The Thinking 

More on Immodest Dress

May 27, 2012


APRIL writes:

I’ve been following the conversations on your site about women dressing immodestly, (here, here, here, and here) and something you’ve repeated throughout these posts gives me pause every time I come across it. In regards to the power women have over men in the way they dress, you insist that women “are ignorant of their own aggressive instincts” and that “most women are clueless about this. They are not consciously aggressive.”

I couldn’t disagree with you more. When a woman dresses provocatively, she does it on purpose and she knows exactly what effect it will have on men. I teach English at the college level, and I stand in front of two dozen eighteen- to twenty-year-old young women at a time, and I can tell you that the young women who dress immodestly know exactly what they are doing. I watch them preen; I watch them pose; I watch them disdain the young men (and older men, for that matter) who look at them; I watch them get defensive if anyone calls them out on it. There is an edge to them that they cultivate very intentionally—I watch them do it; I read about it in what they write; I hear them discuss it when we read articles about “slut walk” and the premature sexualization of young girls. The women who don’t dress immodestly are the ones who aren’t conscious of the effect and therefore don’t capitalize on it, or they are not interested in giving off that vibe in the first place.

I also have some experience with this personally. When I went through puberty, I gained a lot of weight, and it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that my doctor diagnosed me with a condition that caused weight gain. I was put on medication and lost 75 pounds in eight months. My “new” body became a weapon for me to use against men, and I used it liberally. As a chubby girl/young woman, I knew that in the realm of sexual politics I was Ross Perot or Ron Paul (i.e., irrelevant—I was smart, had some good ideas, but at the end of the day, my thin, attractive friends were always the ones who won the election). After I lost weight, I was Barack Obama. I was sought after, fawned over, and I loved every minute of it. And I was very, very conscious of the power I (finally!) wielded over men. Very conscious. So when I see my students dress in the same way I did, act in the same manner, and get the same results, I can’t fathom that they are not conscious of this, and can only conclude that the women who dress immodestly know exactly what effect it has on men, and it’s the exact effect that they hope for when they dress every morning.

Laura writes:

I never said all women are unaware of how powerful the appearance of their bodies is, but I agree that I overstated the case in that one comment. Of course, many women are fully aware. And the conversation began with my calling immodest dress a form of aggression. In the post on Valerie Trierweiler, that was my point: that she was consciously exposing her body.

You say,

The women who don’t dress immodestly are the ones who aren’t conscious of the effect and therefore don’t capitalize on it, or they are not interested in giving off that vibe in the first place.

Unfortunately, I see very few women who fall into this category. Tight-fitting and low-cut clothes are everywhere. Consider, for instance, the relatively recent fad of short-short dresses. I know teenagers and young women who spill out of their clothes. They think that’s normal. They are otherwise sweet and nice. And while they may be in a state of wonder and pride over their womanliness, they are not on a power trip. They have no guidance on this issue at all. Many young women who dress provocatively do not know just how powerful the effect is. And their fathers, who should better understand what it means to dress that way, typically place no restrictions on how they dress at all.

Laura adds:

These women are lacking in virtue anyway. Modesty is a sense of discretion. It’s not just about sex. It protects privacy, intimacy and the inner life. As the Catholic psychologist Rudolf Allers has said:

“Modesty, which is an attitude usually regarded as concerning sex, is in reality connected with the deepest portions of a man’s constitution.”

While women naturally have a stronger tendency toward modesty, he said, “the development of modesty may be checked, and every original inclination smothered.”

“The assertion that by nature women possess a greater inclination toward modesty, is not contradicted by the fact that education may lead women to totally disregard it.” [Sex Psychology, p. 151]

                                 — Comments —

Lisa writes:

Can’t April mention what medication she took?

James H. writes:

Our neighbors, about whom I’ve written to you before, came over last night for dinner. The last time the wife was here she was wearing the most outrageous top you’ve ever laid your eyes barely containing her rather prodigious assets which were precariously and barely contained. I shielded my eyes and told her, “Katherine (not her real name) where in the world am I supposed to look?!! Men are hard wired to look at breasts and for the life of me I can’t find a safe place to look .”

