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Skirts, Pants and Totalitarianism

 

DAVID writes:

This past week, quite a controversy erupted when an anonymous author at Catholicity.com posted this article suggesting that women refrain from wearing pants because they are, according to him, intrinsically immodest and therefore evil. His tone was quite condescending to women. In particular, you will note the paragraph suggesting that men accompany their wives to clothings stores in order to guarantee their wives will not pick something immodest. Well, as you might expect, the article infuriated many women, and as the old saying goes, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Simcha Fisher, author of the Catholic blog I Have to Sit Down, launched the first attack against the article here. Promptly following her lead was And Sometimes Tea author Erin Manning, and finally, Mark Shea joined the fight as well at Catholic and Loving It. You would think this is a small matter, this question of whether to wear pants or skirts, but the arguments lasted for days – and in many cases became quite nasty. In my view, the root of the tumult is the wounded relationship between Man and Woman. So in addition to pants, skirts, modesty and lust, there was talk of male domination and sexual dysfunction, feminism, the proper interpretation of Ephesians 5 and other scriptural passages, the depravity of our culture, and neutered masculinity.

I thought I would bring this controversy to your attention because, well, people were sometimes talking about the sorts of things you discuss on The Thinking Housewife. (By the way, traditionalists got slammed big time. Seemed unfair to me.) Perhaps you already knew about it. But apart from this, I wanted to hear your thoughts on certain comments. Well, I’ll just pick one that seems to sum it up. Near the end of the riots on Mark Shea’s blog, one commenter said this:

“You cannot deny that there is a contingent of men within certain Catholic subcultures who DO think that women should be seen and not [heard], who do think that the female SEX in toto should be subordinate to the male SEX in toto … which is not Biblical complentarity [sic] nor Catholic teaching.”God never ordained that women as a gender have to be submissive to men as a gender. Only that wives be submissive to their husbands. But a woman has no obligation to defer to a strange man who is not her husband, father, or spiritual father.”

And, later:

God never ordained that women as a gender have to be submissive to men as a gender. Only that wives be submissive to their husbands. But a woman has no obligation to defer to a strange man who is not her husband, father, or spiritual father.”

The commenter says women do not owe obedience to men in a general way. I am struggling with this point of view. On the one hand, it seems fair and reasonable – in fact, perfectly obvious – that women do not owe obedience to men in a general way. On the other hand – well, there is just something about these statements that do not sit well with me. The gentleman in question seems to imply that men and women should share authority equally outside the home. Inside the home, men are in charge; outside the home, men are not. Do you think this is a fair and rational reading of the statements made above? It is this implication, real or imagined, that makes me uneasy. I haven’t come to terms with this strong sense I have that men ought to be running the show. Could it be my masculinity responding to disordered circumstances? Or do I simply have control issues I’ve yet to address? Maybe it’s both.

In any event, I know you want the patriarchy restored. So what do you think? Has this commenter hit the nail on the head? If every woman in the United States submitted to her husband, father, and spiritual father, but not to any other man, would male authority be adequately restored in this country? Or do you believe there is more to the story than this commenter realizes?

Incidentally, I have a sense that what lies at the heart of this comment, and so many others like it, is a deep, and I mean, a profoundly deep, distrust of the male sex. Underneath a tremendous number of the comments made, there seems to lurk the view that men, if granted power once again, will use it selfishly, ruthlessly, and irresponsibly. The belief seems to be that men are, at bottom, tyrants. And of course no one wants to give a tyrant power.

Anyway, I hope I’ve piqued your interest. I’d love to hear what you have to say about all this!

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Laura writes:

Thank you for keeping me abreast of this controversy, which may interest readers here. For the record, I probably will not be reading and following the links that you sent because I am working on other things. However, I would like to comment on the issues you raised.

