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    Quotables: A Return to Modesty

    July 19, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    A Return to Modesty:
    Rediscovering the Lost Virtue
    by Wendy Shalit *

    [T]hey do not seem to be missing anything for not having had a series of miserable romances under their belts. They seem happy. Is this, perhaps, what annoys people most? {p. 6}

    When I talk to women my age and hear some of the things they’re going through, the kind of treatment they put up with from these boyfriends of theirs, the first thing I ask them is, “Does your father know about this?” They look at me as if I’m from another planet. Of course their fathers don’t know. {p. 6}

    [W]hat is really so terrible about “belonging” to someone who loves you? {p. 7}

    They have been trained to accept that to be equal to men, they must be the same in every respect; and they, and the men, are worse off for it. {p. 11}

    For some reason, no one connects this kind of harassment and early s*x** education. But to me the connection was obvious from the start, because the boys never teased me… {p. 18}

    [E]mbarrassment is actually a wonderful thing, signaling that something very strange or very significant is going on, that some boundary is being threatened–either by you or by others. {p. 22}

    Sometimes when things aren’t comprehensible to children, there’s a very good reason. {p. 23}

    All those bad feelings we are too enlightened to feel nowadays–such as resentment, jealousy, betrayal–also signify the capacity to lose yourself in the first place, to fall in love with someone other than yourself. {p. 34}

    A society that has declared war on embarrassment is one that is hostile to women. {p. 39}

    Our pursuit of androgyny…has not aided the task of socializing our males. It’s rather difficult to turn around suddenly and try to teach men to be gentle around women, when we have been training them all along to assume that women are the same as they. {p. 43}

    We all seem to long for the advantages of a more moral, less crude society, but we want it without having to judge anyone else or draw any lines in the sand. {p. 51}

    And was Rousseau right that the best s*x education for women was an education in the ways of modesty? {p. 88}

    Modesty is a reflex, arising naturally to help a woman protect her hopes and guide their fulfillment–specifically, this hope for one man. {p. 94}

    [W]omen became something deeper, more elemental: possessors of a deep and wondrous secret that is revealed only to the one who proves himself deserving of her. {p. 97}

    *Note: I have now changed my recommendation from “highly recommended” to “recommended with reservations” due to the graphic nature of some of the content of this book.
    **Note two: I do not think s*x is a bad word. I’m just trying to protect from Google hits on this subject.

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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts July 22, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    I think the first time I heard this take on modesty–that being modest is really about not trying to gain an audience more than anything else–was in in a review of Shalit’s book. That was a totally profound thought to me! And I remember thinking that that explained a few things that I couldn’t put my finger on before. I knew some families that took real pride in their modesty and purposely dressed in a “modest” way that at the same time drew attention to them. It is hard to explain, but now I understand that they were not being modest about being modest. 🙂

    I also feel like I came to understand something else. My husband and I recently encountered a woman who excessively promotes herself professionally. It really made me uncomfortable, and I didn’t know why. After reading more of this book, I understand that it simply rubbed me wrong that she was not modest.

  • Reply Kelly July 20, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    A friend lent it to me when it first came out and I promptly made a cover for it — the painting on the original cover had even less covering over it than this one does — and it always bugged me because at the time I was spending a lot of time sitting in a military hospital for various OB appointments. :-p

    That said, I did like the book, and though I don’t remember anything much specific about it, I have a story to tell.

    A couple of years ago, my four girls and I had driven three hours to a city where we used to live to have lunch with some friends. On the way home we stopped at a gas station and went in to use the bathrooms. I also let the girls pick out a rare treat. The man behind the counter was from India, I believe, and I had a hard time understanding his accent at first. He said something and I had to ask him to repeat it. He said, “Your girls are modest,” and made a sign over his face that immediately brought to mind the Biblical term “shamefaced” — in the good sense.

    He said that it wasn’t their clothes (though they were modest), it was their behavior; that his parents had raised his sisters that way and it was nice to see other girls being brought up like that — how sad it was that most American girls weren’t.

    You said in your earlier post that Shallit mentions that modestly isn’t just about clothing — it’s about attitude and behavior. I remember reading that, and I remember reading in some American history book or other, one of our English explorers saying that the native women, though they were hardly dressed at all, were much more modest than contemporary English women under all their layers of dress.

    People really do notice. And sensible people find it praiseworthy.

  • Reply Silvia July 20, 2011 at 12:23 am

    I enjoyed these quotes. Thanks for sharing.

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