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September 02, 2010

Do the Gorillas Speak to You, Too?

A few weeks ago, psychologist Christopher Ryan wrote a CNN article, "Monogamy Unnatural For Our Sexy Species" in which he says that he considers himself "one of four African great apes." As every zoologist knows, one does not argue with a great  ape--one simply runs.  

However, I couldn't let this article pass without comment.  Mr. Ryan has a new book out in which he claims that human beings have been designed by natural selection to seek "extra-pair copulatory partners"—i.e., having sex with someone other than your partner or spouse—and that suppressing these instincts is futile.

What do you think?

Here is my reply, which CNN published today.   

July 18, 2008

The Future is Friendly?

A TELUS mobile poster recently caught my eye.  It was a simple subway ad asking the question, "How do you break up?"  Here were my options, according to Telus: "Text, email, call, messenger?"   Then at the bottom, without any trace of irony: "Telus. The future is friendly."

Apparently, not friendly enough.  Call me old-fashioned, but what happened to breaking up in person?  I mean, it's great that Facebook gives me an update whenever "So-and-so is no longer in a relationship with so-and-so," but this always makes me worry that this is the same way  so-and-so found out she'd been dumped in the first place. 

Lately, I've gotten a slew of Facebook messages connected to breakups-by-text, and so I'm wondering: How do people handle this, emotionally?  When someone "unfriends" you on Facebook, there is no real way to retaliate; there's no option to "Mark As, I Didn't Want to be His Friend Anyway'" or "Mark As Enemy." And that's annoying enough, but take a relationship with intimate feelings and potentially intimate body parts involved, and I would imagine that the feelings of rejection are multiplied a thousandfold if someone merely texts you "buh-bye!"

What do you think?  Is this really appropriate and I'm missing something?  I can see how someone might delude himself into thinking that he's tech-savvy because he's breaking up via a text message.  But maybe he--or she-- is just emotionally repressed.   

p.s. You can see a spoofed version of the Telus ad here.

July 11, 2008

(Bad for) All-Ages

I hope that everyone had a wonderful 4th of July--or Canada Day (as you can see, I am a very inclusive person).

Much to report but first, I am eager to get your take on "all-ages" clubs. A very young friend of mine was recently sexually assaulted at an all-ages club, and I have to admit that I find the very idea of an "all-ages" club quite disturbing.  Whose great idea was this, to have 13-year-olds bumping and grinding with 28-year-olds? The same people who think it's "cute" for 4-year-old girls to look "hot," no doubt.

For those of you who asked, the April Harvard conference on the future of feminism turned out to be quite fascinating, and so was the Swarthmore event.  Over 300 Swatties attended my talk and the Q&A; and even the hecklers were interesting! Stay tuned for a report on the college scene next.

Meanwhile, although I took a hiatus from blogging, I am pleased to report that I have personally answered all letters I've received (with the exception of Jacqueline's from Mississauga and Joanna from Syracuse, just received yesterday).  But now that my son is starting a playgroup for part of the day, I plan to catch up with all your emails next.  So please don't think that I don't appreciate your brilliant insights and inspiring stories--I truly do. 

Speaking of which, I think it's significant that much of my support has come from high school and college students, whereas my critics tend to be older and tend to pre-judge these girls without even hearing their stories first. What I've realized is that we need a revolution in the way we approach these issues: a new vocabulary and a new concept of female empowerment. Hence the title change of my new paperback, in bookstores as of this week.   

The new edition also includes a study guide for classrooms and book clubs, so let the discussions--and the revolution--begin!

December 12, 2007

Sadie Hawkins Birth Control

Recently, I've been hearing from several college-age women who are upset over the rising cost of the birth control pill.  (This issue got fresh ink in the New York Times.)

I did not question their choice to be sexually active; I simply asked if the young women had considered asking their partners to help out with the cost.  They both laughed.  "Forget about it," said one.  The other: "I once did ask this of the guy I was regularly hooking up with, and I never heard from him again.  Too much of a commitment."  (It doesn't help matters that men, apparently, are more attracted to women who  aren't on the Pill.)

I am familiar with the usual take on this issue: a young woman paying for her own birth control is supposedly independent--she's not reliant on any man.  Scarleteen informs teens that they're not ready for sex until they have a "sex budget" of at least $50 to cover birth control.  A young woman who can pay for her own birth control is "empowered," ready to enter a world of infinite possibilities. 

Or is she?

Leaving aside the question of sexually-transmitted diseases and the emotional consequences of sex, and leaving aside recent findings that the Pill can decrease a woman's sex drive long-term--are you leaving all this aside?--I have a very simple question.  What does this state of affairs, where the young women are expected to handle the entire cost of birth control, teach the young men?

