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on 16 June 2017
Wendy had some interesting insights into the topic of modesty, but she has an obnoxious, know-it-all writing style which almost made me give up on the book several times. Also, her anecdotes and 'data' on sexual harassment, rape, anorexia, and so on were often over-the-top and hysterical. It was sometimes really hard to take her seriously because I feel like she blew these issues so far out of proportion and also openly ridiculed people who disagreed with her sometimes extreme opinions.
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on 1 November 2014
Beautiful. Really one of the most insightful books I have read (and I have a taste for lofty think books). You'd assume the content would be one of simple minded religious reminiscence for a time that never really was but you'd be so very wrong. It is wise and humorous and communicates the point not only with sharp reasoning and keen observation but also womanly grace. This woman knows the source of the twinkle in the eye.
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on 8 May 2000
This is a brilliant, brilliant book! The cultural and educational etablishment - and those whose behaviour and mindsets have been formed by them - will be outraged ... which is good evidence that Wendy Shalit is right on the money. She shows the devastating effect that late-twentieth-century promiscuity has had on young women: almost unheard-off afflictions from anorexia and bulimia to self-inflicted injuries are now commonplace. So too are psychological problems. And the remedy that culture offers them: loosen up further on your sexuality; be 'comfortable with your body'. Shalit points out that natural embarrassment, when it is not rooted out by a culture that makes war on modesty, exists to tell us something, and that that something is important. A society which bares all (whether literally or metaphorically) is a society in which nothing is sacred and nothing is safe - particularly not women. Modesty makes dignity and 'self-esteem' possible ... without having to try and teach them or build them in after they have collapsed. I mean, isn't all this obvious anyway? How the heck do we imagine our ancestors managed for all these millennia without self-esteem classes to prevent them from cracking up? Answer: they didn't keep throwing their dignity and modesty away!
Of course, all of this is very upsetting for our cultural elite. If Miss Shalit is right - and she is - we will all have to live rather differently. We will recognise the majority of the output of our media and educational systems (to say nothing of the attitudes of government) for the harmful and pitiful trash that they are. Rather a lot of people have an awful lot invested in Wendy Shalit being wrong. Yet she shows, with example upon example upon example, the facile nature of 'pop culture's' concern with our 'self-esteem' whilst incessantly urging us to do the very things most likely to destroy it. Hence she cites a popular magazine in which a woman confesses to needing "constant reassurance from my lover that he really loves and wants me", whilst a few pages later telling women they should sleep around "just like men do".
Wendy Shalit's arguments are formidable indeed. What makes her wittily written debut book even more impressive is the fact that this young lady (and she would welcome that epithet) produced it while only one year out of college at the age of 23. Depressing for those of us with lesser talents, perhaps, but: read it! read it! read it!
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on 2 February 2015
Having not read this the first time round, I'm deeply upset that no one gave it to me before I entered the world of sexual experience that was University, and not now I am safely although not without damage on the other side. How my marriage would have been better without all the scars!
This books helped me truly understand why I felt that 'everyone was doing it', and yet was shamed for joining in, how my self-esteem was damaged and why I found the 'modesty-niks' such a pull as I couldn't understand why the model I was shown on TV (Sex and the City) was making me so deeply unhappy.
I will be giving this book to all mothers of young women and to them too.
