Church, Women & Pants

January 2008By Gerrie Goguen

Gerrie Goguen, a homeschooling mother of eight who has been married to her husband, Ron, for 21 years, writes from Hopedale, Massachusetts.

With clothing fashions becoming more risqué each year, there has been much debate within the Catholic and Protestant communities on the appropriateness of certain styles created for women. Most discussions are centered on the virtue of modesty -- what types of clothing can be considered modest and therefore appropriate for women to wear. I would like to focus on the subject of women wearing pants to church, the difficult details therein and their consequences.

The issue of modesty pertains to the cardinal virtue of temperance and, as the Catechism (#2521) indicates, "It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered by chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness." Modesty, like all other sub-virtues, is intimately interconnected with the other cardinal virtues -- prudence, justice, and fortitude. As St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, the cardinal virtue of prudence is the charioteer of the virtues. As such, a modest woman is by definition a prudent one; her prudence will save her embarrassing moments or even dangerous moments when a disordered or troubled male may consider an immodest woman's attire as an invitation to lewd behavior. A modest woman is also a just woman because she renders to others what they deserve. In this case, other men do not deserve her nakedness or her sensuality, which are reserved for her husband. At the same time, a modest woman shows fortitude in resisting her innate feeling of enjoying the gaze and attention of men. So, one cannot discuss modesty without impinging upon all the cardinal virtues.

It may be surprising to some pious women to find out how intense the problem of a woman wearing pants is for men, who are conditioned by our fallen nature and our sexualized culture to look at certain parts of a woman's body. We need to acknowledge that most women do not fully realize how men feel about this, since it is part of the mystery in the difference of the genders. Through intimate conversations with her husband, a married woman can, provided her husband is honest with her, find out how men really think and feel when viewing a woman wearing tight or revealing pants.

We would do well to go to the Scriptures to see what the root cause of this problem is. With Original Sin, disorder was introduced into the psyche of men (and women). This is seen in the remarkable statement after our first parents committed their act of disobedience (Gen. 3:7): "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves." Sin made them ashamed of the nakedness. Contrast this with their condition before they committed their sin (Gen. 2:25): "The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame."

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Gerrie Gougen may speak for her husband, but she doesn't speak for me. Nor, I imagine, does she speak for many other men. She seems to believe that all men, by virtue of being men, suffer from a "disorder" that programs us by our "fallen nature" to stare at woman's backside and divide the woman up into consumable body parts. Let me be frank: I have not ever found myself staring at women's buttocks at Mass, no matter what a woman may or may not be wearing. Nor do I think of women's clothing as "presenting" body parts for my inspection. These are insupportable generalizations that Gougen makes, and they do not help her argument.

Dressing modestly and presenting oneself in a respectable manner, especially at Mass, is certainly an important noble message, but Gougen's article is laced with fallacies and false assumptions based on her own apparently limited perception of the world -- and I don't care how many children she has, how many years she's been married, or whether or not she homeschools. None of that lends any credibility to her authorship. The article is condescending in its tone, self-righteous in its style, and weak in its argument.
Posted by: media007
January 15, 2008 12:00 PM EST
I read Gerrie’s article in the printed NOR long before I saw the same today, 15Jan08 on the website. Unlike Media007, I need to admit Gerrie is very much talking about me. I am the one that Jesus was referring to when He said “I came for sinners, not the righteous [sorry, I don’t how to quote from the Scriptures verbatim].”

Since my spiritual conversion in 1989, I have been what you can call a serious combatant in the spiritual warfare. Although I have never a womanizer, I do have a tendency to look or stare at women as she describes it. But because I also always think and assume that God is always watching me with mercy but also with ‘high-precision’ justice, I do what I’m convinced many men are not doing: When I’m flipping a newspaper or magazine pages, I readily skip Macy’s ads where they show a woman with underwear so as not to stimulate sensual thoughts, and start praying for that woman I probably will meet; When a sexual material pop-up on my computer, I’ve already devised a quick way to get rid of it fast enough and perform a damage control to my soul and that of the woman [who I instinctively think of as my sister] by praying [I always have the Rosary in my hand literally]; When I am actually in front of a woman with clothes that I consider don’t take my soul closer to God, I start praying to Saint Maria Goretti or Saint Lucy or other virgin saints.

I think with so many subtle traps surrounding us, Gerrie’s article is crucially important and no need to be polemical against it if you don’t happen to fall within the category[ies] she describes. And using very basic discernment about how many men think [like the kind of jokes they make about sex], it’s not easy to figure out what goes in their mind when confronted with such scenario.

And if any one takes exception for himself, I would say that is a rarity and an exception. And I would wish that he dies soon and go directly to heaven so I can pray with petitions to help me become better like him.
Posted by: humblesoldier
January 16, 2008 01:02 AM EST
"Gerrie Gougen may speak for her husband, but she doesn't speak for me..."

That much is clear. What is less clear, is whether the person quoted understands the difference between man and woman to be any more than "the plumbing."

It is a common retort. "So a man can't stop staring at my voluptuous @#$%s. Well, he should get over it." And yet the challenge he faces in so doing, one not faced in the same way by the female, is precisely how God made us, and the main reason the species is able to propagate. Otherwise the very thought of what would be required would make us all go "Ewwwww!"

Granted, the tone of the essay is a bit high-handed, and it does appear to reduce all men to having libidos out of control. But it need not go that far. It is enough to be even mildly distracted. What may be appropriate for the nightclub, or the beach, or watching your kids at the soccer game, is completely out of place when our minds must be focused elsewhere.

