The Bible and the Headlines:
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By David Bachelor, PhD
For women who ride public transportation, the media is highlighting a must-have fashion accessory. The name for this article of clothing is the “subway shirt.” This “shirt” is becoming de rigueur for women on buses, subways, and mass transit systems around the world.
The May 17th edition of the New York Post had this headline, “NYC Women Wearing Baggy ‘Subway Shirts’ Over Clothes to Deter Train Creeps.” The purpose of these plus-size overgarments is, “to avoid leering eyes and objectifying comments.” The article notes that since COVID the subway is less secure, and many women only recently started carrying a subway shirt in their purse when they leave the house.
The lifestyle news site, UPWORTHY, on May 19th had the headline, “Women Explain Why They Wear ‘Subway Shirts’ Over Their Outfits to Stay Safe in Public During Summer.” Instead of 2023 being, “…an age of flying cars and robots on the streets,” it is a time when some women are reverting to the ancient practice of “covering up and layering clothes.” As a return to a pre-modern necessity, the ‘subway shirt’, “…involves concealing their skin in public spaces to combat the rampant problem of sexual harassment and unwanted attention.”
The same date as the UPWORTHY piece, a Cosmopolitan headline announced, “TikTok’s ‘Subway Shirt’ Trend Is Shining a Light on Everyday Harassment.” The article notes, “Already, the #subwayshirtnyc hashtag has racked up over 1.8 billion (yes, billion) views.” Initially a New York story, through TikTok, “women across the world have spoken out in droves about the ways they alter their outfits to feel ‘safer’ when out and about.” On planes, trains, and buses, women around the globe have learned to don a chrysalis when outside their home,
In the Bible, ‘widow’s clothing” functioned like a “subway shirt.” In Genesis 38, Judah’s eldest son married a woman and then died. Judah’s second son married this woman, and then he too died. The woman’s name was Tamar. By Biblical commandment, Judah was supposed to have his remaining son marry Tamar, but Judah feared this son would also die. So, Judah told Tamar to go back to her parents and live like a widow, which included wearing widow’s clothing (Gen 38:11). When Tamar realized Judah would never set the date for her wedding, she took matters into her own hands. Tamar removed her widow’s clothing, and put on revealing clothes but veiled her face. Next, Tamar took a seat on “public transportation” (the road Judah travelled to work) (Gen 38:14). Like the men on the New York subway in this week’s story, Judah reacted to Tamar’s apparel and propositioned her (Gen 38:16). After this liaison, Tamar put back on her widow’s clothing and returned to her parent’s house (Gen 38:19). When Judah found out he had made sexual advances on his daughter-in-law, he recognized his sin and declared, “She is more upright than I am, because I would not let her marry my son” (Gen 38:26). Judah kept Tamar as a widow for the rest of her life (Gen 38:26).
If men would follow Biblical instructions, women would not need subway shirts. Jesus warned men, “Do not even look at a woman in the wrong way. Anyone who does has already committed a sin with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). In the book of Job, Job declared, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman” (Job 31:1). In 1 Timothy, men are instructed, “Treat older women as if they were your mothers. Treat younger women as if they were your sisters. Be completely pure in the way you treat them” (1 Tim 5:2). Until men behave in a Godly manner, the Bible does advocate a subway shirt for women: “Let women dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (1 Tm 2:9-10).