Continuing with Book Week. Box #2 raises a question that doesn’t get asked often enough: What part do chastity-education programs play in teaching teens (and grown-ups) about the right use of their bodies?
My thoughts follow, but first you should show know what was in the box:
YOU from Ascension Press. I reviewed AP’s Theology of the Body for Teens: Middle School Edition some years ago, and liked it immensely. A first glance at YOU is similarly positive. It’s a much bigger and deeper program, and from everything I’m seeing among teens in the circles I run in (church-school-sports), YOU looks like a solid answer to a very serious need.
As I flipped through the books the other night, several things caught my eye:
The advice for how to teach teens is dead-on.
The parent booklet gets right to first things first. It’s like they know they only have a paragraph to win us parents over.
The curriculum, as will the best Theology of the Body presentations, starts with the bigger picture, lays the essential groundwork on the dignity of the human person, and leads from there into a positive message about the goodness and appeal of chastity.
YOU is working off ideas that have been tested with teens over and again and found to work. (Not surprising, given who the authors are.)
It’ll be a while before I get a chance to read the leader’s guide and parent guide (leader’s guide contains the full text of the student book) cover to cover, as well as watch the whole DVD series. Thus I wanted to flag this series now, because I’ve got a very positive impression at first glance, and if you’re planning programs for your parish you might want to request your own review set rather than waiting on someone else’s opinion.
Where do ready-made chastity programs fit into the big picture?
If you phoned me this afternoon (please don’t) and asked me what I recommended for taking your generic typical-American-parish from zero to full-steam-ahead on teaching teens chastity, here’s what I’d recommend:
1. Start with a good parent-centered introduction to chastity, such as Family Honor’sLeading and Loving program. There are lots of options for meeting formats, but (using L&L as an example) I strongly recommend investing the time and energy into spreading the program out over six weekly sessions rather than doing a single big-weekend event. This gives you time for parents to get to know each other, to have time to talk with the leaders in detail, and to begin to form a small group atmosphere. It lets parish leadership begin to identify the parents who are in the best position to help other parents. It also gives lots of time for listening, and thus for learning where parents in your parish are coming from and what questions or difficulties they are having.
–> Make sure you’ve got the depth of back-up resources to assist parents with their concerns. At a minimum: NFP instruction, good pastoral help with thorny marital irregularities, some resources for dealing with pornography, and access to support for parishioners grappling with same-sex attraction (personally or via a friend or family member’s situation) such as Courage. It’s no fair telling people they need to radically change their lives, then wishing them good luck and washing your hands.
2. When parents are ready to start sharing the message of chastity with their teens, do a parent-teen joint program. There are any number of options, and many of them (Family Honor is an exception) assume parents won’t be present. Don’t go there. You need the parents totally involved and on board. Your six hours in front of an eighth grader are nothing compared to the influence of the parents. Even if the program you select doesn’t call for parental presence, adapt it to make it a parent-teen program.
3. Keep working discipleship on all the parts of the Catholic faith. Salvation isn’t about sex-ed alone.
4. Programs like YOU will have the most impact if you roll them out after you have a critical mass of parents who are actively seeking to foster chastity in the home, and a critical mass of parishioners and parish leaders who are disciples.
I’m not saying there is no fruit that comes from grabbing a random teenager who’s fully immersed in the wider culture and subjecting the child to a few weeks of Catholic teaching. Good things can happen. But the reality is that an hour of your life in alien country rarely makes you want to join the aliens, if you were heretofore perfectly happy back home in Depravityville. More likely, you’ll go home thinking you met a bunch of crazy people and thank goodness you’ve escaped.
Making disciples is work. YOU looks like it’s got loads of potential as a help in that work, which is why I mention it now. But making disciples is long, slow, constant work. There are no short cuts.
What’s with the radio silence? Let me just tell you.
But first, the reason I’m breaking it: My friend Sarah Reinhard asked me to blog on Theology of the Body stuff in the lead-up to this fall’sTheology of the Body Congress, which you should attend if you have the opportunity. The line-up of speakers is stellar, and yes I would go myself if I possibly could. So put that on your calendar.
The expression Theology of the Body among Catholics is a bit of a code word for, “Let’s talk about sex now.” I usually stick to code on these things. But there’s more to your body than just the parts and processes that make you a boy or a girl, as Susan Windley-Daoust will remind you periodically. I’m going to write not-about-sex today, and come back to racier topics here and over at Patheos in the next few weeks.
