Is Shaming a Good Parenting Technique?

By: hawkgrrrl
September 17, 2013

Best dad ever or slut-shaming misogynist? You decide!

The Deseret News posted an interesting article about a father (Mackintosh, right) who didn’t like the shorts his daughter was wearing, so he cut some of his own pants to mimic hers and wore them in public. [1] This act was sufficiently lauded to be featured in the Deseret News, but then it also got picked up nationally last week.  The daughter is nineteen years old, and while the father lives in Utah, no religious affiliation was specified by the article. [2]

This article sparked controversy.  Some said he was a great dad for teaching his daughter this important lesson.  Others said that this is slut-shaming.  Here’s what daughter Myley said:

“My mom told me to change my ‘slutty’ shorts before we went to dinner.  I said no. So my dad cut his jeans to fit in. We went to dinner and then mini golf like this.”

Regardless of whether the father was slut-shaming, the mother clearly needs to wash her mouth out with soap if Myley’s account is accurate.  Here’s what the father said about the incident:

“Instead of turning her response and disrespectful attitude into a major battle, I decided to make a ‘small’ statement on how her short-shorts maybe aren’t as ‘cute’ as she thinks!  . . . I don’t think my object lesson of ‘modest is hottest’ made the statement I had intended. But no matter if social media gets the story mixed up and twisted, my daughter will always know that her dad loves her and cares about her enough to make a fool out of himself.”

“I was absolutely going for shock value and embarrassment,” Mackintosh said on Friday’sToday show.

Daughter Myley, age 19, who wants to wear what she wants to wear.

What was he thinking?  On his wife’s blog, the father explained his views on why the shorts were unacceptable:

“I know the world has varying degrees of what is modest and what is not when it comes to clothing. In our family we have pretty definite modesty guidelines; No mid-drift [sic] or low-cut shirts, no short-shorts, short skirts and we even go as far as saying no sleeveless shirts unless playing sports or on the beach. Having raised four daughters and three sons, I’m a bit protective. Some may call me old fashion [sic], but I call it “A Dad who loves his daughters” (and sons too) I know some of you may be rolling your eyes and that’s okay, my daughter does it all the time. I’m a firm believer that the way we dress sends messages about us, and it influences the way we and others act.”

If you had any doubts that the guy is Mormon (hello:  “modest is hottest,” no sleeveless shirts except for sports, and object lessons), I’ll just add that he has also 7 kids.  An article in Yahoo! News noted that other parenting efforts in this vein recently have included the following:

California mom Frances Hena, who punished her tween this week by having her stand at a busy intersection wearing a sign that read “I was disrespecting my parents by twerking at a school dance”; the Utah girl punished for bullying another girl over her fashion sense by being forced to wear ugly clothing in public; the 12-year-old girl who, after posing with a bottle of vodka on Instagram, had to post herself holding a note that read “Since I want to post photos of me holding liquor, I am obviously not ready for social media and will be taking a hiatus until I learn what I should and should not post.”

Guilt vs. Shame

These extreme parenting tactics are designed to foster shame in an individual when that individual doesn’t inherently feel “guilt” for actions that are being condemned.  Slut-shaming is defined as “social control of sexuality by exposing a person to shame for engaging in—or being perceived to engage in—unlawful, abnormal or unethical sexual behavior. Some behaviors and events which may expose women to “slut-shaming” include dressing immodestly or provocatively, requesting birth control, having premarital or casual sex, or being raped or sexually assaulted.  Slut-shaming is considered misogynistic because it applies a double standard for sexual behavior [3], but it also attempts to curtail individual freedoms in the name of pro-social behavior.

According to Miley Cyrus’s handlers this will help fans see her as a serious adult.

