Newsweek Takes a Look at Modesty – but Keeps It at Arm's Length

Taking a step in the right direction, an article in Newsweek's July 23 issue highlighted the growing modesty movement in the United States, but wasn't quite sure what to make of it.  

The article pointed out Web sites women can turn to for modest yet fashionable clothing, a “girlcott” of Abercrombie and Fitch organized by high school girls in Pennsylvania over the company's sleazy T-shirts, and that Miss Utah “strode the runway of the 2007 Miss America pageant  in a modestly cut one-piece swimsuit.”   

However, recognizing these gains on the modesty front didn't preclude the writer from asking “But is the new modesty truly a revolution, or is it merely an inevitable reaction to a culture of increased female sexual empowerment, similar to the backlash against flappers in the 1920s and second-wave feminists in the 1970s?” 

Regardless of the motivation, modesty should be a virtue to be happy about.  It's much better than the counter trend of exposing one's intimate body parts to the world a la Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.  

Newsweek suggests that “the most recent attempt to turn back the clock” is really “a reaction to yet another sexual revolution.” The article quoted Joshua Zeitz, author of Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity and the Women Who Made America Modern:


 “Gays and lesbians are becoming mainstreamed, women make up more than half of college populations, they're becoming full partners in the workplace and there's a general cultural deconstruction of what gender means,” Zeitz says.  “We go through waves of progress and reaction, but you can never bottle these things back up for real.”

Wendy Shalit, author of A Return to Modesty and the newly released Girls Gone Mild told Newsweek, “There's a dawning awareness that maybe not everyone participating in these behaviors is happy with them, so let's not assume everyone doing this is empowered.”

Reluctant to admit that the modesty movement may be a good thing, Newsweek quoted Zeitz on the 1920s: “The concern at the time was that the culture was sexualizing young girls.  The backlash came during the Great Depression, when you see a movement to get women back into the home, in part to correct this culture of licentiousness.”

The difference between then and now, Newsweek quotes Shalit, is “that it's the adults who are often pushing sexual boundaries, and the kids who are slamming on the brakes.”  Still not quite grasping that girls and young women are just plain tired of the overexposure forced upon them by “female empowerment,” Newsweek spun it as “which just may prove that rebelling against Mom and Dad is one trend that will never go out of style.” 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.