I’m going to record a series of shorter podcasts, not about any profound questions or issues, but really just practical things that I’ve thought about, that I thought, “Maybe this would be good to share.” The first is something that I said in a conversation with my husband, and he said, “Boy, that’s really interesting. You should make that a podcast.”
It was just that we were talking about the ways that women have to cover their bodies so as not to attract attention from men; that this obviously has become a question, something that people are thinking about since Islam has become so much more visible in our country, seeing women on a whole array from just merely covering their hair with a headscarf to being fully enveloped in a burqa which covers the whole face and they look out through a fabric screen at the world, but you can’t even see their eyes. Some of this, obviously, has become controversial, especially in Europe.
What I was talking about was that everywhere, in every human community, every civilization, and every country, no matter where you go, there’s an innate problem, which is that looking at women’s bodies is very distracting and even disturbing to men. I’m talking about beautiful, young women, of course. Men find it very hard to stop looking at them and thinking about their bodies and wondering what’s underneath that clothing, and it’s a problem that obviously has two ends. Is it the woman’s responsibility to cover up her body, or is it the man’s responsibility to restrain his thoughts?
What we see in the burqa and the women who are totally covered from head to toe is that it is entirely her responsibility; she’s the one who has to solve the problem of men’s eyes and women’s bodies causing problems. What she does completely covers up her body. On the other end, what we have in America today, is that women are expected to be free to wear whatever they want, no matter how revealing or how “sexy-looking.” The responsibility is all inside of the man, for him to control his eyes and what he’s looking at and to control his thoughts and to prevent his thoughts from going into directions that are unfairly distracting to him. It’s hard for men to get work done if they’re surrounded by women wearing sexy clothing. I think we see this particularly on college campuses where women can wear very casual clothing and often very tiny clothing.
Something else I wanted to say about this was that I think women are often unaware of the impression they’re making. An example is that women may wear very tiny garments and think of it is as cute. To her this is not necessarily a way of looking sexy. One of the ways you’ll notice this is: What kind of fabric is it? What color is it? If it’s black lace, that says something. If it’s white lace, it suggests something different. If it’s in a baby color, like pink or light blue, it’s possible at least that the woman who put it on is thinking, “This is so cute. This is so darling. This is like children’s clothing in its brevity, or like baby clothes.” And women will affirm to each other: “Oh, that’s so cute; that’s so adorable,” and not realize that, to men, the color of it doesn’t make a lot of difference; what matters is how much skin is showing. So this is another way that I think women don’t always understand what men are thinking and what’s going on inside of their minds.
I read somewhere, and I have no idea how scientists could arrive at a figure like this, but it said, as I remember, that the average young man thinks about sex every 15 minutes. That is amazing. I don’t know how anything gets done in the world if men are having to think about sex every 15 minutes and [are] around women who are wearing very little clothing. Sometimes women do wear intentionally provocative clothing, not to totally let them off the hook, but even when they don’t intend to, their clothing can be very revealing, and they don’t realize that men aren’t looking at the cute little tiny blue top she’s wearing; they’re looking rather at the skin exposed around it and wondering about the little bit that remains concealed.
I think that women often don’t realize the effect that they’re having on men, and that the covenant that we have made in Western culture, that women are free to and even show their independence and their liberation, to use an older word, by wearing very, very small clothing, limited amounts of clothing, that that has put a terrible burden on men who have to bear the entire responsibility of what they look at and what they think about. On the other end, if the woman is covered from the top of her head to her toes in fabric, that pretty unfairly lays a lot of the burden on her, to be encumbered by so much fabric, to have a screen before her eyes rather than being able to just see the world openly, as it is. And you have to negotiate the middle.
Christians are often heard to be urging women to be dressed more modestly. I think many women would like to dress more modestly or would like to find clothing for their pre-teen and young teen daughters that are more modest, and have difficulty finding such clothing.
At the time when the concept of liberation was sort of pouring into the culture, there was some lively debate about how responsible women should be for the effect they have on men. There used to be a defense that you would hear in cases of rape, where men would say, “She was asking for it because of the clothing she was wearing. She was wearing a miniskirt, so therefore she was being provocative. She was sending a message that she was available for sex.”
And women would be horrified to have the blame put on them just because of what they chose to wear. Certainly there may have been many cases where the man thought she was intentionally sending a signal, and the woman had no idea that that was the thought that he might have in that circumstance. You used to sometimes hear this charge against women that “she’s asking for it” because of what she chose to wear that day.
At this point in our culture, it has slid all the way to the other end, and women “feel free” to wear whatever they like to and have no responsibility for the disturbance that this can cause to the men who happen to see them.
Anyway, that was my insight, that there is this continuum wherever you go. Women’s bodies, men’s eyes: there’s a problem. Who is responsible for solving this problem so the work of life can actually go on? Is it women or is it men? Here we are in a culture where it’s entirely laid at the feet of men to solve this problem, and that isn’t entirely fair.
All right, that was it, and I’ll be coming back with some more just brief sort of practical podcasts over the next few weeks.