4) What risks does a person take by believing that sexual arousal and lust are the same thing, and that women are obligated to help men avoid them?
I usually try to avoid the slippery slope logical fallacy at all costs, which is when a person argues that if A happens, B will inevitably happen, without providing any logical context for how we will get from A to B.
So I’m going to tell you about A. Then I’m going to tell you about B. But I’m also going to include how you get from A to B, thus eliminating the slippery slope part of the fallacy from this scenario.
A: Tell men that what women wear can cause them to sin.
B: Rape and assault.
See, this is where a person could argue I’m using the slippery slope fallacy, but I’m going to connect the dots.
I know it sounds extreme, but a large part of the prevalence of rape culture comes from this idea that if women were just more modest in their dress, rape would be less of a problem. You can see this is the history of the Slutwalk, which was created after a Canadian police constable told women that they should “avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
A common phrase thrown around when discussing rape is that “she was asking for it,” which is usually associated with a woman’s dress or behavior before she is raped. However, this is never, ever, ever true. A person never asks for rape. In fact, a PSA in Scotland tackled this very myth, reminding viewers that “nobody asks to be raped, ever.”
I recently read an excellent explanation of why jokes about rape are so inexcusable. In full over at Shakesville, a commenter explained that there is one thing rapists seem to believe: that every other man out there is a rapist. Rape jokes, the author asserts, contribute to this belief. When a rapist hears someone make light of rape (“That test raped me,” or jokes about prison rape, or any other trivialization of sexual assault), he hears one thing: affirmation. Affirmation that everyone else is like him. Everyone “struggles” with this, or everyone accepts it.
When you are told constantly by your culture that something is just an inevitable part of life, you’re going to think it’s normal that you deal with it. Christian men are told that ALL THE OTHER MEN AROUND THEM are obsessed with sex, masturbation, pornography, arousal, lust, etc. Equating sexual arousal with lust just contributes to this.
I don’t mean to say that men who want to stop lusting are the same as rapists. However, I am saying that if you tell a woman that what she wears “causes” a man to sin, why is it that you wouldn’t make the logical conclusion that her fashion choices could cause more than just the sin of lust? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to argue that if a woman can cause a man to the sin of lust because of her short skirt or cleavage, then she could also cause a man to commit the sin of rape?
That is a correlation that only leads to conclusions that I can’t support as a Christian. I’m not comfortable with the first statement (“a woman can cause a man to lust sinfully”), and that’s because it’s too close to saying the second statement (“a woman can cause a man to rape”).
If we are okay with saying that the way a woman dresses “causes” a man to sin, we’re contributing to this idea that some men just won’t be able to handle it, and their sin is going to go beyond lust and transition to rape. I don’t care what language you use, either. Maybe someone says, “Oh, I’m not saying that a woman CAUSES a man to sin, but it’s just that she can help prevent it by dressing more modestly.” Or she can help him not to sin. Or she can protect him from having sinful thoughts.
She can’t. A woman cannot prevent a man from sinning. She can’t stop it, help prevent it, protect him from it. NO ONE CAN CAUSE ANYONE ELSE TO SIN. EVER. There is literally NOTHING in the Bible that implies that a person can prevent someone else from sinning, or cause someone else to sin. Sin is 100% about personal choice.
I’ll repeat my earlier point: a woman could walk down the street naked, and she would still not be responsible for anyone else’s lust. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that a person can cause another person to sin. Nowhere is there an instance of someone being the cause of someone else’s sin.
Jacob chose to trick his father into thinking he was Esau. David chose to murder Bathsheba’s husband after he saw her naked on the roof. Judas chose to betray Jesus Christ.
You can’t blame someone else for your sin. Ever.
5) If sexual arousal is not lust, can you still teach young women that modesty is important and/or relevant?
Confession: my title for this series, “The Myth of Modesty,” is a little bit disingenuous, because I don’t think modesty itself is really a myth. It’s just the way that we approach it that is mythical in nature.
The myth of modesty is that women can control men’s lust by dressing in a certain way.
After several days, I have worked out why this blog post upsets me as much as it does: it’s because I used to believe this stuff. I used to buy into it wholeheartedly. I used to think it really was a woman’s responsibility to dress modestly in order to protect men.
I don’t anymore.
Writing all of this is like trying to argue with my past self. I want to prove to my old self that none of this makes any sense.
If a woman wants to dress modestly, it should be for herself, and only herself. If she believes it is morally and scripturally correct to cover her body from head to toe, she should do that. She should hold herself accountable to what she believes is spiritually appropriate. Teach that to young Christian girls if you want to. Teach them that the Bible urges moderation and self-control. Teach them that modesty is about only showing certain parts that you choose to protect–whether that is your shoulders, your hips, your stomach, your breasts, your nipples, your back, your whatever–to an individual you choose to show it to. That’s fine! Argue that Scripture demands that we cover our bodies in a certain way, even if you’re bound to have a hard time defining modesty through scriptural standards, considering we’re at a totally different point in history, and I doubt anyone really wants to go back to Pauline dress codes for women and men.
But don’t make it about protecting men. Don’t make it about preventing someone else from sinning.
Because once we start down that road, we’re living that lowest common denominator type of faith, which is something God never calls us to do.
To recap and close out this blog series, let me say this: It’s not sin to be sexually aroused, so it is misplaced zeal to tell women they need to cover up to “protect” men from arousal. And because a man can make that decision to sin–and really lust, not just be biologically affected by what he sees–no matter what a woman is wearing, responsibility should never be placed on women, because that only leads to more and more rules and regulations for women to follow that aren’t actually doing any good anyway. Finally, teaching young women to be modest is perfectly acceptable, if you emphasize that modesty is strictly about their relationship with God, and not about causing or preventing anyone else’s sin.
This article first appeared on Back to the Hoosier State.Related