My Two Cents on Anthony Esolen’s article Modesty and Charity

Richard Avedon | Photography and Biography
Photo by Richard Avedon

As always, another good article by Anthony Esolen which can be read at the link below.  Do read the whole thing, because there is a lot of good content.

https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2018/01/15/modesty-and-charity/

Here are some of the highlights that particularly stood out to me…

The following line made me laugh at the image he conveys

…we cannot talk about sexual modesty without the prudes of vice fainting away, for fear that “theocrats” will sweep them to some faraway castle, there to terrify them with gifts, poetry, and courtship…

 

Boys ought to temper their aggression, even their happy aggression, around girls. That includes off-color talk. To do otherwise is to say, “I am in charge here, I do what I want, and to hell with you.

So also with immodest dress. A woman who dresses to show off her form in a provocative way is saying either, “I want you not to look at my face but at more important things lower down,” or “To hell with you.”

Yes.  We have a lot of that “to hell with you” attitude in our society today.

If I see a woman whose dress seems like a strip of plastic wrap, to be used once and taken off, thoughts of sex come immediately to mind, which is what the woman intends unless she is a fool. So I check myself and turn aside. I don’t want to think those things.

Right. As a Christian he has an obligation to self-mastery even when others aren’t displaying it. The woman has an equal obligation to modesty which, if she’s Christian, she should know better.  If she’s not, we do have to deal with living in a fallen world that we should try to influence as best we can.  However, I think that even non-Christians can see the reasonableness of the Christian position which affirms obligations for both sexes to be considerate of the other.

It won’t do to say, “Don’t think them. ” [sexual thoughts]

As humans, we will have thoughts and images come to mind in response to our environment. The key with the Christian is to not entertain those thoughts but to turn your mind away from them. Once you choose to entertain them, you have engaged your will and have now sinned. [But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28] This principle is not just for men either. It’s for women too. Christ may have been addressing men when he spoke but there’s nothing special about women in that they are not prone to this sin. Although, the temptation will be less or more easily overcome generally for women.

Every human strength also betrays a weakness. A woman’s sensitivity to feelings – sensitivity without which the human race could never have survived – is also a temptation to choose just the right word to hurt the most. A man’s inclination to roughness against the stubborn resistance of the natural world – roughness without which the human race could never have survived – is also a temptation to violence.

Right. The strengths and weaknesses of both male and female have an effect on civilization and both can have either noble or disastrous ends.

Charity, forbearance, an honest admission of one’s susceptibility to sin, and consideration for the susceptibility of others, particularly members of the opposite sex, whose feelings are sometimes quite different from ours, should govern our choices in dress, speech, and physical deportment.

That’s the key right there. Getting most people on board with it is another matter.

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How Far Should a Woman Go to Be Modest for the Sake of Keeping Men Chaste?

Image result for eve as temptress
‘Eve Tempting Adam,’ by Johann Carl Loth

Modest dress in women will ONLY be a help to the men who are ALREADY working on keeping their thoughts chaste. It’s a service of love for our brothers who want to see the women around them as sisters and not as objects of their uncontrolled lust.

Men who already walk around with the intent to indulge in looking at women’s figures to titilate their own lustful thoughts, will salivate just as much over the woman who is obviously dressed to attract sexual attention as they will a woman who has taken care to keep covered from about no more than mid-thigh to the top of her cleavage. As long as she is dressed prettily but not dowdy or in a tent that completely hides her form, she is prey to the weak man who doesn’t even try to master himself in this area. There’s not a darn thing she can do to keep him from having the thoughts he’s going to have. It’s his sin, not hers.  It’s not on her to hide the femininity God gave her by depersonalizing herself in garb that hides her true form altogether.

Women don’t need to ask men what is modest. If we are in any way honest with ourselves and it’s our intention when we buy clothes and get dressed, to not explicitly try to gain sexual attention, then we will most likely pick out appropriate clothing. It’s ok to want to look pretty and well put together and that’s not immodest at all.

Examples

Modest in a way that reflects femininity and will be a help to men who have already decided to gain mastery over lustful thoughts…….

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Modest to the point of depersonalization (complete denial of the female form) in an attempt  to keep already unchaste men from thinking nasty thoughts.  It is not necessary for women to go this far.  Men have a responsibility to overcome their own sin and to master their sinful inclinations.

Image result for ugly modest dresses

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Image result for modest denim romper christian women

Summary

Women can choose to be a help to men in their quest to keep their thoughts chaste and we can choose to recognize and honor our own dignity in how we dress.  Men can have a weakness in this area but ultimately it’s up to the man to decide to have dominion and mastery over himself.  Until he desires this and attempts it, there’s not much individual women can do to help him without completely hiding the fact that we ARE women with a female form that God has given to us.   We are not responsible to keep men from sinning to the point that our very being as women must be denied, covered up and formless.  It’s not our job to completely take the responsibility of self-mastery from individual men.  Each man is responsible for himself and for his own sin.