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Hitchcock, TLC, and the Ordination of Women

Suspensefully Sexy

In his book-length interview with and study of the great "master of suspense," Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut includes this bit of amusing dialogue about Hitchcock's actresses:

TRUFFAUT: You stated several times that Grace Kelly especially appealed to you because her sex appeal is "indirect."

HITCHCOCK: Sex on the screen should be suspenseful, I feel. If sex is too blatant or obvious, there's no suspense. You know why I favor sophisticated blondes in my films? We're after the drawing-room type, the real ladies, who become whores once they're in the bedroom. Poor Marilyn Monroe had sex written all over her face, and Brigitte Bardot isn't very subtle either.

TRUFFAUT: In other words, what intrigues you is the paradox between the inner fire and the cool surface.

HITCHCOCK: Definitely, I think the most interesting women, sexually, are the English women, the Swedes, the northern Germans, and Scandinavians are great deal more exciting than the Latin, the Italian, and the French wmomen. Sex should not be advertised. . . .


Truffaut goes on to ask about the success of such as Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, et al, to which Hitchcock replies that there is a reason why the movies they did were not successful as movies. There is no suspense about a woman who flaunts her sex here, there, and everywhere.

A TV Show Worth Watching

I was thinking about Hitchcock's point of view the other night as my wife and I were sampling her parents' Direct TV. What amazes me about such systems most of all is that whether one has 5 or 500 channels, there is generally nothing on of any quality or substance. But then again, as the late Neil Postman never tired of pointing out, TV might have a sort of sheer entertainment value, but rarely does one learn anything from it that one could not learn better in other ways, say, by reading.

But one show caught our interest. TLC (I think that's The Lifetime Channel?) had on a wonderful show called "What Not to Wear." The basic concept of the show is that friends of the atrociously attired can send in footage of their friends to the show. If selected, the perky hosts, Clinton and Stacy, will show up and offer the person a chance at her fifteen minutes. After a humiliating session of watching montage of the victim's fashion horrors to the accompanying critique of Clinton and Stacy, the victim is sent out the next day to buy expensive clothes on the show's dime. After returning, she shows what was bought and tries it on for the hosts. Inevitably, it seems, the victim takes some of the advice and ignores some of it, ending up with more horrible clothing but some nice stuff. The victim returns again to the shops with Clinton and Stacy and the latter attempt to convince the victim to return some stuff and buy others. When the $5000 clothes allowance is spent, it is time for a session with an Australian hairdresser whose name I forget and then a session with a professional make-up artist whose name I also forget. The victim then returns to show the friends and family how much she has changed, a little crying is done, and then we have voice-overs about how much life has changed with new fashion while we see the new woman posing for a "fashion shoot."

Of course it's easy to mock a show like this, but my wife and I were enthralled. The shows we watched involved twenty- and thirty-something women who were attempting to be trendy and achieved the look of a good-natured but mentally dim hooker.

The fashion mistakes they made can be summed up in Hitchcock's phrase--they were advertising sex. Mesh tops, fishnet stockings, too tight slacks, too short skirts, plunging necklines that never actually came up for air, make-up that would make Vegas showgirls blush. What is not surprising, I suppose, is that both of the girls we watched were normal to chubby women. Wearing the kinds of revealing outfits they did indeed advertised sex, but nothing else. Their dress was the sort of thing that says to a man, "I'm desperately in need of attention and I'll do anything to get it."

As you might guess, Clinton and Stacy did not go far enough, as far as my wife and I were concerned, but we were pleasantly shocked at how far they did go in changing the dress of the two young women. Emphasizing rules like, "Just because a thing is trendy does not mean it looks good on you," "A size up means you'll look a size smaller," and "Dressing your age doesn't make you look older; dressing like somebody younger does." Of course the uber-rule applicable to anybody, lithe and muscular or a little too heavy, is "JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN WEAR IT DOESN'T MEAN YOU SHOULD."

Being around a lot of college kids quite often, my wife and I are horrified at the type of sex-advertisement clothing worn. But what surprises us quite often is how many of the New Faithful-type girls don't dress distinguishably different. (I've noticed a similar problem among Evangelicals.)

New Orders

What does this have to do with the Ordination of Women? Well, in the case of ordaining women as Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, nothing, actually. But I've often thought about the rich layering of "minor orders" in the Church of the Middle Ages and the different positions in monasteries and convents up to today. Particularly interesting is the order of deaconesses in the ancient Church. In Aime-George Martimort's famous study, he concluded that the order of deaconesses was not part of the three-fold ministry of the Church, but essentially existed to help with the initiation of women into Christian faith. This was particularly important since baptism was often undergone in the near buff. Much better to have a woman clothing the neophyte in her white garment after she emerges from the waters.

What we need today, it seems to me, is some sort of minor order of women who could instruct the faithful in how practically to "put on Christ" in St. Paul's phrase, that is, to dress in a way that doesn't "advertise" sex but advertises a woman. Yes, I know there are Christopher West and all the other popularizers of the Theology of the Body, but I get the feeling that many of the New Faithful types already buy into all this. The connection to how they dress, however, is never made. I understand that Colleen Kelly Mast, of the Catholic Answers' produced "The Doctor is In," goes around giving "modesty fashion shows." Wonderful and more power to her. But we need women in every parish who can help young women and, in our culture of obsession with youth, their mothers to realize that the "inner fire" of sexuality is kept hot by keeping a "cool appearance."

The time for an order of Consecrated Fashionistas is now.

Envoi: "Hair!"

An old college friend, when asked what color hair he favored in a woman, responded, "Hair!" Men are attracted to women and almost any man can be provoked to sexual feelings at any instant (we've all heard the claim that men have a sexual thought every six seconds or something to that effect). But to dress attractively, while hinting that her flesh's beauty can only be seen when her soul is seen radiating from it is--well, that is to attain a sexiness greater even than what Hitchcock thought only seen in English, Scandinavian and Northern German women.

Comments (2)


Mrs. MJNiemann is writing the below comment -- which is important since I am, in fact, a woman. I wouldn't want anyone to think that my poor husband penned this comment.

Once again, the Seventh Age hits exactly upon a question I have been mulling over for some time (ever since my 30th birthday, to be exact). It seems to me that there ought to be the Consecrated Fashionistas for grown-up women who have several kids and the bodies to prove it. I can't wear navel-revealing jeans (and don't want to). I want to look good, but I don't want to look the way our culture means when "looking good" is the descriptor.

Maybe we could start a club: the Catholic Moms' Fashion Aid society. We could have bake sales to raise money for those most fashion-challenged among us. We could have seminars on dressing for Mass and panel discussions on the best clothes to wear to look pretty while lactating.

I'm game.


TLC is The Learning Channel, and the hairdresser is Nick and the make-up artist is Carmindy. I love What Not to Wear. I think it helps people grow up too, because there are a lot of people on who are 20 or 30 somethings wearing sweats and jeans to their jobs.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 5, 2005 1:13 PM.

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