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on 30 April 2001
This is such a brilliant book I really hope Wendy Shalit writes more books in the near future. She is an incredibly witty writer and thereby manages to expose the confusions of libertarianism, political correctness and radical feminism without in fact being too rude to any individual proponents of these views. Sadly the converse is often not the case due to the insiduous philosophy that 'the personal is the political', which has given many radfems the 'right' to make very bitchy attacks on people with more conservative views rather than arguing seriously with them. Shalit is far, far more perceptive and intuitive than so many contemporary writers on women. Indeed, she has a very intuitive and feminine style of writing which is reminiscent of more old-fashioned Puritan feminists, and is a real breath of fresh air. By means of simply interviewing a range of people on their opinions and personal experiences of the sexual revolution, she is able to untangle all the strings that are attached to libertarian attitudes. There is no judgmentalism or finger-pointing in this book, and that is because it is securely based in essentialist views of gender which hark back to the Enlightenment (and possibly to the author's Jewish background). In other words, the author is secure in herself because her views are objective and not 'personal politics'. There is a problem here though. The author mentions Rousseau as one of the proponents of this essentialism. For all his talk of political freedom, Rousseau propounded a very restrictive education for girls, as did other French 'revolutionary' thinkers. (Liberty, equality, fraternity but not sorority.) His ideas are inadequate as a basis for a modern ethic of gender relations, not the least as he himself gave away his five illegitimate children to an orphanage - hardly the sort of behaviour the author would approve of! Neither is there much discussion of sociobiological views on the topic of modesty, i.e.that it was evolutionarily advantageous, in this book. Seeing as modesty is a social device for restraining men and avoiding unwanted pregnancies, one would expect such a discussion. Then again, her chapter on Male Modesty is a gem; there is so little writing of this kind around it's a pity. There are lots of women who would just melt at the way she says that 'to be a man is to be gentle around a woman'. Plus she makes the honest point that feminists fail to understand, that male modesty has never been valued or praised officially as much as female modesty, and indeed needs to be elicited by it. All in all, a funny, readable book and worth keeping for all the interviews and quotes.
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on 8 November 2000
Wendy Shalit has done us all a favour by exposing and explaining the results of hard-core feminism. This is a brilliant and challenging portrayal of what's needed to right the wrongs and give women back the dignity which is theirs. It makes so much sense! I hope this book marks the beginning of the return to modesty, so greatly and urgently needed in today's culture.
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on 10 November 2000
Shalit has done a brilliant job of exposing some of the underlying myths and assumptions that prop up our culture. I could not sum up her book in the 1,000 words Amazon allow for reviews, but here are three particular gems of quotes:
"In this post-sexual revolution era, a young woman may freely cohabit, but she may not choose to wait. If she does, there must be something wrong with her." (p.188)
"Which, really, is the more misogynist view: the view that for all of world history women have been idiots, or the view that gives women more credit, and thinks we have only gone overboard in the blip of the last thirty years?" (p.216)
"I'm struck by how similarly everyone behaves and sounds. It's fascinating, but also a but eerie, because ours is supposed to be a time of great freedom. And yet most people have **ended up letting the culture they live in dictate our choices**" (p.220)
Some will be offended by Shalit's book; but this, I would suggest, is because she has hit a nerve. Her call is not so much for a return to modesty but for a call for women (and men) to take a stand against the heady rush of popular culture and say, 'wait a moment, I want more than *that*'.
I cannot recommend this book more highly; it deserves a wide audience, and it deserves to shake many of us out of our complancency.
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on 12 January 2002
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and still dip into it a lot because the author is so witty, and she manages to keep the reader's interest by including lots of interviews and quotes from magazines and small-scale celebs. There are some shortcomings such as the author relying a little too much on her orthodox Jewish background, and the philosophy is a little quaint and not well thought-out. She makes a basic mistake of calling something that is good 'natural', so she says that modesty is 'natural' in women. This is not true. We know from observation that if society changes its mores by handing out contraception to young unmarried people, a significant number of girls and young women will not behave in a consistently modest way. It seems that Hume and Kant and the Christian theologians are right, that modesty is a social or cultural behaviour which is learnt; we are not born with it. If it is natural, why do so many people not cultivate it ? It is not as natural as eating and sleeping. In fact, by saying that modesty is natural Shalit contradicts her own thesis which is that we as a society have deliberately avoided cultivating modesty and therefore we have lots of problems.
