It is indisputable that our actions affect others. While we are ultimately responsible for our own behavior, we must recognize that what we do can also help or hinder others who strive to live moral lives. Understanding this allows us to recognize that the protestor in the Associated Press photo below, is missing a crucial aspect of what is necessary to create a civilized society.1
Sexual assault is a terrible crime which must be eradicated. The belief that “women showing too much of their bodies deserve to be attacked”1 sparks useless arguments and sidetracks energies which could be better used to solving the problem. No one deserves to be a victim.
Unfortunately, we live in a world which suffers from our fallen human state. Despite what our federal government says, we cannot be protected from all evil regardless of the amount of privacy we are willing to surrender.
That being said, we need to be vigilant. Whether it’s protecting our families or our possessions, we can take steps to minimize our vulnerability. We don’t leave children unsupervised or display our money and prized objects on the front lawn for passers-by to be tempted to steal. Sure, we shouldn’t have to lock our cars and front doors, but that is a reality which the wise will not ignore.
The same applies to the safety of our bodies. Dressing properly for work or recreation could prevent injury or even death. We also decide what to wear and how we act out of respect for each occasion and for each other. Clothing and behavior for a sporting event would not be appropriate for a wedding or a funeral.
But it is not just special events which creates interactions with our fellow human beings. Unless we are hermits, we have countless impacts on others daily. Many of these we aren’t even aware of. A jogger running down a sidewalk is probably not conscious of those who pass in cars unless a horn is sounded! Yet, thoughts can range from “I need to take time to get in shape” to “What a fool, tearing up his knees” or worse. The jogger is not accountable for this unless he/she somehow incites the travelers.
Incitation can occur in many forms: an impolite gesture, disrespectful message on a shirt… and even very revealing clothing.
How we dress does affect others. If we choose to be provocative in our clothing, makeup etc., we need to ask ourselves what our goal is. Is it to attract a spouse? (not likely in this age of decreased respect for commitments) Is it to get the attention of a movie producer? (don’t think so) Or is it to create envy or strong desire in others? These are negative and destructive emotions.
Those who have a healthy view of themselves are satisfied just by knowing they have physical gifts and use them for genuinely good purposes. They are not compelled to show off.
We should instead focus on creating a positive social environment. If we truly believed in the dignity of human life, we would have lower crime rates, including fewer physical assaults on women.2 If we didn’t trivialize human sexual relations as a casual activity outside of marriage, then we would stop treating others as mere objects for our gratification.
Essentially, we must rediscover modesty. Old fashioned to some, perhaps, but a timeless virtue which has proven its worth repeatedly over the millennia. “Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing…It protests, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements…Modesty inspires a way of life which makes it possible to resist the allurements of fashion and the pressures of prevailing ideologies…Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person.”3,4
Respect for the human person. With this, then men and women could also understand the effects they have on each other and act accordingly.
1 – “Attitudes On Sex In Brazil Tested,” by Loretta Chao, The Wall Street Journal, 4/5-6/2014
2 – of course, the goal is zero assaults, but given the previously mentioned fallen nature of humans, this is not likely to be attained
3 – excerpts from paragraphs 2522-2524 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Liguori Publications, Liguori, MO, 1994
4 – A good summary of the Ten Commandments, what they command and forbid, can be found in “The Ten Commandments of God (Catholic Version)” by a fellow Wordpess blogger can be found at http://smattorneys.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/the-10-commandments-of-god-catholic-version/comment-page-1/#comment-3. Under the commandment against adultery, it states that it “commands chastity in word and deed and forbids obscene speech; impure actions alone or with others.”