According to cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict, shame is a violation of cultural or social values while guilt feelings (by contrast) arise from violations of one’s internal values. Shame arises when one’s flaws are exposed to others, and results from the negative evaluation (whether real or imagined) of others; guilt comes from one’s own negative evaluation of oneself, such as when one acts contrary to one’s values or idea of one’s self. [4]

A Biblical Example

In Misreading the Bible through Western Eyes, authors Randy Richards and Brandon O’Brien argue that the story of King David and Bathsheba reveals that he felt shame but not guilt for his actions.  Only through being shamed by Nathan did he change his behavior.  As king, he was in a position to bed any woman he chose, Bathsheba certainly seemed to have been a willing participant, and David was clearly in a position to have someone killed who stood in his way, especially someone who so deliberately wouldn’t play the game by sleeping with his wife to confound the paternity issue (Uriah can’t have been unaware that his wife was playing hokey-pokey with the king; servants gossip, and she wasn’t exactly stealthy).  So, King David was used to a certain amount of executive privilege.

Only when Nathan pointed out to him the unjustness of his actions toward Uriah through the fictitious case of the ewe lamb did David realize the impact his actions had had on others and that he had adversely affected his relationships with his people through these actions.  His reputation and honor were now in question.  Reputation and honor are related to how others in society view us, to our social capital, to our ability to use those relationships to trade in favors and loyalty.  Did he also feel guilt for his actions?  Maybe, maybe not.  He was condemned by his own kingly judgment; he had said that the person who took the ewe lamb should die.  That realization was the beginning of his repentance process, one that was very public and begun by societal shame rather than introspective guilt.

Are Americans Shameless?

Hey, you down there! I think my frisbee went over the wall. Do you mind tossing it back?

As in the story of David, shame is motivation in every communitarian society. By contrast, westerners–Americans most of all–are steeped in an individualistic cultural mindset. We value freedom of self expression and freedom of choice over group values, norms and benefits. Our nation is founded on not being taken advantage of by tyrants or remote leaders in England who would want to exploit us, tax us, and financially enslave us for their personal benefit.  As frontier settlers, Americans believed in the supremacy of individual property rights, and the ability to use a gun to keep people off your land.  Centuries later, we make relatively little investment in community (compared to more communitarian societies) and therefore receive little benefit from it. That is largely the American experience. It’s one reason we prize guilt over shame. Guilt comes from within, and we can’t abide the idea of social repression or societal obligation.

Feminism is particularly individualistic, for the same reasons.  Society has often required a lot from women, and the returns have not always been equal to the sacrifice required.  Early feminists were treated like children, forced into domestic servitude, and not permitted to vote.  As women entered the workplace to protect their own interests rather than relying on abusive or feckless husbands, they were greeted with sexual harassment, unfair wages, and discrimination.  As these obstacles were legislated away, society wanted to enforce reproductive standards and choice on women, in some cases while divorce laws, domestic abuse, rape or incest had left them without much choice.

The more society restricts the benefits of belonging, the less likely those individuals will want to meet those demands.  There needs to be a balance between the demands society places on people and the rewards of being part of that society.

Look, a tiny prodigy popped out from between my legs.

West vs. East:  Society’s Demands & Benefits

In Asian countries, actions are motivated by relationships, losing face, and shame. [5] American parenting styles reflect these differences.  One weekend as I was sitting poolside in Singapore, I noticed that my kids were jumping in the air, doing fake karate kicks and splashing around while throwing a football.  By contrast, an Asian dad was standing on the side of the lap lane with a stopwatch, barking out encouragement to his begoggled youngsters as they strove to improve their lap time.  Over and over he drilled them, telling them they could do better and giving them specific instructions on their strokes.  My own benign neglect model was a win for me as I got to read my Kindle in a lounge chair.  But that’s the price of relationships.  Asian parents invest their time in ways we do not.

Why do they do this?  It’s all about relationships.  Children are a reflection of the parents.  Praising the results of Tiger parents also entails embracing the idea that parents can and should exert a fairly high degree of control over their kids:  how they dress, how they think, what studies they pursue, how they spend their time, and whom they date and marry.  That’s the opposite of most rhetoric in the US.  When kids push back against these restrictions, it can require far more force than we as Americans can stomach to keep kids in line with parental guidelines for behavior.

Asians often care more for group and parental approval than they do for their own individual needs or opinions.   I’m American to the core when it comes to my individualism, but I have to acknowledge that it’s a very anti-social value system.  Americans and Asians are both extremes.  As westerners, we feel self righteous in our extremist view that society can kiss off.

