An avalanche of accusations and revelations of sexual impropriety and assault have made headlines in recent months. The media movements of #MeToo and #TimesUp have many women telling their stories and many prominent men being rightly exposed, and often ruined, for their wrongdoing. This reckoning is long overdue.
But in this landslide, an important truth is being buried.
Before I say it—and even to make this suggestion is going to invite anger and indignation—let’s take a quick visit to Thailand.
Don’t Tell Me How to Dress
Every April, much of Southeast Asia welcomes the Hindu new year with the Songkran Festival. It’s one of the world’s largest celebrations. In Thailand alone, this three-day celebration, known for its mass water fights, attracts over half a million foreigners.
This festival has a dark side: Growing numbers of women report receiving unwanted sexual attention. Last month, a nonprofit organization surveyed 1,650 women and nearly 6 in 10 said they were sexually harassed during this year’s festival.
The Thai government published an official suggestion that if women wanted to avoid sexual assault, they should dress modestly.
They give this advice every year, but this year, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, the advice received a strong backlash. One well-known Thai actress promoted hashtags #DontTellMeHowToDress and #TellMenToBehave. In a widely viewed Instagram post, she wrote, “Women have the right to dress however we choose, as long as it’s not illegal. Sexual assault and harassment is never the woman’s fault! Tell men to keep their hands to themselves!”
She also tweeted, “Newsflash! Women dress to feel beautiful and confident and sexy and powerful, to show off our toned bodies and our tans. … We dress for ourselves! Whether it’s a bikini or a hijab… #donttellmehowtodress.”
Time magazine says that in Thailand, this hashtag is more widespread than #MeToo.
It is absolutely true that a man of good character does not sexually harass a woman, no matter how she dresses. But this popular notion—that a woman should dress “to feel beautiful … and sexy … to show off our toned bodies” and should bear no responsibility for how this affects the men around her—is an extraordinary leap of logic. A woman can dress just like promiscuous women who perhaps invite men to stare or touch, yet put on every man in sight 100 percent of the responsibility for knowing the exact amount and type of attention to give her. By this logic, when a man crosses that line—which would surely be different for different women, or even for the same woman in different circumstances, or for the same woman with different men—he bears 100 percent of the guilt.
Is the guilty man the only person in this situation who is exhibiting low character?
The reasoning of this actress and many women with similar views is deeply flawed for several reasons. Most obviously, it is stunningly selfish. A woman who “shows off” by dressing only for herself—who purposefully dresses immodestly to show off and get noticed—is showing no consideration for the men around her. She is scoring shallow, ego-boosting victories at their expense.
Clearly there are many cases where women are not trying to attract attention and still receive unwanted advances from lustful men. Even virtuous women get abused at times (e.g., 2 Samuel 13). This world is full of creeps. The main responsibility for a man sexually advancing on a woman is the man’s. God holds the man responsible. A powerful article could be written on that subject. But this article is focusing on another aspect that is also important and much more prone to being overlooked.
The fact is, a woman does have the power to significantly reduce her chances of attracting unwanted attention from those creeps. She exercises this power by where she goes, how she behaves, and yes, what she wears. I am teaching my daughters, ages 16 and 14, to dress modestly in order to increase their chances of remaining safe—and decrease the odds of drawing eyeballs from the wrong kind of men.
For most of human history in most of the world, such a statement would have been entirely unremarkable and uncontroversial. Simple common sense. Today it is considered backward, sexist, oppressive and offensive.
An Unhappy Reader
Last November I wrote an article about the Harvey Weinstein scandal. The main point I made was that the #MeToo sex scandals were caused by breaking God’s laws:
Our society has renounced God’s standards and laws. It mocks His morality and flouts His definitions of right and wrong. God condemns fornication—we embrace it. He condemns adultery—we accept it. He commands that sex be confined to within marriage—society sneers.
Jesus Christ said merely looking on a woman lustfully is committing adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:28). But we live in a pornographic playground and celebrate it. …
[T]he Bible is loaded with instruction on how a real man should act. A man who is obeying God simply will not be taking advantage of women, harassing them, or using his power to secure sexual favors. Instead he will be self-controlled, skilled at restraining his lusts, and faithful to his wife. … [God] forbids men to be predators—He expects them to serve as women’s protectors and defenders. And He commands men to regard women with honor ….
Critics are using the bad behavior of these predators to brand all men as dangerous and all masculinity as toxic. The truth is that biblical masculinity—and more broadly, God’s law—condemns toxic thoughts that lead to sexual predation—starting with looking on a woman lustfully.
In my article, I also briefly made this complementary point:
On the flip side, [God] also commands modesty. He specifically says that women should dress and behave with modesty, so as not to misuse the undeniable power of their sexuality.
