Monday, September 13, 2010

Amen, heck yes, exactly

So, a bit ago I wrote about that whole "women wearing pants" thing.

I could have waited. Simcha Fisher did a much funnier--and right on target--job of discussing the matter:

I think I’ve gotten beyond this phase, but the issue of skirts was a red herring that did a lot of genuine damage to my marriage, my self-respect, and my attitude toward other women. That’s why messages like this anti-pants one make me so furious. Yeah, lots of women dress immodestly — but lots of other women are treated like retarded pets by their Good Catholic Husbands, and I’m sick to death of it.

I’m sick to death of messages like the one I linked to gaining any kind of legitimacy among otherwise intelligent men and women. Some women like to wear pants, and some don’t. It’s not a moral issue. If it’s a moral issue in your marriage, than your marriage has serious problems that a change in wardrobe will not heal.

Skirts won’t change the world. I’ll tell you what will change the world: men loving their wives — their actual wives, not some bizarre, imaginary amalgam of the Blessed Virgin and Grace Kelly. [Emphasis in original.] HECK YES EXACTLY!!

Sorry for shouting. But I get emotional when somebody puts her finger on exactly what's going on with so many of the modesty messages that go beyond the rational and blindingly obvious, "Hey, ladies, if you want to take your Catholic faith seriously don't dress like a slutty tart, especially at Mass!" and into the realm of the bizarre, such as "Hey, ladies, we, the unofficial spokesmen for Catholic men everywhere, have decided that all of our problems in regard to all sins against the sixth commandment from the occasional impure thought to Internet porn to the full-blown torrid affair we had with our son's third-grade teacher were your fault because you selfishly insist on wearing trousers instead of wearing those demurely seductive vintage dresses we always put on our fantasy women and would insist that our wives wore, except dresses like that are hard to find and they're too expensive and, let's face it, the old ball-n-chain lost her figure a long time ago..." It's not unlike the sort of rationalization that goes on with any other sin, such as the person trying to lose weight--okay, me--who clings for a long time to the belief that her metabolism is just really, really sluggish instead of actually counting calories for a couple of days and fainting in horror at the total, or the person who believes that he's really a nice, mild-mannered sort who would never take the Lord's name in vain, were it not for all those frustratingly bad drivers selfishly getting in front of him and actually stopping at stop signs instead of doing the "1.5 second slow-down" maneuver that civilized people prefer.

Because, if there's one thing we're really, really good at, it's rationalizing our own sins and scouring the world for other sins, sins we can't possibly be personally guilty of, that we can expend all of our guilt-energy on--by chastising all those other sinners for being a near occasion of sin by their words, deeds, actions, conduct, and dress. That there is a subset of Catholic men who really do believe, in their heart of hearts, that all of their sixth-commandment issues as well as all of the various troubles and dissatisfaction they experience in their marriages is really the fault of women wearing outfits like this one is undeniable. That this is pathetically sad, potentially harmful to their wives and daughters, and not particularly good for their own spiritual growth is undeniable as well.

It's not that the issue of modesty doesn't need to be addressed from time to time, especially from the pulpit--modesty in dress, in conduct, in our choice of entertainments, and so forth. But the people (and not all of them are men, of course) who insist that all pants, slacks, trousers etc. are immodest on all women all of the time are not really talking about modesty any more; they are, as Simcha writes, talking about control.

And St. Paul did not exhort husbands to control their wives; he exhorted them to love them--and not just in a mild, more-than-my-dog-but-less-than-my-truck way: they are to love their wives as radically and sacrificially as Christ loves the Church. Even if their wives wear pants, and couldn't pull off a Grace Kelly heels and pearls look if their lives depended on it.


JMB said...

What's so sad is that it can really back fire. Instead of being a beacon of light or an example of a joyful Christian, the modesty obsessed can really turn someone off to the whole enchilada. My friend's daughter felt so tormented when she was a student at Franciscan because she loved wearing jeans. In fact, her little sister just got a nice scholarship to Franciscan and refuses to go because of what she perceives as completely intolerant behavior on behalf of the modesty police- and these aren't adults either - their college kids!

JMB said...

oops, I meant "they are"

Amy said...

JMB - I went to Franciscan and didn't experience that at all. It was a while ago (I graduated in 95), so maybe it's changed. I really hope not. I wore jeans every day.

Anyway - BRAVO to this post.

Baroness said...

Most of my female students wear jeans, as do some of the younger female professors. Franciscan is no longer dominated by the long-hair, long-skirt Plain-Catholic wannabe-Amish look for women. It hasn't been for a long time. If there is a "modesty police", I can testify truthfully that there's also a "get over yourself police" when people get too intrusive.