To me this dad is not controlling his daughter; note that he didn’t lock her in her room or tell her she couldn’t come on the family outing.  He is just exercising his individual choice like she is. He’s using his individuality to teach her that her clothes embarrass him just as his now embarrass her.  It is a shaming technique, but not one that is very hurtful or damaging.  Frankly, I think his instincts are better than his explanation.  His wife’s supposed comment to their daughter that her clothes are “slutty” is far more disturbing if true and seems likely to create resentment and rebellion.

The Limits of Shame

Should we be a society without shame?

When we don’t feel our actions were wrong (we don’t feel internal guilt) or we feel that the societal pressure to conform is unjust or contradicts our values, then we may decide to sever ties with that society.  In this case, it’s the girl’s family.  It’s one reason that the more controlling parents are, the more likely they may ruin those important relationships long-term, and the  parents are the ones who will reap the greater consequences.  As Principal Vernon says to janitor Carl in The Breakfast Club:

Richard Vernon: Now this is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night. That when I get older, these kids are going to take care of me.

Carl: I wouldn’t count on it.

The other factor to consider is the conflicting societal pressure to which girls are subjected.  As the father points out, the “world” has different standards for dress than he does.  Girls are supposed to be sexually attractive, but “not too sexy” or access to suitable and reliable mates will be limited.  This mixed pressure can make it difficult for girls.  The father’s actions point to this dichotomy by pointing out the ridiculousness of the “normal” female fashion when applied to his middle-aged male physique.  He is pointing out to his daughter that society’s norms, those she and her friends find acceptable, are inherently sexist.  All of this subtext is probably lost on all the participants in this drama, and most certainly lost on many of its readers, both in the “Best.Dad.Ever” camp and in the worst.punishment.ever camp.

What do you think?

  • Is shame a risky motivator for parents?  Do we risk creating anti-social behavior and ruining our relationships with our kids?  Or does shame have a place in reminding our kids (and ourselves) of the consequences we all face in society?
  • In our individualistic culture, is guilt the only real motivator?  Does shame fail to reach us?  Are we shameless?  If guilt doesn’t apply because an individual’s personal values don’t line up, will shame succeed where guilt failed?
  • Did this dad do a good thing or a bad thing?  Why or why not?  Defend your answer.

Discuss.

________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1]  Personally, I think he looks like Tobias Funke, the “never-nude” brother-in-law from Arrested Development.

[2]  No idea if he normally would wear garments.  Either way, wearing Daisy Dukes is definitely an activity you can’t reasonably do while wearing garments, so he’s got that going for him.  Also, I happen to think he is rocking this look with those shapely gams.

[3]  Because of this double standard, males are often expected to act in sexually aggressive ways.  Sexually passive males may also face shaming for not meeting society’s expected “norms.”

[4]  “Cultural Models of Shame and Guilt”  http://psych.stanford.edu/~tsailab/PDF/yw07sce.pdf

[5] Oddly enough, this is one aspect of tight knit Mormon communities and families that rankles the most: the idea that the group matters to us or that we should care what others think. Asians would not bat an eye at the notion of caring what others think.  They do.  A lot.

[6] Grown Asian children are expected to financially support their parents during the remainder of the parents’ lifetime.  In other words, this isn’t just euphemistic “investing” in children; it’s an actual investment.  By contrast, American parents often feel deep shame if they find themselves dependent on their children in their older years.  We prize our individuality and self-reliance over the dependence on relationships, even within families.  Kids are a cost to us; the payback is all theoretical.

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25 Responses to Is Shaming a Good Parenting Technique?

  1. Hedgehog on September 17, 2013 at 1:29 AM

    It took me a while to work out what all the fuss was about re. the dad in shorts. Looked like a regular guy in shorts to me. Whether it would work as an embarassment tactic probably depends on where they went for dinner, but for for mini golf? Lots of men in shorts in warm weather surely.

    I favour open dialogue with children, based on respect. I don’t like either shaming or guilt-tripping.

    The OCD tendancies in our family however mean we are mostly having to de-escalate the guilt they lay on themselves, emphasize moderation, not the other way about.

