Don’t look at me
Raising children to believe in anything teaches them to believe in nothing
Imagine this scenario:
A parochial high school offers an optional, recreational program for its students. As a precondition, the school issues a dress code for all participants. The school announces plans to provide, at its own expense, a means for bringing into compliance those students who arrive in violation of the dress code, rather than simply refusing them entry to the event.
In response, a number of parents and students protest the school’s offensive and humiliating pronouncement. The school administration apologizes and walks back its intended enforcement policy.
And yes, it’s all true.
It happened last month at a Catholic school in Dearborn, Michigan. The event was the school prom. The dress code prohibited plunging necklines and cut-outs below the bust-line.
The alternative offered was a “modesty poncho,” to be handed out be teachers who noticed girls suggestively under-clad. And the protesters accused the school of “body shaming.”
There are so many things going wrong in this picture it’s hard to know where to begin.
But let’s start at the beginning. This is a Catholic school. The entire reason for its existence is to teach and instill Catholic values. One of those values is modesty and the essential inner worth of every human being irrespective of physical attractiveness or attributes.
Parents and students who choose such a school are – or should be – invested in those selfsame values. If not, there are plenty of other schools, many with lower tuition fees. It’s bad enough to engage in hypocrisy. But demanding hypocrisy from others is logically and morally twisted.
By what distorted reasoning does one argue against a religious school’s prerogative to uphold its own religious standards? Aside from the issue of modesty itself, this kind of moral equivocation teaches children that rules are made to be broken and that values are meaningless.
The ponchos may not have been the height of fashion, but there was nothing aggressively unattractive about them. Far from being shameful, the ponchos mitigated the need for imposing even more profound mortification. By providing students with an alternative, the administration offered a countermeasure to students flouting school policy so it would not have to turn them away from their own prom.
By caving in to pressure, the administration reinforced the popular attitude that everyone is entitled to whatever he or she wants, and that if you complain loudly enough you will get it.
But there is an even deeper, more perverse irony to this story.
A SLAVE TO FASHION?
Since the feminist movement begin in the 1960s, women have fought against a male-dominated culture that objectified women and degraded them as sex objects.
And women were right to do so. Every human being should be valued primarily for his or her character and positive contribution to community, society, and the world. Human nature may incline us toward physical attractiveness. But human reason and human nobility inform us that external beauty is a poor substitute for internal quality.
This is not a debate about rights. In a free society, people have the choice to dress as they please – within the boundaries of basic decency. But when a woman dresses suggestively, in a style intended to focus male attention on her own sexuality, she has no right to blame men for objectifying her. With her choice of attire, she does a better job than any man could of objectifying herself.
In his paean to the woman of valor, King Solomon declares, Strength and dignity were her garments and, smiling, she faced the final day.
Cosmetic surgery and Botox injections aside, it is a fact of life that physical beauty fades with age. However, by choosing to conduct ourselves with grace and dignity, with self-restraint and self-discipline, we can’t help but earn respect from everyone we encounter and remain esteemed in their eyes to the end of our days.
Do we want anything less for our children? Isn’t that the message we should be teaching them?
Published in Jewish World Review