First, regarding pants and skirts, I think skirts are more flattering on women and are a form of deference to men.  What better reasons to wear them? However, most of us were raised wearing pants and have a hard time making the switch completely. I do think it’s good to interest women in wearing skirts. Do I think a husband should go shopping with a woman or command her to wear skirts? No. That strikes me as weird. Male authority in marriage is not the same as the authority of a boss over an employee or a teacher over a student. Marriage is a bond of love and the sort of authority a man has is that of being final arbiter and judge in all important matters. It does not mean that a wife never makes any independent decisions, does not have any sphere of activity which she calls her own or does not often share in decision-making with her husband.

On the second issue you raised, male authority is most definitely not confined to the home, at least not in any healthy society and not in Western tradition. Men are more suited to public decision-making and to the stress of leadership. They are less emotional and more capable of viewing affairs in the abstract. Both men and women generally prefer to be under the direction of men. Women have a tendency to make authority personal. Furthermore, men are not excited by or attracted to competition with women. So when women take over a field, men start to withdraw. When women rule, they dampen interest in leadership in men. This is why it is not possible to make society truly egalitarian.

There are obviously women who are capable, even excellent, in executive positions. But, as I have said before, there is another crucial reason why male authority in public – in business, culture and government – is important. The public role of men is symbolic of fatherhood. It serves to clarify what fatherhood is. Masculinity and femininity are not simply vague ideas and they are obviously not only anatomical realities; they are spiritual truths, facts about our inner nature. With no outward form, we lose sight of them and fail to live in accordance with reality, in the same way we would violate some important aspect of ourselves if we never got any sunlight or sat in chairs all day without moving. The public role of men buttresses the institution of fatherhood (and therefore of motherhood as well) by defining masculinity. Masculinity is primary. It is primary in the sense that when genuine virility is affirmed femininity follows. Male leaders give boys the models they need to become fathers and to take an interest in fatherhood, which is leadership on a smaller scale.

“God never ordained that women as a gender have to be submissive to men as a gender. Only that wives be submissive to their husbands. But a woman has no obligation to defer to a strange man who is not her husband, father, or spiritual father.”

The idea of public authority for men does not mean all men have authority over all women in public! For heaven’s sake, no. It means that men are the default choice for positions of public authority. Obviously there are many, many cases in a traditional context in which women have authority over men, such as when women employ men in their homes or in their own businesses. A low-ranking male employee does not have any authority over a higher-ranking female employee. A male student does not have authority over a female teacher.

“You cannot deny that there is a contingent of men within certain Catholic subcultures who DO think that women should be seen and not [heard], who do think that the female SEX in toto should be subordinate to the male SEX in toto … which is not Biblical complentarity [sic] nor Catholic teaching.”

The female sex should be in toto subordinate to the male sex. There are many different ways this general rule can manifest itself culturally, but there are numerous situations in which a woman naturally has authority over a man, whether as a parent or employer or individual of high social status or accomplishment. I have no idea whether there is a contingent of Catholic men who don’t want women to be heard at all. If there is, these men have by no means gotten their way.

Because male leadership has been so long institutionalized, we can easily say that men don’t always make good leaders. There are many examples of horrendous or inept men in power. Since there have been relatively few women in power it is easier to romanticize their abilities, which is one reason for the hostility to the idea of male authority you mentioned. The view that men are innately tyrannical, however, is common today and is the product of heavy feminist indoctrination and of the pervasive assault on liberty and normalcy. Disarming the average man by guilt and turning the average woman into a non-thinking, overworked and paranoid drudge are great ways to destroy the initiative of ordinary people.

 

                                                          — Comments –

Kilroy writes:

I see male authority, and the natural law paradigm where women by default defer to it, as really very simple and not irrational or evil at all. In simple terms (and I am sure many women will find this equally condescending) it is only men who understand the threats posed by men towards women, hence women should respect male authority on matters that go directly at their behaviour which may court unwanted and dangerous attention. 

Women throughout the ages, despite what some “girl power” ideologue would have girls believe today, have always relied on men for protection from the very real threats of the world. Just because we are a technocratic society today does not change this since human nature remains unaltered, so too do the laws of nature. I find women to have some deeply ingrained narcissistic tendency which, with centuries (millennia perhaps) of male patronage and protection has developed into a solipsistic view of the world. To be fair, and so nobody accuses me of unfairly singling out women for stereotypes: I also find that men are vastly more egotistic and pompous than women – perhaps this too has some evolutionary cause. 