Here is, alas, a typical tale from a popular online advice column: 

My boyfriend and I have been living together for a while now. We’re committed, but since we’re not ready to say “I do” or start a family, birth control (me taking the pill) is essential. I want him to share the not-insignificant cost of my prescription. He says none of the guys he knows split the contraception tab with their girlfriends, so why should he?
 

—B.K., New York, N.Y.

Call it chivalry or call it self-serving, but not too long ago, it wasn't uncommon for boyfriends to offer to pay for birth control. When your girlfriend went on the Pill, it was a pretty big deal.  Now suddenly, when the relationships don't last very long, it is simply taken for granted that birth control is a "woman's problem."

To me, behind all the bluster about the rising cost of birth control are two unmentioned issues.  One is the unfairness of one sex bearing the entire burden of birth control--and the misogyny behind what passes for empowerment nowadays. (The answer to the above question posed to the advice columnist, in case you were wondering, was that merely raising the issue constituted "fighting" and could "lead you back to your own place—where you’ll be paying 100 percent of everything." Nice.)  I think many women are feeling ambivalent about this situation, and rightly so: is it really wise to share your most intimate self with someone who will flee at the first whiff of responsibility? And does such a person really care about you, or is he just using you?

So what do you think--should birth control always be "woman's treat"?

November 30, 2007

Tales from the Road

OK, I've finally figured out how to embed my video from the "Modest Proposals" panel. (Enjoy hearing highlights from the rest of the panelists by searching for "modest proposals" on YouTube.)

After D.C. I appeared on a very interesting TV show in Toronto called "Uncommon Ground."

I was quite impressed with the host, Dr. Rachael Turkienicz, who is a very deep person and explores questions pertaining to women and spirituality with one guest each week.  By way of introduction to my book, she served up a rather troubling story from her own life.  When Rachael's daughter was in kindergarten, she came home one day and looking crestfallen, asked her mother: "Am I hot?"  Dr. Turkienicz asked for clarification.

"Well my friend said she's hot, but I'm not hot.  Mommy, am I? Am I hot?"

Dr. Turkienicz then suggested that if her friend was hot, perhaps she should have a drink of water or remove a layer of clothing.

Now, I'm sure there are people out there who will disagree with that response, but I think it was pitch-perfect.   Not everything has to be explained when you're six!

I thought about innocence again on Wednesday night, when I met a bunch of students at Fordham University.  After my talk, one young woman confessed that recently, holding a guy's hand in a movie theater had felt like a big deal to her. Without giving out too much information, suffice it to say that she was a very attractive and outgoing coed.  Yet her friends had all made fun of her and called her a prude.

Look, to each his own.  But if you start with the pressure to look hot at age six, probably you're on a track to thinking holding hands is nothing special by age 18.  And so the irony is, when we are deprived of the concept of innocence, later on we often miss out on the passion. 

Due to the ideological response to these issues--all the false dichotomies such as "anti-sex vs. pro-sex"-- we don't often hear it, but the jadedness contest doesn't make room for much fireworks.

On a practical note, a big thank you to Jenna Felz for making the Fordham event such a success.  Thanks to her organizational efforts we had a turnout of around 200 students! Some really terrific questions emerged from the audience--but I think I'll save those for another blog.

November 15, 2007

Take Back the Campus

Shaliteppc725833 Last night I returned from Washington, D.C., where I had the honor of meeting Dawn Eden, Laura Sessions Stepp, Cassy DeBenedetto, and Dr. Miriam Grossman. We all came together for a panel discussion on the hook-up culture and how to revive dating on campus. 

Apparently we're going to have video of the event soon, but in brief: I spoke about holding college administrators accountable for the sex fairs and sex plays they sponsor, and ending the fiction of the university's neutrality. Dr. Grossman spoke compellingly about the medical fallout of casual sex and Laura Stepp underscored the emotional toll.  Then Cassy mentioned, among other great ideas, the importance of forming alliances with sympathetic professors. Dawn Eden finished off with a very moving account of what love is truly about.   

For now I just wanted to say what a treat it was to meet other writers and activists who care so much about this issue.   Peddlers of pornography and cynicism tend to be very well-organized and good at forming alliances, but unfortunately those who believe in innocence and hope are more often isolated.  We're certainly out there, in equal if not greater numbers, but the smirkers intimidate.  They personally attack those who step out of line and make us feel like we're the "only ones."

But we're not, and an event like this--hearing from Cassy about the wonderful work that she is doing at Princeton through the Anscombe Society, for example--reminds us.

Finally, Dawn later shared a story I wasn't going to repeat, but since she mentions it on her blog ...Modestproposals

I went out for dinner with a male fan of Wendy's book A Return to Modesty, a work which praises not only female virtue, but also chivalry and male honor. Afterwards, the gent waited with me on the subway platform until my train came, even while his own train came and went in the other direction. When I thanked him for waiting with me, he said, "Wendy Shalit would never forgive me if I didn't."

