Today I wish to direct your attention to a post by Alastair at Adversaria on the subject of modesty.
People in evangelical circles tend to go to either of two opposite extremes whenever the subject of modesty comes up: Those of us who favor modesty will uncritically accept a whole host of problematic notions and other baggage that evangelical culture has attached to the principle of modesty. On the other hand, those who wish to reject the baggage that evangelical culture has attached to the principle of modesty will go too far and reject the principle of modesty itself. For example: Not too long ago this post on the subject of teenage girls’ too-revealing selfies posted on social media made the rounds of the blogosphere. It attracted this snarky response from Jezebel.
Alastair uses these two posts as a jumping-off point for his own thoughts on the issue of modesty. In it he attempts to express support for the overall principle of modesty while distancing himself from the forms which the practice of modesty has taken in American evangelicalism. He expresses distaste for the all-or-nothing thinking that has come to dominate the modesty debates: any suggestion that women ought to cover up more is tantamount to saying that they ought to wear burqas; if you say that men struggle to control their sexual desires you might as well say that they have no control whatsoever over their sexual desires.
He then hits upon the idea of a sexual double standard: There are many parts of the issue of modesty which fall much harder upon the shoulders of women than upon men. This seems unfair, but only if you assume that men and women are basically equal and interchangeable. This is not true. Men and women are profoundly different. Some aspects of sexuality fall much harder upon men than upon women, like the responsibility to obtain the consent of the woman before attempting to pursue sexual relations with her (“No means no”).
Because men and women are profoundly different, it should not be a surprise that men experience sexual desire differently from women. For instance, it is a common misconception that a man can choose to look at a beautiful woman. This is not the case. Instead it usually works the other way around: a man sees a beautiful woman and then chooses NOT to look at her.
Alastair brings this in for a landing with the idea that modesty is bigger than sex and dress. Modesty is about living counter to the “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” ethos of our culture with respect to money, power, status, looks, possessions, etc. Through modesty we bring out the best in others by giving them space to be themselves and to shine, not eclipsing them or overpowering them with our superior (we think) attributes.