Wendy Shalit is the new darling of American neoconservatives. As a sophomore at Williams College, she published an article in Commentary called "A Ladies' Room of One's Own," arguing that her dormitory should include a single-sex bathroom. The article got a hostile reaction on campus. But when Reader's Digest reprinted the article, Shalit received scads of letters from college students across the country: "Thank you for writing this," they said. "I thought I was the only one who felt this way." Shalit's first book, A Return to Modesty (out in paperback this month), argues that the sexual revolution was bad for women, champions modest dress, and urges sexual abstinence until marriage. The book has been assailed by critics from the Left but has found an eager reception among young Christian women who are no doubt delighted to have a champion for modesty who is actually young and hip.Shalit, 24, grew up in a secular Jewish household, but her investigations into modesty have led her toward a more observant Jewish life. CT senior writer Lauren Winner recently spoke with her in New York.
You suggest in your book that if people truly understood the value of modesty, they would want to return to a modest way of life. What are some of the misconceptions people have about it?
There are a lot of myths concerning modesty. One of them is that modesty is Victorian. But, in fact, it dates back way before the Victorian era. It's in the Bible. As long as we've been human we've needed modesty, because as humans we don't just have sex; we also have emotions and vulnerability. Modesty prevented us from being vulnerable with the wrong people. It also protected deep, erotic connections between the right people. When you're young, modesty protects ...1