Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The clothes don't make the man

This will be relatively brief, because I spent too much of my blogging time today reading (and occasionally participating in) the posts and comments here and here (and also here).

What is it about a discussion of whether or not it is modest and appropriate for Catholic women to wear pants that gets the Catholic Blogosphere riled up enough to post what is rapidly approaching 500 comments among a few blogs (and would probably be more, except that Simcha decided 300 were enough and closed hers)?

I could see 500 comments about really controversial topics, like whether Catholics can honestly ever vote for Democrats or whether Catholics can honestly ever vote for Republicans or whether Catholics can honestly ever vote for anybody but dq3 (doomed-quixotic-3rd party, for those who don't know the shorthand) candidates, or whether it's modest for unmarried people to watch Dancing with the Stars in mixed company, or at all, or if married people can watch it either, or things like that.

But pants? All this passion in order to instruct women that to be Realio Trulio Catholic Ladies of Unimpeachable Virtue they have to wear skirts or dresses all the time, and should shun trousers as being inherently male attire unfit for a lady?

Did I wake up in 1924, or something?

We can agree that some women wear too-tight slacks that are too revealing. We can agree that it's bad for men generally if a young woman shows up for Mass (or anywhere else, for that matter) in a hot pink "Juicy Couture" sweatsuit that looks like it has been painted on her and betrays the exact denominations of the coins she's carrying in her back pocket (though I still don't think this is a masculine outfit). What we can't agree on is that the 83-year-old widow in the next pew is being anything other than modest, appropriately-dressed, and charmingly feminine in her lilac crepe pantsuit with the soft, draping pants and the long front-pleated jacket with the ivory lace collar and the pearl buttons, which she has paired with ivory pumps and a coordinating ivory handbag with lilac trim. That is emphatically not menswear, and the fact that the suit includes pants instead of a skirt does not change it into menswear in the least.

To those who disagree, I say: gentlemen, I understand where some of you may be coming from. You read accounts of the past, and you long for a golden age of undisturbed male society, a time when men were Real Men and women were Real Women--that is, when the feminine half of society worshiped the ground that the masculine half walked on, and were only too ready to seek the wisdom and guidance of their husbands on everything from household management to suitable clothing to--well, all women knew about in this mythic age were household matters and shopping, so that would have been it. You long for those days when women didn't vote because they trusted their husbands implicitly to Run Things, and when they didn't form opinions of their own because their job was to convince everyone else how right their own husbands were about everything imaginable. But somewhere along the way, men stopped wearing smoking jackets, women started wearing pants, and everything went to blazes in a hand-basket (although, being male, you don't know the difference between a hand-basket and a bottom-of-the stairs clutter-catcher, and shouldn't be expected to, anyway).

The problem is, that golden age never actually existed. Read a little Chaucer and see what I mean, if you like. Women are neither dolls nor robots, and there's nothing particularly masculine about wishing we were either.

A real man enjoys the company of intelligent, thoughtful women--and he doesn't even mind if she wears, on occasion, modest and perfectly appropriate trousers. There is nothing at all bothersome to him about the reality that she doesn't idealize him or place him on a pedestal--or expect him to do so in regard to her; he's quite happy to be loved for himself, faults and all, and to love her for herself, faults and all. The clothes don't make the man so much as the capacity for real love does.


Barbara C. said...

What I find most interesting is that most of the 300 comments on Simcha's post were supportive of her position. Although, you did have Margaret who kept popping up with her "all women should dress like Mary" and "women should only wear pants if they are under a skirt" arguments.

Red Cardigan said...

I noticed that too, Barbara, and found it hopeful--until I visited Mark Shea's site and noticed that men who disagreed apparently started coming out of the woodwork at some point. Perhaps they didn't bother arguing with Simcha because she's female...

LarryD said...

Erin - I kinda wished I smoked, just so that I could wear a smoking jacket...

Oh - here's your badge. You've earned it!

Anonymous said...

I am having flashbacks to my college days with all these blog posts! I went to Christendom College (and had an overall great experience there, I might add) but little controversies like these popped up fairly regularly there. In fact, I'm pretty sure I personally know a couple of the people leaving sola skirtura comments (oh man, what a great phrase! If only I'd come up with it myself!).

