Bosoms, Bottoms and the Stumbling of Men

By Jennifer Hartline Published on July 19, 2017

There are a few topics on social media that are guaranteed to kick the hornet’s nest every time. Good luck trying to have a rational chat about vaccines, for instance. And heaven help you if you dare wade into the waters of mothering and childcare and employment.

Then there’s the battle over women’s clothing and men’s lust. Who’s to blame when a scantily-clad women gets the unwelcome attention of a conscious man? Or what if he just inwardly wrestles with his own thoughts and averts his eyes? Is he wrong for wishing he hadn’t just seen more than he wanted to see? Who’s responsible for the way a man feels when women’s bosoms and bottoms are constantly on display?

On the Issue of Modesty

A Christian blogger named Bailey recently kicked off the summer festivities on her blog, Ezer, with her piece, I Don’t Accommodate Uncontrolled Men.

She’s tired of worrying about whether a man can control himself in the presence of a woman in a bikini. She thinks it’s time to quit making excuses for men, and stop bending over backwards to make sure men are never tempted. She takes aim at something called “purity culture” and the way she feels it has socialized men (and even women) to obsess over a woman’s body. She’s not impressed with any argument about testosterone and its supposed role in all this.

Let’s step away from blame for a moment and consider what charity asks of us as men and women.

I must admit I don’t know much about “purity culture.” I didn’t realize it was a thing, much less a bad thing. I don’t know what it says or requires or discourages, but I am a fan of purity.

Bailey makes some good points, and pays men a compliment when she insists they are capable of controlling themselves and managing their own thoughts. And it’s not fair to make women responsible for men’s behavior. She’s right to say we should not accept as “normal” the idea that a healthy man can’t interact with a woman without focusing only on her body or her clothes.

Still, there are a few other ideas that deserve mention, like charity, modesty, propriety and balance.

We Owe It to Each Other

Let’s step away from blame for a moment and consider what charity asks of us as men and women.

The fact is, men are indeed visual creatures. It’s how God has hard-wired them. It’s not a defect, so it’s not helpful for women to treat it as an annoyance. God has hard-wired women differently, and again, it’s not helpful for men to treat a woman’s nature as an annoyance.

Men are called to employ sensitivity and chivalry with women. Women can likewise employ courtesy and charity.

Charity asks all of us to be considerate of one another’s vulnerabilities, and not to consciously put one another to the test. Charity asks us to accommodate others when we can. It can lead us to exercise a bit of self-denial for the good of the other. One may have every legal right and freedom to do something, but charity will ask, “Would it be kinder to the other person if I didn’t?”

Men are called to be sensitive and chivalrous with women. Women can likewise use courtesy and charity by not dressing in a way that leaves a gentleman no choice but to look away because he’d rather not have to see. That means keeping the bosoms and bottoms covered, please. (It’s not just the gentlemen who don’t want to see it.)

Let’s not  pretend we don’t know the difference between modesty and immodesty. An outfit should make the lady the focus, not her “assets.” So many women’s fashions in recent decades have gone from flattering and feminine to sleazy and inappropriate.

Women can’t have it both ways. They can’t constantly dress in clothes that are designed to draw maximum sexual attention to their chests and rear ends, and then complain that men only see them sexually and don’t interact with them as human beings. I find it absurd that a woman who wouldn’t dream of going out in public in her bra and panties will gladly do so in a bikini.

Purity requires modesty, an integral part of temperance. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity. … Modesty is decency. … It is discreet.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 2521-22

No, It Doesn’t Mean Men are Excused

This doesn’t mean men are off the hook from ungentlemanly behavior. It doesn’t mean men can blame women for their lust. It means men and women owe each other a debt of modesty and charity. We owe our sons and daughters the same.

It used to be that a sense of propriety prevailed in society, and this debt was borne without fuss. But no longer. What used to be kept for the eyes of only one is now forced in front of the eyes of everyone.

Bailey’s frustration is that it seems it’s only the women who are asked to accommodate, or modify their appearance for the sake of men. It seems unfair. But life isn’t always fair. (Life extracts an unequal share of accommodation from men in different ways.) Women have more to show, more to reveal, and, therefore, more that deserves protection and privacy. Men are still required to have self-control.

Balance, People. Balance.

There’s no need for ridiculous extremes. The choice is not either a bikini or a burqa. Women are not required to be covered from nose to toes lest a man see their form and be inflamed with lust. There’s a balance, people.

Each of us is called to modesty, chastity and yes, purity. It would be nice if we could all just return to an honorable sense of propriety, and keep some things to ourselves.

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