Consent, Context, and Clothes: In Which I Refute the Idea That Just Because I Expect Men to Control Themselves Whatever a Woman Is Wearing, I Think Women Should Wear Whatever They Want

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Well, this week has been fun. I remembered why I hate talking about modesty. So I’m going to talk about it some more.

I’m going to talk about it in terms of consent and context, which totally revolutionized this whole conversation for me.

One of the biggest problems with the typical modesty wars is the assumption that women’s bodies are inherently sexual, should be seen as inherently sexual, and must be seen as inherently sexual. There’s an assumption that any time a woman wants to look attractive, she’s somehow seeking male attention, sexual attention, or wrong attention. There’s an assumption that “looking good” is prideful.

There is no concept of the beauty, power, and goodness of the female body apart from sexuality.

I completely reject this idea. It’s a byproduct of a culture uncomfortable with the female body (looking at you, Christian West) and exploitative of the female body (looking at you, current culture).

Most of the women fed up with being told they’re a stumblingblock to men aren’t, as people often assume, wanting to do away with concepts of decency and appropriateness. They want to do away with the idea that their bodies are inherently sexual, all day, every day, no matter what they’re wearing, doing, or saying. 

Many articles talk about how clothing “speaks” — and I agree, it does. Clothing conveys meaning. Clothing informs a social conversation, a social dynamic. The problem is that some people, having it drilled into their heads that women’s bodies are sexy, sexy, sexy, have become deaf to the other facets of the social conversation.

Here are some of the women sick of the stumblingblock argument:

The woman who had a change of heart about dressing modestly, layering her low-cut shirts with a tank top to hide all cleavage, and was still told on two separate occasions to wear a higher top.

The girl who was asked to change her tank top to a t-shirt lest she cause her biological brothers to stumble.

The woman who was catcalled while wearing an ankle-length skirt and long sleeves.

The girl wearing a cute vintage one-piece that prompted a guy to tell her he had to avert his eyes because of her bared thighs.

The woman who was sexually assaulted while dressed in her conservative best.

The young teenager who “caused” adult males at church to sin by wearing a shirt with a normal neckline.

The big-busted lady whose breasts and butt are prominent in whatever outfit she chooses.

What’s the common theme in all of these instances of violation and lust? I’ll give you a hint: not skimpy clothes.

In all of these situations, none of the women were signalling sexual attention. None of them were engaging in a context that invited sexual attention. Not even their clothes were asking for sexual attention. Sexuality was imposed over and against every other cultural cue in these interactions, simply because they had female bodies. 

That’s the problem here — when the sexualization of female bodies gets superimposed onto nonsexual situations.

***

Do women actually seek sexual attention? Of course. Do women use clothing to seek sexual attention? Of course. Should you assume a woman is seeking sexual attention based solely on how much skin is showing or what article of clothing she is wearing? No.

I say no with such vehemence because clothing by itself, divorced from context and consent, is not as clear a message as people make it out to be.

Our society doesn’t agree on what counts as “modest” or “immodest” clothes. (Check out the comments on my last post if you need any proof of that.) This guarantees a confused conversation. This guarantees distress on both sides, men insisting that women are trying to be sexy when they wear X and women insisting that they’re just trying to live their lives.

The elixir of clarity in this mess is not, as some posit, women adhering to a dress code. The solution is factoring in other social cues into the conversation — namely, context and consent.

But before we go there, we need to get rid of the toxic assumption that women’s bodies are inherently sexual.

Christine Woolgar cuts through the modesty kerfuffle with the most reasonable and rarely heard suggestion: modesty is not about the body; it’s about knowing when to display your “glory” and how to display it without excluding others.

This eliminates the underlying assumption that women’s bodies are inherently sexual, and by extension, inherently inappropriate for view.

For many women, attractive bodies are their glory. There is absolutely nothing wrong for a woman to draw attention to her figure or dress — for the right reasons, in the right context. There is nothing absolutely sexual about a woman drawing attention to her figure or dress. An attractive dress or an exposure of skin does not automatically make her prideful, sexual, or inappropriate.

And, incidentally, if a woman is displaying her glory appropriately, in the right context, she should be prepared for people noticing her glory.

***

Let’s talk about complimenting women.

If a man stops a woman on the sidewalk to say, “You look nice in that dress!” she will probably feel threatened and degraded and walk away thinking he’s a creep. “But she was displaying herself!” the poor man might protest. “She was wearing an attractive dress! Shouldn’t I have the right to comment on something she chose to wear in public?”

No, because clothing alone does not get the last word.

The context of a sidewalk and a strange guy does not invite attention. In fact, that’s the classic scenario for a scary, uncomfortable situation.

