A Return to Blogging -- and to Modesty

By Christine Cupaiuolo — 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.

3 responses to “A Return to Blogging — and to Modesty”

  1. I don’t know; I think Ream has missed the boat here. When Shalit talks about “our culture’s attack on modesty,” I don’t think that she is talking about a lack of female modesty. Instead, I think of a culture that produces and sells skin-tight clothes for eight-year-olds (a la Limited Too), or t-shirts for teens with obnoxiously suggestive sayings like “My boyfriend’s gone for the weekend” (a la Target).

    When I think of being a girl and a teenager, I remember being free to dress in loose-fitting clothes that allowed me to be physically active – to ride my bike, to climb trees, to play basketball, whatever. I do worry that their clothing choices are restricting girls’ freedom & restricting their ability to define themselves as something other than sexual creatures

    Clothing that’s sexually risque but requires modesty of movement is problematic for reasons other than provoking date rape. This issue isn’t really all about the boys.

  2. I, too, think Ream has missed the point. There is nothing “liberating” about encouraging girls to engage in risky sexual behavior that can cost them an unplanned pregnancy, or worse – their lives, or their future fertility.

    There is something very freeing in giving girls the right and the permission to NOT be sexual with boys when they don’t want to be. I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s, and something that older feminist women don’t get these days is the PRESSURE on us younger women to please boys and men sexually and to “put out” by the 3rd date (or sooner) with men we’ve just met. If we don’t, we’re “shamed” and labeled “hung up” or a “prude” – or “not worth dating”. It’s not always about waiting for marriage, either. Sometimes we just want to wait to get to know a guy a little more than 3 dates before we risk becoming impregnated with his child, or getting a disease or infection that could cost us our lives or our future fertility. I love the new modesty movement because I now feel, for the first time in my adult life, like I have the “permission” to NOT have casual sex with men I hardly know. And it doesn’t mean I’m a “prude” or that soemthing’s wrong with me. I never actually liked doing it anyway – but I did it because it’s touted as being what we’re “supposed to do” these days.

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