Lawrence Auster referred to a recent media controversy where a woman was harassed because of the way she presented herself (extremely provocatively) in public. One journalist’s reaction was “It wouldn’t matter if she wore see-through lingerie–they [the football players] have no right to behave like that” – of course, only a child would think in such terms: total lack of personal accountability coupled with a claim of right to behave in the most highly provocative manner and outrage at the logical response this will elicit. But I digress… to get back to the present point: since it is men who understand male threats, and women who somehow, despite all the misandry in pop culture, refuse to acknowledge the risks of tempting the darker side of male psychology, it seems completely reasonable for men to have an important say in how our women present themselves in public. 

This is offensive to liberalised women (religious or not), I am sure. But that is why I just plainly refuse to associate with women who dress like sluts in public. I don’t need the hassle: the hassle of dealing with unwanted and hostile attention (which of course I will be expected to parry away) and the hassle of having to confront my woman, and her incredulous rage at having a man who actually objects to her irresponsibility. 

Again, Auster says that women today show a profound disrespect to men. He is one hundred per cent correct. This is probably also one of the reasons why men just refuse to deal with many women today, most of which unfortunately just don’t get it. Hence the so called “man drought”. Unsurprising really.

Laura writes:

These are excellent points. Yes, I would agree that if a wife is dressing promiscuously – truthfully, I hadn’t considered that scenario – then a husband would have the obligation to intervene and advise his wife or even supervise what she is wearing.

Michael S. writes:

I took a quick link at that article at CatholiCity. It’s written by “Your Friends at CatholiCity.” No one wants to take credit, I guess. I looked at their about page. They seem quite pleased with themselves at the way they “accomplish the impossible every day.”

And anyway, what kind of man would want to accompany his wife when she goes shopping for her own clothes? Funny, then, how the “first attack” on the article comes from a blog called I Have to Sit Down. That’s exactly what I want to do when we’re shopping “together.”

Laura writes:

Ha!

Jane writes:

As you well know, I am a firm believer in wifely submission. I also believe that men should hold the reigns of leadership in society. However, I do think it is very important that the distinction be made that individual women are not to place themselves in subjection to men in general. This line of thought is problematic because a woman is told quite clearly that she is only to submit to one man- her husband. Of course, its also problematic for the single woman because not every man is godly or honorable. 

I agree that women should wear more skirts and dresses than pants as rule. The skirt is one of the only uniquely feminine garments that remain as men pierce their ears, and grow their hair long. As women wear ties and cut their hair short, only the skirt remains a distinction.

 As for modesty, I was stunned (though I probably shouldn’t have been), when a very reasonable blogger and mother of daughters highlighted modesty in dress and behavior as a way for young women to protect themselves from sexual assault. In addition to a few supportive comments, she was also lambasted by commenters who accused her of shaming women. We are a society where common sense has died a tragic death.

Lydia Sherman writes:

Biblically, women only owe obedience to God and their own individual husbands, or fathers, if unmarried, not all other men. I see this one man as a protection from imposition from other sources, whether it be men in church hierarchy, institutions, or employers. 

Regarding pants: feminism has stolen feminine style. A hundred years ago you could tell male and female apart, even from a distance. Today, women look like men, especially older women. What would George and Martha Washington think of their country if they saw married couples that looked like two males? Skirts and dresses give women distinction. The previous centuries of women seemed to get along fine wearing them and were happy to do so. Who changed it? What elitist designers decided that women should be dressed in pants? It is rare to see a woman in a skirt or dress. Who made that decision? Western women pride themselves on their individuality, but when you see a whole city full of women in pants, who is being independent and individual?

Laura writes:

Regarding Lydia’s first point, the Biblical tradition is also for women as a group to defer to men in public life.  The idea that women only owe submission to husbands and fathers can be taken to mean that women should have a free hand to rule the world outside the home. A woman does not automatically or mindlessly obey any person in a position of authority anymore than a man automatically obeys a person in a position of authority.

