Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Modesty Is Simply Thoughtfulness

Huffington Post is promoting a story about Mark Frauenfelder's daughter being told by a TSA agent to cover up. According to Frauenfelder, the agent said,

"You're only 15, cover yourself!"

The latter link includes the single public photo of how she was dressed. Of course it was unprofessional of the agent to remark on anything personal. But except for that, it's about time someone says something to young women who dress revealingly. Even in that one photo in which she's "covered up," it's clear that the leggings don't leave much of the shape of the girl's lower half to the imagination. We also might suspect that the photo is not exactly what the agent saw: it's clear that the top is the kind that tends to ride up revealing the navel, and we can't see (Deo gratias) how revealing the top might be close-up despite its apparent thickness here. So we shouldn't rush to judge the remark based on a single photo.

Of course, the subsequent reaction is typical of our times: that the agent's remark was creepy, that it's up to a woman how she dresses, that they want to force women to wear burkhas, etc.

A while ago, a friend posted a story about women protesting rape and sexual harassment. Any civilized person has to agree wholeheartedly: men are fully responsible for their actions and need to control themselves, regardless of the context. But then the photo showed the women dressed scantily, immodestly. Clearly these women weren't getting a deeper point.

People these days forget that we dress not only for ourselves, but also for others, to ease our common life together: we dress decently to make others comfortable. Men are naturally attracted to women's bodies; more visibility means more attraction. That this was something that could only be controlled with effort used to be a fact widely understood. It's just in the nature of men and women, how we're put together. (In fact we owe our continued existence as a species to this aspect of our nature.)

In saner days women dressed modestly to make life easier for men. But no more. I think our modern attitude comes from two ideas that stand in tension with each other:

  1. We think of ourselves as entirely rational, autonomous agents, transcending the gross corporeal world.
  2. We identify ourselves with our inclinations and desires (and fail to acknowledge that we can resist our desires, and that some should be resisted).

From these two sides of Enlightenment mind-body dualism, we conclude by divinizing our desires and choices, placing them above doubt or question. Women tend to think that there's nothing wrong with using their sexuality to manipulate men; that they can dress however they wish, the rest of the world be damned. Men tend to think that satisfying their base desires is necessarily good; that getting what we 'want' is victory, the rest of the world be damned. Clearly the actions of men here, being direct violations of another person, are more condemnable, but both selfish tendencies, unchecked, add up to a war between the sexes and the splintering of society. But peace won't come from answering power with power, but from answering power with peace.

The irony is that Mark Frauenfelder presents himself (as do his supporters) as socially conscious. In actuality, by failing to teach his daughter about the social implications of dress, he is contributing to the impoverishment of community. In a world so individualistic that it's off-limits to comment on another's dress, if the parents don't teach their children about such things, who will?