But change the context to a night out dancing, and you’ve got a totally different situation. People dress up to go dancing. They go dancing to interact with people. There’s an understanding that flirting and small talk — including niceties such as “You look good in that dress!” — are accepted. There’s common ground between the guy and the girl, a mutual understanding of why they’re here and what their interaction might be.

This context gives extra meaning to people’s dress, words, actions, and intentions. When somebody dresses up for dancing, she’s probably okay with getting attention on her appearance. When somebody gives a compliment, he comes across more as a gentleman than a creep.

That’s the power of context.

Context is more than just a place. It extends to who the individual is and what your relationship with that person is. We automatically know not to feel attraction for our relatives or minors. We automatically know that a stripper at work wants a sexual response. And if we know the individual, we’re aware of how he or she perceives things — or how they perceive us. Our relationship gives us insight into how we should perceive or interact with another.

But there’s another crucial element in this social conversation — consent.

Consent operates on all three levels — clothing, context, and signalling.

If a woman is standing in the back of the dance floor, arms crossed, her signals outweigh whatever she’s wearing or whatever context she is in — she is not interested in attention. She is clearly not consenting to whatever is happening in this context or whatever associations people are making with her clothes. She wants to be left alone.

It’s consent that makes up context. If a workplace establishes a dress code that forbids cleavage for ladies and bare chests for guys, they’re not consenting to a woman coming in with her boobs spilling out over her push up bra or a guy walking in shirtless to purchase his gas. A nudist colony consents to viewing and displaying nudity in a nonsexual way. Our society has not consented to public displays of nudity.

This makes it inappropriate to wear certain clothes to work, to walk around naked on Main Street, or to claim nudists are trying to tempt you sexually.

Consent applies to what you’re willing to wear and potentially convey, too, especially as your context and signalling changes.

If you’re going to display cleavage, you’re going to have to be okay with people noticing your cleavage. If you’re going to wear that plunging neckline to a nightclub, you’re going to have to be okay with people assuming you’re drawing attention to your well-endowed figure. If you’re going to wear that plunging neckline to a nightclub and make eyes at the dashing man across the room, you’re going to have to be okay with him interpreting your signals as a flirtatious advancement — maybe even a sexual one.

Does all of this automatically mean a woman wants sexual attention? Nope. After all, language still gets garbled — maybe she was unaware of how sexy her dress looks, or maybe she meant to be friendly rather than flirty.

But it does mean that it’s unrealistic to speak the language of sexual attraction loud and clear and get horribly offended if someone interprets it that way.

You’ve got to be aware of what your clothes, context, and signals convey in combination with each other. That’s knowing how to speak the social conversation.

That’s the essence of decency.

 

***

How is this different than arguing that women shouldn’t wear X article of clothing because it conveys sexiness or that men shouldn’t be expected not to interpret her clothing choices as a cry for sexual attention?

I’m arguing for a whole personbig picture approach — one that takes into consideration more than just a female body and/or a particular article of clothing.

Instead of trotting out the much-used bikini, I’m going to turn the gender tables and talk about shirtless men.

Is a shirtless man signalling sexual attention in and of itself? Depending on your experience or inclination, yes or no. Does he give consent for certain parts of the body to be noticed (not ogled, noticed)? Yes. If you’re ogling a guy simply for being shirtless, you’re potentially misreading the situation. If you notice his toned abs, you’re being a normal human with eyeballs.

Move on to the context. Is the context signalling sexual attention in and of itself? If it’s a beach, probably not. If it’s a sorority beach party where all the hot young singles come to hook up, potentially. If it’s the Bachelorette at the poolside with all her boyfriends and he’s one of those boyfriends, yes, he’s definitely presenting himself sexually.

And then finally, consensual signals. Is he swimming with his family? Probably not interested. Leave him alone. Is he reading a book on his beach towel? Probably not interested. Is he flirting with a group of girls? He might be. Did he laugh nervously and turn away when you made a comment about his abs? Not. Interested. (But don’t beat yourself up for making an honest mistake.)

 

***

Bodies are not (or should not be) the problem. An article of clothing is not (or should not be) the problem. The problem is when men equate “female body part shown” with “sex,” even when her signals and her context are screaming loudly that she has no interest in sexual attention.

The problem is when women ignore how they’re coming across in a particular context with their particular signals.

The problem is that many people won’t allow a context for nudity or physical beauty apart from sexuality.

And the problem is that not everybody interprets clothes, context, and signals in the same way.

The solution is paying attention to the cultural conversation that clothes, context, and signalling speak. Hopefully we can come to a clearer language that leaves everybody less frustrated, misunderstood, and objectified.

