Oaks, Becoming Pornography, and Science

While I can understand the sensitivity (and hyper-sensitivity) by some when “blaming-the-victim” becomes an issue for things like sexual assault, this seems to be an odd situation where the Church is arguing a scientifically and research-based principle (not to mention common sense), and critics are arguing for the unscientific counter-proposition.

For example, take Elder Oaks’ well-meme’d statement here:


Finally, do not patronize pornography. Do not use your purchasing power to support moral degradation. And young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.

Dallin Oaks, “Pornography”, April 2005 General Conference Priesthood Session

I understand why that statement causes distress.  For a scholared wordsmith such as Oaks, it’s an odd miss-step.  But in all the discussion of how awful it is that young women could become “pornography” based on how they dress, few people ever acknowledge the simple fact that study after study shows that how people dress does have an influence on other people:

Men see bikini-clad women as objects, psychologists say


New research shows that, in men, the brain areas associated with handling tools and the intention to perform actions light up when viewing images of women in bikinis.

The research was presented this week by Susan Fiske, professor of psychology at Princeton University, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“This is just the first study which was focused on the idea that men of a certain age view sex as a highly desirable goal, and if you present them with a provocative woman, then that will tend to prime goal-related responses,” she told CNN.

(Emphasis added)

If you didn’t read that excerpt from the study, take a moment and read it again.

Then take a moment and read Elder Oaks’ quote.  Then read the excerpt from the article again.

Does anyone find it ironic that one of the most common criticisms against Elder Oaks is from when he stood in conference and said something that is backed by research, brain scans, and evolutionary theory?  He might not have been as tactful as he could have been, but that doesn’t change the fact that what he said is entirely true.

And look at his whole talk.  Critics like to pretend that his comment is somehow excusing men for their thoughts, or even giving them permission or encouraging such leering.  But the entire talk (other than that one comment) is a plea to the men and teenagers to not look at objectified women that way.

I often wonder how Oaks’ comment would be perceived if he had just made one tiny little change.  What if he said this instead?


And young women, studies show that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.

For those who objected to his comment, does that make you react any differently?

If anything, Oaks should be mocked and derided for standing and saying something in conference that is so obviously true that even the stupidest person would already understand it.  The response from men, women and the entire advertising industry should have been “Duh!”

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