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“It’s My Responsibility”: A Man’s Take on Modesty

two women walking away

One of the advantages of living in Georgia right now is that we’re still in the middle of fall. The pumpkins of Halloween have mostly been taken off of their respective porches, but pumpkin spice lattes are still as popular as ever. Men are breaking out their boots and plaid flannel shirts, their faces sparsely covered in another patchy attempt at No Shave November. As the sun sets, and the temperature drops into the 40s, there are bonfires and warm apple cider to keep you toasty. Fall in the South is indeed a beautiful time.

As groups of guys friends gather at my house for an SEC football game or back-porch bonfire, there is one conversation that I can always count on to eventually come up: leggings as pants. In short, Christian men are very much against leggings as pants. What often starts as a fairly innocent conversation, however, often spirals very quickly into a rant about how women only wear them because they’re after attention. They’re desperate. They want us to look. We need to pray for them because they need Jesus.

Whatever motivations that women wearing leggings have, I find that conversations like this set a dangerous precedent. The biggest problem here is not why women choose to wear leggings as pants or how Christian such a clothing choice may be, but that men don’t want to take responsibility for their own behavior. It’s not like this is a new phenomenon. Just look at Adam’s reaction the second God questioned him about eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Instead of stepping up and taking responsibility for his sin, Adam tried to pin the blame on that woman God gave him.

Somewhere along the line, the thought slipped in that men are naturally programmed to look lustfully at women no matter what. While that’s convenient, if we look at the Bible, we see a different story. When Job said, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman,” it is clear that he understood where responsibility for his actions lay, and he chose to act accordingly. When Proverbs 4:23 says to guard your heart, there’s no exception included for times when others aren’t being careful to guard your heart as well. While I know it can be hard at times, ultimately we are responsible for guarding our own hearts, guarding our own eyes, and taking charge of our own thought lives.

One of the biggest problems with the argument that men are programmed to lust after a woman in skimpy clothes is that it makes women’s bodies out to be inherently sexual regardless of situation, context or intent. Women were made in the image of God just like men, and as such, they have purpose outside of mere sexual function. To reduce women’s bodies to nothing more than something for men to have sex with requires some very dangerous hermeneutical gymnastics with Genesis that I’m not comfortable entertaining. Women may be different from men in a number of ways, but despite our differences, we are still equals in the sight of God.

While the world seems intent on hyper-sexualizing young women, I worry that misplaced messages of modesty are doing just as much harm. Is the church’s message coming across to women saying, “Men can’t control themselves when they want sex, and your bodies are for sex. Cover them up so you don’t look like you might want sex. If you have any feminine curves, make sure you hide those because even under clothes, men will see them and only want you for sex”? I can’t begin to imagine the level of insecurity and self doubt that comes from being raised hearing a message like that.

Interestingly, when my friend Rick was deployed to Afghanistan, he discovered that many insurgents had pornographic pictures with them. The women in these pictures weren’t nude. They weren’t wearing bikinis. They certainly weren’t wearing leggings as pants. They were hiking up their burqas to show off their ankles. It seems that even in a society where women dress as modestly as humanly possible, a man who wants to lust will find a way to lust.

As men, I say it’s time that we man up. Unlike Adam, let’s commit to accepting responsibility. Let’s guard our hearts and take our thought lives captive. It won’t be easy, and you won’t do it perfectly, but the great news is that the Gospel isn’t for perfect people. Christ’s perfect sacrifice covers those shortcomings, and that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

Collin Woodard grew up near Atlanta and is a student at Liberty University.

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