Modesty, Humility, and Ann Coulter--by Rebecca Merrill Groothuis
There seems to be a strange oblivion at work here. At least one fellow even suggests that Coulter’s get-up would be appropriate attire for a church service. (And to think the apostle Paul was concerned about women displaying their hair!) But how can one reasonably claim that Coulter’s pose is not immodest, I wonder? There is certainly no sense of humility in her stance. And anyone who honestly believes that the focal point of this photo is anything other than an impressive set of bosoms (even the dainty cross around her neck points like an arrow to her cleavage) simply needs to go back to their own planet.
And in what sense is Coulter’s appearance and demeanor even remotely consistent with the spirit of the exhortations given in 1 Peter 3:3-7 and 1 Timothy 2:9-10? To be sure, the cultural context of ancient Greco-Roman society is quite different from our own setting, and what appeared to be immodest and self-promoting in the New Testament churches (braided hair, gold jewelry) is not necessarily seen in the same way today. But, as with any culturally conditioned biblical text, there is nonetheless an underlying transcultural principle that the biblical writer intends to communicate to his readers. The apostle Peter speaks of women who possess an inner beauty, a gentle and quiet spirit that holds courageously to their faith and the knowledge of who they are in Christ. Such women do not feel the need to be sexually provocative in their public attire; instead, they are clothed in humility and grace—a beauty that blesses and edifies. Similarly, the apostle Paul exhorts women to dress modestly and decently and with propriety, as is appropriate for “women who profess to worship God” (just like Ann Coulter, right?). This, in Paul’s mind, stands opposed to a woman adorning and arranging herself in such a way as to attract attention to her physical assets.
Why, then, do so many women who profess to worship God dismiss the apostles’ exhortations and proceed to adorn and arrange themselves so as to tempt and attract? I believe a big part of it is simply a failure of the church as a whole to understand that to have faith in Christ and to walk in his ways is, at the very least, to be counter-cultural. Instead, the church has simply capitulated, assigning to the larger culture a moral neutrality that is entirely unwarranted and unbiblical. American culture revels in the sensual, and images of hypertrophied female sexuality are everywhere. This must be the explanation for why Coulter can rig herself up as she does and still receive the commendation of conservative Christians. In view of the nature of the multitude of images set before us every day, Coulter might even be regarded (by contrast) as refined and discreet. We have simply lost our perspective.
But I am inclined to believe there is another reason women dress provocatively—namely, the elementary law of cause and effect. B. F. Skinner set forth this basic principle some time ago. People tend to do whatever produces the desired consequences. Surely, women dress as they do for the effects it elicits: primarily, the attention and the admiration of men. I suspect that the less a woman feels sure of herself, the more she may feel inclined to clothe (or fail adequately to clothe) herself in this way. I further suspect that the more the womenfolk in conservative churches are disempowered and shunted to the sidelines of the Kingdom mission, the more they are likely to resort to the power of their female sexuality. Nonetheless, a woman who does not enjoy the lustful attention of men can easily seek to remedy this state of affairs simply by reordering her wardrobe. (I, for one, figured this out quite a few years ago.)
Speaking of lust, it strikes me as ironic that culture tends to flip-flop from one extreme to the other on this subject. In the Middle Ages (and today in the Islamic world, which is essentially medieval in perspective), any occurrence of lust was (is) routinely regarded as entirely the woman’s fault. By contrast, in American culture today, no man dares to speak of the need for women to be a bit less heedless in what they reveal of themselves publicly, lest he be branded as having a “problem” with “lust.” Well, duh. Lust is what this firestorm is all about, is it not? If there were no male lust, would women create the effect they create when they display and arrange their body parts thusly? And if they did not create this effect, would they so arrange themselves? No, and no.
A woman can set forth her feminine beauty for the world to see, without also setting off certain predictable responses. It simply goes back to the discretion and modesty enjoined of women by the New Testament writers.