Now back on topic. A little Applied Theology and the answer to the question, “Why on earth has Jen Fitz completely dropped off the internet?”
Short answer is: I’m not doing as well, physically, as I would need to be doing in order to both take care of my primary vocation (marriage, parenthood) and this secondary vocation as a writer. So first things get to be first, and the rest has to wait.
The very, very, long answer:
But here is something completely cool, because God is like this: Just in time for me to have something someone really wants me to write about (instead of just me running my mouth off, which is my usual niche), I can totally sit at the computer and not be light-headed! Isn’t that cool?! I keep forgetting this new fact, and thus my e-mail is way behind. June was a pretty long month, computing-wise.
I theorize in part it was positional, which means I probably need to rearrange the workstation. Here’s an interesting link about cartoid sinus hypersensitivity, which might cause you to suspect I’m really an old man just posing as a pleasantly-plump middle-aged housewife, but you’ve seen the photos, so whom do you believe? Sports Illustrated or my cartoid sinus barocepter? Anyway, my parlor-trick for June was that I could drop my pulse twenty points just by, um, taking my pulse. No true cartoid sinus massage needed, just touch the thing.
It quit doing that, though, as far as I can tell.
Some other interesting body-things for this summer:
Dang it I can’t talk anymore again. The speaking-part works fine, don’t panic, it’s the getting light-headed while I do it that is at about 80% of the time. This is pretty common in tachycardia-themed autonomic dysfunction. (POTS people talk about this all the time in conversation, even though it never seems to make any list of medical descriptions, not sure why there’s that disconnect in the medical literature.) 80% isn’t 100%. On a good day I’m completely normal, on a lousy day I’ve given up even lip-syncing at Mass.
–> Autonomic dysfunction creates these weird eddies of backward expectations. Mass is pretty much my least pleasant activity, because it involves sitting still then standing still, with positional head changes (bad — I keep being reminded not to bow the head, just don’t do it), combined with talking. So on a miserable Sunday I can feel extremely overwhelmingly bad by the end of the hour. But because the problem is not at all with my heart’s ability to pump blood or my blood’s ability to hold oxygen, I’m the person who’s desperate to lay down while standing still, but will then escape without difficulty at full speed to the car and feel better as a result of the vigorous activity.
Basically I have this cardiovascular problem that makes being still feel worse and being active feel better.
Patients might be able to muster adequate energy for periods of time but it is usually short-lived and they tire quickly, not unlike a battery that discharges too rapidly. . . . A period of rest or sleep is generally required before energy levels are restored. Following rest a patient may demonstrate apparently normal stamina and a clinician will not detect weakness on examination . . . .
This is me completely: Do something, then flop on the floor utterly exhausted, and then in a bit I’m fine again. Happens hour-by-hour, and then also from day-to-day. More on that below.
I don’t know whether or not I have a mitochondrial disorder (very difficult to diagnose) but I get this, too:
Impaired oxidative phosphorylation [don’t know my cause] not only causes muscle fatigue but also muscle cramping with or without tenderness, or a feeling of extreme heaviness in the muscles. These symptoms are especially severe in those muscle groups being used, and patients often complain of discomfort in the legs or even muscle spasms.The discomfort may be felt immediately following the activity or later on, waking up the patient from sleep.
Funny story: I mentioned to a relatively new acquaintance that I’m prone to decrepitude, and the question she asked was, “So are you basically in pain all the time?”
The answer is that at this writing, no I am not. But I have picked up what is turning out to be mild-but-intractable intermittent pain (in my legs, if you’re curious), and yes it keeps me from sleeping well, and yes, I’ve tried all the things, and the things help quite a lot. (Other than deep breathing to relax, like the kind that works so well for childbirth — used to be my go-to, but now it just gives me a headache. Which stinks, because it’s a good method if your autonomic nervous system functions properly.) But I think it’s very funny because the words “every day” and “intractable” do apply even if the pain itself is not very bad. So if you use those adjectives, it sounds way worse than it is. I think most other people can also use those adjectives.
[By “intractable” I mean “intractable using means that don’t require a prescription.” I haven’t gotten around to being bothered enough to plead for the good drugs. So no, nothing to worry about at this time.]