P.S. Want more modesty talk? Here’s my favorite momsplanation on decent dress. And seriously, read Christine’s piece, “Modesty 101: Modesty Is Not About Clothes, Rather Glory and Context.”

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45 thoughts on “Consent, Context, and Clothes: In Which I Refute the Idea That Just Because I Expect Men to Control Themselves Whatever a Woman Is Wearing, I Think Women Should Wear Whatever They Want

  1. ChristineW

    Bailey, I’m so encouraged you’ve found my writing helpful! You have made a beautifully crafted argument here and what you say about communication is right on point! This sentence nails it: ‘That’s the problem here — when the sexualization of female bodies gets superimposed onto nonsexual situations.’

    For myself, I think I use the word “sexual” in a slightly different way to how you do. I would say women’s bodies *are* inherently sexual, by virtue of the fact that we are sexual beings and capacity for sexuality is part of who we are. HOWEVER, when it comes to women’s bodies, culture has tied presentation of *sexuality* to presentation of *sex itself*.
    To put this another way, I think there are two problems.

    Number 1 is as you put it: “There is no concept of the beauty, power, and goodness of the female body apart from sexuality.”

    Number 2 is what you call the toxic assumption that women’s bodies are sexual. I would phrase this differently: I’d say that the toxic assumption is that presentation of a woman’s sexuality is presentation of sex / sexual activity. If we can remove this assumption (and yes, it is toxic) then your point follows that a woman simply showing her curves is *not* necessarily an act of sex or solicitation. Instead, as you say, one has to look at the communication and context to interpret the message and intentionality of the clothing. As you say in the last segment of the post: ‘The problem is when men equate “female body part shown” with “sex,” even when her signals and her context are screaming loudly that she has no interest in sexual attention.’

    Like

      • Allison Caylor

        I find this clarification helpful as well! To me, the idea that women’s bodies (all adult bodies) aren’t inherently sexual is self-evidently false, but I’m totally down to say that the exposure of that beautiful sexuality does not in the least convey the right to participate in it.

        All in all, you’ve done an awesome reframing the conversation here and clarifying the roots (and effects) of your thinking. Kudos.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. ishy

    I’ve been sexually harassed on many occasions. I am certain that is the norm for many women. When one “Christian” man put his hand on my rear then tried to hold me down next to him, I was wearing jeans and a mens tshirt. Another time, I was sexually harassed and then assaulted wearing professional work clothes including long paints and a shirt that bared no cleavage nor arms. While some of these men might use clothing for an excuse, I am certain that their belief that they were entitled to my body had nothing to do with what I was wearing. They didn’t see me as equal to them and able to decide for myself.

    The worst thing is that in my experience, not once has a man who saw me or another woman being sexually harassed for the first time ever said something about it. I’ve defended other women who were being harassed. Other women have spoken up when men were harassing me. But never has a man done so.

    The occasion where the man grabbed my rear? Men (who all considered themselves Christians) told me that I should date him anyway. A few told me I was “mean” and “callous” for rejecting him because he was “a nice guy”. They didn’t believe he did the things he did. And the two people who saw him physically assault me refused to say a word about it, even though they didn’t really know him. Why?

    Two years later I caught that guy assaulting another woman. He had her pinned in a corner! I shoved him as hard as I could. Some of those same people were standing not 10 feet away doing NOTHING.

    The police refused to do anything about the first assault, and I had to go through extensive legal issues with the second that were never really resolved.

    I don’t even think “men equate ‘female body part shown’ with ‘sex,’ even when her signals and her context are screaming loudly that she has no interest in sexual attention” is the main problem. It’s that culture at large, and especially Christian culture, has allowed men to believe that women are objects and don’t deserve a choice at all, no matter what they are wearing. They feel like their feelings justify any choice they make.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Bailey Steger

      Oh, my gosh. Your experiences are absolutely horrifying. I’m so sorry you went through them, and then had the added trauma of nobody coming to your defense either legally or at the time.

      I think you’re right — there’s something in our culture that either gives some men a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, whether that’s to determine the intent of her clothes or to overpower her and rape her. I’m not even sure what explicitly that message is or where it’s coming from; I just know it’s there.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laura Jinkins

        Playing devil’s advocate here, and my theory does not speak for all circumstances, but I wonder if some of these men are behaving so horribly as a reaction to the emasculation they experience when they get yelled at by “ugly” feminists. (Think the “ugly American” in Europe — you know there are ugly feminists who want to punish men simply for the fact that they are men.) I know some men are a-holes, but I wonder if some of these men are reacting to the way they’ve been treated, too. I don’t know… I don’t really have time to fully think/write out what’s percolating in my head, but there it is. Thoughts?

