Monday, January 7, 2008

Sitting on This Tightrope

Red Cardigan, over at And Sometimes Tea, bless her, put her foot in the door of quite the issue a couple of days ago, when she humbly and sensibly presented a defense for modesty in slacks-wearing in the dreaded Pants vs. Skirts and Dresses issue.

And, having no common sense whatsoever, I'm feeling the need to chime in on this topic.

Now, don't anybody go and get their dander up!

There are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue, and I'm going to plunk myself squarely down in the middle of them. I mother ten children and if I don't know about diplomacy and how to make the medicine go down, well, I guess nobody does. (I'm smiling; are y'all smiling? That "medicine" part got some of you grimacing a little, I know...)

Don't worry. I've been in the middle of this one and am not in the mood to cram anything down anyone's throats. I think all of us here in the Catholic (and conservative Christian) circles have heard the reasons for wearing dresses exclusively, but there are some very good arguments on the pants side, too. Here's how it generally goes:

Main Point #1
  • Dresses/skirts are more modest, and eliminate the whole "custody of the eyes" issue for men.

Can be countered with: Properly fitted slacks should not cause this problem in men who are not perverted. Many women are careful to wear long sweaters or tunic length shirts over their slacks to solve the problem, anyway, thus making the outfit doubly modest. If a girl/woman wants to go skiing, bike riding, sledding, mountain climbing, horseback riding (you name the activity), pants are obviously more modest, due to the possiblity of flying skirts. They are also warmer in the winter.

Which can be countered with: But women wore skirts for centuries and it was no problem. The Sisters we know participate in practically every sport known to man or woman in full habit and whup up on us pants-clad women with complete modesty. I expect they wear long johns in the winter.

Which, of course will be countered with: But this is the 21st century and our social mores and customs have evolved. And I'm not a nun.

Main Point #2

  • The demise of the social expectation for women to wear skirts reflects the immorality of our time, the disintigration of proper gender roles and the destruction of the family.

Can be countered with: Social customs in all things, including dress, have changed over the centuries. Even though styles may have changed with the times, that doesn't make the styles inherently evil. Those of us who have a moral compass and who lead good Christian lives do not adopt immodest or improper fashions, anyway. Just because I wear jeans doesn't make me a homewrecking feminist. Besides, is it not true that one very prominent non-Christian religion promotes extreme modesty and a certain understanding of women's gender roles? Does it follow that these people lead exemplary lives?

Which can be countered with: Even though the styles are not inherently evil, we can set a good example by our choice of dress. More formal attire bespeaks a better disciplined population. If you appear in public dressed in a modest and feminine fashion, you send out the signal that you are proud to be a woman and to fulfill the role that God gave you. You will also be greeted with a respect different than that given to women who dress casually. And, by the way, a false religion promoting a good practice does not make the practice evil.

Which of course will be countered with: Shouldn't I be setting a good example with my behaviour? Aren't we taught not to judge a book by its cover? How can you say that I am not proud that I am a woman fulfilling my God-given vocation just because I wear slacks? Especially if they're pink slacks worn with a flowered blouse, earrings, a necklace and painted fingernails? You can't get much more feminine than that. And how do you explain kilts?


Anyway, see what I mean? It can go on and on. I've heard it all. But, you know what the bottom line is? There is no Church defined line in the sand on women's wearing or not wearing slacks. It's not against a Commandment or a Precept. and no encyclical pronounces specifically against them. I looked. It is, therefore, not inherently evil to choose to wear slacks. Each family, and then each little girl when she grows up to be a woman, needs to make an informed decision based on the general modesty guidelines given to us by the Church and our own common sense, discerning eyes, and good mirrors.

In our family, we let the activity determine the appropriate attire. If the little girls are going outside to do flips on the jungle gym, they wear modest pants or leggins under their skirts. Same for hiking, tree climbing, bike riding and sledding. If we are going out in deep snow, we wear pants to keep our hems from dragging in it. It just seems prudent to me. Our ancestors, I think, would have been glad of the opportunity to do likewise.

But, if we have no reason to wear slacks, we wear skirts or dresses. We wear dresses pretty much anytime we're doing things inside, or going to a movie, shopping, visiting grandparents, etc. And, of course we give Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament the respect He is due by dressing in our best for Him, even if it's a bit inconvenient; He's worth it we think.

Incidentally, but not insignificantly...

The only argument for wearing dresses exclusively that I have ever heard that has no counter argument is this one:

Give it as a sacrifice out of love for our Blessed Mother and in reparation for all the sins committed against her Immaculate Heart.

How can you argue with that other than to say, "I just don't want to do that."

I'm ashamed of myself because that's what I've been saying a lot lately. I've been wavering on my resolve to make this sacrifice, though I've done it off and on for years. It's not a strict resolution I would force on my daughters, as I think that that kind of sacrifice is something you must choose yourself. But, it's one I'm going to try harder to stick to in 2008.

Except if we go sledding again.


Maryan said...

LIsa this is a thoughtful post. All the points are great. I tend to wear mostly pants due to playing with my boys... but they do like it when I wear skirts. My 4 yo especially thinks it makes me a pretty Mommy... so for his sake I try to on the days when I won't be in the thick of things with them!! LOL!!

Danette said...

I really enjoyed your post(and your blog)! I long for the days when all women wore long dresses - of course there are those stories of women's dresses catching on fire while they cooked dinner...Since I don't have to worry about that, I guess I should make more of an effort to wear skirts - offering it as a sacrafice to Mother Mary is a great idea.
I'm trying to figure out how to grab one of those Moms for Modesty buttons too - it's deffinately a worthy cause. God Bless!

Red Cardigan said...

I think this is well balanced and thoughtful.

