A Return to Modesty
Discovering the Lost Virtue
When A Return to Modesty was first published in 1999, it began an important and much-needed national conversation. Wendy Shalit persuasively argued that modesty is not some hang-up we should set out to cure, but rather a wonderful instinct that, if rediscovered and given the right social support, has the power to transform society. Now, in this newly revised edition, Shalit backs up her claim with the latest trends and research to prove that the issue is just as pressing today as ever.
Unfortunately, many problems Shalit originally explored, such as date rape, harassment, and most alarmingly, the sexualization of young girls, have only become more prevalant. Where once a young woman was ashamed of her sexual experience, today she is ashamed of her sexual inexperience. And as we continue to push the limits of what is accepted behavior, the pressure to overcome embarrassment and discard all sense of modesty is greater than ever.
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.
Read an Excerpt
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
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