It was brought to my attention recently that the freshmen here at Princeton were told to come to a mandatory study break sponsored by the Sexual Health Advisors (SHA) where they would play “Sex Jeopardy.” On the SHA section of the University Health Services website, it describes sex jeopardy as a game where participants will learn about:
- Gynecological health
- Safer sex, STIs, and pregnancy
- Sexual assault, sexual harassment, harassment based on sexual orientation, and relationship violence.
- Campus resources
I wonder first, why is it mandatory? And second, how do they expect to properly teach about sex using a “fun and games” format? It sounds like a friendly form of indoctrination but indoctrination nonetheless.
I want to talk about a word college students never hear about: modesty. What does it mean to be modest today? For a lot of people, modesty is an antiquated word best left for those who long for the “good ol’” days. Supposedly, we are liberated women; we don’t have to hide under the “oppression” of modesty. Or so most of society tells us.
I argue that modesty and freedom are not mutually exclusive. A modest woman is in fact more free than a woman who expresses herself in whatever way she likes (sometimes to the point of degradation). Think about it for a moment. Modesty is recognizing your potential as a talented, elegant, and virtuous woman and living your life according to that truth. A modest woman, for example, would not engage in the random hook-up culture that we see today. Why? Because her modesty gives her the freedom to know who she is and how valuable she is. Hooking up does not tend to make a woman realize her potential but in fact it objectifies her as a sexual thing only and not a woman with likes, dislikes, an intellect, etc.
It is said that freedom is not doing what you want but doing what you ought. Unfortunately, our society has lost a sense of the “ought” due to an impressive primacy on moral relativism and radical individualism. However, without that “ought,” there can be no concept of modesty. Modesty frees us to treasure our potential as women. It frees us to do what we ought to do in accordance with our worth as women. So, you may ask, what exactly does a modest woman do? How does she live? Well, most importantly, she lives her life in freedom from objectification because she knows herself. She knows herself very well, how she views the world, her limitations, her strengths, etc. All of her actions follow from this strong knowledge of herself. So how she studies, how she relates to people, her morality all depend on this knowledge. One of the saddest things about the state of women today is that many women don’t know who they are. Because of that, they let everything else define them; magazines, films, other people, etc. This is most unfortunate.
Many people associate modesty with a religious background for good reason. Religion can be a way to better know yourself. Many people find their identities in a particular religion which gives life a purpose and also directs them to what they ought to do. Modesty as a philosophical concept is independent from religion, but I think that religion can be an appropriate foundation for building modesty.
So back to my original question. What does it mean to be modest today? It means being the woman that you ought to be. It means recognizing your worth even though many around you do not recognize theirs. It means conducting yourself in a respectable and graceful manner despite criticisms of being too “prudish” or old-fashioned. Perhaps by your example, others will come to know the value of modesty and indeed, their own value.