Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Reasonable discussion of modesty

Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington has an interesting blog. While I don't always find myself in total agreement with the good monsignor, his posts make me think, and sometimes bring a lot of clarity to issues Catholics discuss.

One such issue is the perpetual discussion of modesty as a Catholic principle. Msgr. Pope has an interesting post on that matter, titled Modesty and Men:
  1. Tight and tiny swimwear for men seems just as inappropriate for men as for women. There is simply no good reason to wear tiny speedo suits outside of certain very limited swim-racing situations. The purpose is obviously to arouse sexual interest and to display what ought not be displayed. Further, I will say, most men look just plain silly wearing such swimwear. Larger “boxer-shorts” style bathing suits seem far more appropriate.
  2. Going shirtless should be limited. I am not aware that women are all that tempted by shirtless men, even those who are slender and muscular. But if the women on this blog tell us men that it is at times problematic then we ought to stop. A further concern about going shirtless other than in beach settings and limited sports settings is that it just seems a bit rude and far too casual. Our society has become so casual about everything. Men walking through city parks without shirts just seems too informal and frankly I don’t care for it. Such behavior was not commonly accepted in this country prior to the 1960s. Find a cool and comfortable shirt men and wear it. It does not belong tied around your waist. Neither should your t-shirt be pulled up over the back of your head to expose your belly and chest. It’s just ugly, inelegant and far too casual for public parks. Save it for the back yard or the beach.
  3. Saggy drawers have to go – no one cares to see your underwear. Please! Pull your pants up. This dumb trend that emerged from gansta culture is thankfully on the wane but it isn’t disappearing fast enough.
  4. Tight fitting jeans and open shirts are retro and wrong. Back in the 1970s we went through a lot of dopey stuff where men’s fashions started to take on rather feminine notions. The disco era brought this to its high point. It was an era of extremely tight jeans. Men started unbuttoning their shirts two and three buttons down. In those days hairy chests were in and an exposed hairy chest with gold necklaces was not uncommon. Jeans were worn low and large belt buckles to draw the look below the belt were being worn. Boots were also often worn. It was all silly and stupid looking: Men getting dolled up. The purpose was to strut your stuff. Men trying to sexualize themselves. I don’t really remember what the women thought at that time. Were they attracted by this? That seems to have been the purpose and if it was meant to tempt women, it was wrong. Every now and then these retro fashions try to make a come back. Bottom line is that men should dress modestly in loose fitting comfortable clothing. Shirts should be buttoned. Large belt buckles or things to draw attention to the waist are inappropriate and can be sinful.
Msgr. Pope offers some more valuable thoughts; particularly, to me, the admission that since men are more visual the burden of modesty often seems to fall on women--but that this does not mean that women have some kind of obligation to be invisible. Msgr. Pope reminds men that custody of the eyes is their job, and that while a good Catholic woman will do what she can to make that job easier, she shouldn't have to feel as though a head-to-foot covering is her only modest option.

I think that often times these conversations are derailed by a lack of what Msgr. Pope calls for: reasonableness. A man may reasonably ask that women not wear tight-fitting, revealing, skimpy clothes so that he can battle the impulses he might have toward illicit or lustful thoughts--but a woman may also reasonably point out that garments which show her elbows or her knees are not necessarily immodest. A man may reasonably object to skinny jeans on women; a woman may reasonably point out that looser-fitting slacks have become such a customary item of female attire that the proposition "slacks are immodest on a woman" is no longer really tenable.

Catholic men and women really should consider each other's immortal souls, and how the choices they make--in dress, conversation, manner, etc.--impact those souls. A modestly-dressed woman may be quite immodestly flirtatious with men to whom she is not married, and if her argument is that she's merely being "feminine" and enjoying the male attention with no harm done, she may be ignoring the impact she's having on those men; a modestly-dressed man may tell all sorts of "off-color" jokes under the impression that these are acceptable in present-day culture, and ignore that he is leading others to sin by these sorts of stories.

The consideration of the souls of others, and how they may be affected by our choices, is a reasonable and prudent sort of consideration to make. We may not always choose rightly, and sometimes our actions may have effects we could never have considered, but we will be held accountable for those times or circumstances when we should have known better, or chose thoughtlessly or in spite of morality. Looking at the modesty debate through this lens makes the whole subject--what was that word, again? Oh, yes: reasonable.


Jeff Miller said...

I actually heard a homily on modesty last Sunday. I think the congregation was actually shocked to hear their mode of dress addressed.

Really quite a good homily on the subject except when the priest went a bit over-the-top and said "dressed like sluts"

Erin Manning said...

Jeff, I would have paid $$$ to hear a priest say "dressed like sluts" at Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday! :)

Hélène said...