I then quoted a woman who wrote, “[O]ur concept of modesty is rooted in the idea that women are sexual objects. When we see a woman and condemn her clothing choices, we’ve accepted the idea that a woman’s body is primarily sexual. Ankles, collarbones, shoulders, cleavage, knees, thighs—they’re not treated as part of a person, but as objects that can tempt men to lust. … Victim blaming is a cornerstone of Christian teachings about sexual purity. … In this purity culture, women are to blame for what abusers do to them.”
A cornerstone of Christian teaching is “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” A cornerstone of Christian teaching is “[W]hosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” A cornerstone of Christian teaching is to not commit fornication. A cornerstone of Christian teaching is for men who commit sexual sins, even in how they look at a woman, to be punished and to repent of their sin. Just spend three minutes reading Bible search results on the topic!
But “DontTellMeHowtoDress” logic ignores this and insists that, as I wrote in my article, “women should be able to dress and act however they want and expect men to treat them with platonic chastity and the highest honor.”
Several readers took exception to the suggestion that the sexual scandals would diminish if women dressed more modestly. One woman accused me of suggesting that “Muslims are righteous in God’s eye because of their ‘keeping women in their place.’ From hijabs to beatings, submission, female genital mutilation, and everything else the religion of ‘peace’ professes about women and their roles, you make the case they are justified in God’s mind because of the way you interpret the Bible.”
This is the moral bluntness of this #MeToo movement. If you suggest that a woman could help herself and others by covering her cleavage, you are effectively a supporter not just of hijabs, but of beatings and genital mutilation.
In January 2015, a woman named Veronica Partridge decided that she would no longer wear leggings—tight, form-fitting pants. She wrote a blog post explaining why; it began: “disclaimer: Let me just start off by saying, I am in no way trying to tell people what they can and cannot wear. What you wear is entirely your own choice. I am just sharing my personal story on why I chose to no longer wear yoga pants or leggings in public.”
As she saw it, leggings and other immodest articles of clothing “create a stronger attraction for a man to look at a woman’s body and may cause them to think lustful thoughts.” She talked with her husband, who admitted that when seeing women wearing form-fitting clothing, he had to consciously make himself not look.
In case you have not heard, men are naturally attracted to the female form. This is an important contributing factor to the perpetuation of the human race.
Veronica then asked:
If it is difficult for my husband who loves, honors and respects me to keep his eyes focused ahead, then how much more difficult could it be for a man that may not have the same self-control? Sure, if a man wants to look, they are going to look, but why entice them? Is it possible that the thin, form-fitting leggings could make a married (or single) man look at a woman in a way he should only look at his wife?
Good Morning America did a story on Veronica’s stand, and the issue blew up. It provoked heated backlash from the “don’t tell me how to dress” public, who mercilessly ridiculed Veronica and her husband. In a later post, she wrote:
These past few weeks have been shocking, to say the least. I have weathered the most hateful comments of my life. People have called me a countless number of names, some I can’t even repeat. Women have talked about my husband with graphic sexuality asking for favors and soliciting their bodies to him. … I have seen the difference between disagreement and hate. Those who have said cruel words to me, know that they have been felt. I understand how it feels to be disliked and bullied, so if the goal was to hurt me, you’ve succeeded.
There is a bigger issue here about the vileness of the left and its intolerance of biblical virtue. But let’s keep to the specific issue at hand:
Whatever happened to modesty?
When did this commonsense quality become a form of oppression?
Veronica made this point about the selfishness in immodest dress:
Let’s just say a woman walked into [a] park topless, is it solely the man’s responsibility to “not look”? No. Responsible sexuality should be led by both men and women.
When men or women act individually minded (thinking of only themselves) rather than community-minded (courteous of others), we put our culture in danger. In reference to the original statement, “I should be able to wear whatever I want” I want to clarify that you can. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And let’s not forget that 25-year-old men are not the only ones with eyes.
For example, if I’m individually minded, not thinking of how my outfit may affect others in my community, I might not realize the effect I have on my neighbor’s 13-year-old son entering the age of sexuality. I might not realize the effect I have on a mother’s daughter who may be struggling with the shape of her body. And I might not realize the effect I have on the bus driver who may be fighting through his own battle with sex addiction.
She is talking about the difference between living the way of give versus the way of get. It is demonstrating outgoing concern for others rather than just the self.
It is good for a woman to dress flatteringly, and to feel beautiful and feminine in what she wears. But her attire should be tasteful. The idea that she should be able to dress provocatively, so she can feel sexy and “show off her toned body”—in the words of that Thai actress—and get exactly the kind and amount of interest, attention or longing that she wants—and none of the attention she doesn’t want—is dishonest. If a woman sincerely believes this is what will happen, she needs to know that this exists only in a fantasy world where there is no human nature and people just do what you want them to do.