        Like

      • Bailey Steger

        If that’s the case, then they’ve got a really awful idea of masculinity if they respond to emasculation by assaulting women. If they’re assaulting women to get back at women who have hurt them, that sounds like misogyny to me.

        There *is* evidence that some men feel their masculinity is threatened by feminism (or equality of any sort), but the ultimate problem would then be their understanding of masculinity.

        Liked by 3 people

      • ishy

        The worst cases seemed to be men who’d been sequestered in the church for much of their lives, with the church telling them that they would find a perfect wife who would serve them and meet every want whenever they wanted. I think I may have heard some variation on that in Christian college at least 100 times.

        While I think there might be some guys who harass women in response to feminists, I think it’s more likely that these guys had been very entitled their whole lives and expected women to continue that entitlement. I remember one saying his mom still cooked, cleaned, did his laundry, and bought his clothes while doing the same for his father and brothers. He was in his late 20s. I have since left complimentarian churches, and not experienced many guys like that, but I also hear much less discussion about what women should be wearing.

        I also am rather confused on how Christian modesty culture believes they will police non-Christian women and why they even think that is a good idea. If you police women in the church because you believe the men will “fall into sin”, then what about when they are not at church? Are they going to follow non-Christian women around insisting they change their clothes?

        And my last question–how much hypersexualization is brought on by media? I know guys who shame Christian women for what they are wearing who will go on and on about movies or TV shows that are very hypersexualized and/or show a lot of violence against women. I kind of wonder if that affects how men respond to the way women are dressed much more than the real women themselves.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Lea

      Hi Ishy! This is a point I tried to make the other day. Assault has nothing to do with what one is wearing. It is downright dangerous to accept that as explanation or excuse, because it implies that that is an actual reason. It isn’t .

      I think men who say they don’t understand these social cues from women that are screaming ‘get away from me’ are generally lying.

      Liked by 5 people

      • Lea

        I’d like to add, there is a fantastic ted talk about rape specifically in india, but it gets into why it’s so important to know what people think about ‘why’ these things happen and why they are wrong because it changes the way we approach solutions. For instance, if you think rape or assault happens because a woman is not dressed properly/out late at night, you would impose restrictions on women. Etc.

        It’s called ‘It matters WHY you think Rape is wrong’ – Shreena Thakore.

        Liked by 1 person

      • ishy

        Hi Lea!

        “I think men who say they don’t understand these social cues from women that are screaming ‘get away from me’ are generally lying.”

        I totally agree. In fact, I have said no as firmly and strongly as I possible I could, and I was completely ignored. I’ve relayed this story to other Christians and been told that I “misunderstood”. Being vocal about it has just gotten me panned in those circles.

        I was thinking about this in another discussion where a few people thought that confidence protected against men harassing women. I do think it does with some men. I’m a polite person, and more introverted, but I don’t think I come across as lacking confidence. I don’t have a problem saying “No.”

        But I realized that specifically comp Christian men have been more aggressive to me when I’ve defended myself, like they wanted to prove they could control me. I do think just being female, single, and breathing has encouraged some single Christian men (and I kind of wonder if breathing was optional!), as the marriage idol culture in the church plus the male entitlement comp churches instill in men equals very desperate, controlling men.

        I could have married a jerk. I did not want to be married bad enough to do so. But I’ve sure met a lot of them in my 20 years as a Christian. I’ve had “Christian” guys assault me, inform me that God decided I was supposed to marry them, call me daily for months after I told them to stop, try to trick me into dating them (by flat out lying), tell other people we were dating after I repeatedly turned them down, and a whole bunch of other shady or controlling tactics. It’s really no surprise I’m still single after all that.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lea

        Ishy, It makes me think of Mr Collins, refusing to accept Elizabeth’s clear and firm no because he knew that’s just what ‘elegant females’ did. [come to think of it, he was a clergyman!]

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Mindi

    I finally got around to reading the original post yesterday, and I’ve been thinking a lot about it since then. This morning, as I was reading The Orthodox Church by Bishop Ware, I was struck by a passage on dualism.

    “The human being is a single, united whole; not only the human mind but the whole person was created in the image of God. Our body is not an enemy, but partner and collaborator with our soul. Christ, by taking a human body at the Incarnation, has ‘made the flesh an inexhaustible source of sanctification’.”

