A Return to Blogging -- and to Modesty

August 22, 2007

First, a big thank you to Rachel Walden of Women’s Health News for guest blogging while I was collecting rocks on the beaches of Cape Cod. She’s spectacular, so make sure to visit her site regularly.

Now, what would a return to blogging be without a return to modesty? Anne K. Ream writes in the L.A. Times about the growing “modesty movement,” as reflected by websites like Modestly Yours, Modesty Zone and DressModestly.com, which promotes a “chaste but chic” dress code for teens.

“They call themselves sexual revolutionaries, but that might be something of a misnomer: In their world, abstinence is the order of the day and female virtue is the best way to ensure female safety,” writes Ream, founder of Voices and Faces Project and co-founder of Girl360. Her critique continues:

The mother of the modesty movement is Wendy Shalit, whose 1999 book, “A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue,” argues that today’s young women have reverted to an earlier mode of femininity, deciding that in the face of sexual excess, chastity is the ultimate 21st century rebellion.

No one would argue that the right to say no to sex isn’t a good thing. And surely we can agree that talking to girls about the value of their bodies, and their selves, is a welcome cultural shift. But when Shalit argues that “many of the problems we hear about today — sexual harassment, date rape … are connected to our culture’s attack on modesty,” she is making a dangerous leap.

It’s not a lack of female modesty but a sense of male entitlement that leads to sexual violence. And the idea that we women can change men’s behavior by changing our clothes is not only disconcerting, it has been debunked. As millions of women know all too well, no one ever avoided a rape by wearing a longer skirt. […]

Scratch the surface, and what’s supposed to be good for girls reveals itself to be all about the boys: dressing in a way that doesn’t over-excite them, demurring so that their manhood remains intact and holding tight to our sexuality until we find a husband who is worthy of that ultimate “prize.”

What’s lost in this view of the world is the power of female desire: not just sexual and sartorial but professional and intellectual. There is something liberating about a girlhood (and womanhood) that is not lived solely in anticipation of, or in response to, a man. There’s something freeing about a world in which women have the right to take risks (and to get mad).

While boys may be marketed the British “The Dangerous Book for Boys,” concludes Ream, there’s no equivalent for girls: “I guess the fairer sex will have to satisfy itself with Shalit’s latest tome: ‘Girls Gone Mild.'”

Speaking of “The Dangerous Book for Boys,” Charles McGrath had a very funny take on it in Sunday’s New York Times. The film rights have just been bought.

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