Wendy Shalit is the author of A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. The enthusiastic response to her book from young women around the world prompted her to launch the online community, Modestly Yours. Today she lives with her family in Toronto, Ontario, where she enjoys various modern amenities such as the dishwasher and has no desire to return to the nineteenth century. Join the conversation at www.girlsgonemild.com.
Wendy Shalit was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She began writing "A Return to Modesty" as an undergrad at Williams College, where she received her B.A. in Philosophy in 1997.
Shalit's essays on literary and cultural topics have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Slate, and other publications. Her second book, "The Good Girl Revolution" (Random House) came out in 2008, and her work has been translated into several languages.
She has also debated her views on NPR, at the Oxford Union, and most recently, with her three lively and opinionated children.
In 2000, when she was only twenty-three, Wendy Shalit published A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, a book in which she argued that the sexual revolution may not have been entirely beneficial for women. She decried the lack of modesty this revolution has brought about and, according to TIME defended "compellingly, shame, privacy, gallantry, and sexual reticence." Of course many people, and feminists in particular, were disgusted with the book and ruthlessly mocked her.
In her second book, Girls Gone Mild, she writes about a new trend she has discovered in speaking to thousands of girls and young women in the aftermath of the publication of A Return to Modesty. She draws upon over 100 in-depth interviews and thousands of email exchanges with women from ages twelve to twenty eight, representing diverse racial, religious and economic backgrounds. Some identify as Christians or Jewish, liberals or conservatives, feminists or not. The one thread tying all of these together is a desperation to find new and better role models. Shalit says the book is "about my search for an alternative to our Girls Gone Wild culture. It's about finding a way to acknowledge sexuality without having to share it with strangers. It's about rediscovering our capacity for innocence, for wonder, and for being touched profoundly by others."
Shalit opens by discussing Bratz, those Barbie-like dolls that look "hotter than hot," appearing overtly sexual in slinky clothes. Marketed to pre-teen girls, these dolls encourage even the youngest girls to see themselves as sexual creatures who can use their sexuality to attract others. In a Bratz book even the youngest girls are asked to fill in the blanks: "When I want to look hot for an extra special occasion I'll put on _________.Read more ›
Wendy Shalit has written another great book that all young women and parents should read. I think that very few adults (including myself) truly understand how very sex-saturated our children's environment has become. Girls are under constant pressure to turn themselves into objects for male viewing pleasure and servants to boys' sexual desires; which is terrible for both sexes, but particularly destructive to the girls. How did our supposedly feminist society get to be so bad for girls? When did it become so bad to be good, and when did 'badness' become an absolute requirement? Why did we stop protecting even our youngest kids from the worst our society can produce? When did sex become the main way for women to claim power--albeit a fleeting and false power--instead of the truer, more permanent achievements of mind and skill? (Gee, did nothing change?)
Shalit describes all the pressure modern girls face to objectify themselves, to put themselves on display, to smother their deeper instincts in order to fit in. It's a terrible picture, and I feel lucky to have escaped so much of it myself, and very worried about how my own young daughters will fare. But Shalit also offers us hope, by introducing us to amazing young girls who are speaking up for themselves, their dignity, and their own desires to achieve. I admire these young women so much, and I hope that more of them will appear and start changing the world. This "fourth-wave feminism," as Shalit terms the rising generation of outspoken girls, seems to me to be a much better, truer, and healthier feminism than what we have seen in the past few years.Read more ›
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A few years back, when this same author released A Return To Modesty, her ode to all things chaste, I read it in a sociology class and found it so preachy and unrealistic that had I been an Amazon reviewer then I probably would have trashed it here. But now it's 2007 and after hearing Wendy Shalit on NPR this week, I got the cheerfully titled Girls Gone Mild and was startled at how much sense some (not all) of what she wrote made to me. Of course I also fell into a brief depression when I was compelled to realize that I, barely a decade out of high school and so recently part of the demographic Shalit is writing about, was hopelessly past it all and now every bit as disapproving of the culture of sex that has somehow come to be forced on girls so young that by all rights they should still be playing with Barbie's.
In Girls Gone Mild Shalit still retains a little of her sing-song preachiness that gagged me in A Return To Modesty, and I think her "hundred girls surveyed" must've been hand-picked to embody certain pre-programmed extremes (come on, how many parents truly pressure their teens to have sex because they're ashamed to be raising an eighth-grade virgin?) but just as often I respected the assertions behind her chapters on the marketing of revealing attire to an ever-younger demographic; the raunchiness of music that targets pre-teens; and her statements made about the emotional neediness in a lonely culture of minors inundated by pressure to see the mandatory normality of serial hookups that leave a desire for emotional closeness anything but fulfilled. And Shalit and others from both the right and left who point out the scarcity of positive role models for girls in this decade are exactly right.Read more ›