This story did bring a big smile to my face, but that's not why I'm repeating it. I'm repeating it because we who argue for modesty are so often accused of advocating a "double standard." It's a very clever way of ending the discussion, but it's also completely false.  In over 12 years of speaking out and writing about this issue, I've yet to meet a single modesty/chastity advocate who believes in any sort of double standard.

The real difference--let's be clear--is between those who advocate for a single high standard and those who advocate an equal-opportunity low one.

November 09, 2007

Hope

It's been such an inspiring week hearing from some of you.  A thank you to Michelle from Scotland for her beautiful postcard and to the great Rachel D'Souza for passing on her wonderful poem.  The last stanza is so cute I can't resist reprinting it:

Wait for your prince,

don't settle for a frog.

And if you need some gal

support check out...Wendy's blog.

That's right!  And don't forget to join the Girls Gone Mild Book Club on Facebook--thanks to Shauna from LA who started it--where you can form alliances with other strong women (and some like-minded men too).      

Several undergraduates have written me to say they know they've made mistakes, but it can be so painful to start over and break with friends. I can definitely sympathize on that score.  At the same time, if "friends" are making fun of you for choosing not to participate in unhealthful behaviors, it's worth questioning whether these people were ever your friends to begin with.  Making better decisions typically brings better friends--meaning people who actually care about you. 

Speaking of which, I thought you'd all be inspired by reading Ally's story, below.  Ally is just 22, but it's never too late to start raising your standards.  Remember, you're worth it. 

In Wendy Shalit’s Girls Gone Mild, Chapter one “Hi, Slut!” captures the stories of teens and college aged students who have been oppressed by the expectation and pressure that they will engage in casual sex.  The story that Shalit tells deeply echoes my own experience with sex and dating.  I was twenty years old for the first time that I kissed a boy.  I thought that something was wrong with me, and felt prude and repressed. 

When I went to college I felt an even greater pressure to hook up as all my friends would randomly do so with boys after getting wasted on the weekends.  I wanted to go on dates, like the stories my parents would tell.  But dating as we know it has disappeared, “Much to the disappointment of many students, male and female, there’s no real dating scene at Duke--true at a lot of colleges”(3).

It would be weeks after my first kiss that I would lose my virginity to a very attractive stranger, a visitor to our school,  following the encouragements of my friends who couldn’t believe that I was still a virgin.  I thought to myself, “What is wrong with me? Why haven’t I had sex yet?” So I did it.  And just as Shalit maintains, the pressure to have casual sex is prevalent, and is proven to be very unfulfilling.  After I did it my friends all congratulated me and I felt a sense of relief.  But I also felt like I had done something terribly wrong, purging myself of feeling.

I’m not alone.  Shalit claims that college students are having sex when they really don’t want to, as looking wild and acting wild are supposed to be empowering.  But they often lead to “misery, especially for young women who quickly learn to put their emotions in deep freeze in order to do what is expected.”

When I went on Spring Break in Acapulco I went wild. I thought it was the cool thing to do.  I had sex with three people, including the club owner. He actually gave me a Girls Gone Wild Hat after we did it. I still have it.  I thought I was doing the right thing for a woman my age.  But after that trip I felt disgusted with myself. I was ashamed and empty. I thought I had become really good at keeping my emotions in check.  I could hook up with a guy and not fall for him.  But it still felt wrong.  I regret it.  “Everyone swims toward the norm and imagines others are having a great time, when in fact many are drowning”(12).

“Is sex more than just intercourse?”(4). This modern drive for sex has taken precedence over these courtship practices, along with love and intimacy and even marriage.  I have never been on a date.  Except with my boyfriend, but that doesn’t count.  Other than that I have never been on a date with a guy.  I always wanted to go on dates, but none of my friends ever did it, none of them.   I think this has proven to be disadvantageous to society as whole, detaching our emotions and very own self-value.

I feel as though there are conflicting social messages.  My inherent values and core beliefs adhere to those of commitment and love.  My primary goals in life consist of marriage and children.  But I have diverged from my true worth as I have succumbed to the new standard.  I have had sex with five people, and I was only in a relationship with one of them. That doesn’t make me proud. But we live in an age where as Shalit writes, “sex tapes are star-making vehicles,” and the term slut is casually coined to refer to women across America. I don’t want to be part of the norm.  I want to raise my standards.  I don’t want to have sex until I am married. And at the very least, I won’t have sex with somebody until I truly get to know him.

Obviously, Ally has an honesty and courage which is extremely admirable, but to me, the great lesson of her story is this: That "friend" of yours whom you're trying so hard to impress by being "wild," it's quite likely that she is harboring doubts of her own. Your speaking out and making better decisions can inspire her to have hope and make better decisions too.

Never underestimate the impact you can have, just by staying true to your own hopes.

