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Women's Dress and Men's Thoughts


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There seems to be some sensitivity to the rules and guidelines in the Church about how women dress, especially when these rules are implicitly (and sometimes overtly) tied to how men think. 

The most famous quote on this subject is obviously from Elder Oaks, who said this:
 

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Finally, do not patronize pornography. Do not use your purchasing power to support moral degradation. And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.

In my recent thread about the stricter dress guidelines in my daughter's mission (they must wear sweaters or jackets when at the Church in the presence of Elders), this was said:
 

Quote

I worry more about how they internalize this rule and how they view their own bodies and if it makes them feel they are a danger to the opposite sex. Do they feel they are responsible for the Elder's thoughts and actions? You never know how these types of rules will be internalized now or down the road. 

So I need someone to answer this question:

If it turned out that the ways women dress does have an influence on men's thoughts and they way they see them, why would it be wrong to tell women that?

With that question in mind (and assuming that simply telling girls and women how the world works isn't a bad thing), what is the problem with letting women know, or reminding them, that dressing in certain ways does affect men's thoughts (and in ways they might not appreciate)?

First, if anyone wants to argue that it isn't the case, they are welcome to do so.  I believe it is the case that the way women dress affect men's minds, so I'll proceed on that assumption.  Here's one example of the science on that:

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There is a well-known tension between seeing someone as, and appreciating them for, a body as opposed to a mind. At least, that’s what parents tell their daughters when their school clothes veer too far towards the revealing.

Science has backed parents up on this. A recent study found that showing men pictures of sexualized women evokes less activity in areas of the brain responsible for mental state attribution—that is, the area of the brain that becomes active when we think we are looking at an entity capable of thought and planned action. Other studies have found similar results. When men see body shots of women as compared with face shots, they judge women to be less intelligent, likeable, ambitious and competent.

Second, I will note that I do recognize the idea that it would be great if this weren't the case.  And I suspect Oaks would agree.  If the Church had a magic wand or rock that it could wave and get all teenage boys to stop being affected by how women dress, I think they would use it. 

Third, there appears to be an argument that by somehow mentioning this to women, it is giving license to or encouraging men to have those thoughts (or somehow creating those thoughts).  I do not see how that is the case.  Especially in the Church, boys are pleaded with to not have those kinds of thoughts.

I suppose we could argue about whether or not those ideas are genetics vs. environment.  As with most things, it's probably a bit of both.  But at the end of the day, I'm willing to bet that any 15yo heterosexual boy is going to physically react to a pretty woman in a bikini the same way, regardless of the society or culture they were brought up (their feelings about how they reacted will probably vary, of course).

When people got the vapors about Oaks' comment, one thing that no one seemed to point out was, that for all the hubbub, he was right.  I think that's what upset people the most. It's like at some point society decided that if we just pretended this wasn't the case, men would change and women would be empowered. 

I think we can all agree that we wish this was the case, but at the end of the day, what's the honest, rational and scientific thing to tell women about the way they dress?

 

Edited by cinepro
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34 minutes ago, cinepro said:

There seems to be some sensitivity to the rules and guidelines in the Church about how women dress, especially when these rules are implicitly (and sometimes overtly) tied to how men think. 

The most famous quote on this subject is obviously from Elder Oaks, who said this:
 

In my recent thread about the stricter dress guidelines in my daughter's mission (they must wear sweaters or jackets when at the Church in the presence of Elders), this was said:
 

So I need someone to answer this question:

If it turned out that the ways women dress does have an influence on men's thoughts and they way they see them, why would it be wrong to tell women that?

With that question in mind (and assuming that simply telling girls and women how the world works isn't a bad thing), what is the problem with letting women know, or reminding them, that dressing in certain ways does affect men's thoughts (and in ways they might not appreciate)?

First, if anyone wants to argue that it isn't the case, they are welcome to do so.  I believe it is the case that the way women dress affect men's minds, so I'll proceed on that assumption.  Here's one example of the science on that:

Second, I will note that I do recognize the idea that it would be great if this weren't the case.  And I suspect Oaks would agree.  If the Church had a magic wand or rock that it could wave and get all teenage boys to stop being affected by how women dress, I think they would use it. 

Third, there appears to be an argument that by somehow mentioning this to women, it is giving license to or encouraging men to have those thoughts (or somehow creating those thoughts).  I do not see how that is the case.  Especially in the Church, boys are pleaded with to not have those kinds of thoughts.

I suppose we could argue about whether or not those ideas are genetics vs. environment.  As with most things, it's probably a bit of both.  But at the end of the day, I'm willing to bet that any 15yo heterosexual boy is going to physically react to a pretty woman in a bikini the same way, regardless of the society or culture they were brought up (their feelings about how they reacted will probably vary, of course).

When people got the vapors about Oaks' comment, one thing that no one seemed to point out was, that for all the hubbub, he was right.  I think that's what upset people the most. It's like at some point society decided that if we just pretended this wasn't the case, men would change and women would be empowered. 

