Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How We See the Pants Debate

Yesterday Emma told me that she read the "offensive" pants/dresses post that caused the uproar on some Catholic blogs. She thought it was good. She wasn't offended/threatened by any of the author's suggestions.

I hadn't been either.

Why weren't we? Well, I've concluded that for us the way we think about dress is not separate from our faith.

Trying to live that faith is our spiritual journey, and maybe we are just on a different path on that journey than the people who became upset. I do know that Emma and I have gone through a gradual transformation in our thinking since we started wearing dresses and skirts exclusively, and it has not stopped.

We are light years from where we started when we first read Immodesty, Satan's Virtue and Dressing With Dignity in 2004-05.

We "see" differently than we did, and our seeing gets more and more sensitive. I feel like we have been given eyes from women a hundred years ago with which to view current modes of dress. Things to which we were oblivious, even as recently as two years ago, now stand out and embarrass and sadden us. We've both noticed that where at one time we were satisfied just to find a sleeve that was 3/4 length, now a straight 3/4 length sleeve appears ugly to us. It needs a puff or some lace or something to beautify it. We have left mere modesty behind to embrace the feminine.

In other words, we have, as footnoted in this article, "sensed the connection between the giving of a flower to a girl and the placing of a flower on an altar"; From there it is easy to to see how a man can look at a woman and admire her without lust if she is dressed in such a way to allow this--that her appearance can actually help lead him to God. We see this as one of the great privileges of being a woman.

Conversely, we see how a woman can bring a man down by the way she dresses. Though I read numerous statements in the pants debate to the effect that men should not look if they are tempted by what they see, I believe that a woman wearing pants naturally draws the man's eyes where they should not go. Here's a supporting quote from Dressing With Dignity by Colleen Hammond:

Advertising agencies quickly prepared marketing research to find out the reaction of men to a woman wearing pants. Do you know what they found? Using newly developed technology, they tracked the path that a man's eyes take when looking at a woman in pants. They found that when a man looked at a woman in pants from the back, he looked directly at her bottom. When he looked at a woman wearing pants from the front, advertisers found that his eyes dropped directly to a woman's most private and intimate area. Not her face! Not her chest!

Advertisers figured out a long time ago how to apply Gestalt psychology and the Law of Closure and the Law of Good Continuation when divising advertising that is aimed at men. Gracious, what does all of that mean? It means that the eye will follow a line, and a viewer will complete the picture with his or her imagination. Think of the little AOL logo man. A stick figure, right? But we all know what he's doing.

Advertisers know that the same holds true when a man views a woman wearing slacks or a skirt with slits. Men's eyes will follow the lines right up her legs and finish the picture in their imagination. Women's eyes may do the same thing, but since women don't have the same type of temptations, their imaginations don't complete the picture in the same way as men's do.

I have received letters and emails from men who had read the first edition of the book and wanted me to tell women that they didn't need that marketing study to tell them what they already knew: When a woman is wearing pants, a man's eyes will (much to his embarrassment) fall to a woman's crotch. These men also pointed out that it is something that happens without their wanting to do it, or without their realizing it. It's the nature of men "to look" ... and they do! By the way, you'll notice that, in ads, models in trousers will sit with their legs far apart. This isn't being done by accident.

Yes, it is the nature of men "to look". And I think it's critically important that we women recognize this and think about what role we are playing in it.

And if you conclude that women wearing pants causes no harm, you will not be criticized by me. I agreed with you not too long ago. But you, too, may see differently one day.

Doctor, My Eyes
by Jackson Browne

Doctor, my eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying.
Now I want to understand.

I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding.
You must help me if you can.

Doctor, my eyes. . .
Tell me what is wrong.
Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?

'Cause I have wandered through this world
And as each moment has unfurled
I've been waiting to awaken from these dreams.
People go just where they will;
I never noticed them until I got this feeling
That it's later than it seems.

Doctor, my eyes. . .
Tell me what you see.
I hear their cries.
Just say if it's too late for me.

Doctor, my eyes
Cannot see the sky.
Is this the prize for having learned how not to cry?

All photos by N. Ballester.


elena maria vidal said...

Beautiful post! Those women who were mocking feminine attire just seem so angry and insecure.

Wendy Haught said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Mary Eileen. I know you had a busy day today.

The startling thing to me was that the most angry and insulting blogger was a man.

Fotofule said...

Wonderful thoughts. You've also got me converted!

Wendy Haught said...

Oh, Beverly! I'll send a priest right over!

Just kidding. So you're going to convert to wearing dresses/skirts?! Wonderful! Hope you post pics on your blog. Emma says to tell you that you look really pretty in a dress.

Fotofule said...

I meant to type "almost"! LOL!

But seriously, I'm going to be looking around to see what I can find...

Wendy Haught said...

Sounds providential to me, Miz B. God must be typing for you! LOL!

Colleen Hammond said...

What a beautiful post! Your gentle and loving spirit come shining through. I love the pictures, too. God bless you -- and all of us! -- as we grow in our God given femininity.

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Colleen,

As one of the major influences in our decision to stop wearing pants, I am eternally in your debt. Thank you for all the wonderful work you have done and continue to do.

I'm so pleased that you liked my post. Your kind words have started my day with a sprinkle of fairy dust.

