Dr. Phil is wrong.
I don't usually watch too much daytime tv. I'm busy being a serious student and keeping my house clean. Ok, keeping enough laundry clean that I can leave the house on any given day with clean socks and underwear, to be honest. But yesterday I caught about 20 minutes of a debate about modesty.
The main character at issue was a middle aged man who believes that if women dress "a certain way" they are asking to be objectified, used, raped. They are at fault for the actions that men are somehow forced into simply by looking at them. To "tease" by dressing provocatively is to invite lust and assault. Clearly, this man is out of his mind wrong, and speaks from a place of woundedness.
His opponent in the debate came across as a mouthy women's liberation zealot. She reminded me so much of girls I knew at Rutgers - her message had a lot of weight, but the delivery was aggressive and whiney. I wished she were able to sound more thoughtful than loud. Her message was that women have the right to dress their bodies any way they like, and no one has any right to judge them, call them "sluts" or criticize them at all. Her point was that clothing is purely personal choice, and that provocative clothing is a woman's right, and does not in any way indicate immorality or poor choices.
Dr. Phil, clearly eager to put bullies in their place, agreed with the woman. 100%. With no nuance.
To that end, he invited a "blonde bombshell" with peroxided hair and beautiful curves as his next guest. They showed a series of photos of her wearing clothing and posing her body in ways that would make your grandma blush. Dr. Phil asked if she was promiscuous. And the blonde woman answered "not anymore". She "loves her curves" and "wants to show them off" and "hasn't had sex in three years." So that proves it. Posing sexually and wearing -not simply short, tight or revealing- but purposely provocative clothing is a right. And no one can judge a person for their choice of clothing. Dr. Phil was on her side.
The last guest was a very courageous woman who disagrees. She was young and beautiful, stylishly dressed, a young mom and very intelligent woman. She stated very clearly that the man who thinks women should be degraded for their choice of dress or played any part in their victimization was absolutely wrong. (yes!) But she offered that, especially for young girls and teenagers,the trend to call oneself a slut, to compete to wear shorter or skimpier clothing than the next girl, to crave male attention for their bodies is a dangerous thing. She pled that provocative clothing often leads to promiscuous actions, and that the consequences of this are long and deeply wounding. And she demanded the right to protect her dignity and teach young women about their own value - not as masculine objects- but as women of worth. She refused to be shamed for believing in modesty.
Phil (and the Rutgers type woman) jumped all over her. They insisted that she had no right to judge anyone because of their clothing, or criticize it in any way.
I call BS, Dr. Phil. I have never seen you walk out on stage in anything less than a thousand-dollar suit, jacket, tie and pricey shoes. You do not walk on stage in jeans and a t-shirt. Ever. And why not? Because you know, if not from common sense then from many years working with federal witnesses in court, that clothing is a form of communication. In your case, the Prada suit communicates not only wealth, but expertise. It says you are a man who can be trusted to be the best, because you can afford to buy the best. You mirror the respect given you by virtue of a well cut suit. You must have earned his way into those Jimmy Choos.
Clothing is non-verbal communication.
And he is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT that if a woman chooses to dress herself like a five dollar hooker, even if she IS a five dollar hooker, she never, ever deserves to be treated as an object. She never is responsible for the abuse she may receive. Her clothing can not be blamed for violence. She has value and dignity regardless of what she does or does not wear.
However. When a woman has a choice of how to clothe her body, and most women have some choice in the matter, then she has an obligation - not to men or other women or anyone else- but to herself- to honor her body the best she can. She has a right to wear whatever she wants, and a responsibility to herself to wear what best protects her dignity.
This is modesty. Not some long list of approved apparel. Not long floral skirts and neck high blouses. Not head gear or gloves or fashion from decades past. Modesty is clothing one's own body in a way that shows love for self, a way that communicates one's own dignity and worth. Modesty may be a well-talored suit or a fashionable bathing suit. But every woman needs to be honest with herself and others. If we are speaking or dressing (non-speaking) or acting in ways that invite objectification, then we do ourselves a great indignity, we become victims of our own misguided sensibility.
As David Hart says: "All of man’s bodily life is also the life of the soul, possessed of a supernatural dignity and a vocation to union with God." Our bodies live the life of the soul. Our bodies reveal the person, and so does our choice of jeans and tops and sweaters and swimsuits.
No woman can be blamed for any other person's actions. Neither can a man. But we can own our own actions, our own words. And we should. We women have fought for so many years to keep others from taking our voices. Let us now speak well of our own bodies by refusing to be objects of attention, and rather by using our bodies to express the supernatural dignity of the soul.