A police officer in Toronto, quoted as saying, "Women can avoid rape by not dressing like sluts" and subsequent "Slut walks" were the occasion for a little chat about modesty on Sean Hannity's program. All participants in the debate agreed that rape is never the fault of the victim. The question on the table, however, was whether or not women can reduce their risk of abuse and rape, and if so, whether or not choices in dress can be a factor.
The two women facing off were Tamara Holder, a Fox news contributor, who sported a plunging neckline and a rather angry demeanor. Rebecca St. James, well-known in Christian circles for her song, "Wait for Me," had a more conservative, though attractive, outfit, and seemed to be operating from a sphere of peacefulness and joy, which perhaps spoke louder than her words.
A couple of segments that found my mouth on the floor:
Rebecca St. James: "There has to be a responsibility for what the woman is wearing ... personal responsibility. [...] Purity and modesty go hand in hand. I think when a woman is dressing in an immodest way, a provocative way, she's got to think about what is she saying by her dress, because to a lot of guys -- and I just wrote another book about it called, What Is He Thinking, I interviewed these guys and they're saying ..."Later in the interview:
Sean Hannity: "One of them is me."
Tamara Holder: "This is absolutely disturbing."
Rebecca St. James: "Tamara, I mean, what are women saying by dressing provocatively? I mean, I think they're saying, 'I'm easy. I'm asking you to look at me as a sexual object, rather than a woman worthy of respect.' And I think women who are marching and saying, 'I should be able to wear whatever I want' ..."I suppose these words can only be truly horrifying to those who understand what they truly mean. In other words, Tamara Holder cannot possibly know what she is saying, or she could never say it. In effect, she would be saying, "I am not a woman. I am not a person. I am an animal, an object. I do not need to be loved or to love. There is nothing wrong with using me or with me using others." And the irony of this logic is that it undermines the first reason these two women were on the show -- to acknowledge that women should not be used, abused or raped. But to say, "There is nothing wrong with looking like a sexual object," is to say there is nothing wrong with being perceived as a sexual object, which is really to say there is nothing about my dignity as a human person that should preclude me from being treated like a sexual object.
Tamara Holder: "There is nothing wrong with looking like a sexual object."
Interestingly, I think the whole argument of whether or not rape is wrong stands on this ground -- am I an object or am I a person? If I am an object, then I can be used as a tool to satisfy someone else's desires. Likewise, I can use others as a means to an end. But if I am a person -- if I have gifts, talents, a history, a personality -- then I can only be treated with love. Nothing else befits my dignity. And therefore, rape, abuse or using of any sort can never be justified.
So maybe arguments about the necessity or not of modesty are much more integral to the question of how women should be treated than many will concede. If we look at modesty as a constricting command to hide inside a potato sack, then we aren't understanding the gift that it is. If we look at modesty, however, as an opportunity to radiate the truth of who we are in God's image and likeness, as a means of protecting the gift of ourselves and of inspiring love and respect, then modesty can only serve to further defend the incredible dignity of each human person -- never to be used, always to be loved.