John E. writes:

For those readers who have the stomach for it, the original article from Catholicity and Simcha Fisher’s rejoinder are also discussed here at Inside Catholic.  There is nothing I recommend as enlightening on the subject at hand – whether pants are appropriate for women – but the disdain for male authority in general as David describes it is very present in the discussion there, not only from female commenters, but also from some male.  Most there will not even suffer a man to express an opinion as to what he thinks is appropriate for women to wear in general, at least not without impugning his motives, and in the case of one commenter, accusing him of being “a rapist at heart” (see comments by “Michelle”).  There is a red herring that is almost always thrown into discussions like these, and that fish is rarely recognized for what it is, before it silences useful thoughts on the matter of male authority.  The red herring is usually expressed as a denial that all women owe all men obedience, as though there is some danger that I or any other man in the discussion might think it reasonable to expect any woman out in public to get us a beer when we should demand it.  I’m sure you can find some men who think this way, but not men of good will, with whom one should expect to engage in useful discussion on these matters.  Yet when the obedience subject is brought up, or suggested that it might be the case, it has somewhat of the same effect as libel does in causing one to unfairly suspect the motives of well-meaning and reasonable men.

David writes:

John writes, “The red herring is usually expressed as a denial that all women owe all men obedience, as though there is some danger that I or any other man in the discussion might think it reasonable to expect any woman out in public to get us a beer when we should demand it. I’m sure you can find some men who think this way, but not men of good will, with whom one should expect to engage in useful discussion on these matters.” 

Yes, John, this is exactly right. I would like to mention, for one thing, that I have yet to meet a man who believes a woman should do anything for him on command. Truly, I have not once in my entire life met such a man. Do they exist? I’m sure they do. Have other readers here met them? I would not doubt it. My point, rather, is that such men are so utterly few in comparison to the whole that they are hardly worth mentioning in discussions such as these. The only thing I can offer to account for the downright paranoia of these women (and, as you said, men) about men is feminist indoctrination. The belief that all men are oppressive misogynists at the very core of their being is a part of the feminist agenda and now, unfortunately, an undeniable element of the zeitgeist, as well, and it is instrumental in undermining real male authority and silencing those who would dare assert a contrary view. It seems to me that perhaps the most powerful triumph of feminism has been the establishment of a seemingly worldwide distrust of the male sex, and inserting it so deeply into the hearts of men and women that we no longer recognize it’s there. I believe we are seeing this victory of feminism circulating in the dicussions on the blogs mentioned. The smoke of Satan has indeed entered the sanctuary and I am convinced, personally, that the destruction of the relationship between Man and Woman is one of the highest priorities on the agenda of the Evil One. With the help of God we must oppose him.
 
Personally, I think women look more attractive and feminine when they wear skirts tastefully, but the clothing a woman wears is really her choice, and it is possible to wear jeans modestly just as it is possible to wear skirts immodestly. I will say, however, that I was positively appalled by the downright vicious way Catholics treated one another throughout the argument this week. Notably, the nasty behavior came almost entirely from what has been called the “pants side” – those who believe there is nothing wrong with wearing pants. Folks on this side of the argument repeatedly and unapologetically misrepresented, demeaned, and abused their opponents who were, by contrast, calm, reasonable, and courteous, even when cruelly attacked. When I accused certain representatives of the former camp of being uncharitable, I was, like so many others, branded a controlling woman-hater (in fact, Mark Shea called me a “sycophant to the Catholic Taliban” – really pretty amusing in retrospect). One of the many ironies in the discussion is that it was the Pants People who were trying to control and suppress their opponents rather than vice-versa. They were, you might say, controlling man-haters. In any event, I was painfully disappointed to see such a remorseless lack of charity during the debate.
 
As a final point, I think it is a sign of the brilliance of Lucifer that we would so passionately argue, to the point of abusing each other, the question of pants. How bizarre that such a seemingly trivial matter could be the occasion of so much uncharity and discord. He was probably laughing hysterically throughout the entire ordeal — too bad we did not have the perspective to laugh ourselves!
 
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