I've also seen female students start out with that demure look and progress not only to jeans, but with the requisite leather (or at least faux-leather) jacket. It can actually result in a quite feminist orientation as a reaction. Usually it's a pro-life feminism, but not in every case.

I've been a prof here for almost 20 years and I've seen it all.

Anonymous said...

Love it!

JMB said...

Amy, she graduated in 06.

Adolfo said...

As the official spokesman for this Good Catholic Husband, I heartily endorse the blog post and welcome future posts like it.

Elise said...

I came to the realization years ago that often this is a SIZE issue. I was pulled aside at a homeschooling event and told that "some people" thought the way I dressed was inappropriate.

I asked, "If I weighed 200 lbs., would you say the same thing to me?" The answer was no.

The same thing happened to another mom in our homeschool group who was also athletic and slender. Neither of us was a "slut" - we simply chose to wear slacks and jeans that fit. To me, it appeared to be an issue of jealousy with certain moms in the group.

Red Cardigan said...

Elise, I understand the logic behind what you write, but I'm not entirely sure that's it. I've known stick-thin women who not only dress in nun-like drapings but frown at their friends who don't--and I've known more exuberantly-shaped (shall we say) women who wear their clothing way too tight, which is a problem not from a modesty perspective, but from a "She would die if she saw her own backside in that outfit," perspective (which is a good reminder to all of us to check such things before leaving the house, anyway).

But I don't think ordinary pants and jeans should cause such consternation. If a woman is wearing a top designed to show off her bosom and skin-tight leggings or a skin-tight miniskirt, that's one thing. But ordinary slacks and jeans that fit comfortably shouldn't be a problem for anybody.

Kindred Spirit said...

As I periodically say to my children, "Catholic does not equal stupid nor does it equal ugly or frumpy." In other words, Catholic women who are not nuns or sisters can, may, and should choose to be both educated and attractive. Since when has the Church taught otherwise? Modesty is a virtue and does not preclude--how could it ever?--physical beauty; nor does it preclude intellectual development. After all, Pope Pius XII himself married the Prince of Monaco to Grace Kelly, if I recall correctly; and Grace never dressed in Amish-like garb except in the movies. Great post, Erin!

Anonymous said...

The lines about "control" are interesting. I suggest that if a man feels so strongly about it, he should only marry a woman who agrees with him already. But if a man converts later in marriage is it really so awful if he explains his position to his wife and asks her to "submit" and change her wardrobe? Is if any of our business what the two of them decide?

David said...

Oh, my - I couldn't help but chuckle when the very first commenter, JMB, mentioned Franciscan University. Two close friends of mine, both women, graduated from that college recently, and they often complain about the social pressure they faced to wear skirts and high heels. It seems they were made to feel less womanly for choosing to wear jeans. Though I do, personally, find women who tastefully wear skirts and high heels attractive and feminine, it is also true that a woman can express her femininity in a variety of ways. Jeans do not prove a woman is unfeminine. Moreover, I do not think the pressure my friends faced was fair or appropriate. It sounds like it bordered on coercion. My heart goes out to them - though it seems their preferences in clothing have not been too much affected. ;-)

As for the skirt-as-modesty concept itself, it is absurd. For example, just the other day, a male friend of mine whispered a lewd comment to me about a nearby woman who was wearing a skirt. If I recall correctly, the skirt stopped between two and three inches above the knee. I considered it fairly modest. Now, were she walking in the opposite direction wearing tight-fitting jeans, he'd likely have made a similarly objectifying remark. The problem really is not the clothing, as Red Cardigan points out; the problem has to do with the content of the heart. If I am free from lust, even the sight of a nude woman will not occasion unchastity within me; in that case, I can simply appreciate her beauty and move on. Skirts have nothing to do with my virtue.

Anonymous said...

What troubles me about women wearing pants is something hardly mentioned: there is a seam in pants that skirts don't have that causes a women's backside and thighs to be outlined (assuming one is not wearing a tight or short skirt). Men are visual by nature. How can it not be sinful to present so intimate a view to all men? Even loose pants are more revealing than skirts due to this seam.

helgothjb said...

Ok, for this man, the skirt thing is not a modesty issue, but a respect issue. A man should dress like a gentleman and a lady like a lady. Men should wear a coat and tie when doing business out of respect for the others with whom they are doing business. They should not wear shorts unless they are going to the beach or out to exercise. Women should dress for their encounters with other people, just as they should also dress if they are conducting business. Wearing jeans is not so much about modesty as it is about respect for yourself and those around you. In our culture, we have really dropped the ball in this area, just go to the grocery store and see how many are there with flip-flops and sweat suits! Dress with dignity! (Oh, and please, no pant suits for ladies. They just scream, women have to be more like men if they are going to get anywhere in this world.) Life is not that casual, our daily interactions have deep meaning and we should dress for them.

