“Gender Equal” Modesty Standards?

 (They’re going to be much easier for us men)

(c) 2012, Davd

One of the news stories that prompted me to think about this topic, involved an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police “exposing himself” to someone—i do not have notes to the effect that the someone was female or junior to him in rank, but that seems the most plausible guess and is consistent with my general recollection of the story. The story reached me via C.B.C. Radio and its tone indicated that the act of “exposing himself” was considered criminal in seriousness (whether or not it was criminal by statute or could be punished as criminal, was not clear) as well as highly shameful.

It seems safe to infer that he did not expose his abdomen, back, nor one or both of his elbows, feet, forearms, knees, lower legs, or even buttocks. (“Mooning”, or exposing one’s buttocks to other than a medical examination 1, is generally regarded as rude, stupid, gross, occasionally even obscene—but “Criminally shameful”?—not by most people.) As for his face and hands, failure to expose those to others is treated as suspicious conduct excepting when protective gear [work gloves, a welder’s mask] cover them, or on Hallowe’en.

The phrase was, and i suppose still is “a euphemism for displaying the reproductive organs”, and given human male anatomy, the penis [phallus] is implied2.

It is instructive to compare the Canadian government radio service’s disapproval of a man exposing his penis with the license given to women to expose their breasts. (The term “reproductive organs” includes female breasts, whose function [lactation] is plainly reproductive; but not men’s bare chests, which have no such function. This is consistent with pre-1970 standards of modesty at public swimming beaches in most of North America and Europe3, and with their respective sexual attraction and display effects.)

If you receive advertising “flyers”, you can probably clip a dozen advertising photographs of “bosom cleavage” in a typical week. “Slut walks”, i have heard, sometimes expose more. There is little doubt, given the posing and advertising context of such photographs, that the breasts thus [usually partially] exposed are intended to be seen as sexually attractive in adult context, not as “about to feed an infant.”4

The models in those advertisements, and women who show off their bosoms in public, are seldom described as “exposing themselves”; and this differential treatment of the sexes should be remedied. Breasts and phalli are the protuberant reproductive organs of the two sexes. They can readily be covered by modest clothing; and indeed, any clothing which “shows off” either, whether covered or bare, is more complicated, less easily made, (and usually rather more expensive) than more modest attire.

Personally, i disapprove of cross-sex exposure of reproductive organs to strangers and to friends who fail to meet the “Kibbutz-sauna criterion”5. Modesty should be the normal way of dressing, for both sexes; and such extremes as “slut walks” should be treated as disruptive lewdness—more or less as the [inferentially, phallic] display by the now-shamed “Mountie” was treated.

While i have no citation-grade evidence that the shamed “Mountie” exposed his genital[s] intending to recruit some sexual “action”, that seemed to be the reason that the exposure was deemed shameful. Fair enough—if the opprobrium-sauce for the gander, is also sauce for the goose. Let the standards of modesty implied in that news story, apply to both sexes, in general: Keep your reproductive organs covered and relatively inconspicuous, when in public—whichever sex you are.

This general principle of modesty has implications for questions of sexual consent, and significant potential to reduce the scope, frequency, and harmful effects of false accusations of sexual harassment and “assault”. The “Mountie” being shamed by Canadian government radio, was implied to be showing his sex organ[s] in hopes of using them for pleasure with the [woman?] he showed them to. That seems, actually, to be quite a reasonable implication: When people show off their reproductive organs, they do so to “recruit some sexual fun”. People who are of the same sex as ganders, are often punished for doing this. It’s time that sauce for the gander, became sauce for the goose, but not always in the form of punishment—indeed, fairly often in the form of decisions not to punish.

When a woman [or a man] displays her sexuality, by the above “general inference”, she [or he] is looking for sexual activity. This is what boys and young men “hanging out at street corners” have inferred for a century at least. Before the confusion that came with Feminism, their usual response to immodestly “sexy” clothing on a female body “with something worth showing-off”, was a peculiar, well-known whistle 2-3 “syllables” in length, sometimes called “the wolf whistle”.6

That whistle was a good form of communication, actually: It acknowledged:

  • that the recipient was attractive;

  • that she was “showing it off”;

  • that the whistler was somewhat interested in pursuing the implied offer of sexual fun.

If the recipient did not respond to the whistle, that, nearly always, was the end of the matter: Her attractiveness had been acknowledged, she had been told she was “showing it off”, she had been given a vague offer to “put it into action”, and her refusal to respond had been accepted as indicating that the whistler was not invited to “provide the action”.

It was generally agreed among the many men i knew back then, that apart from sarcasm or on rare occasions, chivalrous compliments to a friend; one did not whistle at modestly dressed nor at unattractive women.

