Christian Boys on How Girls Can Stop Making Them “Stumble”: (Hint: Don’t Move. And Make Sure You’re Not-Moving On Purpose.)

I love the smell of sexism in the evening. Are you ready for “The Rebelution“? Where teenagers “rebel against low expectations”? Sociological Images published the results of a survey of 1600 Christians on how “modest” they consider various articles of clothing and behavior (and the corresponding “value” of the wearer/actor). Boys and girls took the survey and the behaviors of both genders were up for discussion. It was a productive conversation wherein both sides got to express their points of view and their spiritual and physical struggles with desire.

Ha. I kid.

Here’s what really happened: the only gender subjected to the “Modest or Not” test? Women. (Sorry, “girls.”) The 1600 respondents invited to minutely inspect and judge every aspect of female behavior, attire and deportment? Men. (Correction: “guys.”) The theological dimension? None—unless you count “stumbling,” an undefined expression the survey uses to describe a temporary lapse, always by a male in response to female lures.

The “Modesty Survey” got its start when a young woman suggested an “anonymous discussion on modesty” between boys and girls. The survey counts itself a rousing success at achieving this (potentially quite useful) goal. The number of female respondents? Zero. Girls were apparently encouraged to ask questions, just not answer them.

Respondents were given statements with which they could agree or disagree. The good part: the Christian boys often seemed to be quite a bit more thoughtful than whoever put this survey together. The bad part? Whoever designed it seems to have wilfully ignored two truths—boys have self-control, girls feel desire—and one claim: neither sex has any business policing the movements of the other.

Here are some sample statements boys are invited to have an opinion about. They can Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral [not a verb, that always bugs me], Disagree, or Strongly Disagree:

  • Playing with jewelry, such as a necklace, is a stumbling block.” (Result: 58% “Disagree” or “Strongly Disagree.” Phew!)
  • A purse with the strap diagonally across the chest draws too much attention to the bust.” (Result: 47% of respondents “Agree” or “Strongly Agree.” According to that bunch, messenger bags are  for whores.) To be fair, some guys were a little more sensible. One comments: “This is a case where if the guy is staring then he should check himself on that. I wear a messenger bag myself, so I can’t hold a double standard. I can, however, hold myself to a higher standard and just not look.”
  • Others had detailed procedures; some were ready to break out the measuring cups:

    “Depends upon how heavy the bag is. If the strap pushes on the shirt such that the breasts are separated as one looks down, it’s immodest.”

  • “Playing with hair is not a stumbling block.” 61% agree! Girls can play with their hair, but by gum, THERE ARE LIMITS:

    “Not in of itself, but if you spend a lot of time playing with your hair it makes a guy wonder if you aren’t trying to attract attention.”

    And if a guy is [count the qualifiers] wondering whether you might be trying to attract attention, you are conclusively IMMODEST. Someone else offers the following clarification:

    “Technically, it’s a flirting technique.”

    According to this young man, “flirting techniques” are not “stumbling blocks” in the pursuit of Christianity. An 18-year old respondent, however, does “find it hard to imagine a beautiful and modest woman doing it. It does perhaps exceed the bounds of propriety.”

Try this one on for size:

  • It is a stumbling block to see a girl lying down, even if she’s just hanging out on the floor or on a couch with her friends.” (22% agreed.)

Or this one!

  • Seeing a girl’s chest bounce when she is walking or running is a stumbling block. No running, ladies. Or walking, unless you have strapped your boobs down like Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love. In sum, cross-dressing might be best.

How about this?

  • The lines of undergarments, visible under clothing, cause guys to stumble.” (72% Agree or Strongly Agree). As this is virtually impossible with the majority of bras, you may want to dispense with them altogether. Or cross-dress (see above).
  • Seeing a girl take off a pullover (i.e. a shirt that must be pulled over the head) is a stumbling block, even if she is wearing a modest shirt underneath.” Here’s a fascinating comment:

    “It kind of depends, if she is careful it is not a problem, but most girls don’t think about it and so it becomes one. It’s not that they don’t care, it just isn’t something they think usually think of.”

“It isn’t something they think usually of.” Amazing how much real understanding that shows, and how radically it goes off-track. That statement says something true about a basically “modest” existence—a perspective so pure  it doesn’t even suspect that the behavior in question might provoke lust—yet contains within it the injunction that she should “think of” the lust she is always in danger of provoking.  In other words, it’s not enough for her to be innocent. She needs to be intentional about her refusal to arouse. But not too much, because if she shows she understands too well, she’s in danger of (oh devilry!) abusing that knowledge to “get attention.” Not to court attention is insufficient: she should “be careful” when she takes a sweater off.  She needs to actively, deliberately not-arouse. She should become self-conscious, limit her movements, regard herself not as a thing that exists and sees, but as a terrible catalyst that can at any moment tempt men to their eternal damnation.

That’s not enough, of course. In order to understand how not to arouse her Christian brothers, she must first understand what does. (Like messenger bags.) To protect them properly, she has to become not just conversant but fluent in all possible masculine sexual fantasies. She has to learn their origin and derivation. She has to study how men can possibly convert an innocent movement (like walking) into an erotic stimulus. In fact, she has to become a virtual Ph.D. on masculine sexuality; she has to become a fantasizing male-by-proxy in order to avoid tempting any such male. She must call on all her resources, her empathy, her understanding, to imagine what it is like to be male and incorrigibly sexual. And she should perform these empathic acrobatics without having any sexual thoughts of her own.