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  2. MH on September 17, 2013 at 7:20 AM

    I don’t think the dad’s lesson works in Europe. They wear speedos and the men wear capri pants.

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  3. Will on September 17, 2013 at 7:30 AM

    I’m still with the 121st section of the D&C….gentleness, kindness, meekness, long suffering, reproving betimes with sharpness and showing and increase of love after word to him whom thou has reproved.

    “They wear speedos and the men wear capri pants.”

    They are European, what do you expect.

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  4. KLC on September 17, 2013 at 8:23 AM

    I’m sure the father is LDS and that makes me sure that he learned shaming from years of home teaching and missionary lessons and talks in church and GC Priesthood Session talks about pornography and the innate spirituality of women.

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  5. Casey on September 17, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    It says a lot that the dad’s modesty guidelines, at least as expressed in the article, seem to apply exclusively to daughters and not sons. Symptoms of a much larger problem. Still, I’d say that the mom’s alleged comments are a lot worse than the dad’s actions.

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  6. J.D. on September 17, 2013 at 1:12 PM

    I don’t know that the “it applies to daughters and not sons” thing isn’t relevant vis-a-vis what’s popular for young women in their choice of fashion. Fashionable clothing for young men generally falls within the general idea of modesty, since sexualization of the male form is not done through clothing, rather perhaps provocative dancing and expressions (think of how men are dressed in music videos).

    Sexualization of the female form, culturally, is achieved through ever-more minimalist clothing choices, and this is the reality in which we find ourselves. As a mother of girls, this topic interests me, since I don’t want to penalize my daughters for being born female, but I generally am opposed to them wearing clothing I find to be excessively revealing. (Side note: my girls are allowed to wear tank tops and shorts above the knee, but today’s “short shorts” which graze the bottom of the rear are a bridge too far, in my opinion.)

    Shaming kids can be effective, especially at an older age. As a matter of practice, though, psychologists tend to discourage this practice as it can be emotionally damaging. Alas, when you have a rebellious teen, sometimes you have to make an impression.

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  7. Phil on September 17, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    The daughter is not wearing them anymore, right?

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  8. hawkgrrrl on September 17, 2013 at 7:58 PM

    Phil – that’s not clear from the article. The dad says she has scaled back on extremes, but he doesn’t specify what that means. Perhaps he’s looking for any victory he can glom onto.

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  9. Douglas on September 17, 2013 at 9:39 PM

    The Dad is either a fool or a genius. I doubt that I’d wear short shorts that more befit a young lady (I don’t consider them necessarily immodest, but frankly, I’d think me a “perv” to consider any young lady possibly underage as sexually attractive, and even most under 30 don’t really do anything for me (since I see no desire to have a meaningful relationship with a young woman easily young enough to be my daughter, and my oldest is 37, and I’ve ruled out just having my fun, their attractiveness is of little consequence to yours truly).
    I’m still raising a 13 y.o. as a single dad and though she’s my little girl, I realize that lads who are more age-appropriate (and I don’t kid myself about older teenaged boys or even young men in their early 20′s) may “notice” her. But she can’t be always draped in a gunny sack. So I guess with her older sisters’ assistance, I can keep her clothed in a manner that lets others know she’s quite a young lady, but STILL a LADY. As long as she watches “Teen Nick” and “Disney XD”, fine, I’m not in a hurry to see her get boy-crazy. Been through this already, and this one invents wrinkles that I swear that I haven’t seen before!
    Probably the main thing, regardless of the perception of the Dad’s action (I think it dorky), is that he cares enough about his young adult daughter that he’s willing to endure ridicule. As the fictional Klingon Commander Kor said to James Tiberius Kirk (in his then-guise as the Organian Baroner, “too bad you do not know the difference between bravery and foolhardiness”.

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  10. NewlyHousewife on September 18, 2013 at 6:26 AM

    The girl is 19. Any say dad had on her clothes went out the window a long time ago.

    All I see is control freaks for parents and praise the woman for rebelling in safe ways that won’t cause long-term damage.

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  11. Hedgehog on September 18, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    NH, Good point.

