It began here: the designer of a series of “modest” swimsuits gave a presentation on the cultural evolution of the swimsuit, asking if modest could make a comeback. The Modesty debate emerged in Christendom again! People are once more arguing over how much responsibility a Christian woman holds in keeping her brothers from “stumbling.”
It continued here, in a blog post by Rachel Held Evans, who I thought responded graciously and eloquently while pointing out some of the flaws in the standard Christian stance on “modesty.” She writes, “I remember feeling bad for the tall girls who were sent home from my Christian school because their shorts were millimeters too short. I remember the tear-stained faces of little girls turned away from swimming pools because their bathing suits had two pieces. And I remember trying desperately to cover up the shape of my breasts, which despite all my turtlenecks and layers and crossed arms insisted upon showing up early. When I caught a male classmate’s eye on them, a wave of guilt would rush over me—Oh no, he noticed me! I’ve made him stumble. To this day, I have to deliberately avoid folding my arms in front of my chest because I made such a habit of it in my youth.“
Perhaps men would even be encouraged to wear Scottish kilts, to show off the shape of their legs and butts less than slacks do. (Don’t lie, ladies–for many of you, a well-shaped male butt is as appealing as a well-shaped female butt is to me, amiright?)
Modesty proponents frequently talk as though men are literally incapable of controlling their sexual urges. In the comments on Rachel Held Evan’s post, one commenter wrote regarding swimwear, “The only choice available to a godly man is to not look, and if he must look, to somehow not allow stimulation turn into lust.” “Somehow,” as though it were a nigh-impossible task.
But the fact is, just as it is possible (and frequent!) for a woman to be visually aroused, it is also possible for men to control their tendency towards lust. Yes, the stereotype says that men are visual creatures–show us an inch of skin and we’ve gone into hump-everything-in-sight mode. But you know what? Maybe that’s just an insulting stereotype.
I was trained as an artist in college, and took several figure drawing classes, most of which involved nude models of both sexes. I remember what a culture shock this was for me, raised in a conservative Christian bubble as I was: how would I keep from lusting after the female models? Surprisingly easily, actually. Once I remembered I was there as an artist, my vision changed, and I saw those human bodies in terms of light and shadow, shape and line. It took a little practice, especially for a hormone-riddled college student, but I learned that it IS possible to look even at a stark naked woman in a way other than sexually. The difference is in where one allows one’s mind to wander. “Take every thought captive,” right?
And beyond artists: what of doctors? Male doctors often have to see their patients naked, even the attractive ones. Male doctors often have to perform breast exams, some gynecologists are male, etc. If men were really as uncontrollable as the stereotype says, how could a Christian be a doctor without sinning?
The answer is, of course, that lust is always an active thing, not passive–you can’t control your attraction, but you can control what you allow your mind to focus on.
And it is this control that Christians must exercise, rather than expecting everyone else to “cover up” for their benefit.
Also, I can’t help but point out… even if you convinced every Christian woman to “cover up” in a burquini to keep you from lusting, do you think the nonChristian women are going to do so as well? I wouldn’t expect so. So won’t you still have the same problem? Doesn’t it make more sense for the bastion against lust to be your own mental control, rather than the reduction of external stimuli?
“One day the cat got into the dairy and twenty of them were at work moving all the milk out; no one thought of moving the cat.” –C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader