“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.
So in the last post, I promised I would explain how A&E aim to convince their readers to follow their vague and self-contradictory modesty rules. As it turns out, A&E do this by making several promises of their own. I suspect, though, that they won’t be able to follow through on them, mostly due to the inconvenient fact that they can’t control the general (male) public’s behavior. Let me explain.
Prithee, milady, let me hold the door
Near the end of Bethany Vaughn’s description of her experience with Ladies Against Feminism’s “Feminine Dress Challenge” (see last post for details), she says this:
Another thing I noticed was positive public reaction. I experienced numerous acts of chivalry and respect when I went out in public. When we were out and about, my daughter and I, more times than not, had doors opened for us by men. One man tipped his hat to us and said, “Good Day, Ma’am.” We had young men at the grocery store answer with, “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Ma’am” and help lift heavy loads. These were not rare acts, but the respect and chivalrous actions noticeably increased, and I believe that our attention to feminine dress was what spurred these comments and actions from strangers.
Here we come to the first promise A&E are subtly making: if you dress modestly and project the proper amount of femininity, men will perform certain favors and courtesies (door holding, heavy lifting, etc.) traditionally done for women by men. In other words, “chivalry” will be directed at you, and your life will become easier.
There’s several intertwined issues at play here. First, notice that it’s easy to see even here, that the apparently instinctive “chivalrous” reaction of men to femininity was not universal. Vaughn said the behavior increased, not that it was 100% automatic. Thus, even in this pro-modesty, pro-chivalry material, there is a tacit admission that not all men will react this way. So if you are dressing modestly in an attempt to spontaneously ignite chivalry in the men around you, be aware that you will fail in many cases, because as I said at the beginning of this post, you actually do not have mystical woman powers and cannot magically control the behavior of the male public, simply by putting on a dress.
Second, Vaughn’s assumptions are on display here, most notably the one about it being “disrespectful” for a man not to perform the acts of chivalry described above. As you can probably guess, Vaughn and I part ways on this point. What exactly is the moral value of one half of the human race being obligated to hold doors for the other half? Vaughn would probably reply that women are the “weaker sex,” and thus men holding doors is symbolic of the strong serving the weak. Except as I’ve pointed out before, there are plenty of cases where the man is clearly the weaker party. What would Vaughn recommend in those situations?
But where the nasty flipside of this idea becomes clearest, I think, is in Vaughn’s praise of men lifting heavy loads for women. Now it is generally a bad idea for pregnant women to lift heavy objects (which is probably where this “rule” came from in the first place). But the majority of womankind, especially in the United States where Vaughn presumably lives, is not pregnant at any given moment. Also, if there’s a chance a woman could be pregnant, we now have the to ability to tell, sometimes quite early on, whether or not we actually are, so any “might be pregnant” excuse on Vaughn’s part would apply for only a short window of time. And at that point, what is there about a heavy object that she cannot handle? Unless she is truly too weak to lift it – which will not be true in most cases, and almost certainly isn’t in the above example of grocery bags – the only rationale I can see behind this is entitlement and laziness. What rational reason is there for women to get out of heavy lifting, simply because they have vaginas and XX chromosomes? I fully admit, I understand the temptation to laziness and selfishness. They’re pretty much human universals. But they’re hardly virtuous. And what would happen if a man refused to lift something for Vaughn because she was perfectly able to herself? Would she lecture him about how she has a divine “right” not to lift heavy objects?
The promise of chivalry is even more explicit earlier in the chapter, when A&E quote fellow patriocentrist Jennie Chancey:
The woman clomping around in “tank pants” and combat boots doesn’t bespeak maidenly virtues or a need to be treasured and cared for. In fact, she invites others to treat as “one of the guys,” slapping her on the back, slamming doors in her face and leaving her to fend for herself in a dark parking lot. But the woman of gentle, discreet femininity invites honor and distinction. Men hush their rough talk when she enters the room. Men think twice before letting a door close in her face. No one would dream of slapping her on the back or sharing a coarse jest with her.
Chancey’s description above is pretty detached from my reality. Not only because I wear pants (though to be fair they aren’t military-style pants), and I have male friends, and they have never treated me the way Chancey’s logic dictates they should; but also because my male friends didn’t generally behave this way toward each other. They weren’t swearing, they weren’t making filthy jokes, they weren’t slamming doors in each other’s faces (which I was taught was just plain rude no matter the sex of the person on the other side). So I feel compelled to point out, yet again, that patriocentrists’ general image of men is usually not very flattering. For instance, in previous material we learned that they are animalistic sex werewolves who aren’t responsible for their own thoughts and actions. Now I suppose we can add to that “rude, ill-mannered boors.” What an exquisite ode to masculinity.
I also find it confusing that Chancey appears to believe that “chivalrous” men may engage in “rough talk” and “coarse jests” when they are around other men, but should stop as soon as a lady enters the room. I would think Chancey would be opposed to swearing and dirty jokes on principle. So why is it especially noble for a man to stop swearing and making dirty jokes in the presence of women? Is it really okay, or somehow less bad, for him to only swear and make dirty jokes around other men? Shouldn’t she be encouraging men to just stop swearing and making dirty jokes? Or does she believe they’re incapable of doing that because, well, they’re men and you know how they are?
To be entirely fair to Chancey, though, I’m not 100% certain she was referring to swearing here. She might also have been alluding to what patriocentrist Doug Wilson has referred to as “straight talk,” which is apparently also an exclusively male domain:
This book was written for men and their sons. I suggest that wives read this only when their husbands give it to them, and not the other way around. The introduction mentioned the issue of “straight talk” – and this means, in part, a rejection of euphemism. Some of what is said here may be offensive to Christian women, but the point is certainly not to give offense. The point is to provide biblically specific and pointed help to Christian males.
I can only deduce from this that, in Wilson’s world, women need to be sheltered from the “male” (i.e., plain-speaking, straightforward and blunt) style of communication, as it is far too scandalous and shocking for their poor feminine sensibilities. This once again does not match my reality at all. I generally find euphemisms annoying (especially in reference to anatomy) and do my best not to mince words. So does this mean I “talk like a man”? That I have a “man’s mind”? That I am unfeminine? Please, someone explain my own ladybrains to me!
Pure as the driven snow
A&E’s second promise is mostly unstated, but lies beneath the surface of practically everything else in the chapter. That’s probably because it’s an understood premise of modesty culture: if you dress properly, men will not lust after you and/or view you as a sex object. Here’s where it comes closest to being explicit:
As well as giving others the wrong impression, immodest clothing causes others to be distracted and tempts them to sin. It’s wrong for us to dress in a way that tempts men to think of us in a way other than “as sisters, with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2).
Matthew 5:28 warns, “But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Adultery is a serious sin, and tempting men to commit adultery is seriously wrong. Yes, men are responsible for keeping their own thoughts pure. But when we do our brothers harm by tempting them to sin, we are sinning against them and against God.
I’ve discussed many of the issues here previously. Evidence abounds in real life that women’s dress does not prevent male lust. In fact, there are even pictures of men leering at women in burqahs. But how is this possible, since burqahs were specifically designed to hide parts of the female body that supposedly provoke lust in men? Could it be, perhaps, that the entire idea is unsound? And as I’ve also said before, this theory paints men as big impulsive toddlers who need to have their environment constantly sanitized for their own safety. Which, again, is patently insulting and infantilizing to men.
There is also a central unspoken irony here: that loud and aggressive labeling of certain body parts as sexual, actually draws attention to them that would not otherwise have been directed there – even though the entire goal is ostensibly to encourage people not to look. Take, for instance, this account of a six-year-old boy who asked his mother why a passing woman jogging in shorts was so “immodest.” I think it’s safe to say that this would not be the response of the average six-year-old boy upon seeing a woman jogging. That’s because the average six-year-old boy has not been specially and deliberately trained to fixate on shorts as inherently immodest and problematic. In other words, the boy’s parents, via their intensive modesty awareness training, created a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’d also like to probe further about this statement:
It’s wrong for us to dress in a way that tempts men to think of us in a way other than “as sisters, with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2).
I am curious how A&E are going to handle this concept when they get to their chapter on courtship, because to me these two concepts seem incompatible. Why? Because here, A&E seem to be saying that men should regard all women as “sisters” – i.e., platonically, and without paying special attention to one woman over the others. I say this because I have seen patriocentrists deal with this verse before, specifically S. M. Davis when I reviewed his lecture Seven Bible Truths Violated by Christian Dating:
In relationships, where boys and girls “like” some other girl or boy, or where, among older youth, someone is “going with” somebody, they tend to treat them differently than if they’re not “going with” them. But brother and sister relationships don’t have to change, because brothers and sisters don’t do things that communicate anything other than friendship. They don’t deceive each other. Neither do they suffer the devastation of broken relationships because theirs never had to break.
As I pointed out in that review, Davis’ logic here should forbid marriage altogether, and actually turn it into some kind of spiritual “incest.” After all, two married Christians are still brothers and sisters in Christ. Thus, the husband is treating one of his sisters in Christ differently than the others by living with her, being affectionate with her, having sex with her, etc.
A&E have the same problem. Logically, a man must treat one woman differently than all the others to engage in courtship. Additionally, there is, by definition, no such thing as a platonic, “brotherly” or “sisterly” courtship, because the goal of courtship is explicitly romantic and/or sexual (i.e., marriage). In fact, the same Doug Wilson mentioned above has stated this up front (emphasis his):
It is false and unbiblical for courtship to be treated as though it were entirely a “spiritual thing.” The courtship relationship should be handled carefully by Christians because it is a volatile sexual relationship. The fact that it is unconsummated does not keep it from being sexual. When a young man approaches a girl’s father, there is no sense anyone pretending that something platonic or spiritual is happening. “Mr. Smith, may I have your permission to speak with your daughter about missions?” The sexual relationship is there, like an unfired pistol, loaded and cocked. The godly young man who comes to a girl’s father is seeking a sexual relationship with that man’s daughter.
This may be the only time in recorded history I have ever agreed with Doug Wilson about anything (no matter how Freudian I may or may not find his “unfired pistol” metaphor). Courtship (or dating; it makes no difference which, at least as regards this question) may be able to be conducted “with all purity,” but it is most certainly not an example of a man treating a woman “as a sister.” So I look forward to A&E’s courtship chapter, to see if this idea is addressed anywhere, or if it is conveniently omitted from the discussion.