A while back, a female colleague and I interviewed a young businessman who was a witness in a commercial dispute we were handling. We went to his office on a warm summer day, and he was sitting behind his desk with his tie somewhat loosened and the sleeves of his Oxford shirt rolled up. It was hard not to notice that this young man was particularly good looking, and the bit of skin he was showing -- his neck and his forearms -- didn't help. As I asked him questions, I couldn't help but notice that my normally calm, cool and competent colleague was uncharacteristically quiet. When my colleague and I were driving back to my office, she said, "Oh my God, I could barely even look at him without blushing." In truth, both my colleague and I had felt discomfited during the interview.
But here's the thing. At no time did it occur to either of us to blame this young man for our reactions to him. We didn't question his right to exist in the workplace or his right to make himself a bit more comfortable on a hot day by rolling up his sleeves and loosening his tie. We didn't feel any hostility towards him. We didn't feel entitled to leer at him or make any comment about his sexual attractiveness. Of course we didn't! There is no cultural precedent for the notion that men have an obligation to constantly police themselves to make sure that women don't feel uncomfortable or start thinking about sex.
But The Rebelution, a site by teenaged fundamentalist superstars Alex and Brett Harris, and its readers are reveling in the ol' double standard. In the site's Modesty Survey, hundreds of Christian boys (and some grown men) provided answers to Christian girls' questions about precisely what articles of apparel might prove to be "stumbling blocks" to the Christian male's quest to avoid lust. The survey is predicated on the notion that girls and women themselves have a moral obligation to help boys and men to avoid lust. The questions and responses go into a disturbing amount of detail. For example, while most young men did not see a problem with "v-shaped necklaces" (phew!), one requested, "Please don't wear them with v-neck shirts or thin shirts that are depressed by the pendant's weight." And there are lots of other extraordinarily detailed responses to precisely where the sight of a bit of female skin may be a cause for sin.
It was also striking how the boys felt all too entitled to request or dictate changes in female behavior without any regard for how those changes would limit and restrict the lives of the girls. They thought nothing of suggesting all sorts of restrictions on bathing suits, dance outfits, and gym clothes -- the primary purpose of which is not to titillate men but to allow freedom of movement for women engaging in physical activity. Can you imagine if there was a suggestion that the boys not wear those tight little baseball uniforms when playing baseball or that they wear long pants while mowing the lawn? Of course not -- because the boys' right to live their lives is beyond question. The girls on the other hand bear the burden of having to worry about things like having to turn their back when taking off a sweatshirt in front of a boy, or not appearing too confident in their bodies:
Girls usually know when they’re doing this though, I think. Like if a girl who already has a very confident air about her, who dresses very attractively, then sits cross-legged on a couch with her arms spread out over the back of the couch, smiling… Haha, okay, you kinda get the idea. This is awkward.
(Hat tip to Pandagon)
Sure, there is lip service given to the notion that controlling lust is ultimately the boy's responsibility -- but they are happy to place the ultimate burden to restrict their lives and worry about every detail of their conduct and dress on the girls, with notably no reverse survey on the details of male modesty. Huh, funny that.
Finally, I would note (as Jill already has) the hostility directed at girls and women in comments such as this response to how boys feel about girls who flaunt their bodies:
Saddened; disappointed; sometimes angered. They’re distracting good men, dishonoring God and marriage, and offering themselves cheaply–which makes me desire even more strongly a girl who is modest, who is valuable. I would be disingenuous if I didn’t concede that these kinds of girls are a temptation. But I always remind myself that if a girl flaunts herself before I marry her, she’ll do the same thing afterward. As a husband, that would make me pretty mad.What would make me happy is dedicating all my energy to loving a young woman who reserves herself for me.
As I have noted before, the theoretical underpinnings of the Christian modesty movement are essentially A Recipe for Misogyny -- not to mention an excuse to control (and humiliate) women. (Girls in the survey are advised to run their outfits past their fathers and brothers for approval.) The fact that there is no reverse modesty survey for male dress proves that this mindset is at the very least predicated on the notion of women and girls as second class citizens.