When we think of modesty, our minds almost always go to clothing and girls. In our culture today that objectifies women, it’s easy to think that the only way to gain respect is for women to act and be modest. Since the opposite of modesty is showing too much – the thinking goes – then it must mean that women hold the ultimate responsibility in being modest. Indeed, to gain respect – especially as a woman – is to dress and act with respect.
However, what’s considered the sins of the flesh – i.e., sins of a sexual nature – are not just beholden to women, but afflict both men and women. Indeed, it was both Adam and Eve that first felt the sins of the flesh (Gen 3:6-7) and shame in their nakedness. God places the responsibility of the first sin on both Adam and Eve, putting no more responsibility on Eve as he does Adam (Gen 3:13-17). It is because of this that men hold just as much responsibility in modesty as women.
“This One, At Last, Is Bone Of My Bones”
"The man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman, for out of man this one has been taken.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body. Gen 2:23-24"
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So [also] husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. Eph 5:25-30"
These passages from Genesis and Ephesians are most often quoted in the relationship between a husband and wife. However, they are just as applicable in the relationship between men and women. A woman is the bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, this is why Saint Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, says that a man who hates a woman would be hating his own flesh. In other words, a man who disrespects a woman – who does not cherish her, regardless of relationship – disrespects himself.
Regardless of a how a woman dresses or acts, it’s the ultimate responsibility of the man to treat her with respect, for in treating her with respect he treats himself with respect. In likeness, regardless of how a man advances upon a woman, it is the woman’s ultimate responsibility to treat herself with respect and so in thereby doing treats him with respect.
Male Modesty – Respecting Oneself
Even though many may think modesty refers to dress, it extends past clothing to include behavior, thought, and action as well. Ultimately, it is about respect – respecting others and respecting oneself. To behave in a respectful manner is to treat others respect – to treat others as whole human beings, as sons and daughter of God – not just physical beings to be objectified. Impure thoughts and actions are just as much an affront to modesty as to the human being. To act immodestly is to treat not only yourself but also the other person with disrespect. In part, the male role of modesty is more difficult as it requires the strength of will to fight impure thoughts and actions – temptations that are strong for many people.
However, God does not leave us to fight these temptations on our own. Rather, He gives us the virtues, the Sacraments, and grace to overcome any temptation. In the end, to act modestly is to respect not only the other person, but also yourself – it is to cherish girls and treat them as daughters of God.