… Modesty is a Virtue, and a little more of it than absolutely necessary
is better than too little
(c) 2018, Davd
BBC presenter Katty Kay is wrong, former Prime Minister Kim Campbell is right about modesty. Ms. Kay might be able to interview newsworthy persons wearing a sleeveless dress or blouse; and present news on television, sleeveless. I’m stating here that she could do it even better wearing sleeves.
Bare skin distracts from business, from work that does not involve it in a practical way. We may not need to “cover as far up” as the burka, hijab, and their male analogues cover many Muslims1; but covering our bodies and outward to the middle of our upper arms and legs, and somewhat loosely, seems to me a basic minimum of modesty. On a hot summer day when Bermuda shorts and short sleeved shirts are more comfortable than long pants and long sleeves, I’m inclined to hope that those be decent minimum modesty.
Of course, Ms. Katty Kay could plausibly claim that i am too far beneath her to understand. (Ms. Kim Campbell is above her, but also the target of her dispute — so let us look at what two longer serving women Prime Ministers have worn.)
For public working occasions, the women Prime Ministers of England and Germany nearly always wore wrist length jackets, in the photographs i found via Wikipedia2. The jackets are identifiably women’s clothing, not men’s: Dignified modesty in their dress, and consistently so. Women with power need not, and women who hold high offices consistently do not, show their bare bodies in public.
The most leading, powerful women i could quickly name, dress modestly and look comfortable dressed modestly. While the topic is before us, let’s be thorough and reverse the genders: What if men dressed less modestly?
If we imagine men news presenters wearing sleeveless T-shirts, or sleeveless robes for that matter: Would it be distracting? Very possibly. Credible? Less so than when dressed normally. The listener “has only so much attention to give”, and the wise presenter claims that attention for the subject matter — not his attire — and not her attire, in the case of sensible Prime Ministers.
(I have one photograph on file of future President Barack Obama wearing a sleeveless shirt — as one of a basketball team who are all dressed that way. Mr. Obama dressed for the occasion… and serious thinking work is no occasion for skin display3.)
If i ever make a speech sleeveless, then, it will be outdoors on a hot day4. (I can’t imagine a setting for delivering a report, that wouldn’t be shaded enough for at least short sleeves.)
(Going down-body, let’s mention two obvious anatomical issues very briefly: I won’t demand any woman wear a jock strap, and don’t no woman demand i wear a bra. In most cases, neither support garment need show.)
One book i reviewed in 2016 recounted a vignette of a decent working class man talking about distraction… and since the author was a Lesbian columnist disguised as a man, it seems very safe to trust her account as honest, and not misogynist at all.
Norah Vincent quotes Jim, one of the men with whom she bowled, saying,
I can work with an ugly chick. There’s an ugly chick works in my office with me every day and I’m fine. But every now and then there’s this hot, hot woman who comes into the office, and for the whole time she’s there I’m completely f[….]d. Everything’s out the window. I don’t get s[…] done. All I can do is stare at her like this
he made a dumbfounded expression”. [Vincent, 2006: 355]
Jim is a human being, and though a Feminist once insisted to me that men do not have nor deserve human rights, i’m of the opinion that ordinary working class American Jim, does have; and that his right to work without distraction is morally superior to any woman’s, or man’s, ‘right’ to display her or his body.
Jim, thanks for speaking up about that.
Vincent, Norah, 2006. Self Made Man: One Woman’s Year Disguised as a Man. New York: Viking Penguin.
1. I seem to notice, admittedly in photographs rather than by on-the-scene observation, that Arab Muslim men cover their bodies about as fully as do the women in the same places. Which is why Ms. Kay asking “would a burka raise my perceived IQ?” is silly. The men and women around her, from Theresa May and Janice Fiamengo to David Cameron and Jon Sopel, do not wear southern Mediterranean garb; and if she does, it will more resemble a costume party than business wear.
2. Her Majesty Elizabeth II wore what to this non-ruling class man, seemed like a ballroom long dress for her Coronation and one meeting with heads of Commonwealth governments. The etiquette involved is “over my head” in a social class sense. In most of her public photographs, she has worn wrist to elbow length sleeves.
3. There might possibly be exceptions in the practice of medicine.
4… or perhaps, extemporaneously in a locker room, something like that.
5… censored to this website’s PG-13 norm.