I am so glad that a priest has finally brought up the topic of modesty in men. When I was in college the chaplain gave a homily at least twice a month on women's modesty, and yet not once in all four years did he address the subject of modesty in men.

One time I saw a man who was wearing shorts so short that his genitals were hanging out. It was repulsive rather than arousing. People need to keep in mind that there are cultural standards to be adhered to, and that modesty isn't simply to prevent lust, but to keep things that shouldn't be shown hidden.

Larry Denninger said...

I don't blog shirtless. Just thought you'd like to know that :-)

Lindsay said...

I agree with Helene. Sometimes immodest dress is simply vulgar even if one isn't tempted to sin. It still doesn't show proper respect for the body of the person or for those around. Modesty can be defined as:

1. freedom from conceit or vanity
2. propriety in speech, action, or dress

Standards for propriety go beyond lust. A man walking around in public shirtless or showing off his underwear doesn't tempt me to sexual sin, but I still find it offensive and rude.

eulogos said...

One thing the good father doesn't say is that a lot of fashions intended to draw the eyes below the waist of men are not aimed at women but at other men. Sometimes they aren't intended that way by the men who wear them because they are fashionable, but they were largely intended that way by the men who designed them and made them fashionable. Those sultry male models? Not gazing at you, ladies.

Susan Peterson

Jeannette said...

Which is also why most models look like prepubescent boys, I'd wager.

Charlotte said...

It's pretty much a given that when you see male models in the Kohls ads and department store ads, many of them are homosexuals. It always makes me sad when I look at those ads.

And I agree with Susan about how some men's fashions are directed at men.

Charlotte (WaltzingM) said...

One thing the good father doesn't say is that a lot of fashions intended to draw the eyes below the waist of men are not aimed at women but at other men.

Had never thought of that before. Now I want to go hand sew all of my husband's clothes!

Apostle to Suburbia said...

Oh absolutely! "Fashionable" men's fashions are designed for homosexuals and "metrosexuals," that is, vain heterosexual men who don't mind looking a bit effeminate. Yuck is right, no kidding.

John Thayer Jensen said...

It is interesting to me how the word 'modesty' has become restricted, in practice, almost exclusively to the sexual. At least that is the first thing that seems to occur to people when the word is mentioned.

Of course it extends to the whole business of "I want to be seen" - clothing to show off my money; cars; personalised licence plates; unnecessary insistence on honorifics ("Joe Bloggs, PhD" in your sig).

Ah, well, I am far from guiltless. But 'modesty' certainly includes more than the sexual.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

Reasonable... I like that word. There are people who indulge in censorship based on nothing more than "I don't like it." Defending individual choices from over-much interference opens the doors to some very... offensive choices. There should be some lines we can draw, which protect my right not to have things put up in my face in public that I have no interest in seeing, without taking serious novels off the shelves of public libraries. But it does seem sometimes that, as with counterfeit money, in a totally free market, the good drives out the bad.

I wonder... would this standard also apply to people who think the way to whip up opposition to abortion is to display blown up photos of bloody fetuses in public settings? Please don't respond that its "real." So are the genitals that most of us really don't want to be looking at.

chimakuni said...

Siarlys - photos of bloody babies (aborted) - has nothing to do with unreasonable attire - ...plain and simple. These innocent babies do not have a choice - the wearers of the clothes do.

Lookin' like a fool with your pants on the ground...

Siarlys Jenkins said...

chimakuni, you speak cutely, but you obviously missed the connection.

The reference to blown up photos of aborted fetuses was an afterthought, but a very relevant one.

There are those who argue that they have a "free speech" and "free expression" right to expose whatever they wish, or display photos of whatever they wish. How can one establish a reasonable standard of law, applicable to all, which will spare those of us who don't wish to see it, but will not impose onerous burdens of censorship which can be misused?

How about this: just as your right to swing your fist ends where my nose stops, a sovereign majority, acting through lawful government, may enact reasonable regulations to protect people from having to see in public what we really don't wish to see, no matter how much some exhibitionists may wish to show it to us?

OK, that applies to genitalia, midriffs, upper thighs... some of the grosser stuff Howard Stern likes to talk about... and it would equally well apply to displaying blown up photos of aborted fetuses.

Your final comment betrays your own sense of why YOU feel you SHOULD be able to impose THIS particular graphic image on others. But a consistent reasonable standard is a consistent reasonable standard. You remain free to look at your own choice of images in the privacy of your own home.

You might respond that you want to engage in an act of political persuasion, not an act of exhibitionism. One might say that those who dress immodestly advocate that everyone should be immodest. Reasonable limits are less about passing judgement on each other's motives, than in limiting the imposition of, e.g., Hugh Hefner's personal values on the entire community.

