drummer, our King and Savior Jesus. One commenter mentioned Lector's and those serving at Holy Mass wearing jeans and things. That is simply unacceptable. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest event of our week and we ought to both give our best to God and show love toward our neighbor (and ourselves since dressing immodestly can show a lack of care and love for oneself).

hisdivinemajesty said...

Sorry for the typos. I wrote quickly! And in case you're wondering, I do think women ought to wear skirts of sufficient length and/or dresses. I'd also say that sleeveless tops are immodest - obviously not as immodest as a miniskirt. God bless you all and may Our Lord lead us closer to Himself.

Red Cardigan said...

hdm, I'm sorry you felt it necessary to prejudge me with your opening statement to the effect that you'd share your thoughts despite being sure I'd not accept them. Do you not see that you have judged me in your heart with that statement, even though you do not know me? Didn't Our Lord caution us most seriously not to sit in judgment on each other? By 'setting me up' to disagree you've revealed that your intention is not really to instruct in charity, but to assume an attitude of superior holiness and then shake the cyber-dust of my website from your feet. I'll pray for you.

That said, I'd also like to address a few points in your comment:

1. You said, "If I can look at her outfit and see parts of her body that may possibly incite desire, then that is a problem." If you are talking about visible cleavage or a skirt that barely covers the private areas, that's one thing. But the way you've stated this, I have to wonder. Do you include a woman's elbow as a body part which may incite desire? How about the calf portion of the leg? What about the ankle--are visible ankles a problem? Bare toes? You see, once you've used such a loose definition of immodesty, you open up the possibility that the burka is really the only modest garment available to a woman, and I have a serious problem with that for all sorts of reasons.

2. You said, "People need to be able to come to the Holy Mass in less than perfect clothing but that doesn't mean it is acceptable (and less than perfect here doesn't mean immodest, it means less 'dressy')." Considering that this comes immediately after my example of not judging the person in jeans who may be wearing the best thing he owns, this remark is confusing. So, it's not 'acceptable' for people to come to Mass in 'less dressy' clothing, though you agree that they should be able to do so?? If it's not acceptable, then it's not acceptable, right? But how does that speak to the situation of the poor person who maybe doesn't own a three-piece suit? (You do, yourself, wear a three piece suit to Mass, right? Anything else wouldn't be the most dressy clothing you own; if you wear slacks and a blazer then by your own standards you're being 'casual.')

3. I completely agree that women, when they wear skirts or dresses, should have them be 'of sufficient length.' I have a feeling that we might disagree on what 'sufficient' means; but if you're measuring a woman's hemline with your eyes while trying to decide whether or not you approve of her outfit, then the problem is more serious than what she's wearing, isn't it?

4. You also said, "I'd also say that sleeveless tops are immodest - obviously not as immodest as a miniskirt." But if you believe that sleeveless tops are immodest and that it is, therefore, objectively sinful for a woman to wear them, then you must believe that it is always (objectively) a sin for a woman to bare her arms in public, including at a swimming pool, while she is jogging, while she is outdoors doing yardwork in Texas in July, and so on and so forth. Perhaps you do believe this, but I tend to believe that sleeveless tops have become too commonplace, generally speaking, to be an occasion of sin to men, and that the woman with evil designs and the intention to dress immodestly who merely dons a sleeveless top with a perfectly modest skirt is likely to fail to arouse any men to sin (though she herself would still be guilty for having had the intention to be an occasion of sin to men).

You see, it comes back to what I said in my post. There are a few articles of clothing (I'd include miniskirts, by the way) which are designed to be arousing and 'sexy' and, since women tend to know this, it is hard to see any justification in buying or wearing them. But the vast majority of immodesty is a matter of intent, not of clothing style; for instance, a woman who wears a long but clingy skirt without appropriate undergarments and pairs it with a long-sleeved, high collared, but tight shirt, and does so *because* she wants to arouse illicit desires in men, is most certainly more guilty of immodesty than the woman at Mass whose blouse has cap sleeves and whose skirt reveals the bottom quarter of her kneebone.

Intent matters. It really does, no matter how hard we want to blame modernity or clothing styles.

hisdivinemajesty said...

I'm sorry for the tone of your comments. I really didn't intend nor do I think I really did post my comments with an aire of judgment nor of superiority. If I did, please forgive me. You said: "By 'setting me up' to disagree you've revealed that your intention is not really to instruct in charity, but to assume an attitude of superior holiness and then shake the cyber-dust of my website from your feet." Just because I thought you wouldn't agree with me does not mean I judged you as malicious nor does it mean I did not have charity toward you. It certainly isn't about my "superior holiness" as I know I am a poor sinner who just hopes from the crumbs from my Lord's table. That said, I truly do not believe that thinking that someone will not agree with you because you think they believe what they do strongly is a moral judgment. It has nothing to do with condemnation or moral judgment. It is rather just about how you perceive a situation. I see no reason to ask forgiveness for merely stating how a situation appears.

To comment briefly on your points:

1. You said: "You see, once you've used such a loose definition of immodesty, you open up the possibility that the burka is really the only modest garment available to a woman, and I have a serious problem with that for all sorts of reasons." I never used any sort of loose definition because I obviously didn't attempt to define what parts of the body it pertained to. It pertains foremost to the major areas of the body that can cause arousal. As nice a woman's ankles may be, they do not especially pertain to the desire that is the issue here. The major areas should not be seen. That is the objective fact. People may disagree beyond that. I would say that sleeveless shirts may cause one's mind to think of that region and begin to think of other areas. I've also seen sleeveless shirts which can reveal more than just a shoulder.

