TRIGGER WARNING This article, and pages it links to, contain information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.
Many years ago, I had a professor of mine and his wife over for dinner. He was a visiting theology professor from South Africa and our conversation focused on the ministry challenges there. I was shocked to learn that there were parts of Africa where AIDS had infected up to 40% of the adult population. My friend told me that there were villages where almost every adult had died from the epidemic. He then told me about a persistent rumor that if a man with AIDS had sex with a virgin, it would cure him. This not only spread the disease, but also led to an increase in rapes. I remember being sick, and wondering how on earth anyone could believe something so ignorant.
Lately, I’ve seen the same kind of ignorance right here in the United States, e.g., when Representative Todd Akin said that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely became pregnant. His precise words were, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Last year, there were many political leaders — most of them conservatives — who were completely unequipped to talk about rape with any kind of common sense. (Wikipedia has a page dedicated to chronicling the embarrassment.)
More recently, I’ve been keeping up with reports about the woman in India who was recently gang-raped to death on a bus in India. Not a defunct bus in the back of a junkyard somewhere, mind you, but an active bus that was on its route. The details of the crime are horrific, and thank God, women are clogging the streets in protest over the lack of government urgency to bring the rapists to justice.
As if the horror of murder and rape weren’t enough, a popular guru in India named Asaram Bapu felt the need to say something about it, presumably in the defense of men. Here’s the quote from Reuters:
“Guilt is not one-sided,” the guru, Asaram Bapu, told followers this week, adding that if the student had pleaded with her six attackers in God’s name, and told them she was of the “weaker sex”, they would have relented.
Bapu’s comments remind me of what Wisconsin State Assembly member Roger Rivard said in December 2011 while talking about the prosecution of a 17-year-old boy who raped a 14-year-old girl. He shared this nugget of wisdom from his father: “some girls rape easy”. It’s hard to believe that such stupidity can be uttered by grown men, and especially grown men who are in positions of power designed to protect women and men from crimes.
I see a similar sort of ignorance in evangelical churches today. However, they aren’t talking about rape; rather, it’s men talking about “modesty”. Brother in Christ, if you’re reading this, let me say that if you see a sister with a skirt you deem too short, it isn’t her fault that you “stumble”. “Stumble” is a word that lets you off the hook for taking lecherous, perverted, and lustful looks at a woman. “Stumble” is a word that lets a man pretend that it isn’t entirely his fault that he’s reduced to a slavering buffoon because he saw a little cleavage. What sort of sicko would you think your girlfriend/daughter/wife’s male gynecologist was if he “stumbled” during a pelvic exam? He’s seeing everything — legs, vagina, et al. — and somehow he doesn’t act like the woman has offended him by disrobing in his office.
Hey brother, have you ever once worried about whether or not your attire is “causing a sister to stumble”? Have you ever worried that people will view you as a “Jezebel” because you wore a t-shirt that showed off your biceps? Or that your topless swimming at the pool allowed a woman to see your abs? Do you honestly think that no woman is “visually stimulated” and therefore, you’re off the hook? The hypocrisy of the “modesty police” says more about the immaturity of our “man culture” than it does about the supposed semi-sluttiness of our sisters when they wear skirts that are two inches above the knee. Men, in the day of the Lord’s visitation, you aren’t going to get away with the excuse, “The women you gave us, they showed us a bit of leg, and we did lust.”
Playing like it’s the woman’s fault that a man lusts is exactly why people say stupid things like “some girls rape easy” and “guilt is not one-sided.” Think of this horrific reality in order to get a grip on the unfairness and injustice of this. Men get raped, too. They get raped by family members, by friends, and sometimes, by grown men that they don’t know. Have you ever heard of a raped man being blamed for wearing shoes that were too sexy, pants that were too tight, or because they didn’t wear a shirt while they were washing the car? Would it even cross your mind to blame the victim in this case for dressing too provocatively?
To the women: It’s not your fault that men lust. If you’re worried all the time that your attire is causing men to stumble, just know that men like hands, feet, legs, kneecaps, hair, eyes, lips… pretty much every part of a woman’s body. You cannot possibly cover it all up. (If you think that the answer to lust is longer skirts, tops that show zero cleavage, and baggy britches that don’t show curves, remember that somewhere in Yemen right now, there’s a guy who’s drooling because he saw a woman’s arm exposed below the elbow.)
Not every man out there is a lecherous devil. But men do recognize the beauty of women. Unfortunately, it seems like many evangelical men can no longer differentiate between appreciating a woman’s beauty and thinking that somehow, because you’ve shown him that beauty through an outfit, you’ve now forced him to sin against God. I’m not saying that modesty doesn’t exist. But modesty is more than the length of a skirt or the cut of a blouse, just as sanctification is more than keeping the Law.
Dear brothers, stop blaming your lust on women. Stop pretending that, if only she’d worn a higher cut blouse, you’d be fine. And for the sake of Christ, never, ever entertain — for even the briefest of moments — the notion that a woman shares the blame in a rape because she was dressed too sexily. If you come home today and there is a naked woman in your bed who isn’t your wife, and she is begging you to have sex with her, it is your fault if you do it. How much more is it the man’s fault if the woman is clothed and screaming “NO!” That someone would even entertain the idea that somehow the blame is “shared” in that situation should make us all furious.
Brothers, step back. Look to your own heart if you want to know the truth about why women are objectified, and why a women’s workout clothes reduce you to leering. Stop blaming women. Now wouldn’t be soon enough.