August 12, 2006
Dear Modesty Zone,
While I am aesthetically opposed to vulgar displays of flesh--to the hairless, lacquered, and naked ideal that today's mass culture promotes— I am even more opposed to the self-righteous brand of modesty your website advocates. Rather than liberating women from hundreds of years of exploitation by the male gaze—this ideal further ties us to the social expectations which had for so long enslaved us.
From birth, an individual is irrevocably linked to his or her own flesh. Our bodies are the be all and end all of our existence. A woman who accepts her body--who is proud of it-- and feels beautiful and sexy does not compromise herself. Human beings are intrinsically sensual creatures. To deny one’s body is to deny one’s essential nature. Is it no coincidence that, in the 1970’s, the movements for women’s rights and sexual liberation occurred simultaneously? What of choice? Why do so many women write to you asking permission to have sex? Why do they feel they must live up to some ethereal and inhuman ideal of chastity? Surely this ideal is even more unobtainable than the one marketed by Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.
I understand that many sentiments expressed by your writers and bloggers spring from Christianity, and while modesty is undoubtedly a teaching in the New Testament, a much more fundamental teaching is tolerance. Followers of this percept refrain from judgment and come to understand their own mistakes and flaws rather than mercilessly pointing out those of others. Rather than censuring the hemline of Selma Blair’s skirt, shouldn’t you be concerned with the wars waged across the world, with the thousands of people dying of hunger and poverty every day? Global warming threatens the existence of the entire human race, and yet you chose to moralize and scrutinize the fashion choices of a few silly women.
I completely agree with you, and I actually would love to share my views on war--particularly the war on terror. Unfortunately, though, no one asks me about my opinion on war. I keep waiting for people to say, "Wendy, tell us your opinion on war," but nobody does. It gets kind of annoying!
I'm sure you can see my dilemma. When a girl writes to me, "my Mom is pressuring me to lose my virginity! Help!" it would be rather mean to reply, "Well, so what? Who cares about that? What about global warming?" So I try to answer the questions as they come in.
In all seriousness, I do appreciate that you wrote, but I'm afraid you are reading things into this website that simply aren't there. No one has ever asked me for "permission to have sex"--though they have asked me for permission for moving out of their parents' home due to nudity and their parents being "too comfortable with their bodies."
No one attacked Selma Blair's hemline or her flaws. Alexandra merely pointed out that it was sad that Selma felt the need to apologize for not having big breasts. In an age where everyone is concerned about self-esteem, I think it's important to re-think this philosophy of "I am only my body," since it doesn't seem to be helping us much.
For my part, I'm coming from a Jewish perspective and thus believe in accepting the body and not "denying it"; however, I have to disagree with your belief that our body is our "essential nature" and "the be all and end all of our existence." I believe that there is something more than the body, which is our soul. Even if you don't believe in the soul, surely you must have noticed that when people pursue sex for its own sake it gets boring after awhile. To me that is a sign that sex is meant to serve a higher purpose.
On your historical question, many scholars actually believe that the modern women's movement developed as a reaction to the sexual revolution, due to its excesses--they didn't happen simultaneously, exactly, though you are certainly right that there was some overlap.
Am I tolerant of people who disagree with me? I try to be, though I'm sure there is lots of room for improvement. But your definition of "tolerance" seems to be that I must agree with you, or else I am "self-righteous" and "moralizing." I guess perhaps we can all improve in our tolerance and understanding of the other side's view, which is why I am so glad that we are having this little exchange.
All best wishes,