Thank you so much for the generally positive and always interesting input on Sunday's post: A Mormon Mother of Daughters Talks to a YSA Bishop About Intimacy, which was a response to an article by Larry L. Eastland. Sometimes clicking the publish button is a leap of faith. This turned out to be true in more ways than one and I'm grateful for the kindness, sharing, likes, and comments more than you know.
The response was enough to crash my servers and require an upgrade. The “upgrade” put me on servers that went down for hundreds of people for a day. We're finally back online, hopefully better, stronger, faster.
On the YSA bishop post, Moira expressed several objections. My response became unwieldy (brevity has never been my strong suit) and warranted a discussion of its own. Here are my answers to the issues she addressed. The quotes are hers unless otherwise noted. I don't have a lot of answers but, as usual, I have a lot of questions.
First, let’s get one thing straight: Men are visual. That’s not an opinion, that’s well-proven scientific fact. Women are as well, but not to the same degree as men.
Second: WOMEN KNOW THIS. Really. There’s a reason lingerie exists, why dressing or looking “sexy” or “hot” is a thing, why we ruin our feet tottering around in stilettos, or why we wear particular styles of makeup. We use it to our advantage. It’s normal. It’s a part of the mating ritual. But for whatever reason, any time a man brings it up, there are some women that throw their arms up in outrage that any man would dare point it out. What, like it’s some kind of secret? Please.
Most people understand the “men are visual” idea. It wasn't disputed as far as I know. In addition, I agree that women know that men get turned on by visual sexiness. (How could we not?) Even as a young woman, I rolled my eyes at all the lessons telling us again and again, “You don't know what it does to the boys!” My thought was always, “Um, yes, we do! That's why we do it! Hello?”
But I think there's something Moira is missing: It works.
Women dress down, try to look sexy, show the goods, ruin their feet with stripper heels, and wiggle around tugging on their skintight pencil skirts because it is the easiest way to get the attention of men. Even Mormon men. Period.
No, that doesn't make it right, but it makes at least as much of a statement about men as it does about women. And if women are going to be blamed for “forcing” men to get aroused, then men should get blamed for “forcing” women to skank it down just to get their attention.
Removing the Tools of the Trade
Eastland goes through some pretty strenuous mental gymnastics telling women how to be sexy without being sexy, how to be attractive without being too attractive, how to cover up at the same time you're displaying your “wares.” As he says,
And, here rests the challenge you face when determining how to dress and how to act…
…long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.
Do you understand the thinking here?
Men are “hard-wired” to be attracted to women. Men can't help being aroused by women's bodies. When men see women, they automatically think SEX! This is the way men are. There's nothing they can do and there's nothing you can do. You can't use it to your advantage and you can't compete with it, either.
LDS women have to figure out how to get guys so interested that they will forgo all those other sexy hotties on the planet and commit to settle down for eternity with us — without being such sexy hotties that we force the poor recalcitrant boys to want to “caress and posses” us.
In a nutshell, Mormon women are told to snag themselves a man for eternity — with the beauty we're all “supposed” to have — while putting away the tools that are most effective.
Level the Playing Field
To be clear, I don't disagree with the counsel to be modest (as long as we can come up with a coherent way to present it), but church leaders and materials don't do nearly as much (as Eastman's post confirms) to get the Mormon men to be attracted to what is leftover when the sexy is put on the shelf.
If LDS women can't righteously use the same set of tactics and tools other women in the world do to attract men, LDS men must be taught to stop valuing and rewarding those tactics and tools. In other words, LDS men need to stop admiring, fantasizing about, winking at, fawning over, making comparisons to, and asking out the women who use their bodies (and the men's visual susceptibility) to attract them.
[Even then, there's not an adequate quid pro quo here. Eastland acknowledges that women are mostly know for their beauty — which they can't fully use — and men most for their “power, strength, war, dominance, intellect or virility” — against which there are no prohibitions.]
In Eastman's case, at least, he puts an enormous emphasis on women's beauty and how physically attractive women need to be. (Within, of course, some unknowable, magical bounds on which his own congregants can't seek clarification without getting the hammer fist.)