Basically it is the wit which rescues this book from being a possible sermon. The subject is highly sensitive due to the radical feminist belief that codes of modesty and not having sex before marriage have been enforced in the past in order to 'keep women in their place'. If so, they also kept men in their place, something I really wish would happen today. It is absolutely infuriating as a young woman to see so many men get away with completely unacceptable behaviour because of the fact that 1960s dropouts and antisocial freaks have stamped on the cultivation of modesty. I am one of those people who believe that women have the key to making sexual relations and relations between men and women safe in general by behaving with a little more modesty than is currently tolerated in the media. I am not advocating a ban on short skirts, etc. lots of people look great in risque clothing, but the point is that all of this is depicted as the norm in magazines, which is very confusing if you're growing up as a girl because you do really kid yourself that you are only dressing like this because you want to, whereupon the reaction of blokes is therefore very shocking. The fact that women's modesty has been denigrated means that modesty in men is also despised, and this may well be the root of the constant blather about young men feeling themselves to be useless and inadequate, because the irresponsible media scream at them that sex is the only thing that will make them into real men. Shalit could have probed further into the current hypocrisy, but for that you should read Kate Fillion's 'Lip Service'. Still, I am really happy that someone as intelligent and confident as Shalit has stood up publicly to defend modesty from all the horrible two-faced and spiteful criticisms it and those people who try to cultivate it get. More power to her elbow!
We should no longer have to put up with insults such as the myth that attractive people necessarily have more sexual partners, therefore virgins are unattractive when it is a fact that many such modest people look absolutely gorgeos.
One thing Shalit does not say in so many words, but hints at, is that there is no virginity pride movement comparable to gay pride. It would be very amusing to see a Virgins' Pride march go through the centre of London for example.
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on 5 February 2002
This book is unique: you never see sumptuously-written books about sexual modesty in print. Therefore it is a really good read even if you don't agree with everything. The argumentation is flimsy and too hasty. The author is unfortunately ignorant and deeply insensitive of the problems surrounding eating disorders and depression in young women. Yes, I can believe that the sexual revolution did not necessarily help sufferers of these things, but the last thing we need is ignorant comment on them.
What this book lacks is serious statistical and demographic evidence. She could for example have probed into the history of contraception and its availability. Why did she not tell us that it was Christian feminists who first made contraception respectable in the USA and in Britain ? This is a very important fact. She does not align herself with the conservative feminist tradition, therefore she weakens her ability to speak to even her own constituency.
Her arguments rely too much on evidence from her own context and her own orthodox Jewish background: some of them are too quaint and exaggerated, for example her story about her grandmother not wanting to be kissed by her grandfather before they were married. Even by the standards of most conservatives this is extremely prudish. It is a matter of individual temperament: she has no notion that some people are more or less highly sexed than others.
She does not seem to realise that the packaging and image of female modesty is important, because if it is too twee, moralistic and has connotations of judging other young women who have serious problems such as depression and eating disorders, it will be socially unacceptable and taboo. It will be rejected as an old granny's creed, and young women who are genuinely modest will be cruelly insulted under the assumption that they are being moralistic.
I don't think that Wendy Shalit has sufficient personal or spiritual maturity to have written this book. Modesty is not just about keeping your clothes on, it is an attitude which tends towards the truth about other human beings, and therefore goes with respect even for people who are physically immodest. Here the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is relevant.
One of the reasons modesty fell out of favour in our culture was that it was thought to embody hypocrisy: you can be dressed in a modest way but be utterly vain, self-centred and judgmental. This is both wrong and pointless. People know when they fall short. It's also a pity she did not look at male modesty and male attitudes towards women, beyond painting men as uncivilised frogs waiting to be kissed into princes. Not all men value female modesty for the pure reasons she hopes they do. Female virginity at marriage has often been demanded so that the male does not feel judged for his first clumsy attempts at sexual intercourse, not because women would be protected. What would be more revolutionary would be a study of men who remain virgins until marriage, or who remain celibate throughout their lives. It would be a revealing study, but it might reveal that many men are actually quite modest: after all, they rarely talk about themselves!
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on 26 May 1999
Miss Shalit makes many generalistic statements about women and sexuality,as though all women have a vulerable feeling and attitude toward sex, and as though all women view men as potential marriage partners and in turn are all hurt by not getting the walk down the aisle. Maybe she should direct her studies next time more toward the differences between women and the conflicting views women have toward sex. Not every woman wants marriage,children and any man that will give that to her..some of us want an equal partner,an attractive man and one who does not hold to the double standard of good girl/bad girl.
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