Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"This is absolutely disturbing."

It's interesting that my reaction to this clip on Fox News is the words of one of the interviewees. First, let me explain ...

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 ..."

Sean Hannity: "One of them is me."

Tamara Holder: "This is absolutely disturbing."
Later in the interview:

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' ..."

Tamara Holder: "There is nothing wrong with looking like a sexual object."
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.

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.

1 comment:

  1. The logic, of course, is dead on.
    Why is rape horrendous? Because women (and men) are persons with dignity and not objects.
    What other conclusions can we draw from this reality? That we should always treat ourselves and others with respect for their inherent dignity, not objectify others and as much as possible protect ourselves from objectification.

    Now, I see the tie: we are persons who should not be objectified. Rape is a way in which some objectify, a particularly horrendous way. Provocative dress is a way in which women objectify themselves and encourage others to objectify them as well.

    When is comes to working against sexual violence, I think we are all on the same page. Rape is horrendous and should never be tolerated. The fault lies with the rapist and we must do whatever we can to protect people from such violence.

    Is there someone out there who is making the argument that the woman who dresses in a way that encourages objectification is at fault if someone objectifies her? She may be at fault for creating the occasion of sin, but that does not make the fault of the sin her own. The sin of rape remains with the rapist.

    The only explanation I can think of for the reactionary reality of “Slut Walks” or the anger expressed by women like Tamara Holder is that there is someone out there saying rape is a woman’s fault for dressing provocatively. Any effort we make to show them the logic of rape is wrong because we are not objects which also happens to mean that we should not treat ourselves like objects only angers them more, because we’re still talking about the relationship of rape and provocative dress. We, of course, are not saying that because a woman dresses provocatively she is at fault for rape, but we are being lumped in with people who do believe that.

    I think we have to accept that this is understandably an emotional topic and there is not always room for flat logic in these conversations. You have to address the emotional first.