2. You said: "So, it's not 'acceptable' for people to come to Mass in 'less dressy' clothing, though you agree that they should be able to do so??" We have to be able to make distinctions. Would you equate someone who has the ability to do something with someone who does not? Of course not. My point was based on what is available to that person. If someone lacks the means to dress any better, obviously they are giving the best they can and that is acceptable. A poor man who only owns dirty jeans and a torn shirt needs to be welcome to come to Holy Mass. Perhaps we need to help him and share with him so he can have more, but in no way does that situation equate with someone who owns better clothing but chooses to wear jeans and a shirt to Holy Mass. We have to wonder why they don't see a reason to appear in the best state for their Lord at the pinnacle of worship. I was making a distinction of means - one who has not and one who has. We are called to give out of what we have, hence the widow is praised for giving her mite. But the rich man would not be praised equally for giving a mite when he had so much more to give.

3. You said: "but if you're measuring a woman's hemline with your eyes while trying to decide whether or not you approve of her outfit, then the problem is more serious than what she's wearing, isn't it?" I think this is a major problem these days. We are called to judge not. I cannot judge a person's intention nor their culpability. I cannot state God's mind on someone's soul, on their choices and actions. We leave judgment to God. Yet that does not mean we are not to hold to a standard and call others to it as well. If I look at a woman and consider her outfit, I can think whether or not it is in accord with what God wants for us. If I do it out of charity, then that is fine. If I do it because I am already judging her as a harlot and deserving of hell, then that is a problem for sure. I cannot judge someone in the latter way but we must be able to call other people to the Christian standard. We have to be able to see someone in sin, be able to tell them what they are doing is sin, and call them to a new way of life. That isn't judgment, it is charity if done in the proper way. So many people today say, any time a Christian says something to them about their lifestyle or choices, "you cannot judge me." We do make judgments on objective actions but we live the ultimate judgment of the person to God alone.

4. You said: "But if you believe that sleeveless tops are immodest and that it is, therefore, objectively sinful for a woman to wear them, then you must believe that it is always (objectively) a sin for a woman to bare her arms in public." There is a distinction, I think, between what is objectively immodest (revealing the major portions of the body which pertain to this type of desire) and what is a bit more subjective. While I do believe that sleeveless shirts are immodest, the question is to what degree they may reveal or cause someone to desire the portion of the body very near the shoulders.

You said: "I tend to believe that sleeveless tops have become too commonplace, generally speaking, to be an occasion of sin to men." I find this point disturbing, to be honest. You're saying that whatever has become commonplace cannot be an occasion of sin? So if everyone walked around naked, and we got used to it - it being commonplace - then no longer would the naked body be an occasion of sin? It is logical that this would have to follow based on your premise. The problem here - and I've run into this a lot discussing these issues - is downplaying the effects of original sin. Perhaps if we were better men, we could simply say that we can get used to it and not be enticed. Yet because of the fall our passions are disordered and our will is, as Trent states, "downward bent." Even our best intentions do not often come to fruition on their own. As St. Paul said, what he desired to do he did not do for sin was working in him. Concupiscence is active within us and will be for each and every one of us in this temporal life. Because of the fall, we are drawn toward sin and evil. It is obviously only grace that counteracts these effects but we're all in a process of allowing grace to become entirely efficacious. That said, just because something is commonplace does not mean it cannot be an occasion of sin because sin is always working in us. We'll never reach a stage where parts of the human body of the opposite gender does not - at least at times - incite desire. I honestly do not understand how your premise cannot be taken to say that anything goes so long as anything is commonplace. Let the world degenerate, as long as the ways are common then we'll get used to it.

In closing, as I know I've said too much already, I want to comment on intent. You said: "But the vast majority of immodesty is a matter of intent, not of clothing style." Like many things, there are two dimensions: the subjective and the objective. We live in an age where the subjective is emphasized often to the detriment of the objective fact. Many Catholics think heaven is full and hell empty, hoping on the subjective experience of the person over the objective fact that many have died without faith in Christ. While we cannot judge the subjective intention of an individual (which in itself makes it difficult to speak only of intention in regard to modesty because, truly, what can we say of intention), we can make something of objective facts concerning their actions. If a woman dresses in a way that reveals certain parts of her body that ought not be revealed, and if her intention is not to entice, then it is still true that the way she has dressed may be immodest. Intention alone does not suffice. Yes, intention is an important factor, but two women wearing the same revealing outfit - one intending to entice and the other not - still objectively have the same effect on people of the opposite gender. We have to take both facets into account, the objective fact and the subjective intent.

Christ's peace to you.

Red Cardigan said...

I have a feeling, hdm, that we're simply going to have to agree to disagree.

Let me reiterate that I have no problem with the notion that it is essential that the major portions of a man's or woman's body must be covered; roughly described as the torso area and the waist to the knee area. But for you to say that sleeveless tops are immodest because they reveal the arm or shoulder, which is "close" to a part of the woman's body that men desire, is frankly problematic. Either the arm itself is arousing and must be covered, or it is not. That's where the idea of cultural standards comes in--it will never be modest for people to walk around nude, but what areas must be covered and how they are covered is going to be affected by the culture.

My brother recently saw a group of people in a Catholic church for a wedding. If I tell you, as he told me, that the midriff section of the women, including the bride's grandmother, was visible, I have a feeling you'd be shocked and outraged--but then my brother explained that this was a Catholic family from India dressed in the traditional sari, which covers the shoulders, top, waistline, and legs down to the ankle, but leaves a small area of the midsection visible (mainly from the side.) In traditional Indian culture, it's much more problematic to see the woman's legs than a bit of her belly; the legs are 'desirable' while the midsection is mundane and not particularly arousing. Now, either these women *are* dressed immodestly and the Catholic bishops of India are seriously lax for not telling the women that they must at once abandon the traditional dress for something more 'western,' or the sari simply isn't immodest for a woman from India to wear.