Anonymous said...

The only thing that bothers me about this kind of thing is the fact that Padre Pio used to refuse women wearing trousers to come to confession to him. When pressed about it He said, It is not me that refuses, it is The Lord.

So basically its either Padre Pio being very stupid or we in our time are being very stupid. Every honest Catholic should conclude with Padre Pio IM(not so)HO.


suburbanbanshee said...

Hardly mentioned in online discussions??? Hahahahahahaha.

The only thing women's pants reveal is a man's obsessiveness. Get thee into kilts, if it bothers you so.

Anonymous said...

JMB - I went to Franciscan and graduated in '08 and most girls on campus don't wear skirts. Most wear jeans or khakis, or whatever types of pants. Some wear skirts, and I'd say only about 1% wear skirts EVERY day.

No one ever tormented me for wearing jeans. I was in a household while I was there of about 40 girls. Only one girl in our household wore skirts consistently, and she probably felt more pressure to wear pants than anyone felt to wear skirts.

It's very sad that someone would be afraid to go to such a great school based on such false information. I hope that she's able to check it out for herself.

Jeanne said...

Anonymous, The VERY SAME SEAM can also be found in men's pants.

Also, many dresses can reveal more of your shape and curve than a lot of pants.

Also, who cares? Seriously, who cares? So what if pants show a bit more shape? The man out there who has issues with seeing a hint of someone's butt has real problems. He should look inside himself to resolve those problems, not try to cover up every woman on earth in potato sacks.

Also, try playing soccer in a dress. Don't see it happening. I also don't see me giving up soccer anytime soon.

Honestly, people have made an issue out of something that is SO TOTALLY NOT an issue.

JMB said...

I'm sure Franciscan is a wonderful school and my friend is sad that her daughter doesn't want to attend it. Some schools aren't a good fit for some people.

LarryD said...

Erin - I've linked to this post. I'm sure you can only imagine my take on this whole fashion issue.

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks for the link, Larry!

Er...and Mark.

And New Advent.

And anybody else who linked but I haven't figured out who you are yet, what with the doubling or tripling of my usual hit count since yesterday.


freddy said...

helgothjb said:

"Men should wear a coat and tie when doing business out of respect for the others with whom they are doing business. They should not wear shorts unless they are going to the beach or out to exercise. Women should dress for their encounters with other people, just as they should also dress if they are conducting business."

So you really think that my plumber and electrician should wear a coat a tie to my house? And my poor mailman should sweat it out in 95 degree heat in long pants, too?

Didn't think so.

My "encounters with other people" in addition to the plumber and electrician, are likely to include the doctor, dentist, various nurses and hygenists, pharmacist, librarian, the occasional museum docent or zookeeper, and various clerks. All of whom, in my part of the USA, wear pants.

So it seems that you're either saying that you agree with the general premise of Erin and Simcha, or that you think we women should do some sort of "lady of the manor" thing for all those poor working class stiffs who live but to serve us, and bring a little joy into their hum-drum lives. (?)

Yep, that's what I thought.

John Thayer Jensen said...


In the interests of full disclosure, I hereby state that I am (a) male, and (b) aged (68). Why either of these should be relevant to the issue at hand is a mystery to me, but some persons will want to know these facts :-)

I am in basic agreement with @helgothjb - not sure I would call it 'respect' but it seems to me that there are standards of proper dress, that the standards have not actually changed, but that what has happened is that we have decided to tolerate ignoring the standards.

Specifically regarding dresses, I agree that the standard for women's clothing is moving away from dresses and skirts to trousers. I suggest that the place you can see the standard still existing is in something like a royal audience. I think that most women, invited to meet the Queen, would either wear a dress or blouse and skirt - or would be viewed by others there as a bit 'daring.'

I don't think it's a question of modesty, nor even of level of formality. My wife prefers trousers, but when she goes to Mass she wears a skirt. I much appreciate it.

I think that the move to trousers for women is part of the de-sexing of our culture since the beginning of the 20th Century. It is against human nature - therefore women instinctively wear different sorts of trousers than men - and a man would only wear a female-type pair of trousers as a very specifically sexual statement - emphatically so for a man wearing a dress or skirt.

It should seem a matter of great cultural importance to us that women wearing men's clothing is now almost unexceptional - but not (yet) the other way 'round.


