Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Debate of the Moment: Skirts vs. Slacks Revisited

Yes, I have written about it before but, once again, the skirts vs. slacks debate is all over the Catholic internet. People seem to get very emotional about it. I do not understand the level of ire that is expressed through the mockery of fellow Christians. If a grown woman with a fully formed conscience makes a choice to dress in a manner which she decides is conducive to fulfilling her vocation, whatever that vocation might be, then she should be at peace. Who cares what other people say? But some women seem to get so mad. If you like pants and feel comfortable in pants, then wear them. Don't rant like a feminist who feels like her rights are being threatened. No one is going to take your slacks away from you.

As for the men who feel they have to publicly tell everyone what effect seeing women in certain outfits has on them, please keep your lust (or lack thereof) to yourself. What a way to talk about your sisters in Christ! Yes, Christian women have a duty to dress modestly, although there seems to be a great deal of confusion over what exactly that entails. As I was discussing with a friend yesterday, ideas about modesty have changed over the years. It used to be considered the height of immodesty not to wear a corset. One of the reasons the English imputed immorality to the Irish was because the Irish women were corset-less. Marie-Antoinette was considered a loose woman when she went without a corset. It also used to be immodest to show one's ankles but perfectly acceptable for ladies of the world, and a matter of etiquette on formal occasions, to wear a low cut dress. Ideas of modesty have indeed changed.

As anyone can see, slacks, as long as they are not skin-tight, are certainly more modest than mini-skirts or certain revealing dresses. I understand how some people feel uncomfortable in skirts and are unable to work in them. Since I was a nun for five years in upstate New York I know how to do all kinds of work in long skirts. I have shoveled snow, scrubbed floors, climbed ladders, and gardened. However, other women who are not used to skirts or dresses might find it awkward to work in them or even go places. They might trip; it could be dangerous. The clothes have to fit the duties at hand. That's how I see it. 

Cardinal Siri, however, made some excellent points in 1960 when he composed his Notification Concerning Men's Dress Worn by Women. It is not dogma and was never even meant for public consumption but worthy of consideration nevertheless. The Cardinal did not think slacks on women were immodest but feared they were a symptom of the eventual and overall masculinization of women to the detriment of their role in the family and in society. In many ways, his words were prophetic.

More HERE and HERE.


Enbrethiliel said...


And I thought liturgical head coverings were the real emotional issue! Apparently not . . .

As far as I can tell (and I admit I haven't been looking into this very closely), this new wave started with an anti-pants article written by a man. There seems to be nothing that can make a woman more indignant than a man telling her what he thinks she should wear. ;-)

Never mind that the man actually has no power to keep her from wearing pants . . . or skirts . . . or whatever she pleases . . . Something I've learned from years of blogging is that our worst selves show up when we overreact to what others have written.

Coffee Catholic said...

"If a grown woman with a fully formed conscience makes a choice to dress in a manner which she decides is conducive to fulfilling her vocation, whatever that vocation might be, then she should be at peace. Who cares what other people say?"

Exactly! Besides, we know what is modest and immodest in our respective cultures ~ so why the continuing bruhaha?? It's not rocket science.

"The Cardinal did not think slacks on women were immodest but feared they were a symptom of the eventual and overall masculinization of women to the detriment of their role in the family and in society. In many ways, his words were prophetic."

Indeed. But if you dare mention this you end up burned at the stake. What a hyper-sensative ninny culture we live in today. There seems to be too much loving and serving of tender feeeeeeeelings rather then God.

Coffee Catholic said...

"As for the men who feel they have to publicly tell everyone what effect seeing women in certain outfits has on them, .... Yes, Christian women have a duty to dress modestly,"

And Christian men have a duty to avert their eyes! If a guy is noticing a woman's lack of modesty to the point that he's experiencing a reaction then he's obviously been gawking too much!!

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, ladies. I do not understand, if a woman is secure with herself and her choice of clothing, why she would even care what some strange man would say, especially when he was speaking generally, not personally to her. It shows that some women still care too much about what men think, men whom they do not even know.

SF said...

Elena, excellent piece.

R J said...

Here's an odd thing. Never have I seen cyberspatial discussion on this issue begun by anyone except an American. (And in nine-tenths of cases, an American male at that.)

Since I know well a number of people who go to SSPX Masses in Australia on every Sunday and most Holy Days of Obligation, you might think that just on the law of averages, I would've encountered anti-slacks obsessives there. But I haven't. Not once.

As a non-American myself, I can't help wondering. Is this whole business a residue of New England Puritanism, even if it's occurring within the Catholic Church? Are anti-slacks obsessives somehow channeling the Salem witch-hunts and Nathaniel Hawthorne's villains? Your guess is undoubtedly better than mine.