Take a look, sometime, at websites which show pictures from fashion history. Just going back a hundred years ago or so, you will see that what was considered modest and acceptable for women to wear has changed dramatically, back and forth again, from 1900 to the present day. It may surprise you to see that women in 1900-1910 frequently wore their tops cut much lower than most women do today, in a straight line right across the tops of their bosoms; but their legs were always fully covered and their ankles encased in high shoes. In the 1920s many of the necklines rose higher--but so did the hemlines, falling just below, or even just above, the knee. I could go on, but the changes continued throughout the decades (and from a modesty standpoint I find the tightly fitted dresses from the 1930s which had long sleeves and very long skirts more potentially immodest than the knee-length shift dresses of the 1920s in many instances) so we'll just leave it at that.

Clearly, my point about common cultural standards, then, isn't that if people decided to walk around nude then we'd all get used to it. But whether sleeveless tops are immodest or not is definitely going to depend on two things: one, whether they actually reveal the truly private areas of the body, and two, whether they are seen as a normal article of clothing or something forbidden, scandalous, and designed to arouse. There *are* clothing items that fit these two categories: sheer blouses, bustiers, 'bra' style tops, backless or halter tops, skin-tight miniskirts, shorty shorts, bikinis and so on. All of these items both emphasize or reveal that which should be hidden, AND they are designed to do so--this is what makes them immodest, and widespread acceptance of them doesn't change that fact. But compared to clothing items like these, the humble loose cotton sleeveless top seems downright chaste.

Finally, you say, "If a woman dresses in a way that reveals certain parts of her body that ought not be revealed, and if her intention is not to entice, then it is still true that the way she has dressed may be immodest." But she is not guilty of immodesty if she has had no intent to be immodest and indeed has no idea that her clothing may be too revealing; but truly immodest clothing is very obviously revealing! At this point, there is one other subjective factor that needs to be mentioned: the man. As you also say above, "I would say that sleeveless shirts may cause one's mind to think of that region and begin to think of other areas." I would modify that sentence and replace the word "one's" with "a man's" because that's what we're talking about, isn't it? You see some clothing as being immodest, not because it actually reveals IN ANY WAY that which must be kept hidden, but because some man or other may allow what he does see to trigger his immoral imagination to extend to the areas that he doesn't see.

Let's return to the concept of subjective intent for a moment. If a woman is dressed in such a way that ANY man who sees her will ACTUALLY SEE some part of her body which is known to cause desire, such as a top which reveals much of her cleavage or shorts which reveal the curves of her backside, then the man who sees her may be subjectively less guilty for having momentary illicit thoughts (though to the extent that he dwells or acts on those thoughts he may be guilty of serious sin, which may or may not be lessened because of the contributing factor of the woman's own culpability). HOWEVER, it is NOT the woman's sole responsibility to cover her body in such a way that NO man will EVER have illicit thoughts about her! If she is dressed in a simple skirt which falls to the middle of her knee bone and a simple cotton sleeveless top which covers her entire shoulder area and actually has a rather high neckline as many of this type of top do, and if these pieces of clothing are both lose and completely opaque, then she has, in my opinion, satisfied the demands of charity. If some man, seeing her bare arms or the tiny bit of exposed knee, immediately begins fantasizing about her private areas, then I would argue that the sin is HIS, and the woman is not culpable at all.

I recognize that visual impulses are stronger in men than they are in women. But where do we draw the line? If the woman is culpable for revealing half of her knee bone and her bare arms, will a cap sleeve and a skirt which just covers the knee be sufficient to keep men from sin? If it is not, will a mid-length skirt and sleeves below the elbow suffice? If that doesn't work, must women wear skirts to the ankle and shirts that cover their arms to the wrist? What if some man is enticed by bare hands--are gloves necessary? What if, having done all the above, a woman finds out that a man has sinned because he saw her neck, hair, and face? Should we mandate the return of the Elizabethan ruff or the wimple?

You see where I'm going with this, don't you? If modesty in dress is the sole responsibility of the woman, pretty soon we're back at the burka, because somewhere out there some man is going to be aroused by some part of the body, even if it's the tip of a woman's fingers or the sight of a toe or two. And even if we put the women in burkas, we haven't guaranteed that men won't sin seeing their black-clad forms and knowing that there's a *woman* under there, somewhere.

Just as women should be considerate enough to avoid those immodest clothing items I mentioned above, so must men practice custody of the eyes and mind. Some men aren't subject to temptation in this way, while for others it is a severe trial; but blaming the woman who wears a sleeveless top because, after all, we KNOW that there's a private area within a short distance of that bare arm is quite simply ludicrous, in my opinion.

hisdivinemajesty said...

First of all, I want to thank you for taking the time to respond to some of my comments.

Here is an important summary, you stated: "Let me reiterate that I have no problem with the notion that it is essential that the major portions of a man's or woman's body must be covered; roughly described as the torso area and the waist to the knee area. But for you to say that sleeveless tops are immodest because they reveal the arm or shoulder, which is "close" to a part of the woman's body that men desire, is frankly problematic." I think a major distinction can be made here. There is something objective and absolute about modesty with which I believe we both agree: that major sexual parts of the body (genitals, etc.) need to be concealed. The Catechism states this idea as the essence of modesty, that we need to conceal what ought not be revealed - not because it is bad, but because it is very good. As far as arms and other parts of the body I think we get into less objective, absolute area. But we have to ask ourselves a question: as a Catholic in love with Christ Who loved me first, do I simply seek the bare minimum required of me or do I seek the absolute best? While it may be true that a sleeveless blouse may not cause an occasion of sin as much as a miniskirt, it is possible that it could. The issue here - as I think I have stated - isn't so much that shoulders may incite desire in a man in themselves but that it is an area very near to certain parts of the body that would incite. The eyes can be easily drawn from bare shoulders to a woman's chest whereas short sleeves would not attract the eyes to the shoulders much less to the chest so the eyes wouldn't be drawn even remotely to that area by default. I know I have seen sleeveless shirts/blouses which, when the woman moved her arms in a certain manner, you can see a bit more than you want and it is possible to incite desire - even if not as much as if cleavage where visible. In our faith, we're not simply called to the bare minimum. It may be true that someone who has gone through the process of conversion in Christ, who simply attempts to avoid mortal sin their whole life, may go to heaven but that is not what we're called to; we're called to the highest of Christian perfection which actually go far beyond what is strictly required. St. Paul (I believe in one of his letters to the Corinthians), speaking of the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols, says that if it offends your neighbor it is better to refrain from eating it out of love for them even if it doesn't not trouble your conscience. Someone could remark to Paul: "Hey, that isn't required! Jesus never said that is objectively evil." It is going beyond what is strictly required for the sake of love and what is best not just for oneself but for others. A woman who does not wear sleeveless tops removes any question of leading another into temptation and presents herself as clearly modest. It removes the issue entirely. There is no question. While it isn't strictly required, it may be a greater act of charity.