Anonymous said...

Do people really believe that jeans are considered sloppy and unfashionable? Maybe saggy jeans are, but one needs only glance at the latest Talbots catalog--long the epitome of /upper-to-middle-class/professional women's garb--to see denim has become daytime/business/and formal wear. I love denim; it's the classic American fabric, so this does not upset me. But really, people, if Ralph Lauren--who is NOT Lady Gaga--can show up in jeans and a tuxedo jacket to the Met Ball in NYC, jeans aren't really going to shock anyone as declasse. You may not like them. You may not prefer them. But they are fashionably acceptable.
-Anonymous Denim Lover

Anonymous said...

Toga, toga, togaah.

John Thayer Jensen said...


Toga, toga, togaah

Yes, good point. But mayn't it be that progress has been made in distinguishing male from female clothing in 2,000 years of Christianity?

And the other @Anonymous:

You are confusing fashion with what is decent. Decent dress does not include wearing jeans, except for the sort of work that makes them appropriate. I would say that if Ralph Lauren wears jeans and dinner jacket, that is an additional argument against their acceptance.


just evelyn said...

FWIW, I find myself most comfortable in casual dresses or skirts, so that's what I wear nost of the time. And I most certainly find that people treat me with more respect and deference when I am in a dress than when I go out in pants! Maybe they shouldn't, but that's what happens, and that's what I prefer.

I do think it's stupid to try to blame one's lust on a pair of chinos. Puh-lease.

Charlotte said...

If some homeschoolers at a homeschooling conference pulled me aside to actually tell me that they didn't like what I was wearing, I'd have a few "choice" words back in response.

Women like that need to get a life!

Anonymous said...

Why people who don't see the immodest aspect of pants must act so superior to those who do see it, and express it, is beyond me. I understand that you are a product of your culture, but I think it's form of historicism to completely disregard those who see that women appear less feminine And/or immodest in certain apparel.
Do the past several millennia of women's dress have no bearing on the argument?
Besides that, wearing skirts exclusively does not equal frump.

Red Cardigan said...

Well, partly, anonymous at 11:23, it's because those of us who don't think pants are immodest don't agree that we somehow just fail to see and understand what the "sola skirtura" crowd somehow can see--we say pants aren't automatically immodest, any more than skirts are automatically modest. A demure pastel pantsuit is much more modest than a leather miniskirt, after all.

And if you're going to bring up the past several millenia of women's dress, I'm afraid you're going to need corsets, multiple petticoats, and gloves, at a bare minimum. Remember that modern undergarments were considered scandalously immodest when they first appeared.

Anonymous said...

Sola Skirtura? As if I even considered a miniskirt or corsets in an argument revolving around Christian dress.
Anyway, I would rather go back to gloves as a standard of modesty than be subjected to exposed backsides day after day. By the way, I personally do not see all pants as being immodest. They can be done right, but sadly most often aren't.

just Evelyn said...

Sola Skirtura! I love it!

I converted from Evangelical Protestantism with fundie leanings, and I was so surprised to find that the debate continues on this side of the Tiber :-O

As a Catholic, I cut my hair and abandoned all long denim so that I could have my comfy skirts without looking like a pentecostal :) And thank you, God, for Lands' End, where I can actually buy pants that go up to my waist when I need them!

Modesty goes far beyond the skirt/pants debate. I also loathe the current trend of layering skin-tight tshirts and tanks. They're just gross. I am constitutionally frumpy, alas, and I cannot wrap my brain around some of these fashions that can't be comfortable, let alone attractive or modest.

thefederalist said...

Unfortunately, the whole pants/skirts issue is NOT exactly one of modesty, although almost all of the most outspoken proponents on either side of the debate only understand it in those terms. The real issue, supported in Scripture and in common sense, is that men should dress like men and women should dress like women. What that means in practical terms, as with modesty, is very much a cultural thing.

@one of the anonymous: Women in ancient Rome would never wear a toga. My eye, and probably yours as well, can't see much difference between what they did wear and the toga, but the ancient Romans could tell the difference, which helps to emphasize my point: each of us should dress (modestly) in his society in such a way as to let everyone else know readily that one is male or female.

If it is possible to discern from the cut of slacks or jeans that no real man would ever wear them, then that would probably be acceptable (acceptable from the standpoint of one who agrees that it is important to dress 'appropriately' for one's sex). A word of warning however: as an American man of over 50 years age now, I think it likely that most men would not be able to discern from the cut of jeans alone that the woman is wearing something that a man would never wear. Yeah, I know that all women could tell the difference, so it would be obvious to you that there is no problem here. It would not be obvious to men.