Apostle to Suburbia said...

Siralys, until you can agree that truth is not relative or defined by each person, you are not going to have anything persuasive to say on this issue.

chimakuni said...

Siralys - I do not speak "cutely" for I have not spoken, I have written.

I happen to be a post abortive mother of a baby that died from a saline abortion nearly 40 years ago the end of this month.

I approve of graphic photos - and trust me, graphic photos and freedom of speech have NOTHING what so ever to do with pants on the ground - although, perhaps if his pants had stayed up, I would not have been pregnant in the first place.

Save your rhetoric for someone else.

chimakuni said...

apologies to the blog owner if I have taken this off topic.

Erin Manning said...

No apologies necessary, chimakuni. Many prayers. God bless you.

Rebecca said...

It seems to me that as long as the Law views fetuses as non-persons, it would be inconsistent for the law to ban showing bloody fetuses. So it kind of seems to me that in a good society, with good laws, it should be against the law to have big displays of violent images. But in our society, where the violence is hushed up and blessed by the law, we need to show that it *is* violence. Likewise, in Nazi Germany, where ordinary folk really didn't understand what was going on in the concentration camps, if it had been possible I think it would have been good to have big posters showing the violence of the concentration camps. Evil has to be shown for what it is. In a good society, there would be no need for such displays.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Lee Ann, when did I say that truth is relative? I said that a reasonable legal standard should be generally applicable to all. If truth is relative, I should be able to put my fist through a brick wall, because I believe my fist is stronger than the brick. All I would have to show for it would be broken bones, and torn, bleeding flesh.

Since I agree with Rebecca that it would have been a good thing to have large posters displayed all over Nazi Germany showing what was going on inside the concentration camps, I will apply my own criterion, if I can, to look at what should be considered in constructing a generally applicable standard.

When large blown-up pictures of aborted fetuses are put on public display, is the primary purpose to show their humanity, or to display something gross and revolting? It could be both, but the distinction is important. There are certain films of what went on in Nazi camps that could be described as pornography, and certain varieties of pornographers who would pay high prices to possess and watch them, and salivate over them. There might also be privacy issues for some of those who might be depicted, even in less salacious but poignant images.

I would estimate that the pictures I have seen on display outside clinics which offer abortion services are more likely to cause someone to throw up than to say "Oh, look at the poor little things." That's just the nature of the images I've seen. I also wondered a little about this after reports, in the aftermath of Dr. Tiller's murder, that various groups had appears before services at his church from time to time with such posters, so that parents on their way to church covered their children to shield them from the view. Again, was this because they were poignant, or because they were repulsive? Would a video of cattle being carved up in a meat-packing plant have had the same impact? Or was there something inherently different about he nature of the image -- not the act, the image presented?

Finally chimakuni, your FIRST reply to me was not the reply of a mourning post-abortive mother, it was a cutely snide remark, and I gave it a rather moderate response such as it deserved. It was indeed written, not verbal.

I don't ever argue with a woman who regrets her own abortion about how she should feel. You are the only person who has any authority over how you feel about your own life, and where that has led you. The only distinction I make is, I don't believe your regrets automatically amount to a sound basis for law applicable to all other women, some of whom may not share your regrets.

But going back to the original post, I agree that there are reasonable standards as to what should be visually displayed, which would not infringe on freedom of speech or expression. We don't all have to share every intimate detail of each other's lives and tastes.

chimakuni said...

Siarlys - really? Are you serious...the following, in your estimation is a "cutely, snide remark?"

"I happen to be a post abortive mother of a baby that died from a saline abortion nearly 40 years ago the end of this month."

You have no idea how much I mourn - you have no idea how much I HATE HAVING HAD AN ABORTION, but you have set yourself up to decide how I feel, and decide to judge my words.

I have never stated that my feelings are the standard - I know of women who do not regret their abortions, know of men who do not regret loosing a child to abortion - but really, who ever you are - I resent the hell out of you telling me that you think I am not a mourning post abortive mother - just where do you get off?

I was talking about the difference between modesty in dress and the showing of graphic photos of babies, like mine, that have been so brutally murdered as not even have a similarity.

I will not be responding to any more of your postings, Siarlys.

Erin Manning said...

Chimakuni, I think Siarlys was referring to your first comment, the "pants on the ground" one, not the comment where you mentioned being post-abortive.

Siarlys, I'm thinking in light of a discussion that developed in a more recent post of having a discussion of the graphic abortion photos debate later on--perhaps early next week. In the meantime, considering that the original topic of this post had to do with modesty and especially how that affects males, perhaps we could leave the abortion discussion for now.

chimakuni said...

Red Cardigan - I read it differently, but I will defer to your interpretation. Blessings -