Then we enter the all too familiar issues of history and culture in regard to modesty. I'll say first of all that I think these two facets are extremely difficult to navigate both for the one asserting as well as the one answering the issues. But I'll share some comments.

As for history, it does very little to simply state "going back a hundred years ago or so, you will see that what was considered modest and acceptable for women to wear has changed dramatically, back and forth again, from 1900 to the present day." How can you prove to me that a low cut top was considered modest in that time period? You can assert it but a mere assertion proves nothing. How do you know it was modest? I would argue that we're getting into an area of objective modesty, that revealing cleavage is objectively immodest because it is revealing a part of the body which ought not be revealed in these circumstances. We can argue about history but again we'll end up at basic principles. To merely state that such and such a fashion was common and considered modest does not prove that it is modest. I think culture brings more to bear than history. Regardless, there is still the fact that major parts of the body cannot be revealed regardless of time or place. I do not believe there is ever a time or a place in this life where being 100% naked is modest. Because that is so, it shows there is at least a bare minimum which ought to be covered. Beyond that main core people may argue.

Then we come to culture. Different cultures have different standards. Yes, I agree. I'm not a cultural expert so I cannot say conclusively whether something is or is not modest by a cultural standard. I would still argue that it is objectively immodest to reveal what ought not to reveal, i.e. the sexual organs of the body. I've heard it argued that indigenous peoples walk around naked and therefore for them that is modest. The problem with this line of argument is that it merely asserts but proves nothing. People may walk around naked but can you prove that they live chaste lives, that they're not drawn into sin? Another culture may dress differently than we do, but can you prove to me that their fashions do not incite? I can understand certain parts of the body may not incite in a different time or place. However, I do not believe that the main areas cannot be left uncovered in any time or place without causing concupiscence to awaken within the opposite sex. Beyond that, it is a matter of what is best. Just because a culture dresses a certain way doesn't mean it is best. If in another culture ankles incite desire, then that would need to be addressed. Yet we live in a definitive time and place, within a certain culture and time period, and neither of us appears to be a historian nor a sociologist (perhaps I am mistaken). I do not consider myself wise enough to appraise the standards of another time and place. I find it enough of a task to consider issues in my own time and place.

You stated: "whether sleeveless tops are immodest or not is definitely going to depend on two things: one, whether they actually reveal the truly private areas of the body, and two, whether they are seen as a normal article of clothing or something forbidden, scandalous, and designed to arouse." Yes, I agree. But you can have clothing that reveals without intent. I would argue beyond this point that many women wear clothing that was made with the intent of equality of the sexes and even though most women do not have that intent, the clothing still accomplishes that goal. But I digress.

While I'd like to go point to point through your argument, it is much work that will only cause this discussion to become entangled. You basically closed with the issue of woman's responsibility. No one can justify taking away man's responsibility. That said the woman has responsibility of her own - to herself and to men. (And just so you know, modesty relates to both sexes so the issue here is not only women.) First of all, if a woman values herself then she shouldn't through herself out there to be lusted after by a man. Seeing her body as precious and of great worth and as sacred, she ought to cover it. Diamonds are found hidden in the earth, not on trees (I borrow that analogy from Ms. Colleen Hammond) and just so that which is most sacred is covered up, not thrown out for all to see. A woman has a responsibility to God and to herself to value herself and thus not throw herself out for all to see in ways she ought not do. Now, she has a responsibility - as we all do in a variety of ways - to do everything she can to not lead another into temptation. Now if she is adequately covered, then she is not culpable for another's temptation. Even in a burka a man can lust after a woman's body, although it is far more difficult. The issue here is whether a glance or looking at the woman in what she is wearing, without any intent to lust, causes concupiscence to awaken. The woman ought to do everything she should so that the way she presents herself does not in itself awaken lust. There is an objective standard, I believe, that the major areas must not be revealed. Beyond that there is more discussion and I think that is where we get into one's own discernment. I do think it is better to go beyond what is strictly required to make sure that one is protecting themselves and others as well. Men are not without responsibility for sure but neither is the woman. Many women would say, "Well if they can't control themselves it is not my fault." Actually, it is. If you reveal what is not to be revealed, you've played a role. I read an article recently on "reverse rape," how a woman can use her body to rape a man. Because men are enticed in a more physical way generally, a woman may wear a revealing outfit that can cause a man to desire what he did not want to desire. Both men and women have their responsibilities to bear.

In sum, I'd say that history and culture prove little. We cannot prove whether something did or did not cause temptation in someone else. Even for culture, we cannot say definitively whether something is modest - at least I can't, because I've not had the experience of that culture. But we can return to the objective fact that that which ought not be reveal must remain concealed. Cleavage will cause temptation in any time or place as well other parts of the body that pertain to the sexual act. Again I think it comes down to wanting the bare minimum and wanting the greatest good regardless of whether or not it is required in strict justice. Yes, perhaps in our culture in this point in history, a sleeveless blouse may not cause most men to be led into temptation - but it may cause some. While it would take much more effort on a man's part to lust when he looks on a woman in short sleeves as opposed to no sleeves. When we truly desire the sanctification of our brother and sister, even above our own comfort and preferences, then perhaps we see that something which is beyond strict justice is a greater act of charity - toward ourselves as well as toward our neighbor.