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  12. hawkgrrrl on September 18, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    Newly Housewife: As a parent I often think that as well. Why fight battles over things that don’t cause lasting or physical harm to someone? Let kids take their rebellion in small doses like shorts. Rebelling against parents is part of growing up. Parents resenting that is irrelevant and grasping at air.

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  13. Guy Robert Vestal (@GUYVESTAL) on September 18, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    I am a single Father of 8 Daughters I raised alone their entire lives, and none of them ever got to the point of wanting to disrespect themselves by wearing clothing that was inappropriate. That family has had bad parenting long before the shorts incident.

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  14. Phil on September 18, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    Guy Vestal:
    Then count yourself lucky or blessed. You never know who is going to be rebellious. They can come from good families, bad families, mediocre families.

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  15. brjones on September 18, 2013 at 2:46 PM

    Guy Robert Vestal, your comment is extremely ignorant for multiple reasons.

    I know this issue has been discussed here more than once, but I found it significant that an element of the dad’s justification for his parental standards on dress is that the way his daughter dresses will influence how others act. I wouldn’t say that’s a wholly inaccurate point, but within the context of mormon theology and philosophy about cultural behaviors, this is a theme with a long history. The church has for decades taught its young women that they are responsible for the way boys and men act, and that they, through their dress and behaviors, are the guardians of male chastity. This is a repulsive and damaging teaching, and I see it reflected in these parents’ outlooks on female dress standards.

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  16. Martin on September 18, 2013 at 3:30 PM

    When I was serving as scoutmaster, there was one kid in our troop who had a tendency to go completely off the rails. His need for attention was insatiable, and his parents couldn’t really get him to behave either. One Sunday he managed to set off a stink bomb in the chapel. He tried while on the stand while the YM/YW were singing in sacrament, but was unsuccessful. He did it later, though, and was quickly identified as the culprit. His dad hauled him home and shaved his head. He said, “you embarrass me, then I embarrass you”. It was a pretty uneven head-shaving.

    I didn’t think it would work – the kid had demonstrated that he considered any attention as good attention. But, it either worked or they medicated him with something strong because he was a lot easier to deal with after that.

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  17. Martin on September 18, 2013 at 4:25 PM

    “The church has for decades taught its young women that they are responsible for the way boys and men act, and that they, through their dress and behaviors, are the guardians of male chastity. This is a repulsive and damaging teaching, and I see it reflected in these parents’ outlooks on female dress standards.”

    The way we dress and act clearly does have an effect on others, and as Christians, that effect should figure into our choices in how we dress and act. To dress immodestly and simply say that if people have trouble controlling their thoughts it’s their own problem is inconsiderate, and to do it with the intent of causing negative reactions in others is evil. Same as cutting people off on the freeway and deciding it’s their own fault if they get angry is inconsiderate, and doing it to piss them off is evil.

    Obviously, trade-offs must be made because we can’t accommodate everybody’s reactions all the time. Not every accommodation is reasonable, and we can differ as to where we draw our lines.

    I disagree that the father was teaching his daughter that she was a guardian of male virtue. What he taught her was that she was embarrassing him.

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  18. brjones on September 18, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    Martin, your example of cutting someone off on the freeway is a bad analogy. Cutting someone off on the freeway directly affects them, in that it causes them to slow down, swerve into a different lane, etc., and it puts them in actual physical harm unless they change their course of behavior. How one person dresses alone cannot DIRECTLY affect anyone else’s behavior. If a person chooses to allow their behavior to be affected based on the way another person is dressed, but who otherwise is not interacting with them at all, that is ENTIRELY the choice of the first person. I would expect any adherent to a religion that so strongly preaches individual accountability should understand embrace this distinction.

    Additionally, your comment, like the comments of the father at issue, make massive assumptions about what “modest dress” means. Your opinion about what is modest is just that – your opinion, and nothing more. If you think something is immodest, then you shouldn’t wear it, but you have no right to simply declare something as ‘modest’ or ‘immodest’ for another person.