I've never had any problem at all with choosing to wear dresses or skirts as a private act of sacrifice and reparation; I just tend to bristle if told I "must" do so.

Frankly, the reason I don't wear skirts/dresses for reparation is because I usually DO wear skirts and dresses, for comfort! When you are petite and--er, plump--as I am, pants don't fit all that well, and aside from a few pairs I wear around the house in cold weather I'm much more likely to be in a comfortable knit skirt or dress. So, to me, the issue is one of charity and of not making assumptions; I had one woman tell me that she always assumed women like me who wore skirts and dresses were "holier" than she is!

Some women who wear skirts are holy. Some women who wear slacks are holy. Some women who wear skirts are too lumpy for slacks or too prideful to wear them. We all struggle with our holiness, and it pains me to think anyone would look at my clothes and think I'm somehow closer to God because I have a skirt on!

Marie said...

You'll never catch me in a skirt. In fact I was a groomswoman in my brother's wedding earlier last year and was dismayed that he wanted me to wear a skirt with my tuxedo jacket. I did it though, just for him.

That's a personal preference though, I'm just not comfortable in skirts.

I don't understand what a man would find sexy about pants? I think skirts and dresses of any length are much sexier. My husband BEGS me to wear them.

Reasons I don't wear skirts or dresses:

1. Wind. No skirt of any length can help you be modest when you live in a windy area.

2. I have very skinny legs. My little chicken appendages sticking out from under a skirt look really really awful.

3. Skirts really restrict what you can do. I'm always chasing kids and such and I'm clumsy enough as it is without dealing with copious amounts of excess fabric.

4. It is actually much easier to be modest in pants. Try climbing a ladder in a skirt, even a stepladder can make things tricky. Try playing soccer with your kids, or doing yoga or just picking something up off the ground.

5. And, indeed, modesty. I have the sort of body many women dream of having -skinny, but with a DD chest and hourglass hips- and have to dress perhaps more conservatively than most women. Before I swore off skirts I would get A LOT of attention when i wore them, and that's not the kind of attention I want. Now that I wear pants I still get attention, but of the more respectful variety.

I guess I never really thought about what women wearing pants might have done to society, but I think it's a pretty big stretch to lay the demise of family values solely at the door of Levi-Strauss. That's like saying calculators are responsible for the failure of our public schools IMO.

Marie said...

BTW I just wanted to add (b/c I didn't write nearly enough, LOL) that if any gender looks immodest in pants it is men. Why is it immodest for a woman to wear form-fitting clothing but a man can go around in tight jeans and no shirt and no one finds that immodest? Where are the men's religious fashion police?

Danette said...

I had to fix my spelling - I can spell definitely. :)

Sorry, it bugged me.


Lisa said...

Maryan ~ I don't know if my Littles notice too much what I'm wearing! What a lucky Mama you are! But, my husband does like me in a dress and he's the one that matters, huh?

Danette ~ We watched Little Women recently and, even considering the Marches were poor in the 1860s, we were swooning over their dresses and hairstyles, we girls. If I had a maid to take care of the laundry back then, I'd have been very happy to wear them. It is not as uncomfortable and awkward as I think some people imagine. I got to wear period dress several summers in a row teaching "Prairie School" and was not at all put out with the costume.

Red~ You sound just like me! I prefer dresses in a way because I know they flatter my particular (short and um, not skinny) figure. But I hate to be told I HAVE to wear dresses to look like a good Catholic. That just seems very wrong, like you said. What is more penitential to me about wearing dresses, is that you do not "fit in" with the crowd when you wear them. And I hate standing out (Yeah, me the mother of 11 children)!

Marie~ I'm with you on the wind thing (We occasionally spot Toto flying by our house), and the lack of modesty in skirts when climbing ladders, etc, most definitely. And, though I can't empathize, I can sympathize with the figure issues. I honestly hadn't thought of that point of view (being so far from voluptuous myself), but I can see how wearing a dress for some would cause more, rather than less temptation for the male population. It comes down to plain common sense.

On the issue of women in pants and society: It's more that pants have been seen as a reflection of moral degradation, than as a cause. The thought I think is that reversing the effect, can change the cause? Or, rather, perhaps, that choosing to wear dresses is a counter-culture stand or "badge" of honor. What I think it really has become for SOME, unfortunately, is a badge of self righteousness. This makes me sad for those that assume it about the dress-wearers, when it's not true, and for the dress-wearers who do think it sets them a "cut above." So silly.

Bia said...

Whew! Having all boys I didn't realize this was such a hot topic!! I hesitate to comment on a topic in which I haven't had to address before, but I think that "moderation" is key. I wear jeans when playing football, etc. with the boys, and when I wear pants they are modest. For church I like to wear a dress or skirt. As in many things in life, there is a balance, and common sense is important.

Anyway, that's my humble opinion! God bless!

Maria said...

Interesting post. I believe we should be wearing skirts, but I don't. I always put my little girl in dresses at the holidays. Also, in our church, a woman is not allowed to enter the church in pants or without their head covered. Likewise, the men are not allowed to enter the church with their heads covered.

Anonymous said...

i changed from years of jeans & tracksuit bottoms to long skirts..a friend of mine wrote an article 'Who wears the trousers?' which converted me.. i too have ten children! God bless..

ANawtyMouser said...

LOL, I love your "chiming in" picture!

SuzyQ said...

This is an interesting topic, although I must admit it's an issue I had never even thought about until I started blogging!
For myself, I usually wear whatever is practical, suitable (and in a houseland full of little ones)... clean lol!
I do love dresses and skirts and I suppose I would naturally favour them. However I find jeans more durable most of the time.
I think your post made alot of sense:0D