Christ's peace to you.

matilda said...

Out of courtesy to the host of this blog, get your own blog or keep it shorter!

Red Cardigan said...

hdm, we're going around in circles to little purpose here. What's sad to me is that we seem to agree on what I would call the central definition of dressing modestly: cover the torso and the waist-to-knee area. But then you continue to assert your opinion that sleeveless blouses are immodest because you think they draw the eye near to a woman's bosom; yet you say short sleeves are modest! How can you possibly say that! Don't you know that the end point of a short sleeve is much, much closer to a woman's bosom than her shoulder is???

Okay, you see my frustration. Your extremely lengthy paragraphs that follow pretty much place all blame for lust on women and their revealing clothes--but if a woman is revealing what should not be revealed then we agree that she's (objectively) guilty of immodesty; AND IF SHE ISN'T, THEN SHE ISN'T, NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU WANT TO BLAME HER FOR THE MAN'S SINFUL THOUGHTS.

Sorry for shouting, but I don't see any other way to get my point across to you.

hisdivinemajesty said...

Wow. I really can't believe how sad this is. I made a comment and maybe my initial comment was too long, but Red Cardigan replied twice to me with equally long comments. And just because I don't agree with you doesn't mean you should shout. If someone disagrees with you, it is okay to debate or discuss the issue without losing patience. It is very sad indeed. I can agree to disagree. I've done my best to be nothing but charitable. If I am getting shouted at for long comments, I apologize, but if you didn't want to debate the issue then you shouldn't have responded with equally long comments.

May God grant us all greater charity and patience. Christ's peace be with you.

Red Cardigan said...

Red Cardigan responded with equally long comments because this is Red Cardigan's blog. To fail to address each of your points might have made you think I had no response, was dazzled by your brilliance, or in some other way had nothing adequate to say--as the Latin motto goes, "Qui tacet consentit." (Silence implies consent.)

However, you've had this tendency--forgive me for being blunt--to brush aside my arguments as mere assertions and then expect me to fall in line with your own assertions, the most frequently repeated one being that sleeveless tops are immodest because--again forgive my bluntness--a woman's arms are near her bosom, and men can't help it if bare arms make them imagine other parts equally unclothed, even if, in point of fact, they are quite decently covered.

This assertion is illogical, irrational, unfounded by any evidence other than your mere assertion, without merit from a cultural standpoint, and, in fact, completely indefensible. That it doesn't bother you at all that this is so, and that in fact you continue to charge every woman out there who bares her arms in public with the fact of being objectively immodest and therefore, again objectively, in a state of serious sin makes me wonder quite a lot about your stake in this.

I mean, consider it a moment. If women in sleeveless tops are immodestly dressed, then they are sinning (at least objectively). Their pastors who do not correct them in this practice are also sinning. Their priests who allow them to receive communion dressed this way are also sinning, and quite grievously. Yet you are quite comfortable stating as some kind of objective truth the notion that sleeveless tops are inherently immodest, and all of the ramifications of this assertion do not appear to bother you in the least.

I am praying for you and will continue to do so; it's easy to talk about charity and patience, but I have seen such talk used as a weapon before, too. If my shouting was offensive I apologize; my frustration may be pardonable, but my acting on it is something I always regret, especially considering that I don't (quite obviously) concede the moral high ground to your position in this discussion.

hisdivinemajesty said...

Well, there is not much for me to comment because I don't want to take up your blog space. Thank you for your response. My attempt was to make distinctions which I fear were easily discarded, such as the distinction between what is objectively immodest and what may be left up to the discernment of the individual, between what is required of us in strict justice and what we may choose to do going beyond strict justice to a greater charity. Regardless, there is no space here to discuss this issue. It doesn't seem fair to me, honestly, for you to give me a somewhat substantial response, accusing me of irrationality, when I was just told not to post very much here. That leaves me being the accused who cannot speak. We disagree and that is the obvious fact. May God bless you and keep you near to His heart.

Christ's peace to you.

Sheila said...

I am curious to know what modesty guidelines HDM believes apply to breastfeeding women. Experts agree on two things: that breastfeeding is great for mothers and babies and that too many mothers quit because of a lack of confidence and comfort nursing outside the home.

Red Cardigan said...

hdm, I'm not the one who said that your posts were too long. I'm the one who pointed out that your posts were extremely iterative; that is, that you repeat your assertions as if mere repetition should be enough to convince me that you are right. Please do feel free to speak freely; I'm familiar enough with passive-aggressive techniques to want to make certain you don't apply them here.

Now, let's get to the substance of what you're saying, shorn of all the iterative language:
1. Women (and men) must dress modestly.
2. Women have a greater obligation than men in this regard.
3. Sleeveless tops are objectively immodest, though not necessarily as sinful as some deliberately "sexy" piece of clothing; however, it is a sin to wear one, because bare arms make men think of bare bosoms.
4. Women must go beyond what is merely required, because they must be charitable to men. If they are charitable, they will cover not only what must be covered, but will further dress in such a way that they will not ever be a potential occasion of sin to men. This means, in effect, that they must not wear slacks, fitted clothing, or skirts that are too short. In other words, the only clothing that should ever *really* be worn by a woman who truly loves her Christian brothers is a long, loose skirt that falls at least eight inches below her knee, and a loose, shapeless blouse or top which has at least short sleeves and which does not in any way show the natural curves of the woman's upper body, or a long shapeless dress that also fails to outline the woman's curves in any way. Failure to wear these items every day for every occasion may not be objectively sinful, but it does mean that the woman is insufficiently charitable to the men around her.

Now, have I been inaccurate? Is this not, in effect, your position? If you wish to clarify any of these four points, go ahead. If I have accurately understood you, say so. If I have been inaccurate on any of the four points, clarify. Then we'll be able to concentrate on the places we do disagree instead of having you merely assert these same four points over and over again.

hisdivinemajesty said...

