We decided to have each member of our staff reflect on the question: What is Modesty? Our Writing Intern, offered her perspective as Muslim woman, our Editor in Chief tried to define modesty, and our Author in Chief explored modesty in a multicultural world. For our last piece in this series, our Social Media Intern, Will O’Brien, shares his thoughts on modesty beyond its depiction in western media.
When I think of modesty, my mind jumps to an image of a dad lecturing his daughter for her “revealing” outfit choice in one T.V. sitcom or another. I fear that this is often the western image of modesty– something a man is imposing on a women. I am afraid we seen modesty only as a symbol of the hetero-patriarchy, an accomplishment of white men, and a feather in the hat of the traditional powers that be.
Having conjured this image myself I cannot claim to be immune of the societal structures that placed it there; however, in taking this image a step further I hope to change this concept. What if modesty, as it is taught in most religious traditions, as an act of self-expression, not an imposition?
I think that modesty is not purely a performative representation of one’s self based on how they dress, or how society tells them to dress. Saba Mahmood, in her book Politics of Piety, advocates for modesty to be an element of individual agency. It is not something that can be imposed on someone, and thus modesty is something totally different than what is portrayed in much of western media. True modesty is a decision that one makes for oneself about oneself.