So, last night she comes over and is wearing the outfit in the attached photo (please don’t post!). [NOTE TO READER: The woman is wearing a makeshift hijab.]

As far as the power granted by a fabulous figure and or looks, I never realized how astutely and consciously some women exercise their “powers.” I briefly dated a younger girl who told me point blank that her wonderful figure gave her power. I think her exact words were, “these give me power.” And, while it was rather crassly articulated, I had to agree they did indeed confer a definite aura of power which she wielded adroitly, just not with me.

I’ve always been more attracted to subtle understated displays of beauty and sexuality. And, while I don’t advocate missionary cloths for girls, I do believe that modesty is always the best policy for men and women. It makes for much more comfortable interaction subtly engaging the imagination rather than overt pornographic displays with the attendant base expectations.

Jeff W. writes:

Women who use revealing clothes in order to wield power over men, it is inevitable that such women will experience middle age and old age as times of decay and loss.  Some women may make desperate attempts (botox, plastic surgery) to fight against nature.  Others will become depressed.

If these women would become Christians, they would experience aging as a process of deepening and expanding love for God and for other people.  In choosing to seek God, Christians reject power seeking and the inevitable disappointment that it brings.

Susan-Ann White writes:

I believe that most women and girls who dress immodestly do so deliberately and they know exactly what they are doing, and they should be told that immodest dress can be dangerous. I heard of a detective with many years experience and he stated that, in many cases of attacks on women, provocative, immodest clothing was a factor.

May 28

Rita Jane writes:

Regarding Lisa’s question, I can say what worked for me. The trick was finding out that I no longer had a thyroid gland, thanks to advanced, undiagnosed Hashimoto’s Disease. A doctor put me on synthetic thyroid hormones, and the weight I’d put on in my teens melted away like magic. Any women (or men, but it’s much, much rarer in men) who are experiencing weight gain, hair loss (particularly in the eyebrows), exhaustion, difficulty conceiving or depression should get a thyroid hormone level test at their next physical. It’s an easy blood test, and the meds gave me my life back.

Sibyl writes:

As to the power that women wield with their clothes (or lack thereof): This has been a sore topic for me in dealing with my teen daughter. We have established what we think are reasonable modesty standards, and boy is it hard to hold the line, even when one is convinced! My daughter does not see how alluring she comes off — she has long blond hair and is very curvy — and what to her seems pretty is far closer to what most guys would consider inviting. We try very hard to keep her skirts at the knee and her neckline decent, but it is very very hard. Christian men are going to have to work extra hard to show young Christian women that the culture’s standards aren’t theirs.

Laura writes:

Yes, it’s very difficult, especially when most girls are wearing glorified lingerie.

I hope you can convince your daughter that the boys worth attracting will not like immodesty.

 MAY 29

J.N. writes:

I don’t doubt that some women dress immodestly out of aggressiveness, but I agree that most women probably do so out of lack of awareness.  This happens because feminist social opprobrium and sexual harassment law have prevented the natural male response to immodest dress from occurring. Young women think they are merely being “pretty” because they are no longer exposed to what really goes on in a man’s mind.

Some years ago I arrived as a new professor at a university.  A graduate student contacted me requesting a meeting to get advice on her research project. The appointed time came, and a young woman walked into my office wearing a very tight sweater and a very short skirt.  This was not the typical clothing worn by female graduate students, and I was caught off guard.  Before I realized it, I found myself staring at her.  She realized it, too, and an awkward discussion of her research commenced as I studiously avoided looking directly at her and she constantly fidgeted with her clothing and changed her sitting posture.  It was fortunate that she recognized her own contribution to the situation and didn’t lay the blame all on me for being a “creep”.  Whatever her reason for dressing the way she did, I’m sure it was not to catch the eye of an older professor. I was embarrassed that I had not more carefully controlled my eyes, as most men have trained themselves to do. And because men pretend not to notice, women think nothing is amiss.  But in that situation, the veil momentarily slipped, and the true reaction of a man to an underdressed woman became apparent.  Perhaps it is no coincidence that this student always wore more modest clothing at our subsequent meetings.



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