It is a well-known movie trope, the sports car drives up, a stiletto-heeled starlet steps out and the camera follows her leg up the prodigious slit of her dress, then it takes in the rest of her figure before settling on her face, usually primed and puckered for some pro-feminist fighting. I’ve seen it hundreds of times over the years, but I was surprised a few years ago to see it in a cartoon my boys were watching.
It wasn’t sexualized, merely a rote imitation of the movies, and while it wasn’t alluring, it was training the viewer in how to look at women. I made my boys aware of it and told them to be aware in the future, to be on guard when watching shows. I was rewarded later, watching an action movie with my oldest two, when the camera did the exact same thing; starting at the heels it ran up her leg to take in her full figure. Immediately the oldest rolled his eyes and said, “Oh please!”
Part of the problem we have with lust is that we have taken a very passive view toward our thoughts. Being trained from a young age to look luridly at women has made us very practiced at looking at women poorly. We come to think it is inescapable to separate looking from lusting. Since it’s become second nature to look with evil intent, we’ve lost our capabilities to appreciate the beauty of women righteously. Both Christians and non-Christians now agree that lust is inescapable when presented with the female form, but while the eyes of unbelievers may be enslaved this needn’t be true of Christians.
Like any parenting task, training boys to be wise with their eyes has to start early and be practiced as they mature. If you wait until they’re sixteen you’ve allowed the world to establish some very bad habits. Fathers should train their children to look at their mother the way they should look at all women – respectful, appreciative and brotherly. The father should also be demonstrating to them a more amorous gaze as well so they recognize the difference and have romantic template to work from when that time comes.
The issue with girls isn’t so much treating the male figure as a visual lollipop (though certainly that habit can be acquired), but in being shaped by the culture to present themselves lasciviously. My advice is to raise daughters to dress for their fathers. This should curb any overtly sexual garments. The difficulty with standards of modesty is that they are either too vague to be helpful to those needing counsel or too specific to cultivate a wise and attractive standard.
In putting the responsibility into the hands of the daughters to dress for their fathers first, and later their husbands, you have made it both specific and universal, tailored to the woman and a unified standard for the whole culture. Women will always be dressing for somebody. Daughters can either dress for their father when young and their husband when married, or dress for the culture at large.
Sadly, training boys how to look at women and teaching girls how to cultivate their look isn’t enough. Living in a pornographic culture has caused other problems. One of the overlooked dangers of porn is that of shaping sexual desires apart from a spouse. Christians have bought into the lie that we choose and shape our sexual identities, which means you have a right and duty to explore and discover your kinks and fetishes so you “know who you are.”
But your sexual identity should be a collaborative process with your husband or wife. Your sexuality is not your own. To pursue porn inescapably draws you away from your spouse. I’m convinced that most early sexual problems in marriages are due to expectations shaped by porn. He has a sexual script that he wants her to perform verbatim and she is dismayed, thinking he wanted a sexual partner and not a masturbation assistant. And this can be accrued apart from a porn habit, since porn culture has saturated pop culture.
This confusion over “sexual identity” has made the church ill equipped to deal with homosexuality. Once you’ve accepted identity, be it homosexual or heterosexual, you’ve given ground to an aimless sexual nature. I’m not heterosexual in the sense that my sexual desires roam over all females. My sexual life is anchored in my wife. Monogamy is not, as the evolutionists assert, an aberration, but a design feature. We are made to be focused, rather than aimless, anchored in one, rather than drifting through strange waters. It’s no wonder there’s so much sexual confusion when we teach our boys that they are sexually attracted to women, but not to be sexually attracted women or to teach them that lust is inescapable but not to lust.
If children are raised to see their parents as their emotional anchors, daughters anchored by fathers, sons anchored by mothers, then the transition into marriage is an opening of the sexual relationship and not (as it often is now) a reeling in of it. If they are taught that they are in control of their desires and those desires are bestowed in the context of marriage, then there will be no recreational or premature exploration that will stunt them when joined to their spouse.
Recognizing that our sexuality is not our own, that the husband’s body is under the authority of the wife and vice versa (1 Corinthians 7:4), is one of those grand inversions of the Kingdom: first will be last, the least, greatest and the servant will be most free. The world of the unbeliever is one where mankind is helpless to control their instincts, shaped by millions of years of evolution or fated by the stars, Oedipal or Darwinian, blighted or blessed; either way humanity is unable to change who they are.
But believers have been broken out of the rut of sin and weakness. Training the young to be aware of the bland manipulations of the world, its overt sexualized images and dress, will protect them from its dangers; and counseling patience in the maturation of their passion will train them to look ahead in hope, which is the essence of faith. In all things we can have confidence that we have been granted the power of freedom with no need to cower in fear over the chintz and tinsel of self-centered love, for those who seek to be their own master, truly, they have their reward, but the man who gives up his body to his wife, and the wife to her husband, will reap tenfold.
Remy Wilkins teaches at Geneva Academy in Monroe, Louisiana.
 I present this advice modestly since I have not yet been blessed with daughters.
 To defend myself from the charge of being retrogressively patriarchal, I would add that the goal of both the father and husband is to glorify the daughter/wife in their own dress and the same standard would apply to them: the husband dresses for the glory of his wife. Patriarchalism in the worst sense is glorifying the man rather than women and offspring. What I’m calling for is the opposite.
 In an era of secular self-centeredness, I suspect the idea of a woman “dressing for herself” would be put forward as a model, but even if it were possible to dress inconsiderate of the world, it would not be at odds with what I’m putting forward. The husband/father should always want what’s best for his wife or daughter.