Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Modest Dress and "Evil" Beauty

Some liberally minded people object to modest dress because they say modest dress enforces a notion that women's bodies are evil, that the beauty of a woman cannot be anything but temptation, and therefore modesty is degrading to the dignity of women.

And it may be admitted that modest dress may enforce such a notion among some people. But is this possibility a sufficient reason to reject modest dress? No, because the connection is not a necessary one. There is no logical connection between modest dress and the idea that women's bodies are evil. In fact, quite the contrary.

As semiotic beings, we organize and interpret sensation into coherent experience through signs and sign processes proper to our biology. Due to this primacy of sign usage, every subjectivity with which we come into contact is experienced as an object. An object is already an interpretation of a subject. As semiotic beings, we may then differentiate the objective and subjective dimensions of any being presented in experience, understanding that what I experience has its own subjective constitution. In this case, a woman with her dignity.

But a man, as with any animal, experiences the woman firstly as an object to be sorted into three possible categories of fundamental interpretation: 1) an object to be desired; 2) to be avoided; or 3) ignored. Such a categorization isn't evil; this is fundamental to animal experience. To reduce the totality of a woman's subjectivity to my preliminary, animal objectification of her would be evil, but the act by which we categorize any object of experience into 1, 2, or 3 is natural and necessary.

Men who struggle with lust obviously categorize women into the first: an object to be desired. Why? They interpret this object of their experience as possessing desirable features and characteristics, and the object then presents itself with future possibilities of fulfillment in multiple ways: animal, physical, emotional, familial, spiritual, etc. But desirable objects must possess positive goods that are recognized as such in order to be categorized as desirable. Hence, a man who struggles with lust is precisely someone who is stuck on one feature of a woman's positive goodness in relation to himself, namely, his own pleasure-seeking. As we noted above, the reduction of a woman's subjectivity to this simple objectification is precisely the objection to modest dress, but notice that our analysis up until now has had nothing to do with modest dress. The objectification occurs all within a man's psyche.

Where does modest dress enter in? It enters precisely in two ways: 1) women seek to help men overcome this objectification; 2) men seek to admit their weakness.

1) modest dress ought to be a means by which a woman says, "I recognize that you have trouble controlling your desires, that you struggle with objectification. I want to help in the way that I can." We are not responsible for each other's actions; hence a woman cannot be required to help a man work through his own psychological mechanisms. But she can help remotely by not encouraging the man's habits by presenting herself in an overtly sexual manner. In so doing, modest dress represents that a woman recognizes the power of her physical beauty to attract the gaze and attention of another, and, wishing to help the other remain both attracted but not enslaved to solely that dimension of her subjectivity, she wears modest dress as a reminder that she is more than her physical beauty. Her mystique is more than the physical although the physical is certainly part of it.

2) men must be willing to admit their weakness. There is a trend in our culture to object to modest dress on the basis that men should be able to control themselves, and having women wear modest dress implies that men can't control themselves. And yes, that is precisely the problem. Women are not responsible for men's lack of self-control; that is not what is claimed by proposing modest dress as a help. We must stop fooling ourselves into believing that we have self-control; look around and be honest. Most do not exercise self-control. This is a problem, and it leads to problems. But modest dress may help take first steps by not encouraging the man to be stuck at the physical level from the very first moment. If a man doesn't notice and become fixated on the physical beauty of a woman from the first instant, an environment is encouraged in which the man may expand his conception of women beyond the pleasure he derives from physicality.

Modest dress ultimately is objected to because it hampers pure individuality, which is the core of the indifference we exhibit towards each other in the spheres of our lives. Because of this indifference, cooperation is characterized cynically as mutually accepted manipulation. Real cooperation, however, means that we cannot exist as self-sufficient beings, but we must exist always in relation to each other, helping and complementing each other, seeking support from each other. We can do this without having to be responsible for the personal choices we each make as individuals; on the other hand, we don't have to go to the other extreme and leave each other alone in our struggles to achieve moral freedom.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments ad hominem or deemed offensive by the moderator will be subject to immediate deletion.