Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Modest Non-Proposal

Warning: Do not click on any of the links in this piece, unless you are prepared to be offended.  No, not even kidding.  Caveat lector, and all that.

The other day a friend of mine on Facebook (where else does one read the latest news, hm?) posted a piece on Tina Korbe.  Who is Tina Korbe?  Well, Tina Korbe is a lovely young lady who interviewed Rick Santorum at CPAC.  Go ahead and watch the video—the first thirty seconds, anyway.

That's right, Tina Korbe is a lovely young lady.  And her skirt is too short for her.  I'm not judging her—just making a statement.  Even Tina thinks her skirt is too short for her, because right there at the beginning she makes a vain effort to tug it down.

Now the post I read was by another woman, Katie Pavlich, who was defending Tina's ability as a reporter (though not necessarily the wisdom of her choice of attire) against a fellow conservative.  As Ms. Pavlich notes, this is not the first time that she has defended an attractive young lady up on the charge of being getting ahead on her looks.

I thought Ms. Pavlich (who is, judging from the head shot by her byline, rather attractive herself) was being a little strident.  Then I read the original pieces on Tina and on the other young lady, Michelle Fields, and I was shocked.  Then I clicked on some of the links in those original pieces, and was disgusted.

Of course women have no business dressing like escapees from the seamier sort of movie set.  What one writer referred to as "the Jersey Shore-ification of Our Young People" disturbs me; and I don't think I'm disturbed out of mere fuddy-duddyism, because I'm a young people myself.  (Possibly even an attractive young people.  Sorry, no head shots provided.)  Our culture is ick, and the way some young women sometimes dress is part of that ickyness.  But I don't think it helps matters when people use slang words traditionally reserved for women who earn their living by immoral means to delineate the problem.

In an age of politically correct language, when the prescribed mode for discussing sin presumes an atmosphere of rose grey tolerance, we the politically incorrect are frequently tempted to mistake offensiveness for frankness, and vulgarity for honesty.  "Mistake" I said; and it is a mistake, on many levels.

Using crude epithets to describe your opponents is rarely productive.  Name calling—however accurate or well-deserved you may think the names—doesn't just lose you any chance you might have had of changing your opponents' minds: it also tends, after a certain point, to alienate some of your own choir.  If your intention is to outrage and offend—then by all means, call names.  Otherwise, this is another of those behaviors falling into the category of what my heroine General Anna would call lousy strategy.

Calling names is also distinctly uncharitable. It is tempting to assume that every woman who dresses up like Carmen is on the lookout for Don Jose, and should be slapped on the wrist accordingly.  Would that life were that simple.  Ms. Carmen is as often as not no worse than a Mrs. Jose wannabe with a heart of Michaela.  Twenty years ago this wasn't true.  But twenty years ago, parents dressed their toddlers differently.

Finally, using gutter language to describe gutter behavior is in itself immodest.  Think about it.  Men are visual beings, and easily make associations and are tempted by what they see.  Women are more tuned to language and things that they hear—and make associations based on those things.  Think about that, gentlemen, the next time you use language in front of a woman.

I've known women to respond to the male name-calling by insisting that the problem with immodesty is a male problem, that men need to stop viewing women as objects, stop caring about the way they dress.  Maybe this will be a practical suggestion with the advent of the Singularity or some other human-nature-altering cosmic event.  Until then, I submit that telling men to stop caring about how women dress is as pointless as it is naive.  Men can't not care.  But they can care in a way that acknowledges women's fundamental dignity rather than focusing on their bad choices and on men's own fundamental weakness.

We women don't need rules to tell us how to dress.  (Indeed, most rules, like the Sleeveless Rule, are entertaining at best and obnoxious at worst.)  We need instincts—instincts like shame and self-respect, innate instincts that once upon a time were strengthened and refined by our parents, teachers, and peers, and are now undermined by them.  I can't tell you how we are going to get those instincts back—I suspect there is no short cut, and the loss of those instincts, like every other decline in national decency, will be repaired only slowly as—and if—the culture is healed, over perhaps a hundred years.  But if any lady or gentleman does have a short cut, by all means let me know.

Just ... keep it clean.  For my sake.

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