The dress code at college seemed to get just a little bit stricter every year. Every time I came back in the fall, there would be a couple more outfits I couldn't use on campus anymore. And we were always told that this was to help the guys. Because, guys are so visual and everything. Seriously, though, you'd have been hard pressed to find more than maybe one or two girls on campus wearing anything immodest. By the end of my four years, I was pretty steamed about the topic.

And now this same topic came up on a Catholic homeschooling email list that I'm on, too! I guess I can't escape it. But reading here and reading Simcha's blog, at least I can have a good laugh about it!

--Elizabeth B.

Anonymous said...

Haaaahaaa. When the folks start talking about college days, I just have to laugh. Therein lies the argument. Trying to keep up with the Jones. I went to Anchorage Community College several years and University of Wyoming for a few more. We would have laughed this argument right off the web had it been a prevalent theme at the time. Don't dis me at being 'grungy'. I did earn my doctorate, as well as many fellow students went onto solid community career roles in our communities.

Although, I do have to say my mother looked sharp in her Air Force dress blues. I still am using her khaki woolen trousers for skiing. And, no doubt my immigrant memere (French grandmother) presented a modest (and OSHA-safe, had there been one in the early 1900's) appearance while working in the woolen mills.

I think Red, hit the issue on the head with her initial post. Clothing for women can still be modest and acceptably so to oneself, if it is modest, with no intent on flamboyant provocation, nor drawing attention to one's self, if attending a function where the intent is respect and worship of an occasion greater than that of one's self.

The dressing for control of someone else's opinion puts one at the slippery slope of attempting manipulation, and nowhere in the Bible is there specificity of customs of dress. Furthermore, 2010 is not the end-all, be-all of the 'progress' of fashion. Fashion is a slave to faddism. What is acceptable today as generally accepted garb is different than another time. Whose to say that unisex tunics are not the fashion of the future? Remember all the talk of paper disposable clothing in the 60's?

When I worked as a nurse's aide for several years, using my artist background, while bathing the elderly without observing blatant evidence of sexuality, I could imagine the strong bony facial features of my patients as a male or female. It's funny, sometimes, how the absence of hair and just a wise old look in a pale toothless face puts everyone at a similar level of appearance.

JMB said...

I live close to Orthodox Jews and it kind of amuses (and confuses) me that there are factions of Catholics who believe that women should dress like Orthodox Jewish women. What's the next thing - shaving our heads and wearing wigs? It's kind of sad to see women and children walking around in wigs, hats, long sleeves, black tights and long skirts when it's 98 degrees outside. But they have no choice- their religion dictates that they follow these customs because they have no Eucharist, or sacraments. We do.

Yes, there are people out there who are clueless when it comes to proper attire. I have one living in my house! Just about every school morning I have to send her back to her room to find something that matches, or at least doesn't clash. It's training I suppose, but she doesn't naturally have any fashion sense. A lot of people are like this. It's certainly not a moral matter.

Anonymous said...

Re: the poor delusional Margaret in Simcha's combox, someone extremely clever made the accusation that "Baron", in Shea's combox, was Margaret's husband. (Oh, wait, that was me, ha!) I think I'm spot-on, and more proof that there really aren't a lot of people who disagree with Simcha or agree with Margaret, but it's the Margarets of the world who have caught up their Catholic identity so closely with how they think they look to the world, that they need to constantly and relentlessly defend it at all costs (not loudly, as that wouldn't be demure, and therefore feminine, enough)

Someone called her on the carpet for pretty much seeing herself as a colorized saccherine version of a holy card - not in those words, but basically implied that she can't understand that she won't be this under-50 idealized version of a stylized Mary; that some day she'll be a broken-down old fart in Depends and can't swish around in Victorian/prairie era ankle skirts (and don't kid yourself, once you give in to sola skirtura thing, it's never elegant knee-length pencil skirts; it's Little House on the Prairie ankle length dirndles....shudder), then her self-image will be damaged enough to somehow feel less feminine. And by association, less Catholic. I'd bet on it. It was assumed she was young; I completely agree.

Anonymous said...