Honestly, I don't see how you applied your "don't judge me" logic to what I said yet you are free to say "I'm familiar enough with passive-aggressive techniques to want to make certain you don't apply them here." Perhaps the beam in our own eye...regardless...

Can you show me where

1. I said women have a great obligation than men in regard to modesty

and

2. I said that women must go beyond what is required and only women

Thanks. Christ's peace to you.

Red Cardigan said...

HDM, no need to think I'm judging you. My desire to make sure you (and others) don't use passive-aggressive techniques doesn't mean I think you're trying to use them.

Here we go:
"1.I said women have a great obligation than men in regard to modesty" and "2. I said that women must go beyond what is required and only women."

quotes:
"As a man I don't think I should have to actively divert my eyes from a woman's outfit at Mass. If I can look at her outfit and see parts of her body that may possibly incite desire, then that is a problem."

"If I look at a woman and consider her outfit, I can think whether or not it is in accord with what God wants for us."

"The issue here - as I think I have stated - isn't so much that shoulders may incite desire in a man in themselves but that it is an area very near to certain parts of the body that would incite. The eyes can be easily drawn from bare shoulders to a woman's chest whereas short sleeves would not attract the eyes to the shoulders much less to the chest so the eyes wouldn't be drawn even remotely to that area by default."

"A woman who does not wear sleeveless tops removes any question of leading another into temptation and presents herself as clearly modest. It removes the issue entirely. There is no question. While it isn't strictly required, it may be a greater act of charity."

"The woman ought to do everything she should so that the way she presents herself does not in itself awaken lust."

"I read an article recently on "reverse rape," how a woman can use her body to rape a man. Because men are enticed in a more physical way generally, a woman may wear a revealing outfit that can cause a man to desire what he did not want to desire."

"Cleavage will cause temptation in any time or place as well other parts of the body that pertain to the sexual act."

"Again I think it comes down to wanting the bare minimum and wanting the greatest good regardless of whether or not it is required in strict justice. Yes, perhaps in our culture in this point in history, a sleeveless blouse may not cause most men to be led into temptation - but it may cause some."

Now, in comparison with all these quotes, there are a handful of times where you say that men have some responsibility or that modesty pertains to both men and women. However, you never give an example of men dressing immodestly; you don't warn men in shorts that they're causing women to lust; you don't talk about a man's obligation to avoid tight jeans. It's all about women and how they should dress, in your comments. What conclusion do you expect people to draw, when your emphasis is all about what women should and shouldn't wear?

hisdivinemajesty said...

Wasn't your blog posting basically about the topic of women's modesty? If I'd thought you were interested in men and modesty I would have touched on it. Everything involved sleeves and dresses and the like. I can assure you I believe firmly that modesty applies to men as to women. The issue however is that men tend to be more physically incited whereas women tend to be so more emotionally. In addition I firmly believe that men have responsibility to take custody of their eyes but they should not have to worry about falling into temptation just by a glance or a short look in itself. The responsibilities go both ways and I stated that. Most of my comments were directed toward women because the issues at hand were about sleeves and dresses and such. I would entirely agree that men should dress well, not wear tight jeans, etc.

Incidentally from what I see those quotes merely prove that I said women have a responsibility, not that "2. Women have a greater obligation than men in this regard." Nor do they prove I said women alone should go beyond strict justice. The quotes merely show my comments on the issue of modesty with women. For example: "If I look at a woman and consider her outfit, I can think whether or not it is in accord with what God wants for us." That is one statement. I can also equally state that the same goes vice versa. I never said modesty pertains to women alone or anything like that.

Christ's peace to you.

Red Cardigan said...

No, HDM, my blog posting was about women dressing appropriately for Mass, and how some people mistakenly try to create standards where there are none, or confuse issues of modesty with issues of appropriate dress.

Ironically, this seems to have happened to you, too. If you had said that generally speaking you thought sleeveless tops were too casual to wear to Mass, for either men or women, then I would have agreed with you wholeheartedly and we would have moved on.

Instead, you made what I've come to consider the classic blunder of the modesty movement: first, focusing almost exclusively on how women should dress to avoid the possibility that a man whose eyes are wandering around at Mass and who takes a 'short look' at her (instead of concentrating on the Holy Sacrifice) doesn't thereby have, against his will and despite his best efforts to chastity (!) an unintentional lustful thought, and second, insisting that modesty in dress boils down, as far as women are concerned, to a 'dress code' of acceptable/unacceptable items; and having created totally arbitrary categories of each, of then imputing sin to all the women out there who don't follow your rules.

Let's talk about men's clothing for a moment. Most men's dress slacks have a tendency to follow the curve--or lack thereof--of the man's posterior, instantly revealing whether he has a nicely shaped posterior or not. What if I decried this? What if I insisted that this was unacceptable, that any pant fitted enough to allow women to decide if the rear end in the pew in front of her is nicely shaped or not was automatically too revealing and should be replaced with looser, baggier trousers, preferable draped with a shapeless tunic top?

You'd probably say that that was ridiculous, and that women have an obligation not to go around looking at a man's hindquarters.

Well, guess what? Men have no business looking at a woman's hindquarters or bosom, no matter what she's wearing. If you're glancing around at women near you in Church, and your eyes aren't above her neckline, then the problem is yours.

I realize that some clothes are designed to be sexy and revealing, but I can't recall ever seeing a woman in Church wearing a bustier, a sheer blouse, or a bikini. In the event one walks in and sits beside you dressed like that, then any inadvertent glance you give her is probably more her fault than yours; but the same most emphatically does NOT apply to the nice middle aged lady in the high-neckline sleeveless top.

hisdivinemajesty said...

You said yourself that your "blog posting was about women dressing appropriately for Mass" etc. etc. Why was I supposed to talk about men and modesty? I don't understand what you castigate me for focusing on women when your blog, as you admit, was about women and their dress for Mass.

