Sunday, August 19, 2012

Mutually Clueless

I was in my 30s before I learned that the image I had of myself as a decent dresser (i.e., modest) was naïvely mistaken. I didn’t understand why even ordinary attire could evoke lecherous looks or darting glances. It’s not as simplistic as what I used to think: that certain men were lustful creeps, and others were mature. Rather, the vast majority of men—whether they manifest it outwardly or not—are affected by the same phenomenon. The fact is the sight of a female form has a much greater effect on a man than most women would guess. A woman wearing typical jeans and a T-shirt can be more tantalizing than she realizes.
     Human beings all have “buttons”. Certain buttons are standard (just about everyone has them); others are not. Some buttons are more sensitive or powerful on some individuals than they are on others. But we all have them. That’s what makes us different from the angels.
    Angels are persons—they have a mind and a will—but, being pure spirit, have no body. So they are not subject as we are to the pressures coming from appetites, or chemical imbalances, or hormones, or fatigue, illness, pain, etc.
     Animals have bodies as we do, but neither free will nor rational mind. They have stronger instincts, which guide their actions (though experiences and training can also influence them).
     We are, in the words of John Paul II, “embodied spirits”. Like the angels, we have a rational mind and free will; we have immortal souls; however, like the animals, we also have bodies. And that means we also have instincts and feelings and a whole host of other things impacting our desires and attitudes. The difference is that—unlike a robot or an animal—we have a free will. So we can choose not to obey an instinct or feeling. (Not that that means it’s easy to do so.)
     The key point here is that men and women have some buttons that differ. That is, either men have some buttons that women don’t and vice-versa, or at least if both sexes have the same buttons, then certain buttons are protected by a glass cover and thus are much less accessible on one gender than on the other.
    That certainly is the case when it comes to immodesty: seeing someone of the opposite sex dressed immodestly has a much bigger impact on men than on women. That’s why whenever the voluptuous girl-rabbit comes along, Bugs Bunny’s eyes bulge out and he stumbles around as though he’s under a spell.
    It’s as though the difference here is God’s way of continuing our species: He gave the husbands a very sensitive visual-stimulus button. Before the fall, I imagine, only the sight of one’s wife would set it off, but since original sin threw our body-mind-soul equilibrium out of whack, just about any woman can activate it. That’s why humans started wearing clothes in the first place.
     It’s like a  trigger. Humans have certain physiological triggers: "mouth-watering" foods really do trigger the production of saliva. The mere smell of bacon triggers a release of digestive enzymes. And the power of chocolate over most women is proverbial. Likewise, seeing the female form is a trigger stimulating a chemical reaction in a man’s brain.*
     And this particular trigger is usually pretty powerful. It’s like a high-energy young dog: even when he’s asleep, if you rattle his leash, he’ll leap up and race to the door, ready to go.
     It’s such a strong and quick stimulant that the sight of an immodestly dressed woman may even involuntarily conjure up in a man’s mind an image of how she looks unclothed. If he’s seen pornography (and most men have),
that will only intensify the reaction.
     In fact, often he can avoid this only by immediately looking away and thinking hard about something else. This takes a great deal of self-control, and really, grace. Without grace, why would he even want to do that? Only with a sufficiently close relationship to God and a well-formed conscience would he even bother. But even then, especially in a culture full of arousing images, he needs a lot of prayer and grace to do so.
     (How difficult daily life must be for many virtuous men, when sometimes every fifth or sixth person they see obliges them to exercise this self-control. For a woman, it would be like being on a diet with every sixth person she passes wafting a tray of chocolate truffles under her nose.)
     All this will come as quite an eye-opener to many women. Most are unaware of this trigger
—or at least how potent it isbecause we rarely experience it ourselves. Moreover, it isn’t socially acceptable for a man to show his reaction, so it’s often not apparent what’s going on in his mind. Thus, many women are fairly clueless about what they’re doing. A great many who consider themselves "good girls" are actually tempting men to sin, while being quite unaware of it.
     Meanwhile, many men don't realize just how clueless women are. In fact, some men think women have the same trigger. Such men conclude that an immodestly dressed woman wants to be ogled at. After all, there are other women who purposely dress immodestly to attract attention, fully aware of the effect. Other men do realize that many women are naïve about this but don't realize how naïve. 

      So ladies, when you open the closet in the morning, make sure you don't pick an outfit that's of the leash-rattling variety. As to what clothes fit that description, we'll have to save that for another post. 

     *Dr. Judith Reisman has written and testified before state and federal committees on the “psychopharmacology” of viewing pornography, which releases a number of chemicals in the brain. In an email to me, she wrote: “Anything that applies to images on a page applies to images walking down the street” (Mar. 14, 2005). See “The Psychopharmacology of Pictorial Pornography Restructuring Brain, Mind, and Memory” available at her website:
      †Unfortunately, with the prevalence of internet porn nowadays, it’s a problem even among Christians: according to Family Safe Media, 53% of survey respondents at an event nearly ten years ago for Promise-Keepers (Christian men dedicated to marital fidelity) admitted looking at Internet porn in the previous week.

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