My point in this post is not—lest someone mistake my point—to do anything so simple as decry immodest attire in women. And by the kind of immodesty I am not for the most part talking about, I am intending both definitions of that word—viz. that which is sexual provocative, and that which is flamboyant and ostentatious. Get that? The kind of immodesty that is not my principal point is both kinds of immodesty. Like I say, this point is somewhat more complicated than that. Have I lost you already?
Now in saying that this is not my objective, it is not to say such a task would be an unworthy objective. No, it would be absolutely fine, as the occasion calls for it, and great writers have, before now, poured their considerable talents into the task.
“Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts” (Isaiah 3:16–17).
The daughters of Zion were apparently strutting their stuff down 5th Avenue, and the prophet Isaiah apparently took note of it. And this has been a problem in other eras as well. Consider the pithy observations of Nathaniel Ward, an observer of Puritan New England back in the 17th century.
“I honor the woman that can honor herself with her attire . . . a good text always deserves a fair margin, but as for a woman who lives but to ape the newest court-fashions, I look at her as the very gizzard of a trifle, the product of a quarter of cipher, the epitome of nothing; fitter to be kicked, if she were of a kickable substance, than either honored or humored . . . It is no marvel they wear trails on the hinder part of their heads; having nothing it seems in the forepart but a few squirrels’ brains to help them frisk from one ill-favored fashion to another.”
This is the kind of observation that today will get you labeled a misogynist. “Look, he attacked all women in a vicious and unprovoked way!” Well, actually, he divided women into two groups, the honorable ones and the silly ones, and he critiqued the silly ones. “But an attack on silly women is, in our book, an attack on all women!” Ummm . . .
I will leave it to the logic students among us to figure out who the misogynists are, and press on to my real point.
At Home in Our Fun House:
As cultures wax and wane, as societies rise and fall, as civilizations emerge from their hardscrabble pioneering days only to throw all their hard-won virtue into a vat of fin du siècle goo, we have always had certain times when the women were bundled up appropriately, and then we have had other times when they were liberated from the constraints of both customs and corsets. That, as I say, is nothing new. Societies do alternate between decent and indecent. England in the 18th century was indecent, and by the Victorian era a century later, they were all buttoned up tight.
We have had times when the men were voyeurs and the women exhibitionists. We have had other times when the women were modest and the men sought to respect that. This is our unusual fun house time—a time when women are exhibitionists and the men are required to pretend they are nothing of the kind.
G.K. Chesterton once said that our problem was not that we lived in a skeptical age. Our problem was that we lived in dogmatic age without knowing it. The schizophrenic delusion that provoked Chesterton’s jibe is the same delusion that has convinced our generation that we are sexually liberated, when we are actually prudish.
This is another way of saying we live in a time when all of us, particularly the remaining normal folks, are being gas lit. Provocations abound, and if you notice them, or say anything about them, it will be taken as sure evidence that you are the one losing your mind. If you say anything about how licentious the orgy has become, you will be shushed as though everybody is sitting around in the library, clothed and in their right mind.
So as the sexual revolution works its way into its Robespierre/guillotine stages, we are getting to the point where everybody is simultaneously licentious and prudish. An actress can go to a party where she has slept with half the men in the room, and if someone there makes an unwanted suggestive remark, a blush comes to her maidenly cheek, and she draws herself to her full height, and tosses her curls. She can then give an interview to an investigative reporter, agog at the Babylonian excesses being related, and she can describe how her producer had asked her up to his room in order to discuss the story arc of their current project, and had then come on to her, and how she had had simply no idea. Never mind that she has in her contract, a document that she signed, her agreement to take off all her clothes for the camera if that same man had deemed it necessary in the cause of Art.
Art is a guy in the casting office, a lecher on the creepier end of things.
If this were not November, this would be the place where a nuanced and most sensible qualification would have its very own paragraph. True to my word, I leave it entirely out. All the reasonable readers can guess what it would have been, and all the unreasonable readers would ignore it anyway.
Demanding a Cloak of Invisibility for Public Sin Is Not the Same Thing as Privacy:
A number of years ago, a married couple who worked for some institution—I think it was a hospital, did their own home-made porno flick, which they then posted online. This was discovered by someone, and both of them were fired. Thereupon they turned around and sued the hospital for invading their privacy.
Like a toddler hiding from everybody in the family by sitting in the middle of the living room floor and covering his eyes, there is a failure here to grasp the concept. And here is the concept—what is done in public can be seen.
Suppose there is some church function or other, and one of the edgy church ladies wears something, or almost wears something, that is kind of outrageous. Too short, too tight, too loose—there are many options here, filling out additional meaning for the too in #MeToo. Everybody in the room now knows more about her breasts than any of them were supposed to know. When she was dressing for the event, she was not exactly mulling over 1 Tim. 2:9—her most recent Bible memory verse . . . “likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control . . .”
No, that wasn’t exactly on her mind. What was on her mind was tweaking the Puritans. Showing that “edgy church lady” is not oxymoronic. Demonstrating that some free spirits have not been stifled with all that Pauline theology. Declaring to the world that she is marching to a different drummer.
Now remember my point. It is not that one of the Puritans might eventually be provoked into saying something. Sure, that might happen. But the point is that if a normal person ever did say something about the unnecessary display . . . that is the point where the provocatrice would turn into one of our new sort of puritan, hauling into the discussion a tangled web of scruples, rules, prohibitions, compunctions, anxieties, and offenses.
And the person with the problem is the one who notices the problem. The whole thing is more than a little bit convenient.
Don’t Forget the Squirrel Brains:
One other category needs to be mentioned, but just briefly. There are any number of sweet Christian girls who dress in the inappropriate way they do because their roommates and sisters lie to them routinely (“that’s so cute . . .”). They are just being clueless, although it should be granted they are being more clueless than they have a right to be. But at the same time they are being clueless in a new world that has been shaped by the provocatrices and the lechers who underwrite them. Being cute little squirrels, they don’t get the larger picture. So if someone did take them aside to give a little friendly admonition, they would be humiliated down into the ground. They would be devastated. There would be many tears. They might have to go into counseling.
But the real discipline would land elsewhere. In the meantime, the person who spoke to them about it would be run out of town as a rape apologist.
All is proceeding as planned.
I Was Told There Would be Free Books:
The free book available today is Eve in Exile. This is a book by my daughter Rebekah Merkle, and it is about the restoration of femininity.