You asked about men and dress slacks. Honestly if someone came to me with that considering that you offered, I would consider it. I wouldn't merely call the person irrational or inane but would consider whether they have a valid point.

Again, though, we can't pretend that men and women function and are attracted in the same way. For how many women will seeing the behind of a man create an occasion of sin? Few, I'd argue. For how many men would seeing the behind of a woman create an occasion of sin? More, I'd argue. The issue isn't whether or not the man is looking somewhere he ought not. The fact is that even when we want to focus on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, people stand in front of us most of the time. I've been in situations where my intent was to focus on the altar but no one stares in one spot the entire time. At least when in line for communion it is easy for eyes to be diverted. If a woman is in a skirt or dress that is not tight, a glance at the behind of the person in front of them has no potential for an occasion of sin because the shape and form of the behind is concealed. Pants do not offer that same concealment. They present the shape and form. I know I've spoken to women who say that seeing a man's behind doesn't cause them any sort of temptation and they say that it doesn't for most women. But ask that question of men... We cannot present men and women are attracted and enticed in the same ways, which I know you've stated yourself.

You said: "focusing almost exclusively on how women should dress." Will you please see that the only reason I am focusing on women is because it was the subject matter of your blog post? If you posted on men, and not women, perhaps we'd be discussing men exclusively. No one here is singly out women. Certainly not I. But the context of your blog post was women.

You said: "You'd probably say that that was ridiculous, and that women have an obligation not to go around looking at a man's hindquarters." Yes, both genders have responsibly for custody of the eyes but everyone at some time or another has their eyes drawn in places or they glance in areas without thinking, without intent. The question is when eyes end up somewhere they should not, do they see something that causes a possible temptation or not?

I've run into this issue time and again, the accusal that modesty focuses solely on women. While I think there is a reason why it tends to be more emphasized in women, because of the difference of genders, it applies to both genders. I'm not attacking women or saying it is all their problem. Both sides - as I've said so many times here already - have responsibilities.

You said: "I can't recall ever seeing a woman in Church wearing a bustier, a sheer blouse, or a bikini." Well I've seen girls wearing spaghetti straps shirts, tops that are so tight that my imagination can be unconscious and I still can know what the form of the upper body is perfectly, and shorts so short I can so 98% of a woman's legs. Have I seen that? Yes, more than I want to admit. Are sleeveless shirts as bad as those? No, but that doesn't mean they are the best.

Christ's peace to you.

hisdivinemajesty said...

By the way, I think this comment really lacks genuine concern and charity for men:

"Well, guess what? Men have no business looking at a woman's hindquarters or bosom, no matter what she's wearing. If you're glancing around at women near you in Church, and your eyes aren't above her neckline, then the problem is yours."

Everyone looks around at people around them. No one stares in one spot continually. Even a man with the utmost custody of his eyes will at times glance places just by accident. The question is when he glances, not intending to look at that area, what does he see? Does he see something that awakens concupiscence or not? A woman ought to care enough for men to not want him to struggle when a stray glance comes her way. We are to think of others beyond our own comfort and preferences. Yes, this goes for men too. It is not all about women. And it pertains to issues beyond modesty and clothing too.

Christ's peace to you.

Red Cardigan said...

HDM, I think you're being pretty disingenuous here.

My blog post was about the difference between modesty issues and dressing appropriately for Church on Sunday. You have focused almost exclusively on how, according only to you, women must dress in order to satisfy the demands of charity so that they are not leading men into sin.

You say that you've never said that women have a greater obligation in this area, but then you say this: "Again, though, we can't pretend that men and women function and are attracted in the same way. For how many women will seeing the behind of a man create an occasion of sin? Few, I'd argue. For how many men would seeing the behind of a woman create an occasion of sin? More, I'd argue. The issue isn't whether or not the man is looking somewhere he ought not."

Do you not see how that statement *completely* absolves the man of any responsibility not to look lustfully at a woman, and places ALL the responsibility on the woman, who must choose some shapeless jumper or unattractively tent-like skirt in order to avoid "accidentally" becoming an occasion of sin to the man?

You accuse me of a lack of charity for pointing out that men have an obligation not to be looking around at women in such a way that they are ready to see them as objects and lust after them. I think I would lack charity if I didn't point that out!

You also say, "Everyone looks around at people around them. No one stares in one spot continually. Even a man with the utmost custody of his eyes will at times glance places just by accident. The question is when he glances, not intending to look at that area, what does he see? Does he see something that awakens concupiscence or not? A woman ought to care enough for men to not want him to struggle when a stray glance comes her way."

I think we come to the crux of the matter here. There is a note of scrupulosity and also a strong desire, once again, to absolve the man from responsibility. So, he's just looking around, and just by accident his eye falls on an attractive woman--and it's her fault if he must immediately begin to struggle with impure thoughts, because if she *really* loved her Christian brother she'd make sure that nothing about her could *possibly* arouse such thoughts or lead him to such temptation.

There is more of Islam than Christianity in such an idea, HDM; because even the most pure, most chaste young woman, dressed from head to toe in the ugliest of loose garments, might become an occasion of sin to a man if his 'stray glance' notes her youth, her glowing face, her bright complexion, her long, wavy hair, her beautiful eyes. So cover her, at once, in a burka, because that's the only way you can ensure that no man will have any such thoughts about her; make sure we can't see her hair, or her face, or her hands, or be able to tell whether she's young or old, plain or attractive, slender or fat--because only then will she be doing her duty and satisfying the demands of charity; only then can she be absolutely *certain* that no man will find her even momentarily desirable; and only then can a man look over her from head to toe with as many 'stray glances' as he wants to send her way without having to worry about the sin of lust; he will only have to guard himself from the sin of pride that will make him see such miserably clad figures and thank God for making him a man.

hisdivinemajesty said...

