A Return to Modesty Book Review: Discovering the Lost Virtue” Wendy Shalit
I accidentally came across this book whilst flicking through Instagram. Surprisingly, it was on a brother’s story and he was raving on about it, so obviously my interest piqued.
Wendy Shalit’s matter-of-fact cultural essay makes the shocking proposal that modesty might not be such a bad thing after all. Humorously written and insightful, Shalit makes a plethora of sharp observations vis-à-vis modern liberal America. I will be shining a light on the arguments that I found most thought-provoking.
First, published in 1999, ‘A Return to Modesty’ challenges the propaganda peddled by progressive liberals, that the ‘sexual revolution’ empowered women. Shalit boldly states:
“there was a certain misogyny behind the sexual revolution. Yes, dear, you can be a bitch, you can be a slut, you can sleep around as much as you want, and you can pretend to be a man, but you’re not allowed to be this (modest).”
Having spent the last year researching the evolution of Muslim feminism and women’s rights, I fully appreciate how incendiary this statement is. Refreshingly, the author doesn’t shy away from critiquing sexual liberation. She is willing to think outside the box and has a keen sense of the fault lines in an argument.
“We want our dignity back, our “feminine mystique” back, and, along with it, the notion of male honour. Our mothers tell us we shouldn’t want to give up all the hard-won “gains” they have bequeathed to us, and we think, what gains? Sexual harassment, date rape, stalking, eating disorders, all these dreary hook-ups? Or perhaps it’s the great gain of divorce you had in mind?”
I agree with the observations she makes; society has become less civilized. The sexual revolution did more harm than good. It ushered in the normalisation of pornography, increased public immodesty, and acceptance of relationships outside of marriage.
Obviously, Wendy Shalit was attacked for daring to question liberal values “(Shalit wants) to send women back to the dark ages.” a “twit” who ought to make “new spandex chadors for female Olympians,” This was the first book I had read that confidently criticized both feminists and conservatives. Her overriding motivation was her genuine concern for the well-being of young women.
She dedicates a lot of ink to the subject of promiscuity, providing pages of evidence from women, illustrating the inhumane treatment they receive.
“Today men expect to be able to treat single women like prostitutes, only without just compensation, and the virgins are the ones who are now stigmatized,”
Every stroppy Muslim teenager who believes her parents are ‘ruining her life’ because they won’t let her have a boyfriend should read those chapters.
Wendy Shalit also makes a strong case against one of the fundamental pillars of liberalism: gender equality. Liberalism and feminism are committed to a distinct set of beliefs: Secularism, Individualism, Freedom & Equality. These beliefs have achieved some benefits for some women. However, as Shalit points out
“Many young women now have a vastly inaccurate picture of what is normal for them to think or to feel. They have been trained to accept that to be equal to men, they must be the same in every respect; and they, and the men, are worse off for it.”
“If we admitted that women can be physically more vulnerable than men, that would be sexist and compromise their independence.”
Moreover, as a liberal project, feminism has contributed to the breakdown of the traditional family.
“Simone de Beauvoir talked so much about how one “becomes” a woman, and then it turned out her ideal woman became most womanly when she rejected being a wife (a “parasite”), being a mother (“a discontented woman”)…“What is extremely demoralizing for the woman who aims at self-sufficiency is the existence of other women . . . who live as parasites.” Ann Ferguson in Blood at the Root: “Since housewifery and prostitution have the same structure, it is hypocritical to outlaw one and not the other.”
By calling for equality between men and women, the net result has been, instead of just the father going out to work, we now have both parents out at work, leaving the kids to be raised by day-care or devices. As a stay at home mother, I was pleasantly surprised when the author defended marriage and motherhood.
I want to suggest Islam as an alternative remedy for the injustices both men and women face. Islam provides a clear and just solution to ensuring justice and has no need for feminism’s attempts to reinvent the wheel that Islam set in motion over 1400 years ago.
Justice and self-worth come only by submission to Allah and all that He commands. It is not feminism and gender equality that will bring about harmony between men and women in any society – but a clear understanding and agreement between a man and a woman as to what they expect from each other, and recourse to justice when those expectations are not fulfilled.
In my continuing research into alternatives to the promiscuous liberal world, we live in. I feel very grateful to have encountered A Return to Modesty by Wendy Shalit. We read this book as part of The Thinking Muslim Book Club on Goodreads. You can join the book club here.
The book reveals that so much of the state of male and female relationships in secular liberal America is misogynistic, not because of the invisible hand of the so-called ‘patriarchy’ but because of ‘progressive’ ideals that no one is allowed to question i.e. the right to sexual freedom, individualism, no biological difference between men and women and therefore women have no vulnerabilities and require no protection or special treatment. As Muslims we disagree with these ‘truths’ we believe it’s not sexist to admit this fact.
Just in case your still umming and ahhing over whether to read the book, the negative reactions she got to this book inshallah will help you decide.
“The New York Times Book Review scoffed that I “declare [myself] the tip of an iceberg no one else can see.” Playboy featured my book under the alarmist tag “A Man’s Worst Nightmare.”
How can you not want to read a book that the customers of ‘Playboy’ detest?
A Return to Modesty Book Review by Farhat Amin.