Noting The Decline Of An Old Virtue

As virtues go, modesty has little to brag about these days. Maybe it was never destined to be a cardinal virtue in America—land of the self-made, self-expressive individualist. But a poll commissioned by In Character (which subtitles itself “A Journal of Everyday Virtues”) finds broad agreement that modesty is ebbing as a factor in daily life. Forty-nine percent of adults agreed strongly and 34 percent agreed somewhat that “Americans are placing less importance on modesty than they did a generation ago.” Their judgment seems equally apt when applied to sexual modesty (remember that?) or to the sort of modesty that restrains our boastful impulses. Three-fourths of respondents dissented (49 percent strongly, 25 percent somewhat) from the self-evidently absurd statement, “Popular culture such as movies and fashion promotes modesty.” Meanwhile, a landslide 61 percent of those polled agreed strongly (and another 26 percent somewhat) that “Clothing for teenage girls is becoming less modest.” If people once looked to womankind as a civilized society’s repository of modesty (hence the stock phrase “feminine modesty”), they do so no longer. As you can see from the chart below, there’s scant enthusiasm now for the traditional thesis that women are by nature the more modest of the sexes.