I think you're being a little harsh, Erin. Or painting with too broad a brush, or something. Not every man who happens to think pants are immodest also necessarily thinks they women shouldn't read, study, talk, work outside the home, etc. I'm not on that camp myself, but am I not allowed to have an opinion just because I'm not a woman? Seems kinda feminist, like when the pro-abortion gals tell me their body is their business only.

Red Cardigan said...

Anonymous, do you realize that you're comparing the wearing of a pair of slacks by a woman with the killing of her baby by a woman? That's pretty insulting.

Pants are not immodest on women. If they were, why can women wear slacks when visiting St. Peter's Basilica?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Should all men dress like Joseph? From what little we know, he didn't wear pants.

I recently received an email from the Good Clean Funnies List, in which Adam asks God, "Why did you make this woman so soft and rounded?" The answer was "So you could love her." And "Why did you make her with such long beautiful hair?" Again, the answer "So you could love her." Then Adam asked "But why did you make her so stupid? Surely that wasn't so I could love her?" Obviously what follows would be God's punch line"

"Uh, no Adam, I did that so she could love you." Perhaps God was anticipating debates about the propriety of women wearing pants, and the way men would get all wrapped up in such a silly question.

(Apologies to the ladies, it was not God who characterized any of you as stupid.)

Nârwen said...

Copied from my other comment...

"In my work, I deal with books from 19th century England most of the day, particularly ones by or related to the to-be-Blessed John Henry Newman . Among other things I have come across letters of his dealing with the problem of trying to keep the confessionals from becoming flea-infested and how to cope with swarms of children coming in for religious instruction at 7 pm, because that's when they got off work at the factories.
There's nothing like actually getting into a period in history in detail to rip away romantic delusions about it. "

Anonymous said...

Grrrrl power!!! Shut up men, you don't get an opinion on this one!

priest's wife said...

I know Margaret and 'Baron' personally- went to their wedding- his mom (God rest her soul) is my first daughter's Godmom- now we live on opposite ends of the US- nice people- but very influenced by......hmm....I don't know....I don't want to give Traditionalists a bad name....in any case- I wear pants- I will use the guidelines set out at St Peter's

David said...

In response to Anonymous, Erin wrote above, "Pants are not immodest on women. If they were, why can women wear slacks when visiting St. Peter's Basilica?"

Erin, the point this Anonymous fellow was making is not that pants are immodest. He explicitly stated that he does NOT belong to "that camp." His point, rather, was that a man can express an opinion on pants without being the sort of man who wants to control women. And this is entirely true.

If you say pants are immodest, you are misconstrued as controlling. If you tell a pro-abortion woman that abortion is wrong, she will say you are controlling - if you are a man, anyway. This is how the two are alike.

The seventh paragraph of this article ("To those who disagree...") is the place where you, Erin, characterize as control freaks those men who simply express the view that pants are not modest.

It is hard not to draw the conclusion that both groups of people are trying to silence men.
As a man, I have every right to take exception to this treatment, whether it is me whom you are trying to silence or one of my brothers.

If you believe there is something intrinsically controlling about suggesting pants are immodest, then I think you should explain why this is true. Otherwise, please stop this smear campaign designed to shame and humiliate men into silence - because that, Erin, is controlling.

David said...

What I have seen from the pro-pants people is this: "I disagree with you strongly. That must mean I can treat you like complete garbage! Hooray! This is going to be fun! Come on, everybody! Let's get together and have some fun demeaning and misrepresenting our brothers and sisters in Christ!"

What I have seen of the Catholic Church over the last seven days has been mobs and pitchforks pursuing imaginary control freak men - when the real victims were men (and some women) who committed the crime of having an opinion the mob didn't like. Hey, that's called a "thought crime", innit?

OH, I GET IT! WE'RE PLAYING DIFFERENT CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK 1984! NOW I GET IT! The pants people are the thought police, and everyone else is someone trying to slip out of the system! Oh, gosh, and I thought we were all serious. My mistake. Sorry.

David said...

I mean, are your egos really so fragile that when someone dares to express an opinion, blatantly false and silly though it may be, that you feel controlled? How weak!

