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A Return to Modesty

Discovering the Lost Virtue

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Paperback published by Free Press (Free Press)

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About This Book
Where once a young woman had to be ashamed of her sexual experience, today she is ashamed of her sexual inexperience. Where not long ago an unmarried woman was ashamed to give public evidence of sexual desire by living with someone, today she must be ashamed to give evidence of romantic desire. From sex education in grade school to coed bathrooms in college, today's young woman is being pressured relentlessly to overcome her embarrassment, her "hang-ups," and especially her romantic hopes.
Meanwhile, the problems young women struggle with grow steadily more extreme: from sexual harassment, stalking, and date rape to anorexia and self-mutilation. Both men and women endlessly lament the loss of privacy and of real intimacy. What is it all about?
Beholden neither to conservatives who discount as exaggeration the dangers facing young women, nor to feminists who steadfastly affix blame on the patriarchy, Wendy Shalit proposes that, in fact, we have lost our respect for an important classical virtue -- that of sexual modesty. A Return to Modesty is a deeply personal account as well as a fascinating intellectual exploration. From seventeenth-century manners guides to Antonio Canova's sculpture, Venus Italico, to Frank Loesser's 1948 tune, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," A Return to Modesty unfolds like a detective's search for a lost idea as Shalit uncovers opinions about this lost virtue's importance, from Balzac to Simone de Beauvoir, that have not been aired for decades. Then she knocks down the accompanying myths one by one. Female modesty is not about a "sexual double standard," as is often thought, but is related to male virtue and honor. Modesty is not a social construct, but a natural response. And modesty is not prudery, but a way to preserve a sense of the erotic in our lives.
With humor and piercing insight, Shalit invites us to look beyond the blush and consider the new power to be found in an old ideal. She maintains that the sex education curriculum forced on those of her generation from an early age is fundamentally flawed, centered as it is on overcoming reticence -- what we today call "hang-ups." Shalit surprisingly and persuasively argues that without these misnamed hang-ups there can be no true surrender, no richness and depth to relations between the sexes. The natural inclination toward modesty is not a hang-up that we should set out to cure, but rather a wonderful instinct that, if rediscovered and given the right social support, has the power to transform society.
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Where once a young woman had to be ashamed of her sexual experience, today she is ashamed of her sexual inexperience. Where not long ago an unmarried woman was ashamed to give public evidence of sexual desire by living with someone, today she must be ashamed to give evidence of romantic desire. From sex education in grade school to coed bathrooms in college, today's young woman is being pressured relentlessly to overcome her embarrassment, her "hang-ups," and especially her romantic hopes.
Meanwhile, the problems young women struggle with grow steadily more extreme: from sexual harassment, stalking, and date rape to anorexia and self-mutilation. Both men and women endlessly lament the loss of privacy and of real intimacy. What is it all about?
Beholden neither to conservatives who discount as exaggeration the dangers facing young women, nor to feminists who steadfastly affix blame on the patriarchy, Wendy Shalit proposes that, in fact, we have lost our respect for an important classical virtue -- that of sexual modesty. A Return to Modesty is a deeply personal account as well as a fascinating intellectual exploration. From seventeenth-century manners guides to Antonio Canova's sculpture, Venus Italico, to Frank Loesser's 1948 tune, "Baby, It's Cold Outside," A Return to Modesty unfolds like a detective's search for a lost idea as Shalit uncovers opinions about this lost virtue's importance, from Balzac to Simone de Beauvoir, that have not been aired for decades. Then she knocks down the accompanying myths one by one. Female modesty is not about a "sexual double standard," as is often thought, but is related to male virtue and honor. Modesty is not a social construct, but a natural response. And modesty is not prudery, but a way to preserve a sense of the erotic in our lives.
With humor and piercing insight, Shalit invites us to look beyond the blush and consider the new power to be found in an old ideal. She maintains that the sex education curriculum forced on those of her generation from an early age is fundamentally flawed, centered as it is on overcoming reticence -- what we today call "hang-ups." Shalit surprisingly and persuasively argues that without these misnamed hang-ups there can be no true surrender, no richness and depth to relations between the sexes. The natural inclination toward modesty is not a hang-up that we should set out to cure, but rather a wonderful instinct that, if rediscovered and given the right social support, has the power to transform society.
Product Details
Paperback (304 pages)
Published: January 24, 2000
Publisher: Free Press
Imprint: Free Press
ISBN: 9780684863177
Other books byWendy Shalit
  • The Good Girl Revolution

