I often write about the importance of building communities in which inhabitants discuss, understand, and appreciate each other’s beliefs, however different they may be (here, here, and here). The touchier the topic, the clearer the need for an increasing number of people to develop these capacities, lest any attempts at a conversation on said matter devolve into name calling or similar, non-constructive exchanges.
I recently read Wendy Shalit’s A Return to Modesty. I was surprised to read about the number women who in the late 1990s (when the book was originally published) were interested in living a modest life. The negativity that those who chose this lifestyle had to face is troubling, as is their negative portrayal in the media and how their choice was undermined by an implied belief that it is most probably a consequence of abuse, disempowerment, or subjugation. It was even worse to read about how women were being actively pushed towards leading an immodest life despite the negative consequences this lifestyle yielded. Neither path seem to lead to acceptance and self-fulfillment.
This makes it very difficult to put modesty into practice, putting women interested in this lifestyle in a very difficult position. On the one hand, there is a very powerful and natural impulse to belong to a group of friends, to be accepted, and to be in a romantic relationship. On the other hand, a culture of immodesty implies that these things can only be had by those acting immodestly. If you do not wear the fashion of the moment, often quite revealing, you are not interesting enough to be featured in the media; why would you be attractive enough to have friends, be popular, or find a significant other?
Furthermore, respect is a vital element in creating unity amidst diversity as well in building a more solid understanding of the truth. When the voice of a segment of society—young women choosing modesty—is stifled, it cannot contribute to important conversations, such as the one on gender equality, which keeps us all from finding out the truth.
We can figure out how people with different conceptions of modesty can live together in a society that is nurturing to all of them. One step is recognizing that there are different ways one can live a gratifying life. Another is to understand that an alternative lifestyle doesn’t imply that ours is bad, or vice versa. Yet another is to give individuals the time, space, and support needed to reflect on the choices before them.
A society that pours prepubescent female bodies into revealing clothes meant to enhance a still non-existent sexuality is implicitly narrowing down the choices women have before they are even capable of making one. Their voices are being stifled instead of nurtured and developed. When we learn to see beauty in the diversity of choices available to us and stop forcing everything to fit within our personal, narrow definition of reality, everyone will find a niche within which they will be happy and able to live a fulfilling life.
Image credit: Chad Mauger.