It’s summer! Time for all the the ladies to start posting articles about why it’s not a woman’s responsibility to prevent a man from lusting and all the gentlemen to start posting comments about why it’s not a woman’s responsibility, but she sure can help.
I’ve been encouraged to see the pushback, by women, even women in more conservative circles, against the toxic idea that a woman’s clothing choices can cause men to stumble.
But this pushback gets halted when a guy stands up and comfortably announces that while this personal responsibility thing all sounds great, the reality is that normal, healthy guys like him struggle, so women should still cover up. And the ladies go a little silent, unable to argue with this universal battle against sexual temptation that women never face.
The pushback against purity culture dies right then and there, because no woman wants to challenge the idea that men can’t actually control themselves — and that’s a beautiful, God-given part of being a man.
So I’m going to be that woman. I’m going to stand up and look that man in the eye and tell him that his inability to control himself is not normal, healthy, or God-given, and I have no sympathy for his struggles.
Because I don’t. I think more highly of men than that.
My husband didn’t grow up in purity culture. He didn’t grow up hearing that it’s normal and healthy for a guy to struggle with not looking until the offending woman leaves the room. He didn’t grow up hearing he couldn’t control his sexual urges if he caught a glimpse of a woman’s cleavage. He grew up around girls who wore bikinis to the beach and short shorts and tank tops. He grew up being able to look at a woman, notice parts of her body, even formulate a response (like “She’s attractive” or “She’s trying too hard”), and then go on with his conversation with her as if she’s more than her butt and abs.
He doesn’t experience this “all men’s daily battle” regarding women’s clothing choices, because he wasn’t socialized to.
And I think that is a huge thing people are overlooking in this discussion — how much of the “male struggle” can be chalked up not to healthy amounts of testosterone but to socialization?
Even as a female I was socialized to be uncomfortable with women in certain clothing — not because I was sexually attracted to them but because I was taught they were immodest. I would avert my eyes and feel embarrassed and not know how to talk to a woman with cleavage. Now that I’m socialized to be okay with women’s clothing choices, even if they don’t align with mine, I don’t find it awkward at all. They’re just people. They’re just bodies. No need to freak out or be awkward.
I think guys need to learn that it’s fine to notice a woman’s body and find it attractive. Bodies are beautiful. Beautiful bodies illicit responses in everyone. Notice it, and move on with your life. It’s not a sin. It’s not even necessarily sexual. This is how “visual” women deal with attractive men, and you don’t hear them begging guys to put their shirts on at the beach. It’s not socially acceptable for women’s sex drives to show.
I do find it disturbing and creepy and predatory that guys “struggle” so much around women who wear certain clothes. I find it disturbing that that’s normalized as healthy and natural. I don’t feel safe around men who can’t look at my body and engage with me as a human, regardless of what I’m wearing. I don’t feel comfortable around men who are battling not to lust after me.
And I don’t feel that I can control whether I “trigger” that battle or not by my clothing choices. How am I supposed to know what level of dress or undress is “comfortable” for any particular man? Guys will often say, “Oh, I’m not one of those guys who thinks women should dress like frumps. I’m not saying women shouldn’t wear pants or above the knee skirts or tank tops — I can handle those.”
But you know what? Some guys apparently can’t handle pants or above the knee skirts and tank tops. Some guys are more turned on by women in skirts. They’ve told me this to my face.
So what’s “normal”? Is it normal for a guy to struggle when he sees a woman in jeans, or only when she’s wearing a short skirt? Is it normal for a guy to struggle when she’s wearing a one-piece bathing suit and shorts, or only when she’s wearing a bikini? Is there an all-male council who has decided what’s “normal” for a guy to struggle with, and what’s creepy? Because I keep hearing mixed messages from men about what turns them on and what’s modest, and it makes me think the problem isn’t with what women wear but with what men can’t handle.
I think “normal” is a guy being able to interact with a woman comfortably, regardless of what she’s wearing, without waging a battle for his soul. Period. I will not accommodate any other male normal.