    The Good Girl Revolution
    Young Rebels with Self-Esteem and High Standards
    Across the country, there’s a youth-led rebellion challenging the status quo. In Seattle and Pittsburgh, teenage girls protest against companies that sell sleazy clothing. Online, a nineteen-year-old describes her struggles with her mother, who she feels is pressuring her to lose her virginity. In a small town outside Philadelphia, an eleventh-grade girl, upset over a “dirty book” read aloud in English class, takes her case to the school board. These are not your mother’s rebels. Drawing on numerous studies and interviews, the brilliant Wendy Shalit makes the case that today’s virulent “bad girl” mindset truly oppresses young women. She reveals how the media, one’s peers, and even parents can undermine girls’ quests for their authentic selves, and explains what it means to break from the herd mentality and choose integrity over popularity. Written with sincerity and upbeat humor, The Good Girl Revolution rescues the good girl from the realm of mythology and old manners guides to show that today’ s version is the real rebel. Society may perceive the good girl as “mild,” but Shalit demonstrates that she is in fact the opposite. The new female role models are not “people pleasing” or repressed; they are outspoken and reclaiming their individuality. These empowering stories are sure to be an inspiration to teenagers and parents alike. Join the conversation at www.thegoodgirlrevolution.com

    Girls Gone Mild

    Girls Gone Mild
    Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's...
    At twenty-three, Wendy Shalit punctured conventional wisdom with A Return to Modesty, arguing that our hope for true lasting love is not a problem to be fixed but rather a wonderful instinct that forms the basis for civilization. Now, in Girls Gone Mild, the brilliantly outspoken author investigates an emerging new movement. Despite nearly-naked teen models posing seductively to sell us practically everything, and the proliferation of homemade sex tapes as star-making vehicles, a youth-led rebellion is already changing course. In Seattle and Pittsburgh, teenage girls protest against companies that sell sleazy clothing. Online, a nineteen-year-old describes her struggles with her mother, who she feels is pressuring her to lose her virginity. In a small town outside Philadelphia, an eleventh-grade girl, upset over a “dirty book” read aloud in English class, takes her case to the school board. These are not your mother’s rebels. In an age where pornography is mainstream, teen clothing seems stripper-patented, and “experts” recommend that we learn to be emotionally detached about sex, a key (and callously) targeted audience–girls–is fed up. Drawing on numerous studies and interviews, Shalit makes the case that today’s virulent “bad girl” mindset most truly oppresses young women. Nowadays, as even the youngest teenage girls feel the pressure to become cold sex sirens, put their bodies on public display, and suppress their feelings in order to feel accepted and (temporarily) loved, many young women are realizing that “friends with benefits” are often anything but. And as these girls speak for themselves, we see that what is expected of them turns out to be very different from what is in their own hearts. Shalit reveals how the media, one’s peers, and even parents can undermine girls’ quests for their authentic selves, details the problems of sex without intimacy, and explains what it means to break from the herd mentality and choose integrity over popularity. Written with sincerity and upbeat humor, Girls Gone Mild rescues the good girl from the realm of mythology and old manners guides to show that today’s version is the real rebel: She is not “people pleasing” or repressed; she is simply reclaiming her individuality. These empowering stories are sure to be an inspiration to teenagers and parents alike.

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