A RETURN TO MODESTY by Wendy Shalit

A RETURN TO MODESTY

Discovering the Lost Virtue
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A heartfelt (and controversial) plea, insisting that the power to heal the American female’s ills lies in the reinstatement of sexual restraint, resurrection of romantic ideals, and simple good manners. Twenty-three-year-old Williams College graduate Shalit, whose 15 minutes of fame arrived when her red-faced critique of co-ed bathrooms on campus reached the pages of Reader’s Digest, has produced a daring book aimed at the core of contemporary gender theory. Shalit demonstrates familiarity with both conservative and feminist explanations of women’s problems such as eating disorders, teen pregnancy, date rape, and stalking, but presents what she terms a “middle path” to elucidating and curing these problems. It is natural for women to be modest, she argues, and low self-esteem and disrespect from men were natural consequences of the promotion of sexual promiscuity among young people of both sexes. There is true compassion for women’s sense of self in her critique of premarital sexual practices, and she insists that while male behavior is often unacceptable and degrading to women, men are only acting rationally within the constraints of popular expectations. She finds that despite the stigma placed on modesty today some traces remain, pointing towards the primordial defenses that once protected women by placing them out of reach of men who were not prepared to commit and treat them with respect. Orthodox Jewish rules of modesty and Islamic dress provide Shalit with material to show the benefits of restraint in male-female relations: it puts women in control of access to their bodies, allows them to preserve the beauty of their romantic aspirations, compels men to invest themselves in relationships, and enhances the erotic potential of eventual intimacy, she says. The message of this book is rarely heard, it is audacious, and it should not be dismissed out of hand—despite Shalit’s occasional reliance on women’s magazines such as Mademoiselle and Elle as a source of information on the state of the American female soul.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-84316-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998