So I'm eating cereal at midnight and I'm channel surfing as I've been known to do when I stumble upon C-span 2 and a book discussion on "A Return To Modesty" by Wendy Shalit. Follow the link to Amazon.com to read a whopping 10 customer reviews. I haven't read them yet so that I can keep my thoughts in perspective. I know nothing about Wendy or this book except what I heard on C-span2.
Wendy Shalit is at first glance a female in her early 20s, shoulder length brown hair, tanish sweater set which she kept pulling closed althought it had buttons on it that could easily have been done. My thought on this: "is she giving us an example of modesty here because she's trying so hard to cover up her breasts? wouldn't it be easier to just button the sweater?"
The long table of guests (some of whom Wendy herself invited) asked some thought provoking questions to this first-time author, but the questions going through my mind were never broached. Prehaps this is because the pannel of people there were handpicked conservatives, perhaps not.
Wendy answered questions on birth control, on the sexual revolution, sex education, and other topics discussed in her book although each person asking a question said before hand "I haven't read your book..." She didn't seem bothered by that. Wendy came off as very articulate although nervous, flashing each person with a large smile that came off as strained, no doubt because of the television cameras around her.
The reason I didn't change the channel was because the first things I heard Wendy say interested me. She was discussing how children have instinctual modesty. She stated, "People have said when children come out they're naked and they have no clothes on, like that should prove they have no modesty. But we dress them."
The key here being WE, the parents of a child dress it. I don't think that anyone can say whether a child has instinctual modesty or not because wearing clothes is part a child's socialization. If, in American society, people wore no clothing at any time, would a child then say "oh, I must find some clothes to put on!" Even though the child had never seen clothes in a public setting? If clothing were only worn in private would a child instinctively want to put clothes on before leaving the house? Even though he had never seen his mother or father or siblings do it? I would answer "no". A child would "instinctively" go naked. Because the social norm for him would be nakedness.
Wendy Shalit would say "yes". A child, even living in a place where wearing clothes was looked down upon, even when he had never seen his parents wearing clothing in public, a child would instinctively want to put on clothes because of modesty.
Wendy also brought up a Harper's Bazar cover which featured a woman wearing a semi-sheer shirt where her breasts showed. Several readers complained (A similar Cosmopolitan cover led a church woman in my town to lead a crusade against the library's stocking of "pornography"). Wendy said that the editors of Harper's Bazar discounted these reader's ill feelings by saying that "Harper's feels that women should be comfortable with their bodies." End of story. Wendy felt that this should not be the end of the story, because just because women feel comfortable with their bodies doesn't mean they have to show them. To counter this I say if women feel comfortable with their bodies, it is their option to show them. I'm sure Wendy would agree with that statement because she is not an extreme conservative. She is treading softly with the media, firstly because her book is new, and secondly because she doesn't want to alienate people like me. I would have more respect for her if she came right out and said that she has a problem with women showing their breasts on magazine covers. At least then she would be honest.
I think that Wendy is at least inaccurate in thinking that body comfort has nothing to do with nudity. When we teach our children that their bodies are something to be ashamed of and something that is "dirty", then a stronger sense of modesty will be shown in them, which in this case will not be a good thing.
Wendy cites date rape as a reason for modesty. When she does this she is falling back into another age old tradition, the tradition of blaming the victim. Studies and experts have shown and stated that rape is about power and has little or nothing to do with the actual sexual act. I would assume that this includes date rape although I have never seen any studies directly citing date rape, or stating that they include date rape in their statistics.
YET, when we censor ourselves because of fear, we are taking steps backward. I would not look at a girl who has been raped, and then say to her "obviously if you had been more modest that wouldn't have happened. you should be wearing a longer skirt, a shirt that isn't as clingy.." etc. When you claim modesty as a guard against date rape you are only hurting the victims who will come later, by sending them the message that they are the ones who did something wrong, when clearly it is the RAPIST.
