‘Women’s Weeds’ Research Journal – Week 4 Fun Fact: ‘Modesty’ is a code word for shame

Ok, so perhaps there isn’t much ‘fun’ in this week’s Fun Fact! This week, I’ve been marvelling at the notion of ‘modesty’. This concept has presented a huge stumbling block in medical care for women throughout history; but ‘modesty’ is just a polite word for shame. I’m currently reading about modesty from the mediaeval and early modern perspective, however the tendrils of this insidious concept can be felt in society today.

The thing about modesty, is it appears to be something imposed upon women by others. Yes, women perhaps do end up taking upon themselves the shame they are told they should have (if you tell someone something long enough, they will start to believe it themselves) but the idea that a woman would rather suffer in silence—and perhaps die—than present her gynaecological problems to a physician is the horrible result of this.

This is modesty by proxy. A modesty that others feel a woman should have about her genitals and their functions. A shame that no human being should feel about themselves. It’s been frustrating to learn about the several high-water marks in Western history with regards to female education and empowerment, that have then receded into ignorance and subjugation. This cycle goes round and round.

One benefit of this absurd concept of modesty is it did keep female midwives in practice. Women were pushed out of all other medical arenas in the early modern era due to new regulations requiring medics to have a university education. That seems like a fair requirement, until you realise that women were barred from attending universities. (Except in Italy.) But because of this—I argue, imposed—modesty, women were at least still allowed this one medical role to assist women during the life-threatening time of childbirth.

I leave you with a bit of humour.

This image cracks me up. So we can peer into every orifice of her abdomen, that’s all good, but bless us we need a fig leaf for her nether bits! 😂

I sigh for us all…

One thought on “‘Women’s Weeds’ Research Journal – Week 4 Fun Fact: ‘Modesty’ is a code word for shame”

  1. Very thoughtful points. I’d not considered the relationship between modesty and midwifery work, especially after women healers were all but displaced by medical men.

    It’s heartbreaking how far we’ve come, as you mentioned, and yet how many are ashamed or due to a lifetime of shame, are uneducated about their own bodies to *know* when something isn’t right and do not receive proper care.

    Would love to hear more on modesty through the eras!
    Great post

    Liked by 1 person

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