Tuesday, August 27, 2013

This is Your Brain on Lingerie

Before I get going, I want to make something clear.  You're about to hear me talk about how a women's actions can affect a man negatively, but I assure you I will not defend men's negative actions against women.  You will not hear me assert a victim mentality for men's crimes against women, or blame immodesty for the rape culture present today.  Before you read on, I ask that you suspend these thoughts from your mind, because they are some of the most insulting arguments on any topic up for debate in this age, and we shall not lend them credence.

The topic of the day is modesty.  Being raised in a big youth group who took summer trips that involved pools, water parks, or the beach, I was exposed to the topic more than most young men.  With a brother who works in youth ministry and a sister-in-law who spends a lot of time with the youth group girls, I continue to hear Christian advice on this topic regularly.

The argument I hear most often goes something like this: "Men/boys react to the way you dress.  It's how they are wired, they can't help it!  When you dress provocatively, it causes them to have desires they shouldn't have.  It's not that you're doing anything wrong, but the way you dress could cause the men/boys around you to struggle with sexual sin.  Wouldn't it be better to dress modestly and give them one less temptation?"

Honestly, within a church youth group setting, this is a fairly easy discussion.  When you're already talking about how to do good in the world, it's easy to make the argument that exposing too much of your body isn't the best decision.  Moreso, when your demographic is made up of high school and junior high church folks, the mere fact that sex is discouraged is almost enough to make the argument for you.

But that's not the case for the rest of the world.  We live in a society where sex isn't discouraged.  Whether good or bad, society has decided that sex a good thing, not just in theory, but in practice.  Presenting yourself as "sexy" isn't taboo, rather it's encouraged!  And in light of this societal choice, modesty has become a very difficult choice to make.

For those who disagree with the arguments for modesty, there seems to be a common response.  It says "why am I responsible for their temptation and their sin?  Shouldn't they just learn not to treat women like objects?"  To an extent, I think you're right.  Unquestionably, men, both individually and as a society, need to develop a healthier view of women, and every man should treat every woman with respect.  However, there's more to it than this.

Studies have shown that a man's response to provocatively-dressed women is more than their choices.  They have found an actual chemical change that happens when a man sees a woman in minimal clothing.  While shown pictures of women in various levels of clothing, men were given a brain scan.  The researchers looked at what parts of the brain were "active" in different scenarios.  Consistently, the pictures with less clothing invoked the part of the brain associated with tools.  I mean this literally.  Tools, like hammers, drills, and saws.  Even more, some results showed the part of the brain associated with empathy and human interaction completely shut down.  Researchers were astounded at the results, and I am amazed by the implications.

But the problem with women dressing provocatively isn't causing men to struggle.  That struggle is truly out of your hands.  The heart of the problem is that, while the vast majority of men don't respond to immodesty with any direct negative action (unwanted advances, predatory behavior, or worse), the unavoidable biological reaction still has an effect.  Like a "harmless" racial joke or a biased news report, that tiny grain of prejudice nudges at their thoughts.  The reaction might not be direct, but it leaves an impression.

So what?  Why should a woman care what men think of them?

I'm glad you asked!  Women should care, not because a random person thinks badly about them, but because society gets nudged a little further toward devaluing women.  Look at Victoria's Secret, a business who made millions through advertizing with underwear-clad models and now has an entire evening of TV dedicated to parading these women across a stage.  Look at the websites (not to be named here) which provide lists of actresses who have appeared nude on screen, right down to the timestamp on the DVD.  Look at the female pop stars, including one who has been given headlines from every major news network in the country this week, who gain popularity by what they wear on stage.

Would you rather contribute to this society, which continually devalues and objectifies women, or would you rather contribute to a society that gives women the respect they deserve, treats them like people rather than objects, and judges them by their character instead of their gender?  When we discuss modesty, this is the underlying question.  What would you choose?

Today's post was inspired by this article published by The Atlantic.

Always moving forward,


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