And this cracked me up, because every receptionist I’ve ever met knows this about me now:
Exercise intolerance is not restricted to the large muscle groups in the body but can also involve the small muscles. Writing can be a challenge; too much writing leads to fatigue and/or cramping or spasms. The quality of penmanship can be observed to deteriorate over the course of a writing assignment with letter formation becoming more erratic and messy.
This is why you don’t want to receive handwritten correspondence from me. Nothing new, story of my life. Interestingly, I always take handwritten notes in classes, and if I don’t have a computer I’ll do my other writing longhand — but the writing degenerates fast into this baseline scrawl that’s just barely legible to me, and only because I already know what’s written there. Once it gets down to worst-level, I can sustain it for a long time.
And one last one which caught my attention, from the same source:
. . . Debilitating fatigue can occur with infectious illnesses, may outlast the other symptoms of the infection, and the recovery time can be very prolonged.
This thing I hate. I never know whether a cold is going to cost me a few days or six weeks. Weirdly, I used to go into nasty bronchitis every few years following a cold, and knock on wood that hasn’t been a problem lately. I just get all the fatigue. (Um, and I always have a cough. So, gosh, I don’t know. Don’t make me laugh and we’re good.)
Exercise does help. The supreme challenge is in figuring out how much to do. Too little, and you sleep poorly and lose conditioning. Too much, unfortunately, is not evident during the exercise. I can work out and feel great and be sure I’ve figured out a great balance between rest and exercise, and then at the end of the week completely collapse and require days and days of recovery before I’m functional again.
–> The convenient thing here is that I can in fact borrow time. If I know I want to be up for something, I can plan ahead, build up reserves, stretch them during the event through the clever use of pharmaceuticals, and plan to pay back afterwards. Difficulty being that the mortgage interest is steep. There’s no getting more out of the body than it has to give.
The inconvenience is that all the things I do are exercise, but some exercises are more valuable than others. So if I want to work on my core muscle strength, which is key to preventing the injuries to which I am prone, then I have to not work on helping you out with that thing you wanted me to do. Your thing is also exercise, but it’s a lower priority exercises, so out it goes.
Yes, I tried that thing you suggested.Not being snarky there. I’ve had a number of good friends recommend possible ways to improve the situation, and some of the ideas have been very helpful. (Even if the idea came after I’d already come across that suggestion and tried it, and thus could immediately report, “Yes! Thanks! That does help! Excellent idea, glad you mentioned it!”) Some things people have suggested and that I tried did not help for the reason proposed (I am not, for example, allergic to wheat) but do help for a different reason (minimizing wheat products makes more room in the diet for intensely potassium-rich foods, which help a ton).
So a thing that’s got me occupied this summer is obsessively managing all the micro-factors that can make the situation as better as possible. I think (but can’t be certain) that I’ve got the diet tuned to a spot where I can happily live off the things I seem to do best with, but also get away with deviating from the Ideal Thing at food-themed social events and no disaster ensues. If all that proves to be true, I’ll chat about it later. It might be just lucky coincidence.
Meanwhile, here’s the surprise of the summer:
It took me a long, long time to figure this out. Here’s the difficulty: The heat doesn’t bother me.
I live in a warm climate. I don’t mind being sweaty. I know how to dress for the heat, how to acclimatize as the hot season arrives, and how to get the most use out of a hot day. Since I cultivated these skills, I’ve never had any difficulty with the heat whatsoever, other than some mild irritation about the truly obnoxious portion of sauna-season, which you just have to deal with and move on. I even know the trick about watching for Seasonal Affective Disorder when the heat starts getting so annoying you hide indoors despite yourself. (Same solution as per winter – bright light & vitamin D).
The problem I had in figuring out this one is that (a) I’m still functional above the temperatures when people from up north start whining profusely, (b) I still don’t mind the heat or being hot, and (c) since I have any number of other things that also make me feel terrible, it’s not like I was able to say to myself, “Gee, I feel wonderful all the time except if I’m someplace hot.”
It’s a perfectly manageable problem, it just came as a bit of a surprise. Amusingly, my cold intolerance is getting worse, too.
