Mod­ern girls and the moral re­vival they are spear­head­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Sex sells — or at least it used to. “One can’t be dif­fer­ent by be­ing racy to­day. It’s not in­ter­est­ing any­more,” de­clared Prince. And he’s not the only one through with par­ty­ing like it’s 1999. Fewer teens are hav­ing sex, and the teenage birthrate has hit a record low. So bor­ing have things got­ten that the New York Ob­server re­cently re­ported on the rise of the “New Vic­to­ri­ans,” twen­tysome­thing city denizens whose lives are more Jane Austen than Car­rie Brad­shaw. Even Paris Hil­ton has taken to car­ry­ing around the Bi­ble (al­beit not ac­tu­ally read­ing it).

Are we un­der­go­ing a moral re­vival, or is the “new prud­ery” just the latest fash­ion? Wendy Shalit would ar­gue the for­mer. “A re­bel­lion is al­ready un­der way,” she claims, one that prom­ises to be the “big­gest shake-up of fem­i­nism since Seneca Falls in 1848.”

Ms. Shalit would know. Since her 1999 man­i­festo, “A Re­turn to Mod­esty,” was pub­lished, she has re­ceived thou­sands of e-mails and let­ters from other “mod­estyniks” who share her ap­pre­ci­a­tion of long skirts and her dis­like of co-ed bath­rooms. The re­sult is her new book, “Girls Gone Mild,” an ac­count of how a new group of sex­ual rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies are chal­leng­ing the hookup cul­ture.

Un­like the de­con­struct­ing rad­i­cals of old, th­ese “re­bel­lious good girls” are not out to de­mol­ish old tra­di­tions, but rather to re­build and re­new. They’re bak­ing ap­ple pies at home and stag­ing “Pure Fash­ion” shows at their churches. Even some­thing as passe as dat­ing has found its de­fend­ers, like the Yale un­der­grad who wrote in to her col­lege news­pa­per to en­cour­age guys to take girls out for a milk­shake — that old standby of Fifties courtship. As one teenage girl ex­plains, “We’re the es­tab­lish­ment, be­cause no­body else wants to es­tab­lish things.”

In­deed, the cur­rent es­tab­lish­ment, Ms. Shalit writes, has left girls dan­ger­ously adrift. Par­ents ex­plain how to pro­tect against preg­nancy and dis­ease but give their daugh­ters no in­for­ma­tion on how to safe­guard their hearts. Amer­i­can Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion-rec­om­mended Web sites of­fer tips on anal sex for teens who want to re­main vir­gins.

On a trip to the lo­cal mall, one can find thongs for tweens, scant­ily dressed Bratz dolls in tube tops and miniskirts, even a sub­ur­ban den­tist who ad­ver­tises: “We’re bring­ing the sexy back, by re­plac­ing all the teeth you lack.”

With the adults AWOL, a few brave girls are tak­ing charge, lead­ing protests and cam­paigns to fight our porni­fied cul­ture. Fifth-grader Ella Gun­der­son started a pub­lic-re­la­tions night­mare for the de­part­ment store Nord­strom when she wrote a let­ter protest­ing the skintight, low-cut cloth­ing on sale. Her cam­paign landed her on the “To­day” show, among many oth­ers, and Nord­strom soon came out with a new cloth­ing line called “Mod­est and Mod­ern.”

In Pitts­burgh, a group of teen girls led a suc­cess­ful “girl­cott” against Aber­crom­bie & Fitch af­ter the com­pany came out with a line of racy T-shirts bear­ing mes­sages like “Who Needs Brains When You Have Th­ese?”

Along with cloth­ing re­tail­ers, the girls are also tak­ing on old-line, sex­pos­i­tive fem­i­nism. Not that mod­estyniks don’t con­sider them­selves fem­i­nists, Ms. Shalit cau­tions. It’s just that they “use the term to sig­nal that they care about the dig­nity of women.”

The so-called “do-me” fem­i­nists “use it to in­di­cate that they want to fight the very no­tion of be­ing dig­ni­fied at all.” But in their rush to aban­don the old mod­els of “dig­ni­fied” fem­i­nin­ity in fa­vor of “bad girl” lib­er­a­tion, the sex-pos­i­tive fem­i­nists ac­tu­ally lim­ited the roles avail­able to women. Fem­i­nists used to com­plain about the “Madonna-Whore” di­chotomy, but now the only Madonna girls have to em­u­late is the cone­brassiered pop star who is merely like a vir­gin.

In or­der to be em­pow­ered, you have to be sexy. One fem­i­nist group, Real Hot, cre­ated a “Real Hot 100” list of out­stand­ing women to counter the lists in lad-mags like Maxim and FHM. “See how hot smart can be!” the group’s Web site en­thuses, along­side its logo, a volup­tuous wo­man clad in lin­gerie.

Why, Ms. Shalit asks, do women need to be seen as “hot” in or­der to be so­cially ac­cept­able? Can’t a wo­man just be smart? No one calls Bill Gates “hot” or “sexy” for his phil­an­thropic work, yet even toprank­ing fe­male chess play­ers feel the need to pose nude for Play­boy to help their ca­reers.

Men used to ob­jec­tify women, and now women ob­jec­tify them­selves so as not to seem “re­pressed.” “We con­tin­u­ally ma­lign the good girl as ‘re­pressed,’” Ms. Shalit writes, “while the bad girl is (wrongly) per­ceived as in­trin­si­cally ex­press­ing her in­di­vid­u­al­ity and some­how prov­ing her sex­u­al­ity.” But the sex­u­ally free “bad girl” is not as lib­er­ated as one might think.

Women are en­cour­aged to have sex as read­ily and ca­su­ally as men — and to be as emo­tion­ally de­tached as well. “Keep your hearts un­der wraps,” coun­sels Sev­en­teen, lest you seem “bor­ing and clingy.” Scar­leteen, a sex-ed Web site, in­cludes a “Sex Readi­ness Check­list” with this un­der “emo­tional items”: “I can sep­a­rate sex from love.” Cosmo ad­vises women to “al­ways keep your ex­pec­ta­tions low.” The way to “wow a man af­ter sex?” Ask for a ride home.

“What is the point of ca­sual sex if the sex part isn’t any good?” Ms. Shalit asks, quot­ing for­mer sex colum­nist Amy Sohn. It’s a ques­tion many girls are ask­ing. On one sexed site, the num­ber one topic for girls is how to refuse a boyfriend’s re­quest for sex with­out los­ing the boyfriend.

“Girls Gone Mild” treads much of the same ground as Ariel Levy’s “Fe­male Chau­vin­ist Pigs” and Pamela Paul’s “Porni­fied.” Where it stands out, though, is in its cham­pi­oning of “new role mod­els,” girls, like Ella Gun­der­son and the Girl­cot­ters, who are tak­ing a stand against the ex­cesses of the Sex­ual Revo­lu­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, many of th­ese women are black. One “prom­i­nent so­ci­ol­o­gist,” who asked to re­main name­less, ex­plained: “Black women have paid the heav­i­est price from the sex­ual revo­lu­tion in the United States . . . [B]oth as in­di­vid­u­als and in their com­mu­ni­ties as a whole, they now see the value of ab­sti­nence as a way to re­new fam­ily life.”

Ch­eryl Miller is a 2007 Phillips Foun­da­tion Fel­low.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.