A Return to Modesty

A Return to Modesty

Discovering the Lost Virtue

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Updated with a new introduction, this fifteenth anniversary edition of A Return to Modesty reignites Wendy Shalit’s controversial claim that we have lost our respect for an essential virtue: modesty.

When A Return to Modesty was first published in 1999, its argument launched a worldwide discussion about the possibility of innocence and romantic idealism. Wendy Shalit was the first to systematically critique the "hook-up" scene and outline the harms of making sexuality so public.

Today, with social media increasingly blurring the line between public and private life, and with child exploitation on the rise, the concept of modesty is more relevant than ever. Updated with a new preface that addresses the unique problems facing society now, A Return to Modesty shows why "the lost virtue" of modesty is not a hang-up that we should set out to cure, but rather a wonderful instinct to be celebrated.

A Return to Modesty
is a deeply personal account as well as a fascinating intellectual exploration into everything from seventeenth-century manners to the 1948 tune "Baby, It’s Cold Outside." Beholden neither to social conservatives nor to feminists, Shalit reminds us that modesty is not prudery, but a natural instinct—and one that may be able to save us from ourselves.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 368 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476756653 | 
  • May 2014
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: THE WAR ON EMBARRASSMENT

Every blush is a cause for new blushes.

-- DAVID HUME, 1741


One day in fourth grade, a nice lady suddenly appeared in our Wisconsin public elementary school classroom. This lady's name was Mrs. Nelson -- "Good morning, Mrs. Nelllllson!" -- and she arrived carrying a Question Box. It was a brown, medium-sized box about the size of a hat, and it had black question marks all over it. The Question Box was our Learning Tool, she said.

I was very excited about the Question Box, because it interrupted, then completely substituted for, the whole math lesson that day.

The class... see more

Reading Group Guide

A Return To Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit is a fascinating and provocative exploration of the flip side of the sexual revolution, a world in which young women are forced to feel shame for their sexual inexperience and romantic longings. Shalit is a fresh new voice who courageously challenges many of the basic assumptions of modern American society and the relations between men and women.
Discussion Questions
1. How does Wendy Shalit define modesty? Do you agree or disagree with her definition? How is modesty different from prudery? What does modesty mean to you?
2. Do you think our society values modesty? What about civility?
3. The author links early sex education with the increased demystification of sex. At what age do you think children should be introduced to the topic of sex? Should parents supply their children with birth control options when they reach puberty? What, if any, effect has sex education had on your own views about sex?
4. Do you agree with David Hume that the risk of pregnancy makes women sexually more vulnerable? If so, wouldn't the Pill take care of that vulnerability? Or are women more sexually vulnerable for other reasons?
5. Does one have to be sexually adventurous to be fully liberated? To be mature?
6. What is the role of imagination and mystery in love and desire?
7. Wendy Shalit states that "in a society that respected the power of female modesty, the men were motivated see more

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