Well we've reached the point of absolute disagreement and it brings no good to continue. You keep accusing me of things I've never said and make my points out to be something they're not, such as when you take my comments that an innocent gaze shouldn't put a man into an occasion of sin to mean, somehow, that I have absolved men of all responsibility. Never mind that in addition to that I've stated both gender's responsibilities. You like to latch on to one thing I say and make it extreme, as if other points I have made do not exist (i.e. that men have their own responsibilities).

You said: "because even the most pure, most chaste young woman, dressed from head to toe in the ugliest of loose garments, might become an occasion of sin to a man if his 'stray glance' notes her youth, her glowing face, her bright complexion, her long, wavy hair, her beautiful eyes. So cover her, at once, in a burka, because that's the only way you can ensure that no man will have any such thoughts about her." You miss my entire points! I am talking about a stray innocent glance that may cause a man temptation. The whole point is that a woman who does not reveal is not going to cause that temptation in an innocent glance. Yet you say that I claim that "even the most pure, most chaste young woman, dressed from head to toe in the ugliest of loose garments, might become an occasion of sin to a man if his 'stray glance' notes her youth," which couldn't be further from what I have said. My whole point was that if a woman is dressed modestly, not revealing what ought not to be revealed, then that innocent glance won't cause temptation.

We must agree to disagree. I'm sorry that you feel you must misconstrue what I state and make it into something I have clearly not said. Perhaps you're used to having everyone come to your blog to praise your wisdom, but shouting or contorting someone else's arguments does little for anyone. I won't be posting any more comments because there is no point. I've made my points. They stand and I stand by them. If you disagree, then you have your own point of view. I am content to be with mine without the need to shout or misconstrue your points.

Thank you for enduring my long comments and for discussing the issue with me.

May Our Lord leads us both into truth and help us in our weakness.

God bless you.

Red Cardigan said...

HDM, I'm sorry you feel there's no point in continuing; but I think it's only fair to point out that you've misconstrued my position a few times, too.

For instance, when have I ever said that a woman may reveal what should not be revealed? Never. But you appear to include bare arms and bare knees in the category of what women should not reveal, on the grounds that you think they're somewhat close in proximity to the private areas of the body which should never be publicly revealed.

So, when you say, "My whole point was that if a woman is dressed modestly, not revealing what ought not to be revealed, then that innocent glance won't cause temptation." you are in some sense begging the question, because by *your* definition "what ought not to be revealed" includes bare arms, bare knees, female legs encased in slacks, and any garment tight enough to reveal any aspect of the female form. This pretty much rules out most clothing actually available to women today other than shapeless dresses/jumpers, shapeless blouses, and tent-like skirts, doesn't it?

Maybe you don't see what an incredible burden you're placing on women by your insistence that "what ought not to be revealed" includes whatever you personally think it does, above and beyond the private areas of the body. But it is both arbitrary and burdensome, and I'm sorry that you can't understand that.

I will continue to pray for you.

LizzieD said...

On the Feast of St Maria Goretti, I pray that you re-think some of what you said to hdm. I am a wife, and the mother of a young and innocent son, whose purity both my husband and I strive to maintain, as is our duty before God. Immodest dressing whether it be at Mass or in the street, by both men and women, is a serious issue, and it is strange that some deem it to be merely a matter of personal intention. In his younger days, before we met, my husband was in the army, and had his fill of occasions of impurity, which he deeply regretted, and received forgiveness for upon returning to the Sacraments of Holy Mother Church - his love for Maria Goretti is very strong. He knows how difficult it is for a man to be struggling with purity, this can go for one who has succumbed to temptation, as well as one who has maintained his innocence. Men are very influenced by form, some sleeveless tops do give a glimpse of the top of the breast, and it may not be the fault of the chap if his mind is lead to wander - yes, it is his fault if he indulges in the wandering, but should he have been exposed to the occasion of sin, at MASS, in the first place. Also trousers on a woman, unless she has a very long top covering her thighs, tend to show off, and sometimes even emphasise a woman's crotch area, or curvaceous bottom, again, they are areas that a man frequently cannot help looking at, if they're on display. I have been behind numerous women at Mass, and although they appear to be covered up when standing they show all when they lean forward to kneel, and I'm sorry, but even though our minds are supposed to be on higher things, we are social beings, and easily visually stimulated by what's going on around us! And it's not just the husbands, and adolescent sons that can be distracted, the priests are men too. If it were true that girls were as easily influenced to sin by a man's form then I would go on about that too, suffice it to say that all should dress modestly, especially at Mass, and that,for Charity's sake, does include covering up as much as you possibly can, and not with clothes that are skin-tight to emphasise the form of the body.
As for breast feeding, which one of your commenters mentioned, I always did it in public, at Mass, during adoration, in restaurants, whenever, if it were necessary - it can be done modestly, with the aid of a nursing shawl, which can range from a light silk scarf to a heavy woolen blanket, depending on your climate!
Look at what the Church really teaches about modesty, (through the writings of the saints) and don't be afraid of it, if you think you might have to suffer a bit because of hot weather - (anyway, it's good to wear extra fabric, it soaks up the sweat, and stops you getting sunburnt and skin cancer!). Just because Bishops don't speak out about it don't make it acceptable (a lot of them have been quiet on contraception and abortion for a long time). You don't see Mary appearing with bare arms, or in trousers, and at Fatima she mentioned that there would be fashions that would displease God very much - now are we going to spend our time debating exactly what she meant? If a hundred women told me I looked great in something, but one man told me that what I was wearing caused him to sin in spite of not wishing to, I would burn it for the sake of his soul.
St Maria Goretti, PRAY FOR US.

hisdivinemajesty said...

Lizzied - thank you and God bless you for your powerful and charitable comments. I've not read them until now but am so glad I did get the chance to read it! God bless you!

Anonymous said...

I'm a Methodist, but I found this site via Google search. Your points are excellent, red cardigan, and I agree that far too often women get the blame for "turning men on" when that wasn't their intent. I'm on the shy side, and dressing modestly isn't a problem for me. It seems more of an issue for teen girls than it was in my younger days.