    I know there are many commenters here who are not interested in approaching this problem from a religious perspective, and indeed place much of the blame on Christian attitudes. But I think that when we have an understanding of the theology of the body that goes deeper than a debate about what “modesty” meant and how it should have been translated, we can divorce bodies from sex and situate them with grace and sanctification. And I think that will go a long way in transforming church-goers attitudes about bodies, consent, and lust.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Madison Theres

    I was considering commenting on your first post, but the comment thread there is just ridiculous :P So here are a half-dozen very scattered thoughts:

    I was raised pretty conservative and read lots of books and articles that told me I had to be cautious about *everything* I wore, lest it cause the preteen/teenage boys I was playing soccer with to lust. This had two primary effects on me: 1) I wore a lot of shapeless, layered blouses in middle school, and 2) I believed I had a lot more power over boys than I actually did. For real, I thought I could pretty much seduce any guy out there by wearing a short skirt or a sheer shirt without a camisole. (Spoiler: not true.)

    These days, I still dress sort-of-modestly (I wear one-piece bathing suits and don’t show cleavage if I can help it) but less than I used to. I’ve slowly incorporated skinny jeans and short-er shorts into my wardrobe. Basically, if something makes me feel horribly self-conscious, I don’t wear it.

    Most of this conversation has been about men struggling to not ogle women or lust after them. But none of that really motivates my personal clothing choices. I haven’t ever been catcalled or even really noticed guys checking me out (my husband excepted ;) ). Maybe it’s because of my sort-of-modest clothing, or maybe it’s because I have a size-10 instead of a size-0 body, or maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by a lot of honorable men. I don’t know. It’s a blessing not to have to worry about what a hundred male strangers will think of my outfit every day.

    So then, why do I choose not to wear bikinis or yoga pants or…? I’ve been wondering about that. Part of it is body image issues. Even if men don’t sexualize me for my thighs, I think lots of people might think my cellulite is unattractive. That’s a separate problem. But another part of it is the feeling that, even though my body is made for a lot more than sex, there are parts of it that I do deeply feel to be more private and intimate. If I wear a low-cut dress to a party, I would hope that the men around me would be able to treat me with respect, as a person, even while noticing my breasts. But I don’t think that I *want* lots of people to specifically notice that aspect of my body, even if they don’t ogle or mentally undress me. Because, for me, there’s something lovely about veiling that beauty, that glory (to steal Christine’s language), and revealing it to my husband.

    My perspective is, I think, a bit more selfish than the one you’ve expressed. I’m primarily concerned with my own desires and comfort, and not the unreasonable reactions of men around me. And if other women can feel comfortable and confident wearing a bikini, or a low-cut evening gown, or a pair of overalls, more power to her. But I hope I’ve articulated one woman’s reason for covering more skin that’s not “I want to protect men from lusting”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bailey Steger

      Madison, I absolutely love your comment! We sound like kindred spirits — everything from feeling I had great power to seduce guys (too bad none of them ever noticed me….) to choosing to cover up more than other people. There are certain body parts I just DO NOT feel comfortable displaying. I have no interest in going topless or nude or wearing skimpy clothes or plunging evening gowns, for no other reason that I just don’t feel comfortable and that’s that. :)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Madison Theres

        As a side note, I’ve been thinking that purity/modesty culture has been a contributing factor in my struggles with body image. After all, if men can’t help but trip over themselves lusting after me when I wear short shorts, and I’m wearing short shorts but no one is paying attention, then I must not be worth lusting after– and probably my legs are too fat. Though I never laid it out that explicitly, I know those thoughts went through my head when I started dressing more normally– ahem, less modestly– in ninth, tenth grade.

        Obviously there were lots more reasons for my self-esteem issues that I’ve had to work through, but I wish someone had sat me down in middle school and spoken truth to me, said, “Madison, you have a beautiful, healthy body that should be a source of joy for you. Most boys don’t care what you wear, and they wouldn’t care if you were three sizes smaller, so don’t dress for them.”

        Liked by 2 people

  5. WorkingMama

    Responding to both Bailey’s original post and Ishy’s various comments, I think the underlying issue with sexual harassment, assault, rape, child abuse, domestic violence, etc., is the perpetrator’s sense of entitlement and lust for power (e.i., desire to control others). They want a sexual partner that they can control. They do not want a mature, consensual relationship with an adult woman who has her own agency — who they must treat as an equal, a fellow adult, and a fellow human being. They think they have a RIGHT to other people’s bodies (usually a woman or child’s body). They don’t see their victims as people with their own basic human rights.

    Sadly we see this both within the church and in the secular world. There is a lot of talk on blogs such as this one critiquing the entitlement mentality of men within the fundagelical church, as there should be. But the secular world is full of misogyny as well. My father is a sexual predator. He put me through hell on earth for over a decade of my life, and I am still struggling with the pain and trauma that will probably always be a part of my life until Jesus makes all things new. And my father is an atheist/skeptic. Yet his attitude of entitlement is very similar to the religious, patriarchal types such as Bill Gothard.