Women who did not want to be whistled-at, could simply dress modestly—and in those days, very many of them did. The whistle served as a notice to women, and a warning to those who were not knowingly “showing it off”, that they were distracting the males of their species by their sexual display—and while the whistle itself did not assume consent to even a kiss, it did serve as notice and warning. (It also served, of course, as a statement of vague interest with which a woman who was “showing it off” intending to “put it into action”, could connect first verbally and thereafter, “if things went well”, bodily.)

Men are entitled under principles of equality, to give notice and warning to women, that their sexual display is distracting; as women are entitled to give notice and warning to men, that their use of innuendo [or on what still are quite rare occasions, their sexual display] is distracting. Both sexes are entitled to say “follow it up or shut it down”, or alternatively, “I don’t play those games and I don’t want to have them advertised to me.”

Now, suppose a woman shows off her attractiveness, and a man shows interest, and she responds so as to encourage that interest. “Sex play” has begun; and erotic play is how the process that leads to intercourse, normally begins. People who want to be erotically playful but stop short of intercourse, should say “how far they want to go”, clearly, long before the erotic parts of the body, those normally covered by modest people, have been exposed…

… and immodest dress makes that, uh, rather more difficult. Even immodest posture, movements and speech make it [more subtly but still] significantly more difficult.

When a way of dressing, or walking, or talking, is called “suggestive”—what else do you suppose it was suggesting? And once that has been suggested, any responses to the suggestion have a quite different context and thereby, a different moral tone from what the same acts would have if instead of responding to suggestiveness, they were imposed on a modest person.

If a woman accuses a man of sexual harassment and it becomes evident that she was immodest in dress or conduct before the alleged harassment—that mitigates or forestalls any finding against him. Any process of sexual play with increasing mutual arousal, entails increasingly strong implied consent to “go all the way”. It may be fair to place the burden of proof of consent, on a man who accosts a modest woman with sexual propositions. To the extent that a woman is showing-off her sexuality, though, the burden of proof rests more appropriately on her: She could have dressed and behaved modestly; she chose not to; and immodest dress and conduct imply sexual interest (but leave unanswered the question, “in whom?”) If a man responds to the display and his interest is unwelcome, the response is normal; and thus, the woman who has put herself on display has the greater responsibility (to tell him if he is not appealing enough to her.)7 Avoiding the arousal of interest in strangers one does not wish to “play with” is indeed an important reason for modesty.

To refer to a Feminist catch-phrase, “Silence Means No” is reasonable when the silent woman [or man] is modest in dress and conduct; it is tendentious to the point of some abuse if she is immodest. That “Mountie” had no proper business showing his reproductive organ[s] to a colleague in a work setting—unless, of course, she had been showing off hers to him shortly beforehand, or making sexual innuendos in words. “Gender equality” in standards of modesty, is only fair—and in the interests of social harmony and attention to the many other, more practical matters that take far more of a normal person’s time than sex, the standards should specify that “showing it off” is proper only in situations where “putting it into action” is acceptable.

From what i see and read, most men will find this standard easy to keep. Many women—i will not try to specify a percentage—will find it restrictive.   Fair enough:  Sexual invitations should be restricted to situations where they can be followed-up-on; and sexual display is an implicit invitation.



1. Toilet seats cannot see. Parents can [and should] spank covered buttocks rather than bare them.

2. Displaying the testes without displaying the penis would be complicated, difficult, (and absurd.)

3. A few “nude beaches” did exist in the first two-thirds of the 20th Century; i do not recall if Vancouver’s Wreck Beach and Tower Beach were “clothing optional” that early. On Wreck and Tower beaches, both men and women were at liberty to expose their bodies as much as they chose-to.

4. “For that matter,” infants can be breast-fed without exposing the breasts involved.

5. Kibbuzniks have reported that people with whom one was potty-trained in the communal nursery-school, are not sexually attracted by nor attractive to one; thus showing some of the social-psychological mechanism[s] by which the “incest tabu” develops. Finnish families go to sauna together, entirely naked [it’s much easier to wash your body when it is naked, and the cleansing and healthful values of sweating before soaping-and-rinsing, are better enjoyed without clothing on]. Who goes in together? parents and children who they have toilet-trained, siblings who have lived together since the younger of them was a tiny baby.

6. Wolves, of course, do not whistle. They are candid about their sexual intentions on those rather rare occasions when they have any, and more faithful to their mates than [on average] are humans (Mowat, Farley, 1963. Never Cry Wolf. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart.)

7. The same applies, of course, to a man who is showing-off his sexuality. Homosexual interest is more problematic, since the norm, the predominant pattern in our species, is disinterest in the sexual displays of our own sex. If a modestly dressed heterosexual woman takes any interest in another woman “showing it off”, that interest is likely to be critical, or perhaps curiosity as to how any men present, respond.


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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
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