The hardest thing: Not being able to concentrate. Since I’m a master-complainer, I don’t know that we’d call this my “chief complaint.” But it’s certainly my loudest. As in: If I told you I NEEDED the house to be QUIET so I could do this thing, that’s what I meant so please go OUTSIDE. This is the #1 reason I haven’t been writing. I’m home all day with four kids. There’s noise. There are interruptions. Note that my entire career as a writer has been carried out under these exact same conditions.
What happens therefore is that I drift through the day doing tasks that are super-easy, and then if I find myself in some unexpected situation like trying to cook while other people are in the room, it’s alarming to everyone just how badly things go (until I communicate my distress so emphatically that everyone goes and hides). And then I go back to easy things, and wonder why things that take my full attention just never get done.
So that’s the answer to the perennial, “How’s it going, Jen?” topic on this blog. I’ll emphasize here that as much I just used my crotchety trans-old lady powers to moan about the ailment for very many words, it’s not as bad as all that. But here’s a story that sort of sums up the situation:
Yesterday I was halfway through this post when I had to leave and get ready to go to a social thing at the lake. Sunday had been horrible, Monday was not that great, and Tuesday wasn’t impressing me. I was only going to this thing because (a) I wanted to go to it, and (b) my kids really, really, really wanted to go to it, and they’d done all the things I told them they had to do if they wanted to go.
So we went. And I was fine. Dreamy fine. No problems. Felt completely normal for the full three hours I was there, conversing, walking around, standing around, watching kids, etc. Some of the time, I’m completely, totally fine.
Moments like that can make you think you’re crazy. Maybe I just need to relax at the lake more often? Two reality checks:
Part of being fine was that I aggressively managed as many factors (fluid intake, electrolytes, staying out of the direct sun) as I could.
If it comes as a surprise to you that you went to an enjoyable, relaxing, time-limited social event and had no experience of illness during all three hours, probably the fact that this was an unexpected occurrence tells you something.
So we can add this to my list of signs something is not normal: If you get to where it’s a surprising occurrence when you feel well, we can infer that there’s a problem.
And dang my legs were like lead when I dropped a kid off at VBS this morning. So yeah, CAWOG. I’m rolling with it.
I figured since this was the All About Me post, if you made it this far you’re the type of person who wants to see my new haircut. (Hi Mom!) The third one is me posing in front of the dog’s blanket, which is still hanging up to dry on the screen porch a week after I told a kid to put it there. I guess it’s dry now. But I needed the contrast because I kept getting photos where the new haircut looked exactly like the SI photo shoot.
I have a daughter who adores rabbits, and therefore she knows what porn is. “No, dear, you can’t have that particular bunny sticker,” I had to explain several years ago, when she was searching Amazon for, well, bunny stickers.
Why not? She wanted to know, of course.
“Because that’s the logo for a company that sells pictures of naked ladies.”
No need to discuss sex, or what makes porn distinctive. She can intuitively know, by the simple fact that she shuts the door before changing clothes or going to the bathroom, that selling pictures of naked people is wrong-headed.
She has a righteous indignation about the purveying of pornography because a perfectly good rabbit has been co-opted into the works. At her age, I expect she feels as badly for the rabbit as for anyone.
The children’s grandmother has a stall in an antique mall. It’s one of these old brick factories that’s now home to a hundred or so vendors of everything that turns up at estate sales. If you want a case of Coca-Cola, unopened, from 1967, this is your place. I have to stay out of there because my sponsor at Vintage Books Anonymous threatened to stage an intervention.
The kids have been going to help their grandmother keep her stall clean and organized since as long as they’ve been old enough not to be a menace to porcelain. They dust knick-knacks and re-fold linens, and put out the latest crop of dishware, and they love doing it. The owner of the mall and the other vendors who work the counter know the kids, and the kids know them.
This week while working at the shop, my nine- and eleven-year-old daughters, always on the lookout for bunny figurines, came across a basket of Playboy that one of the other vendors had displayed on the front counter of his stall.
It’s not just an antique mall anymore, it’s a porn shop.
“Does the owner of the mall know about this?” my husband and I asked, when we heard about it late that night. The vendors stock their own stalls, there’s no central merchandise system.
“Yes. She told him he had to tape the covers shut.”
Ah. I see.
We’re knowingly putting out pornography for children to find as they hunt through the acre of treasure.
“It was right next to the big display of pocket knives,” one of my daughters said helpfully. Because you know, boys are interested in those sorts of things.