    Women can and should speak out against these things. Yet I also believe that if we are going to see significant change, adult men in positions of leadership need to start speaking out against sexual violence and misogyny, in an active effort to change male culture.

    And to respond to Laura Jenkins’ comment, it’s not feminism that causes sexual violence. Otherwise rape and other forms of sexual violence would not be rampant in conservative religious societies, such as Mormonism, Islam, the Amish community, followers of Gothard, and IFB churches. Rapists don’t necessarily target feminists or women who are dressed in a sexy way; they target people who they see as unable to defend themselves, and/or unable to tell on them. The problem is entitlement and lust for power.

    Liked by 2 people

    • WorkingMama

      I’ve just realized that my previous comment may have actually come across as misogynistic, so I would like to clarify.

      I believe that women have made and can continue to make a huge impact when it comes to making this world a safer place and reducing sexual violence.

      What I meant was, men need to be a part of the conversation too. I hope this won’t make me sound like a man-hater, but since most perpetrators of sexual violence are men, I see sexual violence as primarily a male problem.

      Now MOST men are not perps, and most men want the world to be a safe place for their wives, sisters daughters, neighbors, co-workers, etc. And yet a lot of men are pretty passive when it comes to tolerating misogyny within male culture. For example, a man may think of himself as a decent guy, even a chivalrous guy, and yet he may laugh at sexist jokes and obtectify women. Or he may subconsciously buy into “rape myths” which is basically the idea that theoretically, rape is a horrible crime, but when it happens in real life, they make excuses for the perpetrator and blame the victim. You can Google rape myths and rape myths acceptance (RMA) for more info. Frighteningly, RMA is high among Evangelical men — this has been researched, I just don’t have time to find the links right now. Communities with high rates of RMA also have high rates of sexual violence.

      All that to say, I believe that men have both the power and the responsibility to make positive changes in male culture, in order to make the world a safer place for all of us. For example, dads and youth pastors and male teachers need to be having conversations with teenage boys about the concept of informed consent. There’s a really good TEDx video on this topic, but again I don’t have time to look for it right now.

      Sadly, a lot of Christian parents are more worried about their sons growing up be gay than they are about them growing up to be rapists. Just look at the way the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is handled by most churches. They make it all about homosexuality, and ignore the elephant in the room, namely, the attempted gang rape of two innocent travelers (actually, angels). But that’s another topic. I’m starting to rant now.

      Like

      • Steve Cutchen

        “Sadly, a lot of Christian parents are more worried about their sons growing up be gay than they are about them growing up to be rapists. ”

        Indeed. Baylor University administration says “hi.”

        Like

  6. Steve Cutchen

    From my daughter:
    I have a Ferrari. I don’t always drive it. Most of the time I drive my Ford. But I like driving my Ferrari sometimes. I might even let someone else drive my Ferrari. It’s mine. I can do that if I want to. But just because YOU like my Ferrari, and I happen to be driving it today, gives you NO RIGHT to assume that I am encouraging YOU to believe I’d let YOU drive my Ferrari. And certainly, me driving my Ferrari provides no excuse or permission, real or implied, that YOU could be forgiven for your lust and force your way into driving my Ferrari.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. The Grey

    Hang on.

    “…the ultimate problem would then be their understanding of masculinity.”

    So…a tiny but very loud minority of feminists are rude and toxic and regard the male gender as garbage (you might not do this personally yourself, but it absolutely happens – take that horrible comment on your other post about all men being only either rapists or potential rapists, for example), and it’s the *mens’* fault if they feel angry about that? Isn’t this victim blaming?
    I 100% agree it doesn’t justify attacking women as a retribution and two wrongs do not make a right, but reverse the genders here and see how you feel. As a rough equivalent, let’s say something like “a minority of men are PUAs who proclaim that it’s ok to coerce women into having sex” – how do you feel if you, as a woman, encounter that mindset and it angers you, but then I tell you that if it makes you angry, that’s basically a shortcoming on your part because you’ve failed to understand your own nature? I think you’d be right to be furious!
    Don’t you think it’s a bit arrogant to decide you understand masculinity better than men do? Or do we only get to define ourselves within the framework provided by feminist women – and if this is the case, are you so sure you know what is best for us? Very few women really understand men. You see us through a lens that nobody has yet bothered to analyse. It might be tempting to only focus on the parts of maleness that harm women, but part of the problem here is that men who harm women frequently feel generally worthless as human beings. You can’t fix that problem by focusing even more on women – you’ll only make it worse.