I think we can all agree that we wish this was the case, but at the end of the day, what's the honest, rational and scientific thing to tell women about the way they dress?

 

I’ll give this thread maybe a day before it gets shut down after some hapless defender of modesty gets labeled a pervert (see my signature line). 

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It is not as if women have no clue that what they wear has an effect. I have recently been doing an admittedly unscientific study. I have used YouTube clips of all the TV talk shows and compared how the men dress to how the women dress. I am guessing that 95% of the men dress in a suit and tie. The women, on the other hand , have exposed arms, shoulders, legs and upper chest and back. Are they all just dressing for themselves or as has been said , for other women? 

Mind you, I read that Air conditioning in offices is now sexist because the men in suits get warm and bump up the AC while the women in their dress choices get too cold. Another example of the patriarchy at play.😐

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51 minutes ago, cinepro said:

I think we can all agree that we wish this was the case, but at the end of the day, what's the honest, rational and scientific thing to tell women about the way they dress?

I think it depends on what the current science says about some very complex interfaces with regards to sexual visual stimuli, sexualization of societal norms and non-verbal communications, sex as manipulated by the media for money, sales, politics, etc. This is why people will go by the wisdom of those they respect, and their own common sense, hunches and experiences, which are not solely, if at all, or consciously rational -- or rebel against these things in the name of freedom and right. I think that if we remember we are children of God, the thoughts and intents of our hearts will accord in unison with each other and we will balance freedom, charity and empathy (our righteous wants and needs with those of others).

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26 minutes ago, juliann said:

So trying to attack this problem at the end instead of the  beginning,  only the victim changes, not the act.

I think this is a gospel principle and there may be science to support it, but both science and the gospel will always be debated.

8 minutes ago, Calm said:

Objectifying anyone by concentrating on physical appearance is likely to lower the perceived importance of their mental, emotional, or spiritual aspects and to feel comfortable with that degradation means justifying objectification by assuming mental abilities, etc. are not high and therefore it is okay to value them mostly for physical appearance.

I think gospel principles support this, and there may be science to support it, but both science and the gospel will always be debated.

5 minutes ago, bluebell said:

To answer the bolded question, I do believe that the ways women dress has an influence on men's thoughts and the way they see them, and I think it's smart to make sure that girls understand that.  Understanding how someone perceives you is very helpful in interacting with them, and in a large sense it gives you a measure of power that you otherwise wouldn't have.

What I think is wrong is to teach girls that they they are responsible for making sure that no man ever uses their influence for evil or immoral thoughts or behavior.  

I think these are gospel principles and there may be science to support them, but both science and the gospel will always be debated.

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1 minute ago, pogi said:

While I totally agree with this, I think both ends need to be addressed - not just one or the other.  If a woman knowingly influences the opposite sex through inappropriate dress, she is accountable for her influence.  The man is also accountable for his reaction.  We have influence in all of our actions, dress is just one aspect of what we are accountable for in how we influence others for good or bad. 

How much is cultural vs. innate though?  If primarily cultural (and given there are cultures where women wear much less clothing or none at all and it is not seen as provocative), do we as Saints accept it as 'fact' and teach it as a standard or not?  Given we refuse to accept the greater worldly culture's standards in other ways, why are we accepting this one?

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15 minutes ago, Calm said:

How much is cultural vs. innate though?  If primarily cultural (and given there are cultures where women wear much less clothing or none at all and it is not seen as provocative), do we as Saints accept it as 'fact' and teach it as a standard or not?  Given we refuse to accept the greater worldly culture's standards in other ways, why are we accepting this one?

Good points.  I think culture plays a role for sure.  I think we all understand that there is a line, but defining that line is impossible - that is why I think general principles should be taught while trying to avoid specific dress codes.  I think that women should be taught to try and be culturally sensitive with their dress and to use their best judgement while trying to be aware of their influence.

But I agree with Cinepro that women, and I will add men, should be warned to be conscious of their potential influence on others in ALL we do.

Edited by pogi
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30 minutes ago, Calm said:

Given we refuse to accept the greater worldly culture's standards in other ways, why are we accepting this one?

I will add this, I think we are taught to be culturally sensitive and I don’t think that entails bending our higher standards.  I will suggest that dress standards are not the same as moral standards.  We can bend to cultural standards of dress but we should not bend to worldly standards of morality.  There is a difference I think.

If one dress is seen as morally provocative in one culture but not another, I would suggest that it may be morally right or wrong for a woman to wear that dress depending on the situation.  While the issue centers around the dress, the higher standard is really not about the dress at all.

Edited by pogi
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This thread has made me think of the WofW and the 89th Section of the Doctrine & Covenants:  Given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.   

Here a standard of eating and drinking is instituted so that the weakest will not fail. I assume we don't need to accuse God of promulgating "the patriarchy" (I always love when that bit of utter stupidity is interjected into a conversation; nothing like shutting down one's brains in favor of a Feminist agenda). However, what is interesting is that we appear willing to curb our eating and drinking to help others without a problem. Yet, in this issue, the simple statement that a male could be affected by the the attire of a female and we begin to chaff, whine, and bring out tired accusations. 

