“When did we decide to be the kind of society that mocks virtue?” popular blogger Matt Walsh asked in a recent post about modesty. I’m not exactly sure, but it was probably about the time we stopped teaching virtue to our youth and started ceding the cultural battlespace a radical vocal minority.
All month long as pro-lifers prepared for the March for Life, heated discussions were taking place on the Internet about whether or not yoga pants and leggings (skin-tight attire that used to be considered underwear, but are now fashionable as outerwear) should be considered immodest dress.
The sparks started flying in the early days of January when Christian blogger Veronica Partridge penned the article “Why I Chose to No Longer Wear Leggings.” The post went viral, and Partridge even appeared on Good Morning America later in the month to discuss the controversy her article caused.
In a follow-up post, Partridge says she’s endured “the most hateful comments of my life” for simply stating her personal feelings on the immodesty of leggings, and that she will no longer wear them in public. Walsh was also the subject of vicious attacks for his post, even from “the right.” I can sympathize after being called a myriad of hateful names, had people wish for my death, and even receiving the most vile comments about my three-month old daughter when I engaged in this debate on social media.
It seems for a woman to suggest that some article of women’s clothing (in this case yoga pants) is immodest in today’s culture somehow equates to anti-woman “slut shaming” (see here for an explanation of this twisted thinking). This goes double for a man, who is also considered a pervert for happening to notice what women around him are wearing, or not wearing.
Are the majority of women who are wearing these tight pants doing so to draw attention to themselves in some sexual way? I don’t believe so. I’m told they’re just very comfortable pants. But should modesty be considered when wearing them in public? Absolutely.
As Partridge explains:
When men or women act individually minded (thinking of only themselves) rather than community minded (courteous of others), we put our culture in danger. In reference to the original statement, ‘I should be able to wear whatever I want,’ I want to clarify that you can. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And let’s not forget that 25 year old men are not the only ones with eyes . . . .
I might not realize the effect I have on my neighbor’s 13 year old son entering the age of sexuality. I might not realize the effect I have on a mother’s daughter who may be struggling with the shape of her body. And I might not realize the effect I have on the bus driver who may be fighting through his own battle with sex addiction.
Each of these examples is worth spending time considering, but what is key is Partridge’s point about the destruction of the culture. A radical focus on individual self-interest and self-gratification ultimately leads to the disintegration of the family, and our culture.
The institution of marriage and the family unit has suffered greatly over the past 50 years with the widespread acceptance of contraception and the contraceptive mentality. Add to that societal decay the rise of “uncontrolled consumerism,” and we have what Pope Francis often refers to as a “throwaway culture” that completely rejects the dignity of the human person.
But when it comes to modesty of dress, here’s the big problem: It’s highly unlikely that the vast majority of young women and young men have ever been engaged with a serious and thoughtful discussion about modesty, or the greater virtue of chastity.
When young people are told to embrace everyone’s differences—no matter how immoral—and never be critical of others for fear of being labeled a bully, how could that conversation ever come up and be taken seriously?
A week before the March for Life I was asked to give a presentation to my parish youth group about the importance of being involved in building a Culture of Life. I told this group of about 30 high school students that when we as Catholics talk about a “Culture of Life,” ending abortion is just one of many challenges we face.
Among a long list of threats and challenges (including artificial contraception, euthanasia, and defending marriage), I listed the heavenly virtue of chastity.
As a catechist for sixth graders at my parish (along with my lovely wife) I have to teach a lesson on chastity every year. The lesson comes directly from the diocese, which has a Formation in Christian Chastity lesson for every grade level.
These 11-12-year-olds hear, directly from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that: “Part of chastity is modesty. Modesty means, ‘refusing to unveil what should remain hidden (CCC 2521).’ … ‘Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing (CCC 2522).’ We must dress so as to adequately cover the private parts of our bodies. We must not dress so as to arouse unhealthy curiosity in others. …We show respect for God, others, and ourselves by dressing and acting modestly.”
Additionally, as the Church teaches, “All people, regardless of their state of life, are called to be holy. Chastity helps us to discover what our own vocation is—whether it is marriage, the priesthood, religious life, or the single life.”
What’s clear is that a greater effort must be made to have these conversations about modesty and chastity, and reinforce them often. And there must be a greater concern among the faithful for publicly explaining and defending Church teaching in this regard. We can expect a radical vocal minority to mischaracterize and slander the Church’s beautiful teachings on modesty and chastity, and those who hold to them—like they do for all Church doctrine regarding human sexuality. All the more reason to speak up loudly and often.
There are so many challenges to building a Culture of Life. Dressing modestly should be an easy one to tackle.