Anyone who spends more than a little bit of time in a modern church has probably sat through a modesty sermon, one in which where women are warned about dressing just so as to not to cause men to lust after them, how it’s a heart issue and not wanting to cause your weaker brother to stumble, and also treating your own body as a temple – with the utmost respect as an image bearer of God as a woman (male image-bearers needn’t worry so much about that one). Or some such combination of teachings. Anyone who spent some time in the youth group during an outing probably was given a list of advice about what to wear, and the girls always seemed to have more “don’t” than “do” instruction they were required to obey.
It’s become a well-known fact that men lust more after women than women do men. Men were designed to be sexual, it’s their primary appetite. It’s the one thing that boys always want. But this wasn’t so centuries ago. There was a time where men were warned that women had insatiable sexual appetites; that however sexual men were, women were all that and then some. That women always wanted just one thing, as much as possible, all the time. This was because the ancient world saw the act of procreation as a necessary evil, losing one’s holiness in exchange for creating a life to continue the family line. It was not supposed to be a pleasurable business, but because women seemed to enjoy a part of the process, they got the reputation of being the more sexual and more sinful party of the union.
“The most difficult aspect of sex, widely acknowledged both by physicians and by priests, was its highly pleasurable nature, an aspect variously thought to indicate its inherently natural and/or sinful qualities. As a consequence of this duality, sex was most often depicted in extreme ways that ignored the well-balanced middle ground inhabited by most medieval people. Celibacy or whoredom, chastity or adultery – in literature and art there was often no middle ground, and these oppositional portrayals bled over specifically into depictions of women. Because of their manifestly “other” nature (not male, and therefore not, when specifically called “women,” able to participate in the “default” category that would allow them to exist outside of gender), women became inextricably bound up in sexuality, as a result of which all women in medieval art and literature carry some sort of sexual association – chaste and virginal or depraved and sexually voracious – to a greater or lesser degree. Female figures who participate in sexual activities are noted for their participation, and those who abstain are noted for their celibacy, but very rarely if at all is a non-allegorical woman depicted without some reference to her life or potential life as a sexual being.” (Source: https://www.library.rochester.edu/robbins/sex-society)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (The bolded part of the verse is the main point, the rest of it is often cut-off as being useless in any given recitation of the verse; it comes in handy as a way to blame a woman for what she was wearing, rather than the looker to have any responsibility whatsoever.)
Arguably, this verse sets the standard. The “anyone” here refers to any man, any guy, any red-blooded male; it doesn’t include women because women don’t lust after women like men do as the sexual creatures that they (the men) are. I don’t know whether or not the ancient Israelites also considered women naturally sexual creatures or men to be naturally sexual creatures, but it doesn’t matter because it applies to men either way. And given that the Bible is book written primarily by men with an audience of men in mind and women as only secondary to the text it makes one wonder: “Is it possible that because men are less sexual than women, this prohibition was written with them in mind because they have the capacity to reign in their impulses and there was no point in writing something to women who had far less control over themselves according to the cultural and historical beliefs about men and women in that day and age?” Who knows?
This teaching is founded in the idea that men and women are different. What one is, the other isn’t. Culturally speaking, where the line is drawn is all over the map. A certain degree of emotion like so is feminine, unless it’s quite masculine on the other side of the world. Even over time itself, what’s true right here isn’t so over there. This seems to betray the concept that men and women are hard-wired to be as different as can be, to be polar opposites, and yet, they exhibit the same human traits overall. If it’s the ‘nature’ argument, it’s not holding water. Only ‘nurture’ seems to push things one way or the other, but with each culture having it’s own different ideas, it seems almost impossible to create a list about all the ways that strictly masculine nature and strictly feminine nature are different that’s coherent across all cultures and all times; the so-called, ‘hard-wired’ programming of masculinity and femininity that God designed into our original prototypes we know as Adam and Eve has yet to materialize. (Go ahead, just try to make such a list; odds are it won’t be as long as it’s ‘supposed’ to.)
If it’s one thing I’ve learned, that popular thought can be changed at any time, sooner or later, teachings on modesty won’t be about women helping their weaker brother not to lust by how they dress, it’ll be on women being instructed not to give into their sexual natures and tempt men into sinning mentally by dressing modestly.