Personally, I think both males and females should be modest. Just as personally, I recognize that I am not very modest. I don't really care if you are naked or not; my nakedness has never bothered me. Yet, I seldom had the thought I needed to be naked in an environment where others are clothed. I never saw the need to wear a thong, latex running pants or biking pants - regardless of what others wear, I always felt that wearing clothing that leaves almost nothing to the imagination was not what a disciple of Jesus Christ, or at least someone that is trying to be such, should wear under any circumstances.  

So, should be actually be concerned about the weakest among us, or should we all just ignore those weaklings and go on about our business and dress in what makes us feel good about ourselves?  After all, almost all the individuals we are talking about are males and those scumbags don't really deserve the time of day in this age of fierce, powerful women who don't have time for such things; particularly, weakness in the male sex. 

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This is my personal opinion.

When I heard the age change for both male and female missionary ages the first thing that went through my mind was that this would create some problems eventually between Elder and Sister missionaries. I thought that for the first few years of this change, 18 year olds be dominant, but after that it would creep back to around 19 as the average age. But for sisters it would stat at 19 as the average age. Previously when separated by 2 years, the Sister missionaries would always seem more mature and hence curtail any romantic attraction between the two sexes. But now the ages are more aligned. Adults naturally will have romantic feelings for members of their own peer group. Well, as both Elders and Sisters are missionaries, they fall into the same peer group. So yes, Elders and Sisters are now looking at each other differently than they did a few short years ago.

Now on to the problem. Elders wear suits to church. Pretty black and white. It is hard to say that a suit elicits sexual thoughts for females. The Sisters have a little more leeway with their church attire, but not much. So which of the two is the easiest to change dress standards? Unfortunately the Sister missionaries. Do I agree with what has happened in at least one mission in regards to Sisters dress attire? No. Can I see the reasoning behind it? Yes.

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11 minutes ago, Anonymous Mormon said:

I think that Elder Oak's quote can both be true, but also something that we want to say with moderation. Again, here is his quote:

"Finally, do not patronize pornography. Do not use your purchasing power to support moral degradation. And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you."

This is a true statement. This is because Pornography is in the eye of the beholder, as is famously summarized in the "I know it when I see it" quote (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_know_it_when_I_see_it).

As someone who was an addict to pornography for years, I can tell you that the way a young women dresses will be pornography for some young men. As an example, when I was a young adult a girl I had never paid any interest in before wore a tiny, skimpy bikini to a ward party and I became very interested in hanging out with her that night just so I could ogle, and then the next time I saw her when she was normally clothed I had a totally different reaction to her. This is because I was acting on lust and trying my best to see her body, with no regard for who she was. She was the same to me as pornography at that time.

Now on the flip side, as someone who has grown and matured past this and has been working on overcoming lust for 7+ years, I now realize that I was the culprit in seeing this girl as pornography. And I also realize as a father of young daughters that I don't want my girls to have body image issues but instead to feel comfortable in their own skin. And there are lots of wonderful women/girls who are taught this truth, that they are beautiful and should feel comfortable with their bodies and many choose to wear bikinis because they are comfortable with themselves and it is the norm (especially the non-LDS culture), not because they are trying to be pornography. These woman should not be shamed for just being themselves and wearing what is commonly expected from their culture.

So I think it's true that both a) a young woman's attire (or lack there-of) can become pornography to a young man, and also b) a young woman who is dressing in what she feels comfortable and is not wearing her outfit with the primary to stimulate others should feel good about herself and not be body-shamed.

At the end of the day, it's the intents of our hearts - boys/men who can choose to see others as objects or as people, and girls/women who can choose to wear clothes they feel comfortable in or wear something intentionally provocative just to get attention of men/boys with lust. So we should all worry about our own intents and not judge others, but instead help others if we have a position of influence and see they are struggling (especially as parents).

I might reframe this useful point of view from saying this young woman was “pornography” to saying that you “were objectifying her.”

people all over the world wear bikinis and not everyone sexualizes them. Often, men AND women simply equate swim wear with two pieces. 

Incidentally, your personal reflections are very honest and vulnerable, thank you for sharing. 

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46 minutes ago, filovirus said:

Now on to the problem. Elders wear suits to church. Pretty black and white. It is hard to say that a suit elicits sexual thoughts for females. The Sisters have a little more leeway with their church attire, but not much. So which of the two is the easiest to change dress standards? Unfortunately the Sister missionaries. Do I agree with what has happened in at least one mission in regards to Sisters dress attire? No. Can I see the reasoning behind it? Yes.

I will resist posting some extremely s*xy pics of men in suits.  I promise you my imagination can go WILD with that, but since 1.  women are not generally recognized as sexual beings, especially at church and 2.  men would never consider putting a sweater to cover up their physique that the fitted suit is hugging, it is left to the women to be told that they are the cause of men's sin and that they must cover up their already modest mission dress.  

I like what you had to say by the way.  Not arguing with you.  :)

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