By Hannah Schultz
In a recent survey about the leggings rule change, a disturbing amount of students seemed to share the same opinion: it is a woman’s responsibility to dress and act a certain way in order to protect the men of the world from falling into sin. Not only that, but the comments section became a cesspool of girls tearing each other apart on the mere basis of clothing choice. In a community built on biblical standards, is this the correct response to the growing problem of the over-sexualization of the female body in the world today?
The problem with men who lust after women is not the clothing that the woman wears; it is the man himself. When you teach a generation of young people that it is a girl’s responsibility to protect herself from a boy’s uncontrollable thoughts, a society emerges that makes women live in fear of their bodies and reinforces the idea for men that they cannot control their own lustful thoughts. This pattern of thought is pervasive in our world and only encouraged by ideas of modesty which are structured around the framework of a woman being responsible for protecting a man’s purity.
In a sinless world, the human body is more than an object of sexual desire. It was an example of God’s work and his reflection in creation. Modesty is about returning to that idea of seeing God’s beauty in individuals, not turning the human body into some fearsome sexual tool.
Furthermore, this pattern of thought is teaching young men that it is only natural to have lustful thoughts—that it is an uncontrollable, biological urge. In this frame of reference, a generation of men are going out in the world today with the perspective that they have no responsibility to resist their sinful thoughts and urges, that all of the responsibility lies with the girl to prevent him from acting on those impulses.
This harmful and sexist viewpoint is reflected in the rape culture of America today. In an article in Time, Zerlina Maxwell said of her experience with rape, “When I came forward to report what happened, instead of support, many well-meaning people close to me asked me questions about what I was wearing, if I had done something to cause the assault, or if I had been drinking.” Society is teaching women to protect themselves and the men around them by carefully monitoring their behavior and appearance, but it is not teaching men not to respect women and control themselves. As Christians, shouldn’t we strive to resist conforming to the world and this pattern of thought?
One anonymous commenter on the leggings survey had an important insight when they said, “The worry that wearing revealing or provocative clothing is sinful in nature because it inspires and encourages sinful thought is a poor excuse for a violation of basic human rights and responsibility. To say a man in unable to control his sinful thoughts in the presence of a woman dressed “questionably” is a disservice for the man and the girl. Asbury should hold it’s male students to a higher standard of responsibility and behavior than they previously have. Assuming that all men will become lustful sinners in the presence of women is a disservice to all men on Asbury’s campus, because it betrays a lack of trust and respect for the self-control and spirit of the man in question.”
This idea that solely women are responsible for preventing a man’s lustful thoughts and that the female body is nothing more than a mannequin to be sexually desired creates an atmosphere of fear and judgement. One anonymous male commenter on the survey said, “Let’s be honest, on my wedding night, I want to be surprised by the beauty of the female body. So, ladies, for the sake of all of us guys out there: keep us guessing.” Yes, women should dress in a way that honors God, but this idea that modesty should be enforced for the pleasure of men is twisted and misguided.
When we over-sexualize the female body by claiming that wearing a pair of leggings, even modestly, equates to a girl who is begging to be looked at lustfully, we perpetuate a corrupt, sexist culture. In order to break this we must strive to dissent from the world and enforce a true, Christ-like modesty that does not encourage spiritual pride and a misplacement of responsibility.
C.S. Lewis once pinpointed the problem of how we view sexual instinct when he said, “There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.”