Eight years ago, a young writer named Wendy Shalit took the culture by storm with a radical book called A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. While many people embraced the idea of a return to modesty—especially the young women whose struggles and aspirations Shalit wrote about—others were appalled. "I knew that my arguments . . . might be challenged," Shalit recalls now, "but nothing prepared me for the tongue-lashings I would receive from my elders. . . . [Feminist writer] Katha Pollitt called me a 'twit.' . . . The Nation solemnly foretold that I would 'certainly be embarrassed' and regret my stance 'in a few years.'"
Well, it's now been a few years, and Wendy regrets nothing. On the contrary, she has a new book out, Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad to Be Good. As the title proclaims, Shalit is still convinced that true strength and happiness come not from deadening one's emotions and having sex for fun, but from practicing modesty and self-restraint.
And guess who's on her side?
As Shalit recounts, "To find out why modesty is more appealing to younger people, [feminist writer Katha] Pollitt might have talked to her own daughter, Sophie, who . . . was disgusted by contemporary sexual norms." Wendy interviewed Sophie, now a college freshman, and reports: "Like many intelligent young women, Sophie Pollitt-Cohen now realizes that the boys' immaturity cannot be separated from the girls' willingness to provide sexual favors to those boys. . . . Sophie rejects sexual exhibitionism even though she identifies herself as a feminist."
Then there's Erica Jong, well-known novelist and advocate of what Shalit describes as "the concept of a random, guilt-free sexual encounter between strangers." Jong's now-grown daughter, Molly Jong-Fast, tried that lifestyle and found it utterly unsatisfying. The sad thing is, she tells Shalit, "You're not allowed to admit that [promiscuity] just doesn't work." Though devoted to her mother, Molly is "embarrassed" by Erica's writings and says to Shalit, "I was sold a bad bill of goods." Well, their kids ought to know.
The sexual revolutionaries of the '60s and '70s may have thought they were helping kids avoid heartbreak by teaching them to treat sex as a recreational activity. But those kids have discovered that was untrue. They've realized that the older feminists, who were supposed to be about women's rights and dignity, were actually advising them to make sex objects out of themselves! So they're fighting back.
As Shalit studied trends like modest fashion shows and boycotts of sexually explicit T-shirts, she discovered that for every girl who's bought into the cultural myths about sexuality, there's another who is refusing to go along. While acknowledging the negative, anti-woman forces in this sex-obsessed culture, she focuses refreshingly on the women who choose to protect their own "dignity" and "vulnerability."
Shalit has to reflect accurately the culture young women are up against today, so some of the situations she describes are a little rough. With that caveat, I urge you to read Girls Gone Mild. And have your children who are in their late teens or older read it as well. More than ever, they need know that good is not a bad word.
Copyright © 2007 Prison Fellowship
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