In the Blog
have the girls really gone mild?
Has anybody heard of Wendy Shalit? She has a new book out called Girls Gone Mild. It reports from the movement headed by teenage girls who want to make modesty cool again, and reject the pressure to put out all over the place, or at least wear a t-shirt that says “Stacked Hottie.” There’s a favourable article about her in the Toronto Star.
In the late 90’s when Shalit was only 23, she wrote A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Value arguing that women’s attempts to liberate themselves sexually have really just taken the mystique and grace out of sex, and consigned women to dreary hookups and the loss of male honour.
At the time Shalit’s calls to women to cover up, hold back and wait until marriage were painted as staunchly anti-feminist. But almost ten years later, our culture has changed. In the time when the Pussycat Dolls are painted as the model of female empowerment (yes yes, I know I need a new target other than the Pussycat Dolls…) and Bratz dolls encourage two year-olds to wear thongs (okay, maybe an exaggeration), could it be that a little Shalit style modesty wouldn’t hurt us?
After all, Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs, though controversial, has been taken seriously by the feminist community. In it, Levy suggested that 70’s feminists’ attempts to sexually liberate women backfired, and instead created a generation of women who are simply complicit in their own objectification.
Jessica Valenti at Feministing.com though, isn’t buying it. She has a pretty searing critique of Girls Gone Mild here, where she suggests that Shalit has co-opted feminist language, and even faked some of the interviews with teenage girls, calling into question Shalit’s claims that teenage girls find the pressure to be “liberated” overwhelming. Has anybody read Girls Gone Mild, or do any of our teenage readers know anything about this underground campaign for ankle cover?
The huge problem with both Levy and Shalit, is that neither of their arguments make space for the fact that maybe not all women who are into porn, and happy having many sexual partners, are poor lost girls who are trading sex for validation. Neither of their arguments can sustain the fact that some women have a lot of sex or pursue a lot of sex because they just plain like it. And the thing is, while wearing thongs, making out with your best girls, and flashing the Girls Gone Wild camera crew are completely acceptable and even encouraged these days, I don’t believe that having a healthy and happy sexual appetite is. And until we get to the point where it’s okay for women to desire sex, are critiques that unwittingly beat down women who like sex really that helpful?
I tend to air on the side of no, it isn’t helpful, and if ladies want to pole dance, let’s support them in that. Except for one big little side story: there’s a reason why Girls Gone Mild registered on my radar. Once upon a time in 1999, I was an 17 year-old virgin who was planning to wait until I fell in love to get down. But the lack of suitable lovers around me meant I was getting older and older, and still hadn’t had sex. At the school I went to at the time though, that wasn’t exactly hip. I worried that when I got to university no one would want to befriend, let alone date, a no-good virgin. I anxiously tried to scheme up ways to hide my dirty virginity (red nail polish? lots of hairspray? push-up bras?). It was often on my mind. And then I found a copy of my parents’ Time Magazine, with an article about Shalit, which I managed to rustle up here (isn’t the internet amazing?) I remember being super comforted to learn that there were other virgins like me out there, or at least people who thought it was a-ok to wait it out.
Whether women are being pressured to cover up or to get down, it’s all bad news. Any kind of pressure to be sexual in a way that doesn’t express a woman’s own sexuality, is just proof that we’ve got a long way to go.
All this reminds me a little bit of the marriage debate: in the end, as a feminist, what I want is a world where ladies can do strip teases on their front lawns and sleep with all their neighbours, or get married to their first boyfriend when they’re 22, or wait until their late 30’s to get down, or do whatever the heck makes them happy - and be supported in their choices. Maybe I should give equal supports to Annie Sprinkle and Wendy Shalit - together they may just help us to get to that mythical world.