    Finally, the father did make the point that one reason for his standards for his daughter’s dress was that it would affect other people. There is really no other way to interpret that other than to conclude that he feels she is responsible for the way other people will respond to the way she is dressed. Additionally, as I stated before, the church has long taught its young women that they have responsibility for the desires and urges that men feel, particularly with respect to the way they dress.

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  19. Martin on September 18, 2013 at 5:36 PM

    brjones, I consider my “cutting someone off on the freeway” example excellent, but you could substitute any other rude or inconsiderate behavior, such as speaking uncivilly or playing loud music. Neither of those things necessarily require you to change your behavior, but they clearly affect you.

    The only assumption my comment made about immodest dress is that it exists. I never attempted to establish the line – people disagree on where it is.

    The father clearly does believe he has responsibility to teach his daughter that the way she dresses affects other people. If that’s what “guardian of male chastity” meant, methinks you indulge in too much hyperbole. In fact, I would say that to teach the opposite, that you are not at all responsible for the affect you have on others is, to borrow your words, “a repulsive and damaging teaching”.

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  20. brjones on September 18, 2013 at 6:21 PM

    Your examples of loud music or uncivil talk are similarly inapplicable, Martin. Those are examples of behavior that do not simply go away because one stops paying attention to them. One may choose not to deal with loud music, but one cannot unilaterally decide to stop hearing it. How another person dresses doesn’t even exist, for all intents and purposes, once one looks away from it. And I flatly disagree that how someone dresses is inconsiderate to other people, in most contexts. It simply isn’t anyone else’s business.

    I think the statement that immodest dress exists is an assumption in and of itself. The question is almost entirely subjective. So again, immodest dress may exist to you, but that is just your opinion.

    And if you honestly think the term “guardian of male chastity” is hyperbole, I suggest you go read a young women’s manual, or better yet, sit in on a few young women’s classes.

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  21. brjones on September 18, 2013 at 6:54 PM

    Besides, the daughter is going to hell with or without the shorts. Did you see how many earrings she has?

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  22. Jack Hughes on September 18, 2013 at 8:07 PM

    I’m not buying it.

    This is an example of (inappropriately) transferring responsibility. The dad is subjecting himself to ridicule, while implicitly sending his daughter the message “look what you made me do!”, as if to punish her for any shame he receives. This is similar to one of the dangerous ideas that is used to support “modesty doctrine”; that a woman’s choice of wardrobe is responsible for man’s behavior toward her. Also, abusers of all kinds have been known manipulate and shift fault against their victims in similar fashion.

    I may be hasty in inferring abuse, but like most abusive relationships, this situation seems to be about control.

    BTW, where I live (GA), this father would not look completely out of place dressed like that. A confederate flag belt buckle would complete the ensemble.

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  23. hawkgrrrl on September 18, 2013 at 8:58 PM

    Martin: “as Christians, that effect should figure into our choices in how we dress and act. To dress immodestly and simply say that if people have trouble controlling their thoughts it’s their own problem is inconsiderate, and to do it with the intent of causing negative reactions in others is evil.” I think your comment illustrates the problem of men setting dress guidelines for girls. You can tell a teenage girl that men are huge bags of lust, but it doesn’t mean the girls can really fathom that idea. The only reasonable answer is for men to be responsible for themselves and their own actions (finding someone attractive isn’t a sin after all). I wore shorts like this when I was a teenager. I wasn’t trying to cause negative reactions or get sexual attention, just to stay cool in hot weather. I dressed for my own reasons, reasons that were about me, not about other people.

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  24. Guy Robert Vestal (@GUYVESTAL) on September 19, 2013 at 6:30 AM

    You brjones, are extremely ignorant for multiple reasons.

    If you have children, (I hope not) I assure you, you are in no position to pass “wisdom” on to me, as a single Dad, who has raised, and is still raising, 8 Daughters, alone, for the last 29 years.

    When you become my “peer”, THEN, and only THEN, will your opinion matter.

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  25. brjones on September 19, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    Your comment is humorous, Guy, considering you were the one passing judgment on someone else’s parenting without knowing anything about them. Nevertheless, I think I speak for everyone here when I say we’re all duly impressed with your parenting prowess. You win. Well done, buddy.

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