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April 16, 2010

Modesty and Men

We have had three great discussions on the blog in recent months regarding modesty, HERE and HERE and HERE. In my post some weeks ago I did not distinguish between men and women for the matter in question was dirty dancing which involves both. However, the conversation turned inexorably to women and girls, what they wear and how they should behave. I also note that 90% of the commentators were women. Last week Laura raised the question of modest beachwear and focused especially on the bikini. Here too the majority of the commentators were women and the conversation was mostly about what was proper for women and girls.

However, in both conversations there were a few comments that expressed irritation that questions of modesty always seem to center on women and little is said about men. I was asked by a few to blog about men and modesty and perhaps set forth some principles for men and boys. Here is my humble attempt and I ENCOURAGE you to add to the discussion for I am no expert on this. I really propose only to set the table and put out a few items on the lazy Susan. This discussion is really pot luck so make your contribution too.

Perhaps a few opening principles and premises to frame the discussion.
  1. Men and women are quite different when it comes to questions of attraction and arousal. While there are many individual variances, as a general rule men are much more likely to be immediately interested by way of visual stimulation. Attraction for women seems a bit more complicated and subtle. For men there seems to be a pretty quick trip-wire whereas for women it often seems that a series of switches need to be thrown in the right combination. Men can become interested very quickly and easily. Beauty, shape, posture, the way she walks, all of this is like eye candy to men. It does not seem to me that most women are this easily caught into the cycle of interest and arousal though there are exceptional persons and moments. Rather than say women are never like this, what I am saying is that it seems a far less common occurence for women. For men it may happen hundreds of times a day   
  2.  Compassion and understanding and sobriety  - Some are sharply critical of men with regard to their quickly roving eye. The most extreme form of it comes with expressions like “Men are pigs.” We will talk in moment of the fact that men have to take some responsibility for this aspect of who they are but here at the beginning perhaps some understanding is in order. Men do not simply or freely choose to have this almost instant-on switch. It sort of comes built in and the off switch is not easy to find. Men are drawn very quickly, almost instantly, by beauty. Of itself this is not evil. God surely means for beauty to attract. The problem comes with our fallen nature that frequently desires inordinately or inappropriately. But the point to make here is that rather than simply denounce men as pigs it may be more appropriate merely to be sober about the fact that men have strong desire in this regard. Due to the fallen nature we all have this desire is often difficult to control perfectly. It is part of our human condition. Part of modesty for women it seems is a kind of strategy in this regard as well as a kind of charity. As a strategy, modesty helps keep unwanted attention within reasonable levels. As a form of charity modesty accepts the fact that men are easily tempted to unchaste thoughts and takes reasonable measures to assist men in this regard.
  3. Reasonable expectationsNow reasonable is an important word. Women cannot be expected to take unreasonable measures to protect men in this regard. Men are attracted by a LOT of things and invisibility is not reasonable or possible to demand of women.
  4. Hence, men must also develop self discipline, custody of the eyes and careful discretion. Jesus speaks of looking at a woman with lust as a serious sin (Matt 5:28 ). It is one thing to notice that a woman is beautiful, that is usually good and natural. But it is another to stare intently at her and  sexually fantasize about her. This is to cross a line. For many men such a standard seems impossible to fully meet. But in effect Jesus is offering a freedom and a power over what goes on in our minds. Through self-discipline, daily prayer, the sacraments and scripture it is possible to have increasing authority over our thought life. Jesus would not command it if it were not possible. It is a usual fact that self discipline increases over time and we who are men OUGHT to be growing in this and not just indulge our every thought and desire and be stuck in lust. Progress in this matter is to be insisted upon.
  5. Political incorrectness alert! – In the end life is not always fair and modesty issues are simply going to weigh more heavily on women. This is for two reasons. First women have more to cover. It is simply a fact that the female body, at least in our culture, has more of what we can simply term here as private areas. These areas arouse significant sexual interest in men and however much we may want that to change in a big way, it probably isn’t going to dramatically change. Secondly since men are more easily tempted in these matters, it seems reasonable that women ought to take this into account. Surely we can only expect what is reasonable, but prudence and charity ought to be operative in such matters.
What of Modesty for men in terms of clothes and behavior.
  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 obviouslyto 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.
  5. I’ll never get used to men wearing earrings. This many not pertain to modesty per se and I know men whom I respect that have earrings. But I’ll never get used to it and live for the day when earrings on a man are gone from the scene.
  6. Wear a suit more often – Our culture is so casual. Suits and Ties are getting rare. Many men no longer even know how to tie a Tie. They have to ask their mother. Go to http://artofmanliness.com/ a learn how to tie a tie and read the three-part series on purchasing and wearing a decent suit. It is modest and professional. We priests too need to stop bumming around and learn the art of wearing our clerical attire well, to include a tailored cassock:  http://www.clergyapparel.com/
  7. Men should behave modestly. Sexual jokes, immodest conversations, improper posture and the like are wrong. Men are exceptionally poor today at curbing their behavior in mixed company. Learning to be a gentleman is a lost art. Immodest behavior, scurrilous jokes, remarks about women’s bodies and the like are bad enough around other men, but they take on added ugliness in the presence of women. Men must learn to treat women with respect. They should not be treated as or thought of as sexual objects. Men should consider that the purpose of dating is to find a wife not just to have fun and “play the field.” If a man realizes that the purpose of dating is to look for a wife, he may well behave differently. This woman may not just be my next sexual partner, she may well be my wife and the mother of my children. More than clothing, men’s  biggest problem with modesty is how they regard and treat women. I know it is complicated and women send confusing signals. But in the end we have to be men. And real men treat women with respect. they do not seek to conquer them or merely have them. They seek to love them, provide for them and cling to them as a spouse. The Bible says that a man clings to his wife. That is what a man does. Boys play. Men are modest and respectful around women and seek to form proper, lasting and deep relationships with them.
Comments are wide open. I have not been without controversy I am sure. I am especially interested in what women might have to say about ways we men might be more modest. It is not all that clear to most men how women might be tempted. The more we can know the more we can improve.

Be careful everyone to remember that this is a “family blog.” Mature topics like this sometimes require that we be artful in our descriptions so as not to offend the pious, the young or even each other.

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O.S.B. Vocation Awareness

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness