Posted July 10, 2007
Author reports 'good girls'
are speaking out against promiscuity
By Andrea Slivka
Catholic News Service
Some girls are choosing to be mild, rejecting the wild.
And mild doesn't mean meek and passive -- these girls are standing up to pressures to be promiscuous, rejecting the "Girls Gone Wild" culture, according to author Wendy Shalit, a 1997 graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts.
Shalit interviewed girls and young women from across the country for her new book, "Girls Gone Mild," which profiles young women who stand up to social pressures to embrace promiscuity. Her title is a takeoff on the sexually graphic videos of college students.
"It's about how people misunderstand the 'good girl,'" she told Catholic News Service in an interview in Washington July 2. She believes society often ostracizes these girls or views them as "people pleasing." Instead, she said they are actually "rebels" in choosing to go against teachers and parents to live a chaste lifestyle.
Shalit wants to provide an opportunity through her book for these young women to share their stories and become role models for other young women.
Shalit began doing research for the book after noticing a trend in reactions to her previous book, "A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue," published in 2000 when she was 23.
"I perceived a generational difference -- that the people who attacked me were usually the baby boomers, and the people who sent me fan mail were from a much younger generation," she said, referring to teenagers. She also found a third category of women who tend to be in their early to mid-30s and try to raise their children differently.
As part of the research for her book, she interviewed more than 100 girls and young women from the ages of 12 to 28, and communicated with more than 3,000 other young adults who responded to her Web site, www.modestyzone.net, according to the author's note in the book. Some described themselves as liberals and others as conservatives. She also interviewed young men and parents.
She traces the current norm for female sexuality back to the 1960s. Emotionally detached sex became the ideal form of sexuality, while repression and prudishness were seen as the only other option, she said.
"Today we seem to have this allergy to wholesomeness where no one wants to be the goody-goody," Shalit told CNS.
What's needed instead, according to Shalit, is to expand the options for young people, to rediscover "our capacity for innocence, for wonder, and for being touched profoundly by others," she said in the preface of the book. "My goal is not to attack those who want to be 'wild,' but rather to expand the range of options for young people, who I believe are suffering because of the limited choices available to them."
She said the current "bad girl" mentality isn't working, and young women are looking for new role models. She hopes her book will provide vibrant alternatives to the example set by socialite Paris Hilton.
She includes the story of about 20 teen girls between the ages of 13 and 16 who organized a "girlcott" against Abercrombie & Fitch in 2005 when the company sold women's shirts that said across the front of them: "Who needs brains when you have these?" The teens' actions led the company to eventually pull the shirts from their stores.
Another girl profiled in the book complained to her school board about sexually explicit material read aloud in her 11th-grade class, while another felt pressured by her mother to lose her virginity.
In her book, Shalit reports on an increasing number of religious and secular student-run college organizations that encourage their members to wait for sex until marriage and invite speakers to discuss the topic.
In contrast to the young women's stories, she also included sex advice to teenagers from parents and Web sites.
"Try the shoes on before you buy them," she said some parents tell their daughters. She said other parents wonder if their daughter is a lesbian if she is still a virgin in college. Shalit said she has heard from some young women with complaints that no one understands them.
"I think they (the parents) have flawed notions about what liberation and empowerment is," said Shalit, who was born in Milwaukee and lives in Toronto.
Because the book quotes some of the graphic advice given to teens, she said the book is not for younger teens but for parents and college students and "perhaps 15-to-18-year-olds who have been exposed to a lot."
She hopes the book will encourage parents to be good role models for their children, to empower their daughters with a sense of dignity and to cultivate loving relationships with their children. She has found most young women who are able to stand up to the promiscuous culture have a close, loving relationship with at least one parent.
While she is not writing to a religious audience, she said her views are influenced by her Jewish background. In Orthodox Jewish communities, men are not allowed to look lustfully at women. As a result, she sees how women trust and help one another instead of having a sense of sexual competition and mistrust, which she sees as a result of the "sexual free-for-all" of the secular culture.
Whatever her readers' backgrounds, she said she hopes women can build an atmosphere of trust with each other by valuing virtue over promiscuity.