Modesty & the Feminist Critique

Our University is hosting a group of speakers all this week, centered around the 1960’s. The speakers do workshops during the day and then portray characters from the time period at night. We have had George Wallace, Barry Goldwater, Rachel Carson, Malcom X, and this morning I heard a workshop from the lady portraying Betty Friedan. Oh my.

She actually didn’t speak very much, instead she played a video called Killing Us Softly 3. DO NOT watch this video, unless you wish to receive a highly toxic dose of pornographic images taken from modern advertising. I feel like my brain needs scrubbing after all that gross sludge! [Note: I had to attend the workshop as part of my job duties.] The caveat is the video speaker does make some good points about how women are objectified, belittled, and otherwise made cheap by said advertising.

After the video was over, she invited reactions from the audience. Yours truly just had to throw in her $1.02 worth! My two points were as follows:

  1. As part of my work at the University, I spent numerous hours looking through microfilm reels of newspapers, from 1901 onward. I often noticed the advertising to women in the newspapers in addition to finding my target topics,. From 1901 through WWI (1919 or so), there were many advertisements for patent medicines promising weight gain results for women. “I gained 12 pounds in one month!” After WWI, the ads flipped with a few months over to promising weight loss. Hmmmm.
  2. Improv Everywhere did a spoof of Abercrombie & Fitch.  You can watch the video here. The video does show men without shirts on.

The speaker’s response to point one was rather interesting. She thought the reasoning behind the change behind women wanting weight  gain and loss was increased food supplies. She guessed our great-grandmas were not starving any longer and wanted to make sure they didn’t look like they were well-fed.

Was that the correct critique?


What happened post-WWI to women’s fashions? The Flapper, thats what happened. Hips and busts were suddenly taboo. Plump became a pejorative term instead of a compliment. Legs and arms were bare to the breezes. Youthful, thin, boyish figures (….uhhh…think Calvin Klein models with slightly  more fabric) were the ultimate objective.

And that is how we got to Killing Us Softly 80 years later.

The Modesty Critique beats the Feminine Mystique any day.


5 Responses to “Modesty & the Feminist Critique”

  1. 1 Christine June 19, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    It is amazing how things have changed over time especially when you go way back when and retrace the steps. I agree that the 20’s was a turning point for women and their attire (not a good one of course). The boyish look and the more risky clothing prepared society for what was coming… the 60s.

    I have always been a hippie at heart but not the bare all kind. I’m more the Mama Cass with the long dress, long hair, and little to no accessories.

    Now nothing shocks anyone so it’s like we’re always trying to outdo the last generation. Soon people will be walking around with no clothes on at all… wait a minute I think that happens now already!

    It must have been interesting to sit in on those speakers. Thanks for sharing.


  2. 2 amberpeace June 20, 2008 at 7:06 am

    My travelfeet always want to bring in the subject of other societies – but I know people reading this blog are intelligent. We’re not talking about anything here but our currrent American society that you and I live in.

    When I’m out in public I tend to cover much more than I do when I’m with just friends. Example – I don’t wear bathing suits around people I don’t know. I do wear my bathing suit when I go jumping of rocks with just my friends. My very simple reason is that I don’t know the minds of people who aren’t my closest friends. I love the human body; I think there is something wonderful and beautiful about it. I know not everyone thinks like that – most think perversly. I prefere to keep my beauty for people I know think the way I do.

  3. 3 Ruby June 22, 2008 at 1:39 am

    Society goes in circles…take a look at medieval fashions and check out how low their bustlines were.

  4. 4 militarywifey June 22, 2008 at 6:16 am

    Great entry,

    Yes I do believe the Flapper revolution contribution to the idea of thinner, less voluptuous body types.

    But if you look at the 1950s, the curvy shape was back in opposed to the boyish figures of the 1920s.

    The 1960s brought the Twiggy look in fashion and I truly don’t believe we’ve ever completely recovered. I think in the 1970s we went through a period of the “athletic” look but no longer was the curvaceous womanly shape celebrated.

    Nowadays, anorexia is on the rise and the pressure to be thin is higher than ever. And there is a huge industry built around it, losing weight. I find it odd that in the 1950s, when the curvier shape was more accepted, we had a much less obese society. Nowadays, when the ideal is near-starving, we have climbing obesity rates and higher rates of heart disease.

  5. 5 Liat Bensimon June 30, 2008 at 9:53 pm

    I created a Modest Exercise Skirt (i.e., EXERSKIRT) that allows one to be comfortable while exercising, without compromising their modesty.

    To view it, please visit

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"I can't say I don't believe in your God, but I don't believe He meant the world to be as it is." ~Nicholas Higgins. North and South.

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you are licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what." No idea where that last quote came from, but I like it!

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