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Wendy Shalit

Posted by pocochina on August 21, 2007

and the case of “why is anyone reading this idiot anyway?”

I keep seeing article after article after article expressing deep frustration with Wendy Shalit’s new book, Girls Gone Mild, which seems to be all about how third wave feminism has Caused Random Acts of Flashing and Whorified Our Children, to the point where girls are having sex in the streets because they are afraid of the Big, Bad Feminists.

First of all, everyone who makes this argument should be summarily sent back to Sociology 101, History 101, and the Derek Zoolander School for Kids Who Can’t Read Good.  I am so fucking sick of it I could actually puke.  Feminism is all about giving women and girls the free choice of sexuality.  Patriarchy is what pressures young women to make choices about their sexuality that they wouldn’t otherwise make.  Yes, Wendy, this includes having sex before they’re ready, just as much as it includes keeping their legs closed until they get the All-Important Rock.  Third-wave feminists have actually taken time out of our bra-burnin’, sex-havin’, boob-flashin’ schedules to protest some of the very phenomena that make their way into the book – we’ve been on those Abercrombie shirts since you were writing your last howl on how you think the cool girls might not like you.

I should say here that I am writing based off of a review* and not the book itself because I have sworn that I will never read a Wendy Shalit book again.  I read A Return to Modesty three years ago – or, more accurately, I tried to read it, but I had to throw it away when I was halfway through.  (I should also explain that I almost never throw books away.  I don’t like to waste trees or ideas.  But when ideas are so bad I can’t have them near me because they hurt my soul, I toss the book rather than being annoyed by its presence.)  Yes!  I threw out a book I paid good money for, at the my local independent bookstore/restaurant/bar.  It made me cringe.  I was embarrassed that I’d let people see me reading it on public transportation.

The last straw was a sentence that ran something like “x% of school-age girls sexually abused!  Does that sound like modesty?”  (I’d look it up, but I threw out my book.)  It was in a chapter which examined Lolita – a book about how pedophiles are sick fucks who project their sexuality onto their victims, incidentally – and came to the conclusion that not only did the book mean that All Little Girls are Big, Big Sluts, but it was all because of the damned sexual revolution.  At the time, I wasn’t offended as a feminist, but I was infuriated by the victim-blaming.  Skirts do not rape.  Drinks do not rape.  High heels do not rape.  Rapists rape.  End of sentence.  And no doubt about it, the statistics she was citing were rape.  You can dress your strawvictim up in whatever you want, but when a child is sexually abused, it is abuse and not a lack of “modesty”.  Oh, and postscript, no matter how much “modesty” a rape victim may lack, she does not deserve to be shamed by anyone.  Especially not a lazy writer who misreads a novel and then uses it as a comprehensive cultural analysis.

Oh, there’s more victim-blaming, including eating disorders.  First of all, eating disorders are not vanity, they are not an expression of sexuality.  Nothing will get you out of the mood better than fasting for five days.  In fact, they often go hand in hand with exactly the kind of body shame Shalit would have us embrace.

And it’s unfortunate that her prose makes me want to vomit, and I absolutely refuse to spend money that will support her habit, because I’m deeply familiar with one of the universities that she gathers her anecdotal “evidence” from and I’d be really intrigued to put that in the proper context.  I’d buy it off Amazon, but then they’d know I bought it, and I’d borrow it from a friend, but friends don’t let friends spend money on that crap.  So oh well.

Shalit has a penchant for taking a feminist position on something socially problematic – say, those “who needs brains when you have these” shirts – and then saying that feminism cause the problem, when feminists are working tirelessly on solutions.  Feminists do not want women to have sex they don’t want, we do not want women to eschew their brains for their looks, we do not want women to appear in soft-core porn unless they actuallly, honestly, independently want to do so.

The conversation around sexuality is vital.  Because our cultural arithmetic is so heavily steeped in the archaic notion that Girls = Teh Sex, it’s going to be especially critical around young women.  And if Shalit would make her argument against that particular cultural imperative, she’d find feminists a whole lot more sympathetic to her argument.  She might even find a few feminists making a large part of her argument.  Maybe not the part about waiting until marriage – although that’s certainly her prerogative, if it’s her choice – but certainly she could contribute to the enormous feminst dialogue about the immense pressure on young women to perform as a specific kind of sexuality.

Ironically?  This “blame feminism for everything” crap is, unfortunately, so hot right now.

* http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?arti

cle=unrequited_love by Deborah Siegel, who is far mor charitable than I am, and is also a braver woman than I for actually reading an entire Wendy Shalit book.
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