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    • Bailey Steger

      I think we’re talking about two different things, if I’m understanding you right.

      I would absolutely support your right to be offended as a man if a woman called all men rapists and would-be rapists. If you heard that frequently from feminists, I could see how that would make you angry at all feminists. I think that’s an abhorrent and inaccurate view of men.

      From the research I’ve done and what I’ve observed personally, those aren’t the sort of men harming women — men who are just angry because some feminists are saying horrible things about all men general. If that’s true, I’m definitely opening to hear about it.

      What I was referring to is what Michael Kimmel talks about in his book “Angry White Men.” His TED talk sums up his argument, if you’re interested.

      I’m not trying to speak authoritatively on masculinity. Laura asked a question, I proferred a guess based on what I knew and observed. I’m happy to hear other thoughts.

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      • The Grey

        Ok, that makes sense. I’ll look up that talk, thanks. I guess from the point of view of a guy who has effectively been bullied into frustrated silence on gender issues, I’ve been accused of “harming women” in the simple act of daring to disagree – this is suddenly hate speech, misogyny, rape culture etc. So from that point of view, I can tell you that there are definitely men “harming” women because they are sick of their gender being attacked, because any kind of disagreement, no matter how thoughtful, is reframed as harm by the feminists doing the attacking. This is a silencing tactic, of course.
        Hyperbole aside, there is a useful consideration here because this idea hinges on where we draw the line as to what constitutes harm – a heated verbal argument, for example, lives in the grey where many people would potentially say “yes, this is harmful” but others would not.
        I’m not sure either how much “mean feminists” contribute in instances of men who are actually abusive or violent (my own definition of harm), but I’d definitely suggest that they are disproportionately loud, especially online, and that contributes to a “background radiation” effect that makes men who try to engage with this debate generally far more defensive and angry about than they otherwise would be, which is maybe unlikely to directly cause abusive behaviour, but could certainly contribute to it in a small number of cases where the straw breaks the camel’s back. IMHO, anyway.
        I have to say Bailey as a side note, your manner of interacting has given me a little bit of new hope. I was totally burnt out and exhausted by trying to debate with a movement that seemingly hated me simply for existing, now I think maybe I need to just debate with better people. Thank you :)

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      • Bailey Steger

        The Grey, I hear you. I cannot tell you how much it angers and frustrates me as well to hear alleged feminists shutting men down with things like, “You’re a man, your opinion doesn’t count”; or ripping into guys who say the wrong thing even if they’re trying to be respectful about it. If it’s any consolation, they’re like that with EVERYBODY who disagrees with them, male or female. I’ve gotten my fair share of hostility too, and I’m supposed to be “one of them”!

        There’s ignorance and bad behavior in feminism, and I am fully aware of it and working to change that. Thanks always for your respectful conversation and honesty.

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    • Lea

      “take that horrible comment on your other post about all men being only either rapists or potential rapists”

      That comment was a sad reflection of one persons personal experience, not an angry feminist rant. I’m disturbed you didn’t see that.

      “part of the problem here is that men who harm women frequently feel generally worthless as human beings”

      Do they? I don’t think that’s true at all. There may be a subset, but it tends to be more about entitlement. Narcissists for instance, think VERY highly of themselves and poorly of everyone else.

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  8. The Grey

    “That comment was a sad reflection of one persons personal experience, not an angry feminist rant. I’m disturbed you didn’t see that.”

    Honest question: if I made a comment like “All women are either liars, or potential liars”, would you be as quick to give me a pass based on an assumption of my lived experience?

    You make a great point about narcissists. Do you believe that the majority of abusive humans are also narcissists? I feel like they would be a minority of a larger group of people who are mostly just projecting their own self-loathing onto others, and their behaviour would change if they felt loved and valued. This self-loathing is caused by our culture’s constant grinding message of our worthlessness. This message is very strong for men, by the way. Women may be objectified in an image of a model in a bikini, for example, and feminists are right to object to that – but that same image sends a different message to men: “She is valuable and you are not”. This is reinforced day in, day out. Every cultural artifact that objectifies women also tells men that they are worthless, that they need female approval to be worthwhile human beings. Then after years or decades of this being rammed down their throats, some of those men get angry and lash out. Not every guy who loses control is a calculating serial abuser. I believe most are just in a lot of pain, and have been trapped into a structure that tells them they are worthless and that the only way out of that worthlessness is to impress/possess “women”, the female object. The bikini girl on the poster. Given this I understand why some of them would come to resent or even hate that girl – she symbolises their every failure and every shortcoming, and serves in the end only as a reminder that they continue to be worthless.

