If women knew what was good for them, they’d wear skirts to their ankles, remain virgins til marriage, stay off Prozac, and hold on to their dreams of finding the perfect man.
That, at least, is the opinion of 23-year-old Wendy Shalit, who is following her own advice to a T. With assaults on the sexual revolution, women’s liberation, political correctness and co-ed bathrooms, Shalit’s new book, A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue (Free Press), is sure to make her the new favorite enfant terrible of neocons everywhere. Her appearances in City Journal, Commentary and the Wall Street Journal make it clear they’ve already taken her under their wing.
What’s new about Shalit’s polemic is certainly not her advocating of conservative dress or sexual restraint. She thanks the Orthodox Jewish tradition—which she’s recently adopted—for that. (By the way, we’re not talking total chastity here: While Shalit is devoted to her premarital virginity, she did admit to LILITH’s editors that she’d like to make sure any potential husband is a “good kisser.”) What she’d like conservative women to realize is that rape, harassment, anorexia and a whole host of body- and sex-related issues are indeed problems for women; and she’d like feminists, who already know this, to recognize that the solution is modesty. “A man who is respectful of modesty doesn’t date rape, he doesn’t sexually harass,” she declared.
Shalit, who arrived for an interview in an ankle-length suit and high-heeled boots, grew up in a home where, as she describes it, her father encouraged her and her two sisters to speak their minds. (Readers can still find sister Ruth’s opinions in the New Republic). Shalit returns again and again to her father as her model, her judge and her cheering squad. A “free-market economist” by profession, he was of the mind that “feminists were exaggerating,” and the rest of the family fell in line.
Arriving at Williams College, Shalit planned to follow her father in his study of economics, “but,” she confesses, “I was totally distracted by the social drama.” There was a sex scene but no courtship (the casual “hook-up” was the preferred form of sexual gratification), many of her friends were on Prozac (“If it’s hard for you to be indifferent about sex, just try harder. Take Prozac,” she writes sarcastically), eating disorders were widespread and—much to her surprise—”the feminists were not exaggerating in terms of date rape or harassment.” Shalit first stirred up trouble on campus when she wrote an article in Commentary suggesting that women really didn’t like sharing bathrooms with men in their dorms.
Disgusted by the attitude that “promiscuity is sexy,” Shalit told LILITH she felt she “had to decide, ‘Which is worse for women: that virginity be prized or that virginity be derided?'” Retagging virginity with an elevated, Victorian price-tag, however, offers no solution to date rape or harassment. History has already disproved that notion.
Though Shalit poses some interesting questions, her simplistic answers are a disappointment. Her clothes are her own business, but for her to claim that women who do not share her sense of style are to blame for whatever happens to them is neither fair nor logical. What Shalit has achieved with her return to modesty, aside from a change of wardrobe, is simply a convoluted defense of her own virginity.