The old debate of what is appropriate for women to wear around men has once again been making waves on social media; questions of modesty and protecting men from their own uncontrollable thoughts, that whole ball of yarn, all because of the popularity of what may be the most comfortable article of clothing known to man – I mean, woman – namely: yoga pants.
My thoughts on the matter are quite extensive, apparent by the shameful length of this post, so for those who would prefer to read the abbreviated version, I have created this eye-catching summary:
And now, for those of you with a more robust appetite for words, here is my elaboration on the topic:
I, like all heterosexual men, am attracted to women, and I am done feeling ashamed of it. I actually think it’s a good thing.
What attracts men to women? Basically, everything that makes a woman different from a man is attractive to us, such as:
- her body: her lines and curves, the softness of her skin, her fascinating breasts, her hips and butt, the mystery of her pubic area, but also the timbre of her voice, the slightly different construction of her face
- her femininity: the way she moves, the way she thinks, the way she uses makeup, what she does with her hair, the way she dresses, pretty much everything she does that is perceived as feminine (as opposed to masculine)
- her mind: this may not be that different from a man’s mind, but the otherness of it itself is very attractive.
I’m not interested in debating how many of the behaviors labelled as feminine are a product of our culture versus true femininity in this particular post. The point is, whether inherent or learned, a woman’s femininity is attractive to hetero men. Everything about them is attractive to those men. That’s just the way they’re wired. Speaking from personal experience anyway, that is the way it is for this particular hetero man.
This understanding also allows me to imagine what it must be like for women to be attracted to other women, or men to be attracted to other men. Like it or not, relate to it or not, it’s simply the way they’re wired too. This post happens to be about hetero men.
Biologically speaking, it’s a great thing that men have been attracted to women, and vice versa: it has sure made the continuation of the species much less of a chore!
Except when men allow their attraction to women to consume them to the point of disrespecting women. Then everything gets complicated. To me it comes down to a lack of impulse control (self-control). The fact is: anyone who struggles with controlling their impulses is difficult to live with.
The ability to control one’s self is something that all humans are taught from an early age, to varying degrees. For example, as children we’re taught that taking things that aren’t ours is wrong and shouldn’t be done. And so, even though we very much want the thing that belongs to someone else, we learn to control that thought so that we don’t act on it by taking what isn’t ours. Whether by our obedience to our understanding of morality, our sense of right and wrong, our fear of negative consequences, or our ability to empathize with the other person by exploring how we would feel in their position, whatever the motivation behind it, we learn to control our impulse to act on many different thoughts and desires.
We don’t take what belongs to someone else.
We don’t hit others when they don’t do what we want.
We don’t yell at them when they don’t agree with us.
We don’t color on the walls.
We don’t cut up our clothes.
And the list goes on and on. We learn to control a long list of impulses.
We’ve seen it over and over with each of our six children. They want to do something. They do it. We, their parents, inform them that it isn’t ok to do it. We explain why. We enforce some kind of consequence when necessary (not often in our case as we believe that there are plenty of effective consequences that occur naturally without the need for us to create more, adding injury to injury). Notice that we never tell them that it’s bad for them to want to do those things. It is only mean or hurtful (we don’t use the word “bad” – it’s too vague) to actually do them.
Our hope is that by the time they are adults, they will be able to make choices not only based on a sense of right and wrong, or the fear of possible consequences, but most importantly on how they affect those around them. That they will see those people in their lives as full-fledged people with feelings of their own, thoughts, and dreams, and hopes too, and rights, and boundaries; that they will see them as people deserving the same level of respect that they demand for themselves. Shoot, we hope that this happens by the time they’re teenagers. The sooner the better. And we see moments when they do, even when they are much younger. When they’re 2 and they realize that they actually disappointed their parent, or at 7 when they are suddenly horrified at the thought that they wanted to hurt someone.
Back to how awesome it is that men are attracted to women. I maintain that it is. And I would say that most of our culture thinks so too, based on how much that thought is exploited in advertising left and right. Unfortunately, men also hear the message over and over that they are unable to control themselves around women. Therefore the underlying message is that men are granted carte blanche to act anyway they want toward women. One can easily imagine the horrible outcomes that this theory will naturally lead to.
