I wonder how the conversation between Adam and Eve went in the Garden of Eden when they talked about covering themselves with leaves. It may very well have been their first fight. It certainly wasn’t the last fight between men and women regarding clothing.
Last month, I heard two different stories that pictured the reality of two different worlds with two seemingly opposing world views. I say “seemingly,” because when one goes down to the root of the problem, they stem from the same tree of thought that misunderstands the human person.
The first instance, gentle readers may recall, happened at Notre Dame University when a mother of a male student asked young ladies to consider not wearing leggings. Next thing we know social media was abuzz with pictures of college students showing off their leggings. The hysteria reached hilarious proportions.
The very next day, a friend of mine sent a video of a Qatari man who was trying to explain Muslim men how to properly beat their wives. My friend wanted to know if wife beating was actually common. When I watched this short but very instructive video, I laughed because the poor man’s aim was to emphasize that Muslim men should beat wives only “lightly.” I told my horrified friend that this person was actually asking for moderation. He wanted to make sure that men did not beat their wives excessively.
I wanted to let all these wash over me, because over the years I could see that the stark contrast between the state of Western women and those who live in countries that impose the Sharia Law is often nauseating. The feminists of the progressive West continue to ignore the plight of the Muslim women, believing the mischaracterization of a handful powerful and Muslims. It is as if nothing uncanny or unsavory happens. As if all the Muslim women freely choose to wear the hijab and all Muslim men treat their women with respect and equality. When we do not want to face the facts, it becomes easy to whitewash reality.
I was willing to let all these pass, since there is nothing new under the sun, but this week the internet kept parading how the forever-enlightened Sports Illustrated magazine for the first time featured a burqini-clad model on its emancipating pages. Looking at this woman was akin to watching the upside-down version of the Notre Dame leggings debacle. The same objectification of women, but from different angles.
In the first instance, where even the mere suggestion of modesty (admittedly, the original letter from the mother was not written wisely) encouraged women — and unfortunately men — into declaring that women bore no responsibility whatsoever in how men perceived them. The way people present themselves to the world should have no effect on how others conceive ideas about their persons. In the case of modesty, all responsibility rests firmly upon the shoulders of men.
On the other side of the same coin, in the Muslim world, women bear the burden of making sure that men are not tempted:
O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. (Quran 33:59)
One needs only to read the history of Islam and observe the state of Muslim women to see how much this verse has played a central role in the social structure. Rape goes unpunished in Muslim countries. Raped women are damaged products who at times are victims of honor killing because of loss of their virginity. My friends and I joked that we were becoming ugly, if a day passed by and none of us were grabbed in a crowded bus. Such is the reality of a Muslim woman’s life, despite the whitewashing.
Only the One who created both man and woman offers a solution that honors both sexes while holding them to high standards. Christ told the men who followed him how to treat his beloved daughters without once mentioning how the lady was dressed:
But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:28-29)
If King David was not excused for his murderous behavior at the sight of bathing Bathsheba, men of the third millennia, with all the graces and sacraments of the Catholic Church at his disposal, will be held to a much higher standard. My brother, if averting your eyes is hard when there is a lady wearing a short skirt or tight leggings in front of you, move yourself away from this difficult situation and remember that Our Lord shed his blood for that woman as much he did it for you.
However, men’s responsibility is only half of the solution. Women’s contribution to a society that does not objectify the female body goes through understanding how the male mind works. The testosterone-filled body of the male is an enigma to the female mind. When my patient husband explained to his clueless wife how differently men react to images, I finally gained a glimpse into why men struggle with pornography more than women. I was 30 years old and no one had ever taken the time to describe that monumental contrast.
More than any argument regarding modesty, appreciation of this God-given difference made me become more aware of how I dressed. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!” said Our Lord in the Gospel of St. Matthew. I do not ever want any man to stumble because of something as simple as the clothing I happen to choose that day.
Once again, Christ’s firm yet fair guidance offers the middle way where no one can point the finger to the other, but everyone must face their own motivations and intentions. Times change. Fashion changes. However, the human nature and Christ’s timeless guidelines remain steady. One can wear suggestive skirts and pants. One can wear modest skirts and pants. Regardless of a woman’s attire, every gentleman who follows Christ must be aware of the person who was created in God’s image.
Without Our Lord’s standards, the world swings to extremes. In the secular mind, women bear no responsibility. In Islam, women bears all the responsibility. On the one side, one is declared progressive by encouraging men to ogle at the female form either in a bikini or burqini. On the other, instruction on beating one’s wife lightly is an effort at moderation.
Same coin. Different sides.