Are you really so blind that you cannot see that construing said person as a control freak merely for stating an opinion is, in itself, an effort to control?

The way I saw many people treated here and on several other blogs was shameless. I think an apology ought to be rendered to those were defamed and libelled throughout the debate. It is not a crime to express an opinion. Unless, of course, you would like to establish a totalitarian state!

David said...

And for the record, I don't give a flying hoot whether women wear pants or not. I don't think pants are innately immodest. I also believe that view is absurd. But there is never an excuse to treat a fellow human being like dirt, no matter how absurd his or her views may be. Never. When I had the nerve to suggest to Mark Shea he was treating people uncharitably - Heaven forbid - he flew into a rage and deliberately misrepresented me as a control freak. You have no idea how infuriating it is to have you views deliberately twisted for public humiliation, whether it's on the Internet or off - and to know that it's not just secularists who are doing it, but your brothers and sisters in Christ. And if you don't think that's a big deal, then I sincerely hope it happens to you. I hope that one day you try to express an opinion, that your opinion is distorted completely, and that you are flogged roundly by fellow Catholics for an opinion you do not actually hold. Then maybe you won't be so flippant about the whole matter.

David said...

Please forgive me for venting the way I have. The folks here have been relatively charitable. My gripes have to do with people elsewhere. They have been downright abusive. It makes me angry to be treated that way, but I apologize for directing my anger here.

Red Cardigan said...

Hey, David. I was going to respond to your earlier post of this evening, but then I saw all these others, so maybe it would be better to just say this: I like men. Really, I do. My best friend is one. ;) Also the only college friend I still communicate with regularly is male. (And I owe him an email, I just remembered.) And lots of other people I like and admire.

I like the way that men think, and enjoy conversations with them. In fact, when I'm with women who are really into "girl stuff" like scrapbooking or crafts or the domestic arts, I feel a little left out of things, because I'm not good at any of that stuff. I'd rather watch a good action movie or sci-fi one with my husband than a sappy movie--though we both appreciate a well done rom-com provided its morals aren't too screamingly hideous for us to enjoy the film overall.

I could go on, but you get it. That's why when I hear that some man has written a newsletter telling women that their pants--no, he said their *damned* pants--are immodest, I get a little annoyed. I expect better from men than to impute immodesty to practically every woman in America for a clothing option that's been around for 80 years, give or take.

This is getting long, so I'll continue below:

Red Cardigan said...


One of the things I like about men is their ability to be logical about things. But in this debate, that's not a feature--because logically, if pants are immodest, then women who wear them are objectively guilty of immodesty (even if they aren't personally culpable because they haven't read the enlightened newsletter yet). So this so-called opinion about pants being immodest isn't really a harmless little idea--it's a fast train to Guiltville for real women out there who are susceptible to such things. I may not be one of those women myself, but I know plenty of them, and I've seen what happens when a woman cracks under the strain of trying to live according to the laws of a shadow-Magisterium that tells them they're risking Hell for wearing sweatpants in a snowstorm.

I would never try to speak for Mark, but for me, here's the thing: I like men, as I said. I think they're capable of being really great in lots of ways about lots of things. And I think they're way too good in general to want to manipulate and control the emotions and the guilt of what used to be called (and in some ways still really is) "the weaker sex" over such trivial matters. In the year 2010 in America it simply isn't immodest for a woman to dress in a pair of ordinary slacks--and the man who draws a following of other men and their wives by insisting that it really *is* and that both the man's true headship of the family and the woman's eternal soul are at stake is behaving in a very unmanly way, in my way of looking at things.

It would, of course, be different if pants really were objectively immodest and thus immoral. But if they were, I think the Church would find it incumbent upon herself to teach us so, the way she teaches us that abortion and contraception and torture are immoral. Certainly she would not permit female travelers to enter St. Peter's Basilica clothed in an objectively immodest garment--yet she does permit women in slacks to enter.