If the typical male RM in a YSA ward was all after the modestly dressed females, was looking mostly for a strong testimony or scriptorian, wanted an intellectual equal, or was hankering to go out with the kindest girl in the room, those things would be much more a part of the Mormon “mating ritual.” And LDS women would be spending more time preparing for Gospel Doctrine and getting PhDs than flat-ironing their hair. (Or is it curling these days?)
Yes, church leaders do tell men not to look at porn. (Good!) But where are these priesthood lessons?
- Don't Date the Hottie Bodies
- Brainy Fatty Patty Is the One for You
- Shun the Touchy Feely Giggly Makout Girls (Shun!)
- Cheerleader Skorts? Not On My Watch!
- Waiting for Your Missionary Girlfriend
- Looking On the Heart (of the Ugly Girl in Sunday School)
- Putting Your Future Wife Through Grad School
- Don't Pass the Sacrament After Ogling the Bootie
- Learning to Love the Scriptorian
- Sleeveless Prom Dress? I'm Going Stag!
[By the way, I have an entire cause built around boycotting heels and have (as recently as six months ago) decided that I will never again bow to this ridiculous, painful fashion stupidity. But I'll save that for another day (and another blog).]
And if I noticed–you can bet every guy noticed.
What happened after you noticed, Moira? In your case, you jumped from noticing some partially-covered bosoms to:
- Claiming you couldn't help but continue to look.
- Checking out her veins.
- Determining her cup size.
- Noting what percentage of her wardrobe equally bared her chest.
- Pondering on other women who, in your opinion, expose too much. (Of course, I hope you didn't verify your opinion with Eastland, or you'd be in trouble.)
Did every guy who “noticed” this woman's chest make the mental catalog that you did? Did all of them think this much about it? Did you/they have to?
Straw Men and Other Erroneous Arguments
You don’t get to say that women should be able to dress to attract and then condemn men for being attracted.
I didn't condemn men for being attracted. I condemned the idea that it's a woman's fault that the men are not just attracted, but also aroused, ogling, wanting to “possess and caress.”
But let’s not pretend we don’t want them to look. As a single woman I will happily admit that I DO.
Who's pretending? I'm a married woman of 27 years and, while I'm not really into having my husband “possess” me, I think the caress is pretty darn awesome.
And Eastland wasn’t talking about a few inches of shoulder. He’s talking about low-cut dresses and shirts, and short skirts.
To quote Eastland:
…can see even a part of your breasts…
…shows a lot of your legs…
…something without sleeves…
…any movement that shows your bra…
…reveal your upper body…
So, in fact, he was talking about a few inches of shoulder.
I'm a freakishly dowdy dresser. Not that I have terrible taste, but because I just don't like to spend money on clothes, unless I'm speaking or marrying off one of my kids. I don't even own anything remotely immodest. Still, I have flashed my bra and garment leg more than a few times.
I now publicly apologize for enticing the entire male population of the species to possess and caress me. I take the shame.
You say men should just automatically turn off their instinct to look? Really?
No, not really. I didn't say they should “automatically” do anything. I said they should do it in spite of their feelings to do otherwise. Isn't that the point of learning self-mastery? We don't have a lot of lessons reminding us to breathe or digest. We have lessons that remind us to do things we don't do without thought and effort.
Looking away or distracting ourselves when faced with inappropriate thoughts is the very essence being responsible adults and committed disciples.
You’re utterly lying to yourself if you believe that women should have no accountability over their clothing choices or that men shouldn’t be able to cry foul when we make poor choices that affect them–especially when they’re trying to focus on things like passing the sacrament.
Moira, this comment is central to the problem in discussing this issue. I didn't say women weren't responsible for their own choices. I said they were not responsible for men's choices. Unless/until we can distinguish between the two, there's not much to discuss.
As I said, having a coherent discussion about modestly and sexuality with women must not come from the position of “to keep the dirty boys in line.” And we're not really there yet.