Things People Tell My Children About Pornography
But they’re vintage Playboys. I got that argument. It was related to me secondhand by my children, who’d been told that by someone at the shop; I heard it again directly from one of the vendors at the shop. As if dusty porn were somehow not porn.
I told the story to the kids of Msgr. Roth of blessed memory, who preached one Sunday about living out your faith all week long. He’d gone to visit a parish family, and they’d realized too late that their porn was sitting out on the coffee table. They apologized and put it away. Not in the trash—just out of sight. “Don’t put it away for the priest,” he said to the congregation. “You shouldn’t have that in your house at all. If it’s not okay for the priest to see, it’s not okay.”
I don’t know which family he had visited, but I know that I got a babysitting job for a family from church that year, and that was how I got my chance to see what’s inside the covers of Playboy. Apparently church people don’t hide it for the babysitter, either.
But they’re taped shut. That doesn’t change the fact that you’re selling pornography at your store. You’re telling the world that it’s fine to buy and sell this stuff. You’re making the decision to attract buyers of pornography to your business.
But that guy who runs the stall is just trying to make a living. That’s right. He’s decided he wants to profit off the exploitation of women and the uncontrolled lust of those who find pornography so compelling.
“I can tell you are very emotional about this,” I was told when I phoned in my complaint.
Yes, indeed. Discovering that people are knowingly putting out pornography for my children to find makes me emotional.
There are times when calm is not the answer.
What kind of sick person thinks we should feel calm about this?
As I told my children, who were well aware I was in rare form over this incident: Women are dead because of what this industry does to them. It is right to be upset about that.
The reality is that we Trumpers think the exploitation of women is AOK. It was fine for those church families way back in the ’80’s, so why wouldn’t it be fine now?
One of the children expressed, in a later discussion, some of the nonchalance they’d absorbed from the world around them. And thus I explained: To tolerate the buying and selling of pornography in your place of business is to say that you think it’s just fine for girls like mine to be exploited this way.
If it’s not okay for your sister to be treated that way, it’s not okay for anybody’s sister to be treated that way.
Parents: Would you be willing to paste your daughter’s face on that centerfold?
Doesn’t feel so wink-wink-giggle-giggle when you look at it that way.
Related: Marcel Lejeune has good handbook out now, written for those seeking to overcome their addiction to pornography. Cleanesd: A Catholic Guide to Freedom from Porn is right to the point, and includes a compact, readable introduction to the deeper issues of the faith behind the right appreciation of human sexuality. Highly recommended for anyone who’s concerned about this issue, whether it’s a personal problem or you just happen to care about your fellow humans.
You might be thinking right now, “She is very late to the game, writing about summer fabrics in November.” Or perhaps, “Trying to spike that Southern Hemisphere readership?”
On the contrary. Studies have shown that readers at this blog are the type of people who are (a) expected to be presentable some of the time, (b) don’t / can’t pay full retail, and (c) live in parts of the world that have weather. If that’s you, now is the time to purchase on clearance the summery items you wished you had last summer, if only you had known.
1. This is not fashion advice. All I ask is that you go about clothed. Think: Less naked than a lizard, but not necessarily covering as much flesh as a chow chow. I don’t really care how tacky your tastes are, I just don’t want to know very much about your rear end.
2. We need to talk about Mary. Mary of Nazareth, mother of our Lord, bona fide Modestly Dressed Person. This is what you need to know: She lived in the desert.
Desert = Dry Place. (Sometimes hot, too.)
If you live in the Southeastern United States, or some similar climate where your erstwhile hockey team is called the “Inferno”, or your city’s motto is “Famously Hot”, you do not live in the desert.
Inferno = Not a Dry Heat.
In the desert, the most practical summer wardrobe looks like this:
It is easy to dress modestly in the desert.
In contrast, people who live recreate in one of these sweat houses usually do it naked, or nearly so:
So, the rest of our takes are about how to dress during the Sauna Season at your place of residence, on those days when being naked is not a realistic option (hint: Lizards are naked). I will not make jokes if you think Sauna Weather is only 90 degrees; if you’re not used to it, it does feel warm, doesn’t it? So people who live in cooler climates, where the hottest season is “Summer” (we have that in October, it’s lovely, but in June – Sept we have “Sauna”) can also appreciate this PSA.