I think a Catholic man does a truly noble and masculine thing when he realizes how prone to fads and trends women are. Yes, women might be prone to fashion trends, and forget to check a garment for its modesty (I've discovered only after wearing a shirt that it really is cut too low, for instance, and needs adjustment to be worn properly). But they are also prone to the fads and trends that tell them that the real, true, guaranteed path to holiness lies in wearing skirts, covering the head at Mass, praying the whole twenty-decade rosary daily, or any one of a number of other things that, while possibly beneficial if adopted voluntarily by individuals, become shackles of oppression when imposed by popular Catholic trend-setters upon the credible and suggestible.

The man who protects his wife from such things is a priceless gem, and a wise man as well.

David said...


Thank you for responding so kindly and calmly to my posts when I myself had lost my cool. I was pretty upset about the way I was treated on Mark Shea's blog and, like I said, I cracked a little bit here. So I really apologize for that. It is nice, for once, to have received mercy rather than sarcasm or insult. Thank you.

Maybe the heart of the disagreement, at least for me, is this: I haven't been able to understand why on earth anyone should care what some guy thinks about pants. See, I just dismissed his views without a second thought! Hahaha, that's how important they were to me. To me, all the anger (at least on Shea's blog), all the emotion, all the commotion, was an overreaction. To me it made about as much sense as screaming at a fig tree. But then maybe I simply don't understand why this issue could be so maddening because I am not, after all, a woman, and am not accustomed to living life from that point of view. I can see how, like you said, some women would take such advice to heart and then drive themselves crazy trying to meet an irrational and certainly very difficult standard. Inevitably they would find the real target for their anger: the Church, or at least what they believe is the Church, and then maybe some day a woman would fly off the handle unexpectedly when she hears a priest mention that Holy Mother Church has a special love and reverence for women. So I can understand better what this is all about.

Still, I believe that what has really been lacking in this debate, particularly on Mark Shea's blog and perhaps elsewhere, is charity. There was a real lack of mutual respect and understanding over there. If you didn't toe the party line - if you weren't a complete sarcastic jerk to the sola skirtura crowd - well, you must have been a controlling misogynist. I was infuriated to have been branded as such myself, when as a matter of fact I have a deep love and respect for women, having known a few myself (some really wonderful ones at that - I'd love to talk about it more). There's nothing like trying to fend off a judgment you didn't deserve in the first place. I think a hatred for women was seen where a simple lack of understanding (of the way this issue can bother some women) was actually in play. Or an honest difference of opinion. Even if someone believes something you feel is harmful, in the end, he or she does have the right to entertain that opinion - that is guaranteed by God and country. All we can really do is deliver our arguments, explain the damage being done, even accuse the individual in question of an obstinate refusal to consider the evidence and a disregard for the influence they may be exerting on some women - but if that doesn't work, well, it doesn't work. Maybe it's time to write to the Bishops. My point is at no point ever are we justified in demeaning or otherwise abusing our opponents, but many people seemed to feel the sola skirtura position was so laughable that they were justified in demeaning and abusing those who supported it.

Anyway, we have all spent over a week making an awful issue out of a complete non-issue. I'm going to let it go now, wish you all the best, and pray a Rosary for the unity of our Church! Lol!

Tony said...

To those who disagree, I say: gentlemen, I understand where some of you may be coming from. You read accounts of the past, and you long for a golden age of undisturbed male society,...

Oooh... Such deliciously catty snark! I can almost hear the mrrrrrOOOOWWWWWRRRR!!! all the way over here.

This is the third post I've read today regarding some men (who I'm assuming you aren't married to) commenting on their preferred style of dress amongst their womenfolk (oops... I let a "posessive" slip in there).

My big question is: "Why do you find threatening some random men's opinions regarding the style of dress they find modest/appropriate/feminine?"

I prefer to see women in dresses with sleeves and covered shoulders that fall below the knee. I like dresses with reasonable collars so you're not tempted to flip coins into her cleavage. I find that women who dress like that don't have a feminist streak that takes offense at any off handed comment regarding women's clothing and turns it into a ploy to repeal women's suffrage.

Frankly if a random woman chose to comment on what she thought was appropriate menswear, I wouldn't worry about it. If I agreed, cool. If I didn't... Well, our rich diversity is what makes us interesting.

Oh, and while you reminded us of St. Paul's exhortation to love our wives, is seems you conveniently left out the "offensive" section. ;)