October 26, 2007

A Question--and an Answer

Girlspittsburgh A few days ago I spoke with a group of wonderful high school students in Pittsburgh, the morning after participating in a conference at the Carnegie Museum.  After I flew back home, I began to sort through the remainder of the girls' questions. With nearly 300 girls present, I wasn't able to answer all their questions, so the girls had written them out on notecards, while others simply raised their hands.

Later on, these notecards proved so much fun to read through, since I had asked the girls to doodle if they did not have a question. (This was so that no one would try to guess who was asking the more private questions.) 

Thus did I find--in between cards that read, "I'm hungry," and "Go Steelers!"--one plaintive card bearing this query in light blue marker:  "Where/How Do You Find a Good Man?"

Before I could properly consider the matter, an interesting message popped up in my Facebook inbox, from a young man who had attended the previous evening's talk at the Carnegie Museum. And it suddenly occurred to me that his e-mail was the best answer for this particular girl.  (The author, Joe Muir, has generously allowed me to reprint his email with his full name so as to confirm that he does, in fact, exist).  And without further ado, here it is:

"First off, I want to thank you for your talk last night, and for the work you are doing... . Due to my having two sisters close to me in age, and being relatively close to them, and their girlfriends, I'd like to believe that I've learned first-hand how to treat women with respect and dignity.

I think and read about subjects pertaining to your field of study with much frequency; it is something which is very close to my heart. I think the four groups of people that are under attack the most by society today are the unborn, the old, the disabled, and women. It pains my heart in ways that I can't express in words to see so many young, beautiful women today buying the sham lie from society, dwindling their beauty down to nothing other than their breasts.

Anyway, I regret not commenting last night, so thought I'd share with you what my thoughts were. If I said anything, it would've sounded something like this:

I am definitely in the minority tonight, being but one of a very few men here, amongst this sea of beautiful women, women not content to buy the lie from society regarding where their beauty lies. I want to thank all of you for being here, and encourage all of you continue doing what do. I also want to encourage each of you to never, ever settle for second best in a relationship, as you deserve the best. It is far better to not be in a relationship, wishing you were in one, than to actually be in one, wishing you weren't. Be willing, I pray you, to be single for the rest of your life, if that's what it takes to not settle for second best; as that would be far better than marrying a man who cannot love you.

I really appreciated Joe's message, especially because I am loath--and I mean loath--to unveil some kind of magic formula for finding a good man. We all know talented, amazingly kind and beautiful women who have done everything in the book and yet they haven't found the right person just yet.  So I would never want to imply that we are in total control of our lives (especially since it's probably better that we aren't).

At the same time, the good men are most assuredly out there.

Yet one of the great frustrations of life is that you can't really look for them in any particular location, like Denny's or the mall.  ("Sale on Good Men! Only $1,999--Grab, Hug 'N Go!") And perhaps that is just as well, too.   To me, Joe's commentary touches on a paradox: the more you search within yourself and  keep your standards high, the more likely it is that a good man will find you. 

And last but not least, thanks to all the great ladies at the Commonwealth Education Organization for making these events happen, and for your kind hospitality during my fabulous stay in Pittsburgh.

October 19, 2007

Hotness Does Not = Happiness

A few people have asked me my opinion on last month's New York Times report on happiness and how there seems to be, evidently, a widening "happiness gap" between men and women.

One of the causes, according to Betsy Stevenson, a researcher at UPenn, is the pressure on girls to be "a hottie."  Dr. Stevenson cites an April article by Sara Rimer, about a group of "incredibly impressive teenage girls" in Newton, Mass.

The girls were getting better grades than the boys, playing varsity sports, helping to run the student government and doing community service. Yet one girl who had gotten a perfect 2,400 on her college entrance exams noted that she and her friends still felt pressure to be “effortlessly hot.”

The interesting thing about this "hottie theory" of unhappiness, of course, is that being a hottie is supposed to lead to happiness.  So why doesn't it?

In reviewing some magazines directed at tween girls for Girls Gone Mild, I was pretty shocked at the way  8-year-old girls were being explicitly told to look "hot" (by, for instance, the publisher of Bratz magazine).  Obviously, if girls are focused on pleasing boys and men before they even develop sexual feelings,  it's going to feel foreign to them to develop their own goals and dreams.

Any other ideas?

I'm Back

Well, I'm back from holiday and wanted to thank all of you for your notes and letters, which I hope to respond to very shortly.  There is so much to talk about.  In my pile of mail I was delighted to find a package from Australia, with a note from a very interesting woman named Selina Ewing.  She is the author of the research paper Faking It, which is a roast of women's magazines--using the format of a women's magazine--and I think it's fantastic.

(You can read more about Women's Forum Australia here.)

My favorite part of Faking It is the headline "Problems? You're On Your Own."  It's funny but the cover--alas-- definitely captures something, wouldn't you say?

Fakingit


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