Now, this is all ostensibly to protect the souls of her “Christian brothers.” What about her soul? From a Christian point of view, can there be a better recipe for temptation than to force a human being to become a theoretical expert in precisely the imaginary prurient scenarios that ostensibly jeopardize the souls of men?

Back to the survey. To state the obvious, here’s what all this teaches boys: All that matters is your reaction. The difference between a modest behavior and an immodest one is the desire it stirs or doesn’t stir in you. Ideally, a woman will fully understand her awful power and control it responsibly; if not, it’s her fault. But since a woman’s (I’m sorry, “girl’s”) intent is unknowable, what determines her success or failure at “modesty” is the effect she produces on you. Moreover, Christian boys, your subjective state of arousal at a particular moment trumps a “girl’s” liberty to exist freely (the way you do). Women should actively police their behaviors, their movements, their clothing and their faces so you don’t have to spend the occasional (and unavoidable) tempted minute staring into your own soul. And rest assured: girls feel no desire or temptation themselves, so you are free to be as attractive and flirtatious as you like without feeling a moment’s guilt. Your relationship to your body can be joyous. It doesn’t fall to you to labor under the metaphysical mindfuck of being told that your body—YOUR body! the one you were born in, the thing you are!—shares in the guilt it provokes in others the minute it takes any pleasure in its God-given beauty. Boys, you needn’t know that your beauty is also your disease (as a result of which you may end up among the damned; in the absence of which you may end up alone).

To state something equally obvious: none of this disaster of a philosophy is the boys’ fault. I have no doubt the Modesty Survey respondents have good hearts. They’re grappling with one of the great human problems: how to deal with the fact that you live in and through a body, and how to understand the complicated dance between desire and its fulfillment or diffusion. These are all large and complex issues of personhood and it is certainly not the boys’ fault that this survey invites toxic answers. (By virtue of its structure, the survey excludes any other kind). The fault lies with the pernicious idiots who invent “tools” like this one, tools that claim to measure but actually perpetuate the dehumanizing idea that one gender gets to dictate what the other one does.

Here is the real image for the survey. I wish I were kidding:

Maybe when Christians adopt the veil we’ll finally have world peace.

Or maybe, instead of turning girls into stones by making them feel guilty for the physics of their bodies when they walk, we can teach each sex not to blame the other when it “stumbles.” We could all work on getting better balance.

M

5 Responses to Christian Boys on How Girls Can Stop Making Them “Stumble”: (Hint: Don’t Move. And Make Sure You’re Not-Moving On Purpose.)

  1. Ms B-US says:

    Ugh. I was raised on this shit. The home truth that abounded about the extent of male attraction to women was something along the lines of, “It’s not my fault, it just exploded.” On the flip side, in my secular incarnation, I have never felt as attractive or able to give pleasure by my looks as I did then. This may be the power of the ideology, and why women seem so reluctant to rebel against hijab, etc. It’s hard to turn your back on feeling so inherently sexy.

  2. Millicent says:

    Hey Ms B-US,

    Yeesh. I wish I didn’t know what you mean, but I do. The Catholic in me still lives under it. My reptile-brain believes that if I go out alone after dark, I send out SirenFlames that exist at no other time and which will inflame all and sundry and get me raped. I felt that way about virginity too. The “possession” of it was both insanely frustrating and intensely powerful because you knew you had the power to grant The Ultimate Wish, the means to provoke these legendarily extreme reactions in people and still you *chose* not to use them. You were like your own personal nuclear bomb. I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating; I’m really not.

    What surprised me most about sex was how unremarkable a transformation it effected in the gents. Not that they weren’t into it (at least I hope not), but they certainly didn’t change from the sweet and thinking beings they always were into crazed animals. They kept their powers of speech! They sometimes didn’t want to! Sometimes they could even be witty during! The fun of sex is trying to make the myth come true—and titillates precisely because it isn’t.

  3. Carla Fran says:

    While reading this, the biggest thought in my brain was like a bold Cosmo article: 10 Ways to Be Sexy Without Even Knowing It! Like, I was actually taking semi-notes of, hey, want his attention? Take off your sweatshirt and watch TV on the floor. Wear a purse diagonally. A tiny chorus, that was a lot stronger when I was in high school, was greedily eating up this info as KNOWLEDGE on how to be attractive to boys, and the other tiny chorus was on its own mono-track about how boys are way hornier and sensitive to stimuli than I assumed (which reminds me of that TAL episode where a woman is transitioning to becoming a man and is flooded with pornographic urges after taking testosterone). And then I am like, HOLD THE PHONE. Diagonal purses aren’t sexy, nor are upheld arms or walking. Good jesus we are raised in a social whammydon, Christian or not.

  4. Brain says:

    Hey – I just stumbled myself, on this blog (good by the way) – as a lapsed Catholic I also felt drawn to write about the Rebelution: http://japanego.wordpress.com/2007/03/05/desire-part-1-of-a-series-of-posts/
    a while back. Your posts and comments are spot on about the titillation at the heart of this ‘survey’.

  5. Pingback: In Which a Comment Thread Offers a Moment of Redemption « Millicent and Carla Fran

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