    None of this excuses violence, but I firmly believe that these things must be analysed in order to be solved. Nobody is analysing this – we look only at one half of the problem and expect the other half to solve itself.

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      • WorkinMama

        Tell me if I’m wrong Grey, but I don’t think that’s what he meant. He said,

        “Every cultural artifact that objectifies women also tells men that they are worthless, that they need female approval to be worthwhile human beings.”

        I think he means that the objectification of women is hurtful to men too, because it measures a man’s worth by whether women approve of him or not. At least, that is how I understood that part of his comment. And sadly, it is a cultural reality. A man who has a beautiful wife or girlfriend is often automatically respected by other men — in other words, beautiful women are a status symbol. This not only dehumanizes women, it also dehumanizes the man who doesn’t have a beautiful woman in his life (or even the guy who does, because his status is dependent on the woman).

        Again, tell me if I’m wrong Grey; I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

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      • The Grey

        Workinmama nailed it. Sorry I did actually write a reply to this a few days ago and I thought I submitted it, but it seems to have vanished for some reason! Yes, it’s not (reasonable) feminists telling men they are worthless – feminists just object to the part of this pattern that harms women, which is good. However, this is not the whole story – as a culture we do not look at the messages that continue to be delivered to men (and have remained pretty much unchanged), then we act surprised or frustrated when male behaviours don’t really change. They aren’t changing because nobody is talking about this to men FROM the male point of view – we more or less just get scolded from a female point of view, which isn’t the same thing at all. This is perhaps the only way that feminists contribute to this problem, by talking “at” men about what they demand in terms of change, shutting down chances and spaces where men might be able to start approaching this problem, and acting like any attempt by men to start talking or working on their issues is “derailing” time and energy that should rightfully be focused on women. I do understand that it’s infuriating to have fought and fought and finally have some space only to have a bunch of dudes jump in with their stuff, but the thing is that they have literally nothing else. “Female” space is the only space they can access, no other space exists – it’s just a desert of silence and loneliness, not this utopia of power and privilege that women assume we inhabit. It’s a prison, not a palace. If we don’t talk in “your” space, we don’t talk at all, we have even less than you do in that sense. Feminism can’t really function without the idea of male power being used to oppress women, so when you try to say the issue might be more complicated than that, you usually get put in the mansplaining basket and told to go to hell. It’s true that on *one* level, male power can be used to oppress women – the male gaze can be used to reduce a woman to an object stripped of agency (a bikini girl on a poster, say). There is another level, though: the flip side of that process is understanding that there is no man on the poster at all. Our culture is telling us that we will never be wanted, desirable, valuable, worthy of attention the way that women are. We are not even worth objectifying in the first place, if that makes sense. It is erasure as much as it is power.

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    • Lea

      “Honest question: if I made a comment like “All women are either liars, or potential liars”, would you be as quick to give me a pass based on an assumption of my lived experience?”

      Well, on its face, that is a true statement. Especially given that most people do lie at some point, although most are not actually ‘liars’ meaning they will not lie about big things (from the data I’ve read). People who consistently lie about big things can’t be trusted. And yes, I would assume that was based on lived experience, because it has that ring to it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need correcting. Obviously rape is a much more serious thing and I have more compassion for people who react strongly to it, as I think bouncing back from lying is easier than bouncing back from assault. And there is a protective element that may you don’t catch. Women actually HAVE to evaluate men for risk, particularly when dating. There isn’t any getting around that. So it is different.

      “I feel like….I believe most are just in a lot of pain…None of this excuses violence, but I firmly believe that these things must be analysed in order to be solved. ”

      You are analyzing by ‘feeling’ though! And on top of that, I think your analysis is wrong. Have you read extensively on this topic? I have read up on criminal behavior and I just don’t see the same thing you see. It happens, but it’s not the majority.

      ” Not every guy who loses control is a calculating serial abuser.”

      You say you are not excusing but you are saying the are just losing control. That is NOT the case, and as that is considered a mitigating factor legally for most crimes, it IS excusing them. You do not just ‘lose control’ and decide to attack somebody unless you have a serious mental disorder. You make a choice. Let’s not excuse those choices. The more you use all this forgiving language, the more you promote this type of behavior!

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  9. Remnants of Wit

    I read your post that was featured on Discover, and then I read this one, and I think you have some great points. I don’t agree with you 100% on all of them, but I think you have a very healthy approach to modesty overall. I have a “Theology Thursday” feature on my blog, and would it be all right by you if I did a post with my own take on this matter and how it relates to chivalry, and why neither should be confined to one gender? (I would link to your articles in this post.) Thanks again for bringing this important issue to the light!

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