The Outrage of Leggings as Tip of the Iceberg

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Introduction and a Short List

I thought to use this space to inveigh against mixed metaphors, but also thought that some of my adversaries might charge me with a hypocritical inconsistency.

So let me try a few other things out on you.

  • I believe the vast majority of professing Christian wives would be a lot happier, and would be on significantly fewer medications, if they quit trying to find themselves and just submitted to their husbands.
  • I believe that Christian wives have a war in their members, as all Christians do, but part of this war for them is the conflict between their created nature, which wants their man to lead, and their fallen nature, which desires to run the show instead. When a husband wimps out, one side of her triumphs and gloats over it while the other side detests it (and him). Over time the detesting side grows emotionally stronger and ethically weaker. She is in the process of becoming enslaved to what she hates.
  • I believe that the Bible requires the older women to teach the younger women how to make flaky buttermilk biscuits.
  • I believe that many women’s ministries in many churches have veered away from women doing ministry together, and have turned into weekly Needy Bucket Clubs, where the women get together and attempt to fill one another’s leaky buckets by the exhilarating means of complaining about their husbands. And each week they go home with even more holes in the bucket.
  • I believe that when someone on the Internet complains about immodest leggings, say, and the inevitable Twitter brawl erupts, an exercise in profound misdirection is occurring. While a number of sensible people do say a number of sensible things (about the leggings), I want to argue that in a way even the sensible people are missing the point. The point for the feminists in all this is not the sexual part but rather the defiant and rebellious usurpation of authority part. Sex is just the instrument. A common theme in all the angry responses to any complaint whatever is that the patriarchy has nothing whatever to say about matters such as this, and that if a woman wants to walk down the street looking like a couple of bear cubs wrestling playfully in small sack, the men need to learn how not to reduce women to a part of their bodies. “Respect me as a person,” the bear cubs seem to be saying, and that is certainly one point of view. But science is science, and nature is nature, and if the woman is unattractive, nobody wants to see that, and if the woman is attractive, then godly men really don’t want to see that. This leggings parade is not (in most instances) a personal and lascivious “screw me” invitation. It is an insolent and culture-wide “screw you” that is aimed at the patriarchy and men in general. The root sin in it is a lack of submissiveness, along with defiance offered to the very idea of submissiveness. [Note to editor: is this too far? How far is too far? Have I done it now?].

What They Have in Common

Now what do all these sentiments have in common besides being things I actually do think, and things that are, as old-timey philosophers would have put it once, true?

The thing they all have in common is that they are all cringe-worthy. Say them, or anything like them, and people will instantly sneer, point and laugh. It is a reflex motion, guided by that inaudible laugh track that somebody installed inside all of our heads. If a couple of guys are talking during the fellowship hour at church, and one of them were to pull up his socks and deliver any one of the sentiments as outlined above, I can pretty much guarantee that one of the guys, and probably both, will have looked around, over each of their shoulders, in order to determine if the coast was clear. This would happen in conservative churches, in ostensibly conservative churches, in moderate churches, and in liberal churches.

Put another way, we have all been trained when to flinch. We have all been educated in the sensitivities of the offended woke. We have all had our shirts pulled over our heads and our socks rolled down. We have all been catechized by that ever-present and authoritative secular laugh track. And we have all been had.

The “Not November Yet” Caveat

Yeah, there are male boors out there. I have read about them in history books, and I will lay even money that there are compounds in the deep piney woods where such boorishness is still going on unabated. And I have seen guys like this in the course of my own ministry, but it is like living in a small town in Idaho where the occasional bear or moose wander through. Not an everyday occurrence. But the wandering fauna are not ethereal, and men who really are like that should knock it off. But if anyone seriously thinks that this is our current cultural challenge, I want you all to know that I have arrived at your front door with a news update.

As If . . .

The epidemic of subsidized boorishness that we are experiencing right now is of the feminist variety, and feminism, as you know, is our codified declaration of war on the created natures of men and women both. Man and woman together, living as one according to God’s design, are a single organism, and you cannot attack just one half of it. You cannot, with the surgical knife of your women’s studies degree, excise human nature. And, if you are a Christian, you cannot take the ideology of that women’s studies degree as mediated by some femingelical book, sharpen it with the strop of Galatians 3:28, and make it capable of excising human nature.

What you can do is pretend that you have already done so, declare that you have smashed the patriarchy in decided and definitive ways, assume glibly that the science is settled, and cue the laugh track. What Screwtape once said about flippancy can be applied straight across to the current ironic and relativistic detachment of all woke hipster analysis.

“But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy: it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practise it”[1]

“Any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny.”

As if modesty were funny. As if concern about modesty were funny. As if wifely submission was invented in the fifties. As if complaining about husbands was emotionally healthy. As if biscuits were not a deadly serious business.

So they do not make the joke, they just assume the joke. If some young woman dresses up like an impudent tart for church, and a woman of the old school says something to her about it during the fellowship hour, we can count on all her friends to rally around her with encouragements like “brave,” “strong,” “fierce,” and “independent.” Nothing has to be demonstrated to make the case of how fierce and independent she is. I take that back. The buttocks have to be demonstrated. But nothing else needs to be demonstrated in order to make that female critic, that quisling daughter who is plainly in thrall to the patriarchy, beyond risible. You don’t need to make the joke. All you need is the laughter, like thorns burning under a pot.

And that is what Scripture means by the seat of scorners—a seat nobody should be wanting to sit in.

This is quite distinct, incidentally, from the satiric bite, or the serrated edge. That edge is the edge on a blade, and the blade is the argument, the truth, the point, the data, the facts, the score, the story, the lowdown, the law, the brass tacks, the gospel. The laughter of fools is nothing but edge, and no blade to it. It can sting but nothing much more than that.


Before I opine any further, let me wrap it up by anticipating a response that will consist of attacks upon my person, character, wit, and ancestry. In those Christian circles that continue to ignore my existence publicly, there will be whispers in the hallways about all of this, and where the curious interns will be informed that I am a crusty old misogynist who believes that women in the Christian home should always have their brows beaten, and never plucked. 

Let me just say that if my worldview actually insisted that women should be muzzled and cowed, it should be noted in a pretty public way that I am really, really bad at it. My wife is the author of eight books, with one of them being a textbook of English grammar. One daughter has written three books, and the other has written two, along with editing a multi-volume anthology of British literature. The two of them together have a podcast that does not bring the adjectives “muzzled” or “cowed” to mind. Submissive, yes, but if you are thinking about some people’s idea of a doormat, let’s just call it a wild swing and a wilder miss.

Almost forgot. All of them can make fantastic biscuits.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (HarperOne, 2001), 56–57.