This post is a response to one blogger's response to some of the responses to this article by Elder Tad R. Callister, found on p. 45 of the March 2014 Ensign.
Here, I am responding to the blog post referenced above:
Usually I applaud efforts to calm the firestorm after a controversial statement by a political or religious leader. I don't approve of vilifying our leaders - or anyone - over stray remarks, and I welcome interpretations of such statements that keep in mind the benefit of the doubt.
So I appreciate much of what you have written. In particular, I share your concern that overblown "rape culture" accusations distract us from the real rape culture problems in our society.
But I cannot let your defense of the following sentence stand:
In the end, most women will get the type of man they dress for.
Because it's not true. It's embarrassing, it's offensive, and I'm too troubled by it to make a clever joke showing how ridiculous it is. (If anyone's interested in that sort of witty comment, you can find plenty of them here.)
For the moment, let's set aside the question of whether it's appropriate for a male ecclesiastical leader to counsel women about how to "dress for" men. Let's also set aside the question of whether a woman's clothing really is a reliable predictor of the type of man she "gets." Let's go straight to the implicit victim shaming, the angle that I find most offensive.
I think that I can see what Elder Callister was trying to get at here, and I believe that there is some merit in the concept. He wants to encourage women to dress modestly so that they will attract attention from the good guys, not the shallow, objectifying type.
But, at best, the claim that most women get the type of man they dress for is naively optimistic. At worst, it's a slap in the face to the legions of women who do not end up happily married to a righteous priesthood holder. And that's about half of the Mormon women I know.
Did the women who have been sexually assaulted get the type of man they dressed for? Did the women whose husbands abused or abandoned them get the men they dressed for? Do the accomplished, intelligent single women who have never had the chance to marry fail to dress right? What about the women who date men who manipulate them and mistreat them? None of these circumstances is exceptional. Put together, these groups probably comprise roughly a third to a half of the women in my ward.
Please don't defend this statement by pointing to the word "most." Even if, hypothetically, his strategy for finding the right guy works more than 50% of the time - technically most of the time - the women for which it fails are too numerous to write off as tragic exceptions. And for the women who do find happiness, it suggests that the relationship is a reward for dressing correctly.
And, yes, we can argue about the best way to interpret the statement. Maybe get the man or dress for or most women mean something different to Elder Callister than they do to me. Certainly, he didn't intend to hurt or demean. But the sentence is vague, and that's part of the problem. It leaves far too much room for interpretations that have no proper place in our teachings about modesty and sexuality.
Surely, Elder Callister could have dug a little deeper and found a productive way to say what he meant. The sentence that he came up with does not meet what should be basic standards of thoughtfulness and helpfulness. It lowers the level of discourse, and I'm disappointed that it found its way into an official publication of the Church.
Leaders who make careless remarks like this need thoughtful, measured push-back from the church members who sustain them. As I see it, that's one way that the body of the church, lay members and general authorities alike, will learn to reject the harmful words that we can't afford to harbor.