I think it likely that the slacks part of a well-made pantsuit is discernable to most men as something they would never wear. Probably other kinds of slacks as well. Probably not jeans, though.

helgothjb said...

Some have made this into a moral issue, which in most cases it is not. It is however, a matter of etiquette and etiquette is how we show respect for others and the various occasions of our life. In the 60's (actually, probably back in the late 40's - but I am not that old, so I have no 1st hand knowledge) there was a rebellion against 'the establishment'. That included all people and institutions that had or seemed to have authority and etiquette was included. Since then, we wear shorts and flip flops to Mass, to the White House, to classes and seminars, out to dinner, etc. We have not replaced the rules of etiquette with others, but have ignored many of them all together. We have moved from the noble and cultured to the casual and inappropriate. I think this is also the reason many priests do not wear clerics or a habit when they are 'off campus', they think it is to formal. The reason that many churches in Rome do not let you come in wearing shorts has little to do with modesty - at least not in the strict since most on this blog seem to be using it - but, rather with etiquette. It is simply rude to walk into the home of the King of Kings looking as though you have a laissez faire attitude about the whole thing. The same can be said for other numerous occasions. When I went to Stubie (class of 1998) I often wore a tie to class. I was not the only one, but, there were not many of us. Many girls wore skirts, some, frankly, continued to look like slobs. What we are after here is the feminine etiquette, the eloquence of a lady, not a frayed denim skirt or the Amish look. We need a return to etiquette and that is what the dress / skirt thing is all about. As for the men, please, at least give up wearing t-shirts with printed material on them.

thefederalist said...

I'm not so sure this isn't a moral issue (That's non-polemicalspeak for "I'm quite sure it is a moral issue"). God calls it an abomination for men to wear women's clothing and for women to wear men's clothing. It just doesn't read to me the same as those dietary proscriptions that went into metaphor/prefigurement status with the Council of Jerusalem.

Martha said...

Ok, can we leave Padre Pio out of this, please? You can be a saint and not be right about everything. Canonization is NOT a stamp that everything you did or said was from God. In fact, St. Catherine of Siena had it on the Virgin Mary's personal authority that Mary was NOT immaculately conceived. Mary told her this. At least, that's what St. Catherine thought. And yet, St. Catherine is obviously still a saint, even though she got that private revelation wrong. Padre Pio's thinking that God told him women couldn't wear pants does not actually mean God told him that. It proves nothing. Thank you, I feel better now.

Martha said...

Sorry, the Padre Pio thing was directed at Anonymous above at 11:50.

John Thayer Jensen said...


Thank you for this!!

It is not a question of modesty that we are talking about. It is a question of sexuality. Both trousers and skirts can be either modest or immodest. And - by the way - modesty is not 'specially a matter of sex. In many cases, I suppose, personalised licence plates are examples of immodesty.

And in response to the anonymous from Anchorage, 'sexuality' isn't what I suppose you mean - being interested in sexual intercourse. It means that men are men and women are women. It is unquestionably the case that trousers-for-women is aimed at blurring the distinction. It is certainly also the case that people in general won't put up with that so that, in general, women choose trousers that look different - and that normal men would not wear.

You may throw nature out the window with a pitchfork, but it will come back in through the door.


Nârwen said...

>You may throw nature out the >window with a pitchfork, but it >will come back in through the >door.
Not if you lock the door. And triple-bolt the door. And shoot it if it breaks down the door.

It's just that most people don't have the inclination or resources to pursue the latter course in most areas.

Lauretta said...

From a woman who has worn jeans most of my life, this is my position. Pants vs dress is not really a modesty issue, it is more one of taste, and cultural influence. I know a young man who was more drawn physically to his fiance when she wore skirts than when she wore jeans--and her skirts were not immodest.

Personnally I FEEL more feminine when I am wearing long, full skirts but I know that is just me and don't expect everyone else to have the same position. I do have some concern that the wearing of pants may have begun from those who were trying to deny the difference of the sexes. If that is true, I would probably promote the wearing of dresses/skirts to counteract that agenda.

Brenda said...

Can anyone out there define what the Church says we are to agree upon to be Catholic? I believe it's a concise list of five to seven items. At the moment, my brain is so consumed with words like "pants," "mantillas," "homeschooling," and "ecological breastfeeding," that I can't think straight. Going too far to the left or right of the boat, you end up drowning in the ocean. It smells like heresy. I wonder how often the judgmental skirts-only proponents make it to Confession to confess the sin of rash judgment? Charity is the greatest virtue. Judgment thinly veiled as "modesty" is NOT a virtue. I'm off to put on some pants.