Now, some might retort that, since it’s a bad thing to appeal to men in the first place, it would be better if those women who used their virtue and modesty to catch men’s eyes didn’t in fact possess such qualities at all. However, this argument is utterly worthless: one shouldn’t refrian from cultivating things which are good and useful because some idiots use them unqisely. Everybody should do their duty by acting well, no matter what happens.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of modesty since our last thread, and I really think we’re missing something in the discussion in Christendom. My first comment got cut off in a very unchivalrous and, I might add, rather immodest fashion. And frankly, that’s what got me thinking.

So I pulled out the most lady-like Christian I know: Christine de Pizan. If you don’t know her, you’d enjoy her. The quotation above is from The Book of the City of Ladies. She wrote that book to earn money to feed her ailing mother-in-law and her family all suddenly without male breadwinners. And she highlighted what she knew best–courtly life–and wrote the first manual of feminine rhetoric for Christians.

Reading the text points up the fact that historically, modesty is not about pantyhose and necklines. It’s not about checking in with an arcane and arbitrary standard (all of which did exist in the Medieval French court). It’s about unselfishness–pure and simple. It’s immodest to pick your feet at the table because no one wants to see you pick your feet at the table. It’s immodest to wear a bathing suit to a wedding because it calls attention to yourself in an egotistical way. And it’s immodest to wear a ball gown to the beach too (even though you’re probably more covered than those around you).

And if you read more of our French lady, you find that speech can be the most immodest thing of all. Gossip, tattling, conspiring, and shaming talk are all more daringly immodest than a sleeveless blouse or a bare ankle. If modesty is less about attire and more about unselfishness, I wonder how often our rhetorical petticoats are showing.