The reason this approach doesn’t work is that—like other inventions of human reasoning—it ignores instruction from the Creator of human bodies and minds.
A Woman’s Power
In his outstanding book The Missing Dimension in Sex, educator Herbert W. Armstrong wrote about the differences that God created between the sexes when He made us male and female. God intends men to be the protectors and defenders of women. He also designed men, psychologically and physically, to be the initiators in a relationship with a woman. And He designed differences between the source of male and female sexual arousal.
Men are visual. If a woman parades her body in provocative attire, it will provoke a man’s mind to drift. The responsibility of keeping a man’s mind in check lies with the man—the Bible is clear on that. But just as a man can be sinful or righteous in how he interacts with a woman, a woman can be sinful or righteous in how she interacts with a man. A considerate woman will do what she can to avoid provoking such thoughts. And if a woman wants to be respected and treated well, the way she dresses will help her achieve that goal. Certainly men should respect women—and women should respect the differences God created in men.
Dressing modestly will not stop a perverted man from doing what he has set his mind to do. (In most cases, his lusts were fed by pornography.) But it can go a long way in reducing the likelihood of unwanted attention.
Every woman has a certain power. In today’s world, women too often use this power to manipulate men by the way they dress and behave. That is not to make excuses for men who commit these crimes, it is just acknowledging the responsibility of both sides to maintain decency.
Mr. Armstrong wrote about this power in The Missing Dimension in Sex. He was discussing the danger of sexual contact before marriage, but the principle applies to dress as well:
Many girls, participating in “necking” on dates, do not realize at all that the boyfriend is sexually aroused … in a matter of five or ten seconds’ time. And some girls, devoid of right understanding and character, on learning this, deliberately resort to an embrace on the next date to “try out” their feminine powers. This is very foolish, very stupid and very wrong! To any such girl, I say: “You have only the very same power possessed by all the other 2 billion females in the world! Every cheap prostitute also has this power. This is what she sells in her despicable trade. Don’t be like her! Don’t pollute and misuse this wonderful power! God endowed you with these charms to be preserved for the one man to whom He will someday join you—to be used then in a wholesome manner that will produce blissful happiness. You will be required to answer in the judgment for the manner in which you use your God-bestowed power.”
In the world today, many women abuse this “God-bestowed power.” Just as Mr. Armstrong said, these charms are intended for one man: her husband. But we live in a world that scoffs at the idea of preserving sexual sanctity for marriage. Like so many other virtues, modesty has been tossed aside.
This is not a subject people want to hear about. It’s not politically correct to suggest that women dress with modesty, just as it’s not politically correct to suggest that men be masculine leaders who use their strengths to serve, to defend and to protect. Still, it is the truth.
The Creator of men and women specifies in the Bible the roles He made men and women to fulfill. And He preserves several examples of the happiness and joy of women who have true modest virtue. Modesty is not about restricting and oppressing a woman’s quality of life; it’s about enhancing it to the full measure her Creator made her to enjoy.
Just as God set those guidelines, He also prophesied of our degenerate age. He said through the Prophet Isaiah, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1). Sin is what is causing the flood of sexual harassment cases. And those who speak for God must unflinchingly nail the culprit for the suffering: That culprit is sin!
It takes more than modesty to guarantee a woman’s safety from unwanted staring or touching or worse. But what would society be like tomorrow if today we admitted that our predominant opinions on sexuality have obviously failed and we turned instead to Bible-based modesty? Imagine if we heeded the instruction Jesus Christ gave His disciples to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). The selfless, loving approach is to show respect and consideration for the opposite sex, even if that means that a woman dresses modestly and preserves her charms, her body, her allure, and her heart and her mind for one blessed man, her husband.
Rather than dressing for yourself, consider dressing to show respect for others and to uphold and preserve sexual sanctity. Immodesty is selfish, an attitude God hates. He wants us to look out for one another.
We are the workmanship of God’s hands (Ephesians 2:10). He created our bodies, and He instructs us how to take care of ourselves. Our bodies are not our own; they belong to God. So we should be looking to Him for His instruction on dress and appropriate apparel.
“In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel …” (1 Timothy 2:9). Through the Apostle Paul, God clearly instructs that women dress with modesty. He looks on the heart and is concerned with how well we follow His instruction.
The Creator of men and women gives us abundant instruction on what each sex can do to preserve sexual sanctity. He makes clear that both men and women have a part to play and bear responsibility. He created the sexes to be a benefit, not a stumbling block, for each other. Evaluate how well you are following life’s Instruction Manual. Do all you can to show love in all things—even in how you dress.