3. Rule #1: Natural Fabrics = cotton or linen or wool. You could count silk, but that’s out of our budget here. This is what you want. OR cotton. OR linen. OR wool. I am told there exist ultra-modern breathable synthetics, have at it if you like. But your polyester “linen look” special is not linen and it is not cool. You will sweat buckets and swear that nudity is your only choice. Not so. Stick to the rule.
Rayon and all that other stuff is right out. Yes, that’s 98% of the “summer dress” department. A flowery print does not turn plastic into cotton. Also, head’s up, “bamboo” sounds natural, but it’s typically a bizarre synthetic yarn that happens to have bamboo junk in it. That’s not what you want.
4. Rule #2 Blended Fabrics are an Evil Invention. I once read a description of a cotton-linen blend as being “absorbent like cotton but breathable like linen”. This is a lie. A big fat nasty lie that will make you so sweaty the Tauregs will have pity on you. Don’t buy it. Just no.
Here’s the scoop: A single lay of natural fabric (OR cotton, OR linen, OR wool) is breathable. When you blend two fabrics, what happens is this, pretend your body is on one side and air is on the other of our letter-fabrics below, for this poetic demonstration of how two fibers lock together like champion Red Rover players:
Unblended = l l l l l = air can get through.
Unblended = c c c c c = air can get through.
Blended = lclclclc = do you hear evil laughter in the background? I do. Also, you’re sweating something nasty.
5. Trick for making your summer fabrics into winter fabrics: Layer them. If you own a nice cool linen shirt, and another nice cool linen shirt, put one on top of the other, and you will own a nice warm double-layer shirt. You can layer several very breathable, let-the-breeze-through fabrics, and end up with wind-blocking fabric.
Neat trick, huh? Which means your summery linen skirt is something you could wear in the winter, too. Handy.
6. Rule #3: Gauzy Fabrics Are a Cruel Trick. It goes like this: You want to be cool in the summer. You buy this beautiful gauzy-thin chambray (100% cotton) shirt. It is in fact quite cool. Also, the fabric is so thin that everyone can tell by looking through your clothing whether you are a boy or a girl. So you put a nice cool cotton camisole / undershirt under your gauzy fabric, so that people have to use other clues, like looking at your face, to learn personal things about you.
Now you’ve just turned your summer clothes into winter clothes, see previous item.
Other cruel tricks:
“Linen Blazer, fully lined”
“Linen skirt, fully lined”
Wool follows the same rule as linen and cotton. So don’t be mocked by “summer weight wool” that is “fully lined with tafetta lining”. You might as well call it, “Summer weight wool fully insulated for blizzard.” But plain old wool, like a 100% wool cardigan, is not a bad summer fabric. If you have to throw something over your shoulders and your choices are a light wool or a light polyester, the wool will be cooler and way more breathable than the poly.
7. So, what you are looking for on the clearance rack are:
(A) 100% Cotton, or 100% Linen, or 100% Wool
(B) Unlined, no blends.
(C) Sturdy enough of a fabric that you can wear a single layer, and not need anything underneath.
You will still sweat, if it’s actually that hot out. You do live in a Sauna, after all. (In the desert, you won’t feel the sweat, you’ll just discover patches of salt forming on your skin.) You still need to follow common sense rules like putting on a sunhat (real straw, or following the fabric rules above), taking advantage of the shade, drinking cool water, and replacing electrolytes. But if you are wearing a single layer of natural fabrics, your sweat will in fact cool your body, because air flow => evaporation.
–> In contrast, if you wear a cute little synthetic mini-dress on account of how hot it is, basically you’re putting on a shortie wetsuit. No evaporation => layer of moisture acts like insulation. Appropriate for the cold, cold ocean, not so great for a summer picnic.
So, am I saying that a woman, or man for that matter, should dress any damn way they want without regard for anyone around them? Should we all parade around naked defying the world to look upon us with purity of mind and heart? Of course not. We are all fallen. Even though we can’t cause feelings in another person, we know that acting in a certain manner tends to create a certain set of emotional choices for most people, given what is expected in a particular context. Modesty requires that we dress in a manner that we deem appropriate for the context we are in and in a way that is not intended to make it unduly difficult for any reasonable person to see anything other than our physical appearance.