Cathy said...

A wonderful post, Wendy...as all of yours are! I decided not to go read all the 'hoop-la' as I knew it would make me frustrated and sad. I believe that those who argue so harshly and uncharitably are generally the ones that have a seed of knowledge deep inside that what they are saying is wrong. Not wanting to recognize or investigate that knowledge, and being too afraid to admit they might be wrong, they lash out at everyone else just as a frightened, cornered animal would. That is the only way I have been able to make any sense of the hatred that spews forth in many discussions about those things dear to our traditional hearts. Please keep doing what you do, dearest Wendy, as you give support, solace and comfort to us in your gentle and wonderful way.

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Cathy,

I agree about not wanting to get dragged into the hoopla. I purposely did not link directly to the antagonistic posts for that reason.

I think your point about fear is a good one. Knowing this should help us to be especially charitable the next time one of these debates erupts.

Thank you (and the other commenters) for the encouraging words. They help wonderfully, because I am basically a COWARD and often dread pushing the "Publish" button so much that I leave posts in my draft folder.

As Colleen said, "God bless you -- and all of us! -- as we grow in our God given femininity."

hebiew said...

I'm totally convinced, I'm going to start wearing a kilt. I think Herb and Nathaniel need to sign on as well. Some bagpipes will complete the outfits, we can march up and down your driveway playing "Amazing Grace"! If we can't master the bagpipes, maybe a harmonica...

Wendy Haught said...

Thanks, Stephen!

This whole "debate" sorely needed your lighthearted input.

I would love to see you, Herb, and Nathaniel in kilts. The poor man who wrote the post that got every one so upset said that he wore a kilt himself. Ha!

But instead of marching up and down my driveway, I want you all to come to the Scottish Country Dance Ball in the Rice University Ballroom, Saturday, Oct. 2.

Until then. . .take Beverly shopping for dresses. LOL!!!

Anonymous said...

I also read the book Immodesty, Satan's Virtue, a while ago; and I thought the idea of never wearing pants again was impossible. I wear skirts and dresses now, except for pjs. I feel much better in feminine clothes and would never go back to jeans, slacks, and shorts. I think most women if they tried it out for a while would feel the same.

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Anonymous,

I agree with you. I could never go back to wearing pants/shorts. Emma and I do EVERYTHING in a dress and don't even think about jeans for dirty jobs. Maybe that's because we haven't had any for years. We do think about aprons though. Emma made pantalettes to wear under her skirt when she has to do weird stuff like Tai Chi in her acting class. She even climbs trees in a dress.

Bonald said...

Dear Mrs. Haught,

Thank you for this post. It has completely altered my understanding of the pants issue.

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Bonald,

I read your post and LOVED the research you did: A confirmation and a help! I tried for ten minutes to leave a comment, but I guess wordpress is experiencing technical difficulties. I will be linking to it as soon as I can.

Thank you. You are the one who has made the real contribution on this topic.

freddy said...

I hope you'll have patience with a slightly different view of the matter.

But first, it would only be polite of me to introduce myself, wouldn't it?

I'm a Catholic middle aged mother who is privileged to have access to the EF Mass, by the grace of Holy Mother Church. For many years I wore primarily skirts and dresses, but of late I wear slacks for my primary day-to-day wear, though I do still wear skirts and dresses regularly.

Maybe I'm naive, but until quite recently I never knew there was any sort of controversy in Catholic circles regarding women wearing slacks. When I read the original article at Catholicity, I was baffled and not a little perturbed. You see, I believe that strong language should be reserved for extremely serious situations, and when an anonymous person uses the phrase "damned pants" to describe his feelings about an article of clothing, well, that makes me worry!

And now I'm forced to wonder. Are people around me thinking the same thing? Are people who know me secretly despising me because they don't think I'm as modest as they are? Do people secretly pity me because I'm not on the same "path" they are on this journey?

I have a great deal of respect for all women -- and men-- who are fighting the rampant and truly evil levels of immodesty in our culture these days, but I think that the "pants debate" is far to general, too ignorant of cultures, traditions and real needs of real women, too apt to be hurtful to women who are modest and self conscious, and too apt to make enemies out of those who should be brothers and sisters in Christ.

God bless you.

Wendy Haught said...

Dear Freddy,

I'm delighted that you have shared your perspective. As I have said before, what matters to me is if Catholics are of good will, not whether they wear pants or skirts. Your comment is perfectly lovely, and I thank you for it.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I certainly don't despise anyone for wearing pants. That would not be a Christ-like attitude. Besides, my whole extended family and a lot of my friends wear pants most of the time.

As for the "damned pants" quote, I understand your point. It's best to avoid such word choices.

I also think you are right that the debate has been hurtful. That was originally why I wrote about it. I thought the Catholicity author was scourged at the pillar by the people who didn't agree with him. I wrote asking for people to be charitable, no matter what side they took. Then I wrote the post that you have commented on to explain our own "path". I specifically said "different path" because I thought that would make it clear that I did not see our choices as being more holy than pants-wearing ladies. Maybe it wasn't as clear as I thought.

Anyway, I hope that I haven't contributed to making enemies of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I tried hard to avoid that.

May God bless you and St. Michael defend you.