Discovering the Lost Virtue
Category: Ethics & Morality
This is a brilliant, brilliant book! The cultural and educational etablishment - and those whose behaviour and mindsets have been formed by them - will be outraged ... which is good evidence that Wendy Shalit is right on the money. She shows the devastating effect that late-twentieth-century promiscuity has had on young women: almost unheard-off afflictions from anorexia and bulimia to self-inflicted injuries are now commonplace. So too are psychological problems. And the remedy that culture offers them: loosen up further on your sexuality; be 'comfortable with your body'.
Shalit points out that natural embarrassment, when it is not rooted out by a culture that makes war on modesty, exists to tell us something, and that that something is important. A society which bares all (whether literally or metaphorically) is a society in which nothing is sacred and nothing is safe - particularly not women. Modesty makes dignity and 'self-esteem' possible ... without having to try and teach them or build them in after they have collapsed. I mean, isn't all this obvious anyway? How the heck do we imagine our ancestors managed for all these millennia without self-esteem classes to prevent them from cracking up? Answer: they didn't keep throwing their dignity and modesty away!
Of course, all of this is very upsetting for our cultural elite. If Miss Shalit is right - and she is - we will all have to live rather differently. We will recognise the majority of the output of our media and educational systems (to say nothing of the attitudes of government) for the harmful and pitiful trash that they are.
Rather a lot of people have an awful lot invested in Wendy Shalit being wrong. Yet she shows, with example upon example upon example, the facile nature of 'pop culture's' concern with our 'self-esteem' whilst incessantly urging us to do the very things most likely to destroy it. Hence she cites a popular magazine in which a woman confesses to needing "constant reassurance from my lover that he really loves and wants me", whilst a few pages later telling women they should sleep around "just like men do".
Wendy Shalit's arguments are formidable indeed. What makes her wittily written debut book even more impressive is the fact that this young lady (and she would welcome that epithet) produced it while only one year out of college at the age of 23. Depressing for those of us with lesser talents, perhaps, but: read it! read it! read it!
Meic Pearse, August 2000
Meic Pearse taught Church History at London School of Theology for a number of years before he ran off to America to join the faculty at Houghton College. He's the author of Why the Rest Hates the West (SPCK, 2003).
Previously published by London School of Theology. Reused here by kind permission.Simon & Schuster
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