Dr. Greg Popcack unravels the much-cited bikini study, and sheds some useful light on a point I’ve always suspected: Jerks think differently than decent guys. I haven’t seen the study myself, but I trust he’s reporting accurately — as it happens, what he reports is far more informative than the previous accounts.
Now for where we differ.
In the process, Dr. P reveals the fault line in the modesty debates: Those who fall for the “internal control fallacy”, and those, like himself, who think it’s all just a fallacy. (Conclusion: Ladies, what you wear doesn’t matter so much. No one’s brought up whether men can do likewise, but you know how I feel about that.)
I find myself in the middle of this divide, and here’s why: I’m a writer. It’s my job to make people think things.
The thoughts that follow are not a commentary on the technical meaning of the “internal control fallacy” as discussed among experts. They are a layperson’s thoughts on the closely related notion: Do my actions affect other people’s thinking?
Back up for a moment, and let’s consider Dr. P’s job. The man makes his living spending long hours helping the family members of crazy people sort out their lives. And when you live with a crazy person, you live with blaming. “If only you would do ________, then I wouldn’t be this way.”
The loving, helpful relative tries to meet spec. If only I were good enough. If only I had been kinder / more responsible / less irritable / more patient / something – anything – to stave off this dreadful fate.
Crazy people like to blame. It’s not irrational behavior if there’s a reason for it, right?
An essential part of therapy for the family members is learning how to set boundaries. It is reasonable for me to go on vacation with my immediate family, and if grandma goes on a drinking binge because I didn’t call in every half hour, that’s not my fault. It is reasonable for me to go out with the girls once a month, and if Mr. Unfaithful uses my night out as an excuse for his adultery, that’s not my fault. I can’t control these irrational reactions. I’m not responsible for someone else’s response to my behavior.
Except when I am. The other essential part of living with a crazy person is learning what’s normal. It’s not normal to be furious that so-and-so missed my birthday party (even if I wish she could have come). It is normal to be upset that so-and-so sent around hate mail to all my facebook friends, keyed my car, and kicked my puppy. Certain actions should bother me, other ones shouldn’t.
And thus as a writer, I get in trouble if I make people upset when I shouldn’t. It’s my job to edify, to encourage, even to reprove, but it’s not my job to make people feel like dirt. Which I could do (and I try not to do). My words and actions do have power over other people.
Otherwise, why bother? What good having the ability to act, if my actions do nothing? What good living in community, if in fact my actions have no meaning or import to the others in my community? Why avoid evil, if it hurts nobody? Why do good, if it helps nobody? It ceases to be good or evil. It’s just nothing.
So the fallacy in the modesty debates is in the false dichotomies, and this is where I depart from Dr. P. I think that men and women communicate not just with their intentions, but with their actions. Modesty is an inward disposition, but isn’t only an inward disposition. It is also an outward action. A woman can be offended by a man’s immodesty, even if she doesn’t therefore dehumanize or brutalize him.
An employer can reasonably say, “Sir, your dress is immodest, and unbecoming of a man of your profession. If you’d like to continue working here, you’ll have to change.”
A man can reasonably tell his son, “My beloved child, that outfit you’ve chosen is associated with pimps and crack dealers. Is that the message you’d like to send with your clothing?”
A girl can reasonably tell her suitor, “You look like a creep. Like the kind of guy who just wants to hop in the sack at the first opportunity. That may not be the message you’re trying to send, but you’re sending it.”
Part 2, now going off on a different line of thought, that follows from my thoughts above, and is separate from what’s being said in Dr. P’s post.
Can the same action have different meanings across times and places? Certainly. The accidental offending-of-the-natives is an enduring sub-genre of the travel narrative. It is reasonable to question whether customs have changed. Whether modesty that was once preserved via _________ standard is now preserved in some other manner.
It is also reasonable to propose that certain standards are just plain wrong. If I visit Fisher More, I’ll of course respect my host’s standards, and think very little of it. I’m not going to quibble over a standard a little more conservatiive than my own. But If I visit Lower Repressistan, and my hosts expect me to surround myself with drywall lest I upset the the native males, guess what? They are wrong.
It could be right that skirts ought to go below the knees, it could be right that thank you notes are always handwritten, or that you don’t show up to dinner empty-handed. But it is definitely not right that women be completely shielded from public view, nor that dinner or a gift requires sexual favors for a thank you. Those things are wrong. We can disagree about what is right, and still be quite certain about what is wrong.