Wendy talks about birth control pills. She talks about a case mentioned in her book, where a woman went to a gynocologist's office to begin taking oral contraceptives. She looked at the young girls sitting in that office and she thought "these doctors don't even care if the people these girls are sleeping with love them." and she left, before receive contraceptives. I thought about this as I was listening to Wendy speak and I thought to myself: "it is a doctor's job to protect and educated women young and old about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. it's not a doctor's job to wonder if these girls are loved by their partners. Shouldn't that be the girls' job??"
Wendy implies that the doctors are unfeeling, uncaring people who are enabling these young girls to have sex with men who do not love them. Yet many teenage girls, and older women alike have unprotected sex without condoms or birth control to protect them. Wendy also implies (although never really comes out and says) that the sex education in today's schools is a cause for earlier sexual experimentation. Yet the median age for girls who lose their virginity continues to be 16, not 13 or 14 as some cases would lead you to believe. Studies still show that girls who are engaging in sex at younger ages of 11 or 12 are usually doing so in abuse situations, and not of their own free will. To make a trite comment on Wendy's theory, prehaps these young vicitims of abuse should rethink their wardrobes.
The base of Wendy's theories seems to center around the age old judeo-christian theory that sex should wait until after mariage only. In a time when such church funded mediums such as "True Love Waits" and "WWJD" (what would jesus do?) prevail it isn't surprising that books such as Wendy's seem to spring up more and more. What scares me is that so many people of my generation are anxious and eager to embrace these things without analyzing them before they do so. Other topics that were briefly mentioned other than pre-marital sex were abortion. Abortion was also mentioned in a negative light. One member of the audience applauded Wendy for such a "sweet & light" approach because she wouldn't alienated anyone by being too blantantly conservative. Upon hearing this I felt as if I was eavesdropping on some secret meeting; that prehaps Wendy was to be a conservative Trojan horse, to sneak up on people who condone such things as abortion, pre-marital sex, and freedom of expression and take us all by surprise so we will exclaim "oh look I see now! take away my choice."
When I see people who are 20 years old, 17 years old buying into these type of things it scares me. These theories and books always focus on women, taking us tiny steps backward from where the women's lib movement has brought us. Women don't dress to provoke the men. Women shouldn't have pre-marital sex. Women should only have sex if love is involved. Women again have began to bear the full responsibility of such things, and I ask myself why?? Why is it that my generation is walking backwards toward this archiage practice of women's sexual guilt? Why is it that the male responsibility is never mentioned at all? To take a step backward is absurd when we're already so far from where we need to be!
When you blame a woman for rape, when you tell a woman that she should only have sex because of love but imply a man can, when you offer modesty as a safe haven when really it is not one, then you are giving false hopes and ideas to young girls. Modesty can NOT save you from being raped any more than it can save you from being mugged or in a car wreck. You may feel better about yourself when you are modest, and have more confidence, and that is great. But I think young women should find confidence in themselves. We come to these futures because years ago girls were married by the time they were 16 or 17 years old and were not allowed to date. Now that has been pushed back and we educated them a little about sex and we wonder why we have a problem?? Then the conservatives start blaming sex education. The reason for the problems is LACK of sex education. We're afraid to talk to our children when what we REALLY need is more acurate sex education. One one ONE sex education. Sit down with your kids and tell them how it is. Only then will we stop seeing the problems we are seeing. When you blame sex education for teenage pregnancy and teenagers having sex it's like blaming the bullet for the gun. If you take away this education, and try to instill that sexual guilt in women again you will only find yourself in a world that's worse off than ever before.
The bottom line is, read Wendy's book and books like it if you want, but look at it with open eyes and think about it before blindly believing it. Victorian society of voiceless women is a scary thing for any woman today. To watch intelligent, educated women imply that this is a better way is horrifying to me. Rapes still occurred, unwanted pregnancies still occurred, sexual abuses still occured, the only difference was that the women were not believed, that the women had no voice. To turn a woman back into something that is a man's property is something that is beyond human to me. I am in no way stating that all christians or conservatives want to do this, and prehaps I am making more out of Wendy's book than there is, but each journey begins with a step. We can continue making small steps forward, or we can take steps backward. History has shown what is behind us, and for women, that is not a past that most of us want to relive. I for one, will continue to step forward, and while I may be considered immoral or liberal all I can say to that is, at least it is my decision, and I will never let it be anyone else's.