The solution to this supposed male deficiency is to put the responsibility squarely on women’s shoulders to make sure that they’re not causing men to disrespect them. Because men can’t help it. But therein lies the obvious flaw: if men can’t help it, then there’s nothing that women can do to stop men from abusing women. Because that’s where the thoughts and desires without impulse control lead: to abuse. At the very minimum, to misogyny: if men desire women uncontrollably, how could they possibly think about anything else regarding women than that they exist for male pleasure?
Which brings me to yoga pants. They are currently in the spot light of the discussion on how women can help support their fellow weaker humans by not wearing alluring clothing. Yoga pants are the new mini skirt. I don’t know that anyone has clearly spelled it out just yet, but my understanding is that if a man sees a woman in yoga pants, then he won’t be able to control himself. So a woman who is wearing yoga pants is asking for it. “It” being anything from disrespect, to ogling, to harassment, to being groped, to rape. It’s the same familiar story, different item of clothing. Notice what hasn’t changed? Women are still held responsible for men’s thoughts and actions. Men are held responsible for nothing. Because they can’t help it.
I am a man and I like yoga pants. On women – I might like them on me but I haven’t tried them, so I don’t know. But this guy does… Also, I like short skirts. I like tight jeans. I like plunging necklines. I like anything that reminds me of how much I am attracted to women. Because, remember, I’m wired that way. Let me take this a step further: because I am attracted to women, I pretty much like anything a woman wears and anything a woman does that I perceive as feminine, and I especially like it when a woman gives me the time of day. Believe it or not, I am attracted to women in long skirts too, and pantsuits, and loose fitting clothes, and even a burqa, because I am attracted to women, not the clothes they wear. If I want to think about a woman’s body, I will. I will regardless of what she’s wearing. I will regardless of how intelligent her conversation.
I will, unless I choose not to.
Because respecting women is a choice.
And every time that I am around women, it is a choice that I have to make. I have to choose whether I will focus on how attracted I am to her, or on the whole person that she is.
Just like every time I go to the grocery store, I choose not to shoplift my favorite fair trade chocolate bar. I did once, actually; I was a kid and it wasn’t fair trade, but I managed to sneak a chocolate bar out of the grocery store and I got away with it, even though I got stopped at the register and my school bag was searched. Shoplifting isn’t really a problem for me, probably because I have exercised a lot of self control over a long period of time (and the memory of when I did it once is still terrifying – plus, I still have guilt over it), so it’s not really a temptation any more. I believe that the same is possible for men respecting women. If every time a man saw a woman he decided to
notice her yoga pants, check out her ass, assess how big her rack is, figure out how to get her in bed, treat her with the respect she deserves as a fellow human being, as a whole person, with her own mind, thoughts, dreams, aspirations, talents, and flaws and insecurities, then it would only be a matter of time before this new way of relating to women became natural, and objectifying them wouldn’t really be a problem anymore.
I know it can be done. I know because I have at times struggled with it, where my default reaction to women has been to assess how sexy they are. Honestly, it feels good to think that all the people I’m attracted to are there for my pleasure. Except for the part where it’s a lie and I then struggle to relate to them as people, to look them in the eye and acknowledge that they are more than the sum of their sexy bits. It simply can’t be both: they can’t be sexual objects and people at the same time. And I then realize that not only am I dehumanizing them, I am dehumanizing myself, and limiting the true, meaningful and beautiful relationships I could develop with these fellow human beings because I think like an animal in heat around them.
The problem isn’t yoga pants, or any other article of clothing; the problem is me. Every so often, I have to intentionally change the way I think around women, so that we can relate once more on a higher level than sexual predator and prey, a level based on equality and respect.
Men can re-train their mind to value women as persons instead of objects of desire for their personal enjoyment – in spite of what advertisement campaigns, and mainstream porn, and our general culture (and the Christian sub-culture) claim to be true.
The problem isn’t yoga pants. Nor are men’s thoughts women’s responsibility.
Women should be offered the respect they deserve as fellow human beings regardless of what they wear, and therefore should have complete freedom to decide what they wear based on their own taste and comfort.
At the time of this post, Jeremy had 6 children, all girls, between the ages of 2 and 16, and has been happily married for 18 years.