A tendency is not the same as a habit. But it is no less real. To acknowledge it, is to acknowledge that God made us differently, and that is men would act more like men and women acted more like women, we would understand one another better. For only then would we understand what we really are.
Posted by: manwithblackhat
January 16, 2008 12:36 PM EST
Excellent article and one of the best I’ve seen on the virtue of modesty. And yes, she speaks for a lot of men (unless they’re gay). Men’s eyes instinctively go to certain women’s body parts based on their attire (unless they’ve consciously habituated themselves to purity, and even then it may be a struggle).

Don’t believe it? Talk to some men willing to be frank.

I also appreciated how she said that even though women are to dress modestly, that doesn’t mean they ought to dress frumpily. After all, our Catholic forebears have always considered beauty to be a positive good in its rightful place and presentation; we aren’t the spiritual descendants of the Puritans (culture is another matter, unfortunately).

God bless.
Posted by: bd555
January 16, 2008 04:05 PM EST
Spot on Gerrie and thank you for the article - am forwarding it to our kids school for the Deans of both sexes to review. As one of eight children I am always inclined to listen to home-schooling mums of large families!
I recently heard a prominent local (Alberta, Can.) Muslim describing to a radio interviewer that one reason men and women have to worship separately in Islam is to help men avoid exactly what Gerrie is describing, and further that a reason they bow so deeply while at prayer is to avoid looking at the fellow-worshippers in front of them (those cheeky Muslims).
Three cheers for a sensible modesty.
Posted by: karl
January 18, 2008 10:23 AM EST
I absolutely agree with the author. Distractions at Mass abound these days. I thank her for addressing this issue to women, and the entire Church.

Modesty in dress would go a long way to fix one of the distractions we face at mass. For the men, it would probably help address the biggest distraction. I humbly disagree with the first poster. I think Gerrie is "spot on."

I would add however that men also need to change the way they are dressing at Mass. While I think many women dress in a manner that is too distracting for the men, I think many men need to learn to dress more respectfully as well.

When we go to Mass we are going to meet our Lord and King. Would we dress in ripped up blue jeans and sports team jerseys to meet our Lord and King? How we worship communicates what we believe.

Put on a shirt and tie. They are not expensive to buy. We ought to dress like we believe in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Posted by: eakter
January 23, 2008 06:49 PM EST
Media 007: You are so gay! humble soldier: buddy I'm in the same army! Thanks for the article Gerrie. I am so glad to be able to attend the Latin Mass and not have to put up with such immodest dress, except for an occasional straggler. Posted by: Silver Thread
February 08, 2008 11:25 AM EST
This article is obviously a God-send for the typical obese Western citizen. To wear clothing that deliberately covers up a woman's hour-glass figure or LACK of a figure does nothing except give advantage to the slothful, the gluttonous, or those eldery women past the age of childbearing. No man looks at a physically unattractive woman in pants and is "tempted."

Obviously there is no call to ever dress immodestly but there is a big difference between dressing modestly and dressing priggishly.

If you start down the Super-Prude Highway then logically you will then, like the Taliban, start having to make the women who have beautiful faces cover them up in Church too. Otherwise men will look on them and be tempted....
Posted by: pjoewells
September 09, 2009 08:08 AM EDT
Regarding the previous post: "If you start down the Super-Prude Highway then logically you will then, like the Taliban, start having to make the women who have beautiful faces cover them up in Church too. Otherwise men will look on them and be tempted.... "

That's quite a leap to try to make your point, isn't it? If you have read some of the book reviews, if not the books themselves, in recent issues of New Oxford Review, on the 1920-30s, specifically related to Darwin and Marxism, to include Nazi Germany, you'll note the prevelant role women had in many items that abetted the aforementioned evil groups and ideologies. This came about specifically because women loved the idea of abortion, though it is really just a part of the overal selective breeding. In the process, women created a major hedonistic society at that time.

I could go on and on, but will close by saying that your comment on Islam enforcing strict standards of modesty on woman is likely to follow something far more sinister: the break down of the rule of law in this country and then, "women who have beautiful faces" and bodies will cover them up and go into hiding to escape the mass ravages of a population gone berserk in more regards than just sex, but the latter becoming a threat, not a vanity-driven thrill, to these women.
Posted by: j17ghs
May 21, 2010 12:19 PM EDT
media07, you obviously are blessed "full of grace" to not have ever gawked at a woman at mass.

30 % of the men in the pews struggle with pornography. I'm one of them. The article is dead on. I have to sit in the front pews, if not I am struggling to maintain custody of my eyes throughout mass.

To many women @ mass dress in a manner thats draws attention to themselves, which at the least is vanity, at it's worst, to tease and get disordered pleasure from noticing guys gawking, ogling and undressing her with their eyes.

Guys are guilty too. I have seen some of muscular build dress in skin tight clothing to showoff their physique.

We are our brothers/sisters keeper and should not be an occasion for sin for those who do struggle with lust.
Posted by: cland
October 31, 2010 05:44 PM EDT
God forgive me. I must be disordered. I find myself "gawking" constantly both in and out of Mass. However, I much prefer to be distracted by some Victoria Secret reject than be insulted by some bum in a T-shirt and shorts pretending to be an Altar server. Posted by:
December 14, 2011 02:02 PM EST
This is an important issue. I think it is very good of this author (a woman) to realize and articulate just how significant of an issue of women's dress is, insofar as it can very easily cause a temptation to sin (e.g., look at the woman as an object) in men. Society is so full of sexual temptation; church should be a safe haven. I fully acknowledge that many women who dress immodestly probably have no idea of the moral implications of it, both for themselves and men. It is so refreshing, particularly in this society, to see a woman dressed modestly. In a wholesome way, it is likewise quite attractive, but not in a way that would cause distraction at mass or be a temptation to sin. Posted by: BLUnderwood
December 14, 2011 07:39 PM EST
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