(Note: there are basically two definitions for the word modesty. The dictionary definition involves the virtue of being unassuming and moderate in your behavior. The colloquial definition is, well, basically “put some pants on.” For this article, I’m using the colloquial definition. If you’re unsure about the difference, I have little doubt that a helpful commenter or two will lecture me about my improper use of the word modesty. Read their comments for further clarification.)
When I’m at the playground with my kids, I stare at men. Mind you, I do this to guard my own heart. You see, I like women. Always have, ever since I was a little boy. In elementary school, my friends and I loved the National Geographic magazines in the school library. As teenagers, we would sit staring at the scrambled Spice Channel hoping for a brief, yet clear view of a nipple. Shamefully, in the past, I helped make the swimsuit issue a bestseller for Sports Illustrated.
This is why I stare at men when I’m out with my kids. The DC area, where I live, is full of people who are fitness crazed. And the playgrounds are full of moms and nannies that are fit and wearing very little. While sitting, bored on a playground, it’s easy(ier) for me to allow myself to “enjoy” the exposed curves of a hot nanny. Make no mistake, my potential for perviness is not unique. Watching men is a constant reminder that almost all men, regardless of age and ethnicity, leer at women. I watch men leer at woman so that I’m less tempted to leer at women.
A newly married friend of mine told me that before he was married, he had never noticed how many men gawk at women while at the gym. He shook his head and sadly bemoaned, “It’s disgusting! I stand in the back of the gym and watch as man after man stares at women.”
My wife often relates to me stories about the men on the Metro or at her office whom she catches staring down her shirt. These anecdotes are echoed in the experiences of many others. Men lust after women. Any man who says that he doesn’t is probably lying. I mean, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show isn’t for women.
While realizing that nothing I say will spare me from the accusation of slut-shaming, I want to point out that I’m not blaming women for my or any other man’s lust. We are responsible for our actions and thoughts. Nothing a woman does or does not do justifies on any level being leered at (or worse) by men. But the reality that men lust still remains. As a father of a daughter who’s almost a teenager, that reality doesn’t allow me to sit on the sidelines. And as her father, I see two main objectives: 1. Her safety 2. Teaching her to love her neighbor.
Thankfully, my daughter is still naïve to the dirty glances that I’m already catching men sneak at her. It disgusts me, and I remind myself of my fatherly disgust whenever I’m tempted to sneak wanton looks at ladies. The dirty little secret that’s not really a secret, but that is frequently dismissed or foolishly denied, is that men are more likely to be tempted to leer when there is something to leer at. This means, as her father, I’m going to do my best to teach my daughter how to make wise decisions in reference to how she dresses. As a female, she’s already going to have to deal with the sick behavior of men; I don’t want her to inadvertently exacerbate it.
Of course, the angry rejoinder is going to be “men should be taught not to objectify women.” Well, that’s true. I absolutely agree with that statement. In fact, as my son gets older, I’m going to do my best to train him to view women as individuals made in the image of God and of equal worth as men. I’m going to teach him that when he lusts after a woman, he is violating her and declaring his belief that women are not made in the image of God. But, and this is important, why should my daughter assume that every male is being taught these things—and that they’re paying attention to the teaching?
That angry rejoinder also says that if I teach my daughter to take self-defense classes or not to leave her drink unattended, I’m a rape enabler. That misguided thought states that men should be taught to not rape women and to stop putting the onus on women to stop rape. That’s utter nonsense! For one thing, teaching girls to protect themselves does not mean that boys can’t be taught to not rape girls. It’s not an either/or. For another thing, and to repeat myself, it’s nonsense! No woman should be required to depend on the decency of men in order to not be raped. For their own sakes, women should learn to protect themselves from rapists.
I want my daughter to take ownership over her body, and that means teaching her to protect herself from the unwanted looks of men. And while my daughter isn’t responsible for men’s lust, she does have a mandate to love her neighbor. And the issue of modesty is not outside of the mandate to love her neighbor.
When I invite friends who suffer from alcoholism over to my house, I don’t drink beer in front of them. They’re my friends, I love them, and I don’t want to do something that could cause them to stumble. Just because I have the right to drink a beer, and just because they’re responsible for their actions, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a higher responsibility to forgo my rights and love my friends by not drinking beer in front of them. Likewise, if my wife and I throw a party, and one of the female guests shows up in her lingerie, I am responsible before God for my lust. But, that guest’s actions demonstrate a spirit of individualistic uncharitableness.
I want my daughter to understand the unfortunate reality that dressing immodestly is declaring her belief that her rights are more important than loving her neighbor. As she gets older, teenage boys that are her friends are going to be struggling mightily with raging hormones. If she chooses to wear something that exposes parts of her body and further inflames those hormones, she’s not demonstrating love for her friends.
In our personal rights and identity politics-crazed society, modesty is a touchy issue. Bearing the brunt of personal attacks and accusations of slut-shaming are far less important to me than being a good father to my daughter. With that in mind, I don’t care that society finds my belief about modesty out of bounds. I love my daughter too much to stand idly by as society lies to her about the harmful consequences to both her and others that will be the result of her dressing immodestly.