I have really enjoyed reading both of Wendy Shalit’s books, A Return to Modesty and The Good Girl Revolution. She calls modesty the ‘lost virtue’ and lauds young women who choose to act against the culture in our sex-saturated world. Both of these books have given me a lot to think about as far as my own example regarding modesty, and the importance of showing girls beautiful, fashionable, modest role models. Here are some of my favorite passages from each book.
“Women can try to be as vulgar as men, but they almost always end up chickening out. They are the ones that usually end up filing the lawsuits because they are the ones that end up feeling injured. And they are right to feel injured, because they are invariably the object of the vulgar joke…the problem with the game of obscenity is that it is essentially a lonely game. And perhaps this is why the man doesn’t really win, in the end, because it’s pitiful for a man to admit he hasn’t grown up, that he cannot relate to a woman in any more interesting way. So vulgarity is a man’s game, one that the man seems to win, but in the long run, one might say women and men both end up poorer playing it. Women, I think, are trying to play the wrong game. We try to be as vulgar as possible, because we have been told that this is the proof of our ‘liberation’, and invariably, we end up feeling excluded. Well, we are excluded – that is the point.”
“If vulgarity is a game that begins by excluding women, but ultimately excludes men from themselves, modesty is the game both can play. It begins as a woman’s game – one, interestingly, where she appears to lose, to be ‘missing out’ – but really she invites a man to relate to her in a way that is both uniquely human and ultimately more erotic. So modesty may
superficially seem just to be a woman’s game because it is one she must begin, but in playing it she invites men to relate to her in a different way, a way that ultimately means that the men win, too, because they are no longer cut off from adult masculinity.”
“We know that female modesty is not just some nineteenth-century construct. The twin themes of modesty – of sexual vulnerability, and of what-is-about-to-be-revealed being more exciting that what is seen – are as old as humanity itself. Stories of paragons of female modesty – and the men they inspired – date back to the bible and more…there was Dante and Beatrice, Penelope and Odysseus, Jacob and Rachel, and of course Isaac and Rebekah.”
“We take pride in someone’s saying, ‘Great body!’ or ‘Nice legs!’ – ‘Thanks!’ we reply. But is that really liberating? We have become dependent on others’ superficial assessment of us, and we begin to feel interchangeable. Perhaps it is no wonder that the most common problem facing postmodern women is low self-esteem. We are so accustomed to seeing ourselves in an external way that we are only dimly aware of having a self in the first place.”
If you’re a woman, or you know a woman, or you have a daughter, or might someday, you should read these books!