Please understand, I am not saying that traditional Australian Catholic ladies are remotely immodest in their attire. The contrary is true. Whether they attend SSPX Masses or diocesan Latin Masses, their dress is completely dignified (though the SSPX is stringent about imposing head-coverings; the diocesan priests leave such coverings optional). It's just that the pants-versus-skirts thing doesn't preoccupy - or, to my knowledge, even interest - the Latin Mass Catholics, lay or clerical, in this country.

Meanwhile, as for Europe, here is Saint Gianna Molla looking entirely respectable in ... what appear to be slacks:

And no, a picture like this inspires in me, a mere male, no carnal desire whatever. If it did, I would immediately report myself to the police. Maybe the lack of a police presence is what is permitting certain males to get all fired up.

Archduchess Maria Carollton said...

Excellent and witty post, Elena!

It is sad and damaging to judge another based on dress. I like your comment telling men to keep their thoughts to themselves!!

I prefer a modest look myself.

The truth remains that only God knows the heart.

Mercury said...

I think most women were offended by the argument:

1. Catholics should dress modestly
2. pants are immodest on women
3. therefore Catholic women should not wear pants

Which is frankly logically fallacious. Then the discussion generated into women trying to "justify" their pants-wearing, as if they had to justify anything in the first place, since most of them were born into a culture where pants are part of the female wardrobe. Or the 'skirts are holier and more feminine, so you *could* wear pants, but Christ wants us to do more than the bare minimum, so wearing skirts is objectively better' argument, which is also logically flawed and insidiously judgmental.

The funny thing is, I agree that women look nicer in skirts, and I'd like to see them more. I've read Cardinal Siri's points, which are food for thought to be considered from a good man, but at the end of the day it's an opinion, and any person is totally free to disagree or even disregard it. I think she ship has sailed anyway, since like I said, most of us have been born after the original 'debate,' if there ever really was one (little old pious ladies looove pants, haha)

Dymphna said...

I don't understand the rage either. It makes me a bit sad. Pants is the big topic that enflames Catholic people? Pants? How small. said...

Well said, Elena Maria! I had just shared this very issue with my dear husband. It saddens me to no end to see that my sisters in Christ will still continue to attack one another for pants vs. skirts, veiling vs. not, SAHM vs. working outside the home mom, nursing vs. formula, co-sleeping vs. cribs...need I say more? As you've stated so eloquently, there is a deep-seated insecurity at the heart of these attacks. And as my husband says regarding the gents "chiming in": "These guys obviously don't have enough to do...they need to focus their energies on their own wives and daughters and leave everyone else's alone!" Thank you for adding a little sense to the nonsensical!

Suzanne said...

I agree with almost everything you've said, but I'm not sure I understand why you feel it is inappropriate for a man to say that particular forms of clothing cause men to struggle with purity. The article being responded to was written in a rather condescending tone and was off-putting, and he was certainly better ignored than responded to. (I can just imagine men who think like that would respond by saying: "She sounds as though she wears pants!")

However, I believe that one of the greatest blind spots for women in the quest for modesty is not ever being able to ourselves as men see us. We are very, very naive in a lot of ways -- blessedly so. I don't think any Catholic man on the street should just pontificate on the topic, but I think men like priests and bishops are well suited to giving modesty guidelines. By virtue of hearing confessions and giving spiritual direction, they are better able to sort through what is particular to isolated individuals whose struggle is more of an aberration than the norm.

Suzanne said...

Wait -- re-read, got it -- disregard previous comment! ;)

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Susan!

Rob, we Americans must seem SO strange to everyone else!

Thank you so much, Archduchess, and yes we must remember that only God sees the heart.

Mercury, thanks for the explanation.

Yes, Dymphna, it is small and sad.

Thank you, Kimberly!

Suzanne, I think men should be able to have a say, but in some of the comboxes they go a bit overboard in picking women apart. I do think it appropriate that we receive guidance from our priests and bishops in these matters. The lack of consistent moral guidance from our prelates is why there is so much confusion and so many self-appointed fashion police.

Alexandra said...

"A symptom" and a reflection of our changing roles, but why must we become more like men(adopting their clothing) to be equal? That I never got.

When I worked outside the home we were required to wear skirts or dresses - professional wear. I think it has changed a bit with the newer generation of women, and they have relaxed these rules. Pretty soon people will be showing up to work in flip flops and shorts. ;)

Athanasius said...


As a man, I tire of the claim that women must wear skirts/dresses because men can't help but look. I'm sorry, but that line of argument comes only from the effeminate and demeans real men. We do not have to look. We are human beings with God-given free will with the ability to rise above our inclinations. I used to manage retail, and there were all kinds of women with tight pants and tight shirts, I just didn't look because I'm a man and not a pervert, I don't have time for that. Our Sacred Redeemer did not shed every last drop of His blood on the cross so I can sit there and say "oh, but I can't help it" [violin playing] There is still damnation on the day of judgment for my actual sins!

