We will look at this word in its third use: “Behaviour, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency.” (OED) A few of the synonyms for modesty are, decorum, decency, simplicity, and my favorite, lack of pretension.
A couple of antonyms are boastfulness and flamboyancy.
Throughout the ages, modesty is a behavior that is much prized by philosophers and religious leaders alike. Many societies have insisted upon it. Even the Greeks and Romans who held a different attitude towards nudity and sex than the Abrahamic religions did, encouraged modesty. Sexuality was not a thing to be flaunted. Even sex workers, when in public, dressed modestly.
Somehow, throughout the ages, humanity lived without a hyper attention paid to sex.
Don’t get it wrong. People were having sex. I mean, how did we all get here? Hmmm? What changed? Well, modernism changed our attitudes. And, I suggest, with this age of high tech, we don’t have enough real stuff to do. Except for people with families. However, families are no longer the bulk of the cities. On either end of the age spectrum, there are hundreds of thousands of individuals who are single. Some of these individuals are older, and some are young. Most are young. And the young are on the prowl, looking for “hook-ups”.
Before we go any further, let’s get something straight. Men and women seek sex for different reasons, and, contrary to urban myths, married men are getting more sexual activity than single men. Single men are on the prowl. What has this to do with modesty? Have you perused Instagram or dating sites? What about stars on the red carpet? It looks like men are the modest ones, and women, well, women seemingly are on the prowl. To use the antonyms, they boast their sexuality with flamboyance.
All this when everyone seems to be doing the #metoo thing. Excuse me for pointing out that if one is portraying oneself as a sexual object, when one then becomes the object of someone’s desires, (a man) isn’t that the point of a selfie that displays one’s butt pointed toward the camera? Why is it, then, that when men do notice that sexy butt, they are told they are not to notice? Who, then, is supposed to notice the photo? Other women?
Back in the day, women knew the secret to real sexual allure. Keep it covered. Let men dream of what’s underneath. And if interested, let them make proper inquiries. To see what I mean, watch the clip from The Godfather, the scene where Michael inquires about the young woman, Apollonia.
Once married, the marriage bed is where the wife could be extremely immodest. She would be encouraged to keep him happy, sexually, lest he wander. But mostly, she was as eager for sex as he was. With a husband, a woman can afford to express herself sexually.
And yet, the modest wife is always praised. Because modesty does not mean a lack of passion. It means a lack of pretense and narcissism.
Here’s what else is different during the good old days. Women had their own sphere. They weren’t constantly with their menfolk. So there was a break from the men’s world and hers. She could do her work, whatever it was. She could be the head of her guild, a druggist, a midwife, a brewer. Her husband could be off to the cloth fairs or hunting. The point is, they didn’t become bored with each other. Her world was as varied as his was. And always, she was modest, in her dress and manner. She had work to do. There was no time on her hands for silliness. Since life was shorter for her, and for him, they had no time for dilly dallying, in their work, their family or their sex life.