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Modesty - a recyclable material?


“A Return to Modesty” by Wendy Shalit is a book that at first look produces the same impression you'd get from a women's liberation book published right in the middle of Muslim world. Only this one speaks about modesty's qualities among western countries and culture. It isn't completely nostalgic and recognizes the advantages of feminist battle, but also underlines consequences that do not seem to favor women under any circumstances. And how could we appreciate all aspects of freedom, when all type of violence happens after trying a total mix up of sexes, when teaching in too straight or early terms sexual education, when men cease respecting women and consider them equal only to get rid of their own responsibilities? Wendy Shalit reminds westerners about good things they chose to forget. The authoress justifies herself when speaking about virtues in pretty strong words: modesty, she explains, can't remain private or individual in a world where other women's choices stop you making your decisions. So, she chooses old fashion morality and thinks shyness can prevent many mistakes women do when trying to be too open or daring, as trends of social behavior dictate. She even tries to prove certain modest reactions are not just cultural, but natural, no matter what space or epoch. The writer says no emancipation can bush aside feelings that result beyond sexual encounters and love cannot be always separated from sex. Oxytocin is the hormone that appears during birth or sexual intercourse and is responsible for making women feel attachment. Shalit criticizes ideas such as romanticism and modesty being only manly weapons to control women. She opposes those that make a disease even out of sensitivity. Being affected by something or someone shouldn't determine us use drugs that inhibit any kind of feeling (Prozac). Women shouldn't become men or “unpaid whores” displaying that inhuman strength that condemns them to a lonely life, no help, no regard to consequences, like it or not. Thus, the so-called independence becomes burden and slavery. It is interesting also to find out that modesty exists in almost all cultures, as everybody has “secrets, something to keep intimate or sacred” (even if “walking naked, but arms covered”).

My conclusion is that imposing modesty or immodesty could cause same kind of harm. Do we really choose to act like majority or is that forced on us? Fortunately, there will always be counter-culture speeches, alternative views about what is best for each of us, at a certain point in time. If past is source of knowledge and experience can we say about modesty being a potential recyclable material?

Arty Fact, November 2004


Copyright © Katiusha Cuculescu, 2004