On the one hand it is more feminine for women to wear dresses and skirts, but as Cardinal Siri said, "If women can wear pants modestly they should wear them modestly." A lesser good is not an evil, and there are times that pants are more appropriate such as doing yardwork, or going to the grocery store with 3 or 4 kids on a windy day, and things of that sort.

Men freaking out about pants and feminism often fail to realize, it is because they allowed (and in many cases such as pinup girls, it was men who brought them into being) it to happen. If men were men feminism could never be attractive to most women.

Athanasius said...

It could also be added that objectively, an argument for men to wear pants is an argument for women to wear them.

In the Greco-Roman world, (not to mention the near east) men did not wear pants, they wore tunics and the upper classes wore togas. Celts and Germans, or Skythians and those considered to be "barbarians" wore pants, and wearing pants was seen as an uncouth thing. The emperor Caracalla for instance was made fun of for wearing celtic breeches.

For my own part, after doing roman re-enactments I became partial to that view, although I can't practice it since it would be immodest with respect to our culture that demands men wear trousers.

elena maria vidal said...

Exactly, Alexandra, I do not see how women are considered to be more "liberated" when they adopt male characteristics. True freedom is being able to be the self that God created you to be.

I agree, Athanasius. I don't know where this idea came that men are at the mercy of their bodies and have little or no self-control. Self-control is a sign of genuine virility as far as I am concerned, and what it means to be a soldier of Christ.

On the other hand, women have to keep in mind that it is natural for men to notice if women are pretty or not. It is God's way of insuring that there will be future generations. For that reason, women should not go out of their way to tempt men in order to tease them or cause them to fall. That is also wrong.

Coffee Catholic said...

I read the original web page that sparked this debate. "Ladies, please, discard your pants" it begins and then lists several reasons why this opinion was offered.

It's no big deal! And by no means some kind of control freak Taliban radical craziness. But the Feminist style over-the-top backlash certainly is craziness.

I think the Catholic blogosphere needs to calm down and keep things in perspective. Or at least post calmly like this blog has done.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you, Coffee. I don't understand the hysteria generated by that article.

Mercury said...

"I don't know where this idea came that men are at the mercy of their bodies and have little or no self-control."

I think it's an easy idea to fall into by taking ONE of the functions of modesty to an extreme. Muslims believe this, as do Calvinists.

Coffee and Elena ... I don't think it was a feminine-style backlash. I think Simcha mentioned that she did the 'only skirts' thing for a while and it was spiritually harmful for her because it led to a certain rigidity and judgmentalism. This is a HUGE temptation for the 'skirts are superior' crowd.

And like Is aid, she was reacting to the tone of the the article, which I think was insulting. It also more or less imputed sin to women who wear pants. I think people should react strongly when people start ascribing sin where there is NONE. Many women (and men) have been hurt by that mindset, regardless of the issue.

elena maria vidal said...

Hi, Mercury, thank you for returning. Yes, it is upsetting to be falsely accused of a sin. It has happened to me many times. When falsely accused of a sin it is good to look at the great saints who were falsely accused, such as St. Teresa of Avila, St. Gerard Majella, Blessed Mary of Jesus, St. Pio. They did not rant and rave and protest their innocence but prayed for those who falsely accused them. Most of all, we have the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who "opened not his mouth" when led like a sheep to the slaughter. I wish that I had always followed His example when in a difficult place but I have not.

We cannot let others make us feel guilty if we are innocent. And no one can make us feel inferior without our permission.

Seriously, even if I were to think that the pants-wearing ladies were sinners and that I was somehow superior to them because of my high-minded choice of dress(which I DON'T), why should they care? We each answer to God; He is the judge. We should not worry overmuch about what others think of us. To do so is human respect, which can be a weight on a vibrant spiritual life.

Anyway, let's all just go easier on each other and not be so quick to impute faults (and sins) to others as we all struggle along the same path to eternity.

Mercury said...

Wow, Elena, what a great response. My, how we all fall short.

elena maria vidal said...

Why, thank you, Mercury. Yes, we do. May God have mercy on us!

Aron said...

Hi Elena,
I must say I don't really understand the debate...but maybe that is because I am a man? I've always liked the look of a skirt on a woman more--but not in um, "that" way. It just looks nicer IMHO. But that's merely my opinion, and they both cover and they both look nice. Or can.
It seems kind of mean to carp so. I think it is REALLY neat that you were once a nun, Elena! What kind of nun, if it's not too personal a question? I've always thought nuns were cool. There is a nun who lives here in my apartment building--full dark blue habit and all. I always feel very...peaceful...when I see her. :) <><

elena maria vidal said...

Hi, Aron. I was honored to be a novice with the Discalced Carmelite nuns. "Discalced" means "unshod" so we wore sandles even in the winter. It is a penitential order so we also slept on boards and abstained from meat. I was very happy there but it was not to be my vocation.