By Sue Edwards
I was teaching a class of high-octane Christian women leaders on how to work with men in ministry. When the topic of appropriate attire surfaced, I could hardly keep from breaking out in laughter at the irony. Before me were women bemoaning the provocative way women dress these days, but four, yes, four, of them were showing enough cleavage to distract any man in our midst. I don't get the disconnect - the gap. Please know that I love these women dearly, and my intent is not to cause any sister to slink away in shame, but I love our brothers too.
I know good men are bothered by cleavage because, for our book Mixed Ministry, we interviewed many Christian men who told us how much any cleavage distracted them, that when just a bit of a woman is showing, a man's mind immediately goes to the whole thing. Not one man said, "It's ok, I'm used to it--no big deal." The men we interviewed were the men who will ultimately give women a place at the ministry table, or not. They are godly men who want to be faithful to their wives and to treat women as sisters in the workplace. And their united plea was for us to ask women to stop...and I've tried. But to little avail. About all I've accomplished is that guilty women, in my presence, keep grabbing the fabric of their blouses at the shoulders and pulling up, as if that would alleviate the issue. This tells me, on some level, they know, but not enough to purchase a tee or throw the offensive garment in the trash.
I don't expect immature believers, and certainly non believers, to dress modestly. But these are leaders, the ones who set the standard for others. I'm trying to get into the heads of these leaders who don't get the cleavage gap. What are they thinking? Maybe...
- · It's impossible to buy stylish clothes today without showing cleavage, so I'm giving in.
- · I've worked hard and long on this body, and, by golly, I'm going to show it off.
- · My husband might secretly be drawn to other women if they show theirs, so I better show mine.
- · I want to be loved and I'll never get a man's attention any other way.
- · It's hot and I want to wear something cool.
- · It's not my fault if men can't handle it. Women have been blamed too long for men's lust. I'll flaunt it just to show them, a similar attitude to feminist's bra burning back in the sixties.
- · I'm too busy to be bothered by this issue. Men need to get over it.
I wonder if these women realize how much their insensitivity hurts our chances of being taken seriously by men. Seems to me when we show cleavage, we back up what men have said and thought about women for centuries. We care more about the power of our sexuality than we do about its effect on our brothers. We aren't thinking about the long term impact of our choices, just about how cute we look today. Or maybe it's too much trouble for busy women to assess the effect of the gap. That's understandable for immature women who don't know better. But not for leaders with far-reaching influence.
I thought about creating a workshop on "the gap", but women who attend would not be gappers. Confrontation embarrasses some offenders but I don't want to resort to storming around as the dress police. Rules are not the answer. Somehow we must find the root cause and help women uncover the reason for the gap in their personal thinking and actions. I'm befuddled when leaders flaunt the gap and then wonder why the glass ceiling hasn't shattered. I want to say, "Get a mirror."
I know most gappers would never cause a man to lust on purpose. I know they love Jesus with all their hearts. I guess they don't know how much they influence others, or maybe they just don't think through these issues. Whatever the reason, I have no solutions. It reminds me of the millions of messages that we taught on materialism through the years, and Christians simply ignored us. Materialism will be the indictment on the Baby-Boomer generation, but you can't blame preachers. They tried. I wonder what indictment will sadden leaders of this generation?
Dr. Sue Edwards specializes in ministry to women as Assistant Professor of Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary. Her books include Leading Women Who Wound, Mixed Ministry: Working Together as Brothers and Sisters in a Damaged Society.