They never spoke about it from the boys’ perspectives. How could they? They were mostly given by WOMEN in Young Women’s and RS. It would have been great had the guys been able to talk openly about their sexuality so that we could understand. But OH–NO. That would be “creepy.”
I'm all for both men and women talking openly about sexuality. When the doctor asked one of my newly-post-pubescent girls, “Has your mom talked to you about sex?” My daughter said, “If she'd only stop talking about it!”
I can't speak for hawkgrrrl (the first person to use the term in the comments — it wasn't used in the OP), but I can assure you that talking openly about sex wasn't what I found creepy. Here are some samples, quoting Eastland, of comments that I found awkward:
So, it is little wonder that men look at you, admire you, and to one extent or another, lust after you. They—we–notice just about everything about you, including how you dress. We notice how much of you is showing on the outside.
You wear a dress cut low enough that they can see even a part of your breasts, the brethren (over there) cannot help but look.
If your dress shows a lot of your legs, we admire them.
If you wear something without sleeves, some male eyes will see any movement that shows your bra.
If you lean over and you reveal your upper body, Beast will see whatever Beauty reveals.
…men will see as an invitation to touch, to enjoy, to “lie with you” as David did when he saw Bathsheba.
What men see they want to possess. So, what you show they desire. The more you show the greater the invitation to them, as they see it, to do something they should not because the message received is that it is OK with you or you wouldn’t be dressing, or undressing, that way. Whether you intend it or not, that is the message they believe you are sending – an invitation to do much more than simply admire. An invitation to caress and possess.
I have been told that my remarks today should be like your dress: long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.
Guys make that decision in the first 30 seconds—well, maybe not 30 seconds—but certainly not six months later.
Help him honor his Priesthood by honoring your sisterhood.
I didn't really find the last one creepy, just bizarre.
Who Can Speak?
Eastland, as a Bishop and a man, has every right to point out the fact that is a problem. And he is undeniably correct in saying it is distracting, unfair, and that women have the power to control it to some degree.
Eastland isn't my bishop. He has no stewardship over me. I already addressed the fact that if he had been my bishop, I wouldn't have felt comfortable countering his positions. (That's enormously problematic (historically as well as personally), but something I understand to be the norm.) But as a church member I have no obligation to leave harmful, erroneous information posted on a blog unchecked, just because the author used to serve as a bishop (or in any other unrelated leaderships position) somewhere.
Please note that if Eastland has the right to point out a problem “as a man,” then I have a right to point out a problem “as a woman.” If he only has the right as a Bishop [sic], then, yup, both you and I should just shut our pie holes and go home.
That said, no. Women do not have the power to control men to any degree. That is the point. They can influence, they can try to persuade, they can reason, but they can't control.
A person who tries to entice someone else to do evil will be responsible for that behavior: trying to entice someone to do evil. When someone chooses to do evil, they will held responsible for that behavior: choosing to do evil.
It's not some kind of fractional division of blame, like a car accident insurance payout. “The perp get 80% responsibility for the rape, but the victim gets 20% because she wore s slutty dress.”
- If a woman tries to entice a man to be unchaste, she is 100% responsible for trying to entice a man to be unchaste.
- If a man chooses to be unchaste, he is 100% responsible for choosing to be unchaste.
They are different sins and each has it's own judgement.
So how about we tone down the criticism, huh? How about we show our men a little support?
I think it's amusing when someone is judged for being judgmental or criticized for being critical. It's all so circular! So, Moira, how about you tone down your criticism of me? How about you show our women a little support?
To be clear, I don't expect you to stop criticizing me or judging me out of hand. But you can't reasonably expect others to stop the very behavior you're engaging in yourself. Right?
If sexy is sin, it's sin on both sides of the issue. Men don't get a pass because their glands overpower them and women don't get seated with the blame for the behavior of others, just their own.
Most of all, I wish we could get beyond accusations. A final list:
- Disagreement about issues isn't “evil speaking”
- It's OK to disagree with men, even those who hold positions in church leadership
- Disagreement isn't synonymous with vitriol, hypersensitivity, lack of testimony, etc.
Thanks for reading this far. Would love to hear your comments, whether you agree or disagree.