Of the many issues that are defined by false dichotomies one of them is most glaring and that is who bears responsibility for lust. It is very clear that Jesus makes us responsible for our own wandering eyes:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.(Matthew 5:27-30 NIV)
This is the ultimate case for taking personal responsibility and why I don’t buy it when men try to blame women for their lust or claim immodesty caused sexual assault. If poverty is not an excuse for looting or theft from those with something desirable, why would a victim of rape be considered even partly responsible for what was done to them?
If people can blame-shift for one behavior they can for all.
There’s always an excuse for aggression and yet Jesus says that we are responsible for even managing our temptations.
It makes sense. In a world full of advertising telling us to consume, moderation depends on our learning self-control. McDonald’s did not make you fat. No, your choice to bend to the urge to grab yet another Big Mac, on the way home, did that. Ultimately, A truly moral person learns how to avoid stumbling blocks and would sooner remove their own eyes than make excuses.
So where is the false dichotomy?
Well, while we can’t blame fast food restaurants for obesity, we have recognized that advertising does influence decisions. Marketing would not be an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars if this were not the case. For this reason it is worth being aware and acknowledging reality, it is our responsibility not to lust and it is also just smart to recognize the power our physical bodies have over others.
The Two-way Street…
People love to display their bodies for the attention and recognition it brings. We have body building competitions and beauty pageants for this reason. Our bodies are beautiful, like great art, and especially attractive to our sexual opposites.
But then it seems only young women complain loudly when that “creeper” takes notice of them in a cleavage baring skin tight outfit, as if they aren’t posting pictures of themselves in the same outfit for the world to see on social media, and that’s just plain meanspirited. So maybe they are just seeking more attention by bashing older and physically unattractive men? I mean, come on, do they really not know that their exposed bodies are not a magnet for the male gaze?
Some want to have it both ways: They want the positive attention that their bodies bring them and then become angry about being objectified by men. It is as dumb as a sugar daddy being upset about the “gold diggers” when he was the one flaunting his wealth as a way of gaining access to women. If you truly want other people to value you for your personality then make that the centerpiece by being modest about your other ‘assets’ and also seeking others on the same basis rather than being superficial.
The response to overbearing purity culture, where women are wrongly blamed for male struggle, is to deny biological reality and that being sexual attraction. That is to say this ridiculous notion that a person can wear the most revealing and provocative clothing then be upset when they’re objectified. It would be like me claiming that I can walk into a gay bar, wearing hot pants and a tank top, then claim I wasn’t inviting attention.
Modesty is not about preventing others from lusting so much as it is about not advertising what we’re not willing to give to all. If I don’t want anyone to stare or appreciate my Shelby GT-350, I’ll keep it under a cover in the garage and never take it out on the street. Our bodies are an object, they are the most wonderful of physical things, and to appreciate this is not a matter of lust or sin. We should not be offended when people take notice of what we have very publicly displayed.
Finding the Balance…
Jesus said what he did about responsibility for lust as an instruction to those who are trying to be moral.
What he did not do is contradict what others in Scripture told us about being modest nor did he recommend making a big display of our various valuable assets for all to see.
While it is not my fault if my car gets stolen and, indeed, it could happen anywhere—I still understand that the streets of some Baltimore slums are not the place to park my new car with the keys in the ignition.
What this does not mean is that immodesty is an excuse for sexual assault.
Without exception, all cases of lustfulness and sexual abuse are wholly the responsibility of those who are commiting the immoral act. But we should understand that 1) our bodies (albeit sacred) are a desirable object and 2) there are many evil and immoral people willing to take advantage of the unwise. Being an adult means understanding that the world does not always live up to our own ideal we must therefore take reasonable precautions.
Sure, we can curse gravity when we get stumble-down-the-stairs-drunk yet it makes more sense to acknowledge the reality and avoid known risks. For example, wearing a skirt that only leaves the last little bit to the imagination, then going to a frat house party and getting totally wasted, is obviously risky behavior. By denying contributing factors we are, at some point, the enablers of negative outcomes. We should teach our children to protect themselves by being aware of enter-at-your-own-risk situations.
It is why my wife has warned me against talking too openly about my many fanciful dreams in her home country: Although my ambitions are far bigger than my wallet. Some people hearing may misunderstand—think that I’m incredibly wealthy—and this would potentially make me or my family a target for crime. I could complain about this, claim that I should be free to express myself as I please, but that won’t save me from a kidnapping or being murdered.
To be clear, many (if not most) cases of rape and sexual assault have absolutely nothing to do with what the victim wore or where they were. It was a relative or someone they knew who took advantage of their trust and they really could not have done anything better. And, again, even if the victim was ‘immodesty’ dressed, they did not cause the aggression inflicted upon them. If we don’t tell people who were carjacked that they should have left their car in the garage, why would we ever tell a girl that her exposed legs caused an assault?
My point is simply that bad people do exist and aren’t deterred by a lecture about respecting other people or their property and bodies. We know not to put our valuables on display in a seedy neighborhood—it’s just unwise.
Appreciate the Good…
Many who rejected patriarchalism are more the embodiment of the very toxic attitudes that they claim to oppose than those whom they accuse.
As the saying goes, “When you point a finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you,” we should be careful in our zealousness for a cause not to fall into our own delusion.
Or as Jesus taught:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”(Matthew 7:3-5 NIV)
Browbeating moral men about “rape culture” is no better than religious fundamentalists who constantly guilt-trip conscientious and modest women about male lusts.
The vast majority of men are not rapists nor is someone a “rape apologist” for stating the truth about sexual attraction and additional risks for women. The fact is that there are bad people in the world, willing to exploit the vulnerable if allowed, and that is why we put locks on our doors. Clothing is just one of many layers of defense and also a way to keep the focus on something other than our bodies.
We take for granted the religious laws against rape, theft or murder, as if such things are written into the substrate of the universe, but the reality is that this is order built upon moral men who use their strength to protect rather than exploit. It is truly only under the protective umbrella of civilization that a person can expect to walk around (without the direct protection of their clan) and not be immediately set upon by predators.
We should, therefore, appreciate the good self-controlled men and distinguish between them and the bad.