Monday, July 25, 2016

A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal

“You can't go out dressed like that!

Remember those words? I'm sure most of you heard them at least once in your life.

Our parents were the guardians of public decency. They somehow knew what was appropriate to wear and what was some kind of carnal signal to the world that we were derelicts, drug addicts, or hypersexuals.

We were instructed to learn to have some sense of modesty.

Modesty — it's an old idea that is finding new wings.

I suspect clothes came about because our caveperson ancestors felt the need to cover up certain parts of the human body. Otherwise, we'd all be running around in the nude. We don't because we learn, at an early age, to be ashamed of our bodies. We are taught by our parents, by our teachers, and by our friends that we are imperfect beings — a little too saggy here and a little too knobby there. Most of us spent the early years of our childhood learning how to hide our bodies. Clearly, our parents thought that "proper" clothing was our ticket to looking decent and being well-brought-up, to having friends and avoiding the disdain of the Joneses. They were wrong. Heck, few of us ever thought that our clothes were a representation of modesty. Clothes were our disguise.

Remember that girl in Grade 7 with the prepubescent boobs? Why do you think she always wore a bulky cable-knit sweater, even in the heat of July? She was trying to camouflage her preemptive sexuality. She didn't want to be different from her friends, and she certainly didn't want Johnny Tuckatoe gawking at her through his coke-bottle glasses.

Remember Fatty Milligan, the guy who moved into the neighbourhood sometime during 8th grade, the kid who weighed in at about 240 pounds? At thirteen years of age, Fatty had a whole closet of loose fitting Hawaiian shirts, just to ward off the contempt of his peers. Sure he said he likened himself to Thomas Magnum, but seriously, did anyone believe that?

No wonder kids go on to learn to hide as much of themselves as possible when they become teenagers. They conceal their hopes, their fears, good grief, their entire identities because no one wants to face some kind of social disapproval by showing how imperfect all of us are.

It's was never a case of modesty. It was always a case of survival.

And then as we approached adulthood, something happened. We rebelled. We dressed in the strangest manner, because we wanted people to accept us for something deeper than our outward appearance.

Oh dear, we lost our way. We became immodest.

In fact, in the late 1960's, the so-called "sexual revolution" began, and the whole western world chucked modesty out with the dishwater. Fashion became outrageous. Hemlines crept up and up and up, until the mini-skirt became the micro-skirt, which, in turn, became the camel-toed hot pants. See-through blouses and bare breasts were in, shawls were out. Everywhere you turned, it was skin, skin, and more skin. Free the body and you free the mind.

Unfortunately, something more sinister followed these sweeping changes, especially with regards to women. As women began to strip off the layers of sackcloth purloined from their Puritan clothiers, they began to be objectified as purely sexual. The world around them never saw past the sleek bare legs promising some kind of easy access to what was barely hidden, never saw past the nipple winking out from a lace blouse. The "immodest" woman became the tease, the tramp, the slut, the strumpet, the Pussy Galore of the James Bond flick, Goldfinger, and the working girl was understood to be working at one thing and little else.

The legacy of those times remains today, but more and more, women are searching for a renewal of modesty in fashion. However, therein lies the conundrum. Popular culture still teaches women that they must dress in a provocative manner that will attract a man to them, while the new modesty culture tells women to dress in a manner that keeps their sexuality off the table. Today's modest woman is no less sexual than yesterday's "immodest" woman, but her sexuality is a combination of her whole being — her intelligence, her sense of humor, her charm, her creativity, and perhaps most importantly, her dignity.

Dignity, humility, propriety and deference — these are the watchwords of the new modesty.

For too long, women have been made to believe that they are solely responsible for the sexual glares, the wolf whistles, the off-hand touching, and the sleazy innuendo of men. Placing that burden on women is absurd. Whatever kicks a man's libido into overdrive is not the fault or responsibility of any woman. Men are the perpetrators of their own thoughts and choices, whether lustful in nature or intelligent enough to treat women with respect, courtesy, and grace.





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