The more people try to run away from Islam, the closer it comes to them - the sixties sexual revolution was a rebellion to cultural norms - now that sexuality is the cultural norm - the rebellion is modesty...
Toronto author says popular culture has turned the notion of promiscuity by young women on its head
July 18, 2007
When Wendy Shalit shows up for lunch at a north Toronto restaurant, fashionably but modestly dressed in a long skirt and white jacket, brown haircut au courant to frame a pretty face, she looks no different from other yummy mummies in the neighbourhood.
But Shalit, 31, mother of a toddler and wife of a software project manager, is very different.
So different and so controversial that, via email, she's slapped with insults, called names, likened to the Taliban and threatened with bodily harm. "When you don't fit into people's concept," she says, "they get very upset."
An American who became a Torontonian by marriage four years ago, Shalit is the author of two thoroughly researched books about "young women reclaiming their self-respect" and rejecting promiscuity and the hypersexuality of popular culture and fashion.
Girls Gone Mild has just arrived on bookshelves. Her previous book, A Return to Modesty, was praised by Salon, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek, which called her "a prodigy at cracking the codes of culture." Playboy, on the other hand, put it under the heading, A Man's Worst Nightmare.
Shalit is dismissed by some, including feminist writers Katha Pollitt and Camille Paglia, as anti-feminist, encouraging young women to cover up but not to hook up, and to consider chastity before marriage.
Others see her as an emerging leader of fourth-wave feminism, liberating young women from having to behave, in Shalit's words, like "adolescent males."
"The personal dignity movement is being led by young women," she says. "If we can make them aware of each other, then you have a movement ... the more young women hear about an alternative, they more they choose the alternative."
In her new book, she interviewed, among other activists, Pittsburgh teens who started a "girlcott" against Abercrombie & Fitch, persuading them to stop selling "attitude" T-shirts that read, "Who needs brains when you have these?" and "I had a nightmare I was a brunette," and "Do I make you look fat?"
But Shalit doesn't underestimate the task she's taken on.
"I'm challenging their whole world view," she says, about the traditional feminist tenet that being openly sexual empowers women.
Older women who "believed, in the '60s, that `if you've got it, flaunt it,' don't realize that their rebellion has become the status quo for young people," Shalit explains.
Have we reached the point where flaunting it and hooking up are so much the status quo that they're the very opposite of rebellion?
"Exactly!" she says. "There's been one narrow notion of empowerment and we've been beholden to it for about 40 years ... but as it's creeped down to younger and younger girls, we're starting to see that it's flawed."
The truly empowering message today, Shalit believes, is that it's okay to dress and behave modestly, to set boundaries and to say no.
"Looking `wild' and acting `wild' are supposed to be empowering, but more often they lead to misery, especially for young women who quickly learn to put their emotions in deep freeze to do what is expected," she writes in Girls Gone Mild.
"We're at a really critical time right now," Shalit says. "People realize that this pornification of everything isn't working."
It's also a confusing time, she suggests. Hookups and promiscuity are so ubiquitous they no longer qualify as being "bad."
Indeed, it's the good girl who has become "bad" today, she explains.
Girls now believe they have to be sexually available and strut their stuff to be accepted. No longer rebelling against dictated behaviour, they're doing what's expected of them, trying to please men and to conform to the expectations of society, (including older women) Shalit writes. The bad girl has, in effect, become the "good" girl.
"They have this ideology that they have to be pleasing. Look at all these studies about young girls performing oral sex because they're trying to please the guy," she says. "And when these young women wear very little clothing, they're making the men around them very happy.
"And yet, at the same time, we have this misconception that the so-called `good girl,' the modest girl, is the people pleaser.
"That's why I wanted to write this book – to say we misunderstand. Because, in fact, the moment a girl covers up, all of a sudden, she's put on the defensive. She's no longer pleasing. And the message we have to send young women is that it's not their job to please other people."
How did this professor's daughter from Milwaukee, raised in a secular Jewish family, become a passionate defender of modesty and chastity – and also so provocative and rebellious? As a student at Williams College in Massachusetts, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the number one liberal arts college in the U.S., Shalit objected to co-ed bathrooms.
That led the philosophy major to research the history and thinking about modesty for a paper that became her first book.
The response from young women, emailing Shalit and posting on modestyzone.net, was overwhelming – and touching, she writes.
Most shocking to Shalit: Nearly half the letters revealed that "a girl's own parent thought something was wrong with her for not being sufficiently casual about sex."
With the release of her new book, she's set up girlsgonemild.com.
It tracks reaction to the book and provides links to a chapter of the book and to a debate on match.com that pits Shalit against the likes of sex columnist Dan Savage.
Shalit says the websites and interest in Girls Gone Mild are keeping her so busy she hasn't thought much about a new project.
But there's no doubt this fascinating conversation will continue. For now, Shalit says, "we need the good girls to come out of the closet."
Girls jaded with hooking up
More to chew on from lunch with Wendy Shalit:
Traditional feminism has been utterly incapable of dealing with problems that girls are facing. They are so committed to the idea that that we have to be like men and that any differences between the sexes are socially constructed the result has been extremely unhealthy for girls. Let's be clear: A lot of men are wonderful, but it's the adolescent male that the third-wave feminists are now imitating.
I'm saying that the '60s didn't really work – that when you take emotions out of sexuality, it's not as fun. The '60s promised this flowering of pleasure and liberation but what we got for young people is a lot of misery. We need our emotions, and we need restraint. – even for the sake of the physical experience itself. With all these hookups, people get totally jaded and they have to go on to more perverse behaviours.
This phenomenon of girls making out with girls: It's not because they're lesbians or because they want to, but it's a performance to please the guys. It's entirely a pornography-created phenomenon.
Telling young women they shouldn't be "clingy?" That's misogyny. It sends a message that, if you care, it's embarrassing. Well, it's beautiful if you care.
Reach Wendy Shalit at girlsgonemild.com