Wednesday, August 29, 2007

You're Not Wearing That to School! Girls Go Mild by Wendy Shalit

As a parent who survived a daughter's teen years and now has a granddaughter just entering those restless years, I was interested in an extensive interview I heard with author Wendy Shalit, who roiled the waters a decade ago with her book A Return to Modesty.

Shalit's new book, Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self Respect and Find It's Not Bad to Be Good, takes on teen clothing and sexual practices head on, stating flatly that "looking 'wild' and acting 'wild' are supposed to be empowering, but more often they lead to misery."

Shalit lays most of blame for "girls gone wild" on "the old feminists" who she claims equated liberation with the sexual license formerly reserved in our culture for males. Her "new feminists," she says, are turning to a "modesty movement" in dress and personal behavior which she claims are a better fit for young women.

She tosses plenty of bombs at parents who dress their children provocatively and regard virginity in their teenaged daughters as cause for embarrassment. To her credit, she does come down on the side of a single standard of morality for boys and girls, believing as she does that the non-emotional "hook-up" style of the college-age crowd does not provide for the development of real or loving relationships between men and women.

Admitting that "clothing is just the tip of the iceberg," she nevertheless seems to think it's a good place to start, proposing a "modest but modern" line of attire for girls.

Does this proposal mean we'll see a revival of Peter Pan collars, long-sleeved blouses, and long dresses? Burkas beginning at middle school? I doubt it. The "casualization" of America has progressed to the point that we're all letting a lot of it hang out these days. I'm no expert on fashion or sexual mores, but I suspect Shalit's campaign is little more than spitting into the wind. However, if she manages to raise the level of adolescent decolletage by an inch or so, that won't be all bad.

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  • Is this book geared for teens? I can't tell if it's designed for teens to actually read of if it's designed for their parents to read and discuss with their teens...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:24 AM  

  • It's about time someone started to write stuff like this. My wife and daughters have a hard time shopping for clothes because so much of it is so revealing. And I think she's spot-on regarding hook-ups stunting maturity when it comes to relationships.

    As for clothes, some enterprising designer deserves to make a fortune designing things that kids can wear in front of their classmates and grandparents without feeling embarrassed.

    By Anonymous Scott, at 7:49 AM  

  • "Shalit lays most of blame for "girls gone wild" on "the old feminists" who she claims equated liberation with the sexual license formerly reserved in our culture for males."

    Is it worth mentioning that males behaving so then were not considered adults worth respecting?'

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:56 AM  

  • I really have to wonder why the free market isn't working better than it is in this area. I hear other parents complain all the time about the slutty clothes available for girls (and the thuggish clothes available for boys). Someone could make a mint designing and selling decent kids' clothes, but few have jumped on that market. The few that have (e.g., Strasburg and Hartstrings/Kitestrings) are majorly expensive.

    I think this is a situation where the designers of clothing are much more concerned with being hip and "edgy" than they are with actually producing something consumers want. It's kind of like the television thing: Despite a clear market for clean family shows exhibiting traditional values, Holly-York continues to produce the same crap because the trashy entertainment industry culture gags at the thought of Ozzie & Harriet.

    By Blogger Ben, at 9:13 AM  

  • My 15 year old solves the problem by wearing boy-clothes and message T's.

    It's not quite so bad as a couple years ago, though, when it was near impossible to find tops that weren't blatantly underclothing. Now the style seems to be layers of shirts, any one of which would be indecent by itself, either see-through or too skimpy.

    Oh, and something to consider for a way to enhance modesty in girls is sports bras. They don't look like underwear when the straps show and most are designed to be worn as a top in the gym and are almost decent by themselves.

    By Blogger Synova, at 10:13 AM  

  • Dear Anonymous 7:24,
    This book is probably aimed at adults of the concerned parent variety, but it would certainly be of interest to teens of ca. 16 and above.

    Younger "mature" teens (I know that's a weasel word, because "maturity" is subjective) might gain some insight from it, but others might reject advice from "old" people over 30!

    You'd have to read it and intuit how it would strike your teenager.

    By Blogger GTC, at 10:18 AM  

  • There's a company trying to do something about this. Yield Apparel is producing stylish but modest clothing, and doing good things in the world with every purchase (portion of profits from a pair of jeans feeds a child in Africa for 3 months).

    I'm not an employee, but I am a parent and a satisfied consumer. They're worth taking a look at. There lineup is pretty limited right now, just jeans and t-shirts, but they just started.

    My favorite part is a "keep it zipped" badge on the inside of the guys jeans zipper, and a "keep out" badge on the girls zipper inside placket. Sorry for the commercial, but I love what this company is trying to do in the marketplace, definitely counter-cultural.

    By Blogger Philip, at 11:05 AM  

  • A bit off the clothing topic, but a key advertising point of American Girl magazine is that they don't have "dating" advice, risque fashion or any other of the more adult sorts of topics that seem to permeate many girl/teen magazines. Their motto seems to be "let a girl be a girl," and my girl enjoys every issue thoroughly.

    By Blogger submandave, at 11:39 AM  

  • One of my favorite things about my visit to Utah was that every store was filled with regular, non-slutty clothing. The last time I went by a Limited Too shop in our local mall, the window was filled with things that looked like they belonged in the Victoria's Secret down the hallway. To say nothing of things written on the seat of people's pants. When I manage to find something modest, I buy one in each of several different colors -- and then don't find anything else for two or three years.

    By the way, I think that the blame for girls dressing the way they do lands in the general cultural milieu; I don't know many parents who really think innocence and purity are "shameful" in their children, but I know plenty of MTV shows that promote that sort of thinking, and magazines geared to 11-to-14 year olds which do likewise. Sometimes (usually) people buy things because they think that's what's available or what everyone else is doing; the radical increases in children's allowances and 10-year-olds with cell phones are examples of the same phenomenon.

    By Blogger Sarah, at 2:58 PM  

  • I'm thinking that "modest but modern" as "a good place to start" may be akin to Rudy Giuliani's "broken windows" approach to cleaning up the neighborhood's act.

    By Blogger Sissy Willis, at 4:29 PM  

  • I'm was amazed a few months ago when I saw a ten year old girl's thong peeking out from low cut cut jeans. She was still trying to play with other kids, but was having a hard time dealing with the wedgies and her pants falling down.

    I was rather apalled as I know that a parent had to buy this for her.

    Nice review! Shannon

    By Blogger Shannon, at 6:26 PM  

  • My 15 year old solves the problem by wearing boy-clothes and message T's.

    I'm still trying to figure out when T-shirts stopped being unisex...I hate the way "women's T-shirts" over-emphasize my chest.

    The whole "shirts with messages" thing is interesting, of itself. When I was that age (and now), the messages on my shirts were from camps I attended, school and church activities I was part of, and local colleges and festivals--in other words, the messages reflected my achievements, affiliations, and interests.

    Now the messages are all creepy..."future pr0n star," "hot princess," "you can't afford me", blah blah blah. I suppose they're advertising their interests, but in a sad way.

    By Blogger Radish, at 7:28 PM  

  • She wears the boy T-shirts too.

    She had a happy bunny one but it was pretty mild. She's got some band T-shirts and they aren't rude, just black. The naughtiest that I can think of off-hand is a men's T with a chipmunk holding a stick guarding some peanuts that says "Protect your nuts."

    "By reading this you have given me temporary control of your mind," is just funny.

    The really freaky thing is that it's easier to find something modest and positive at Hot Topic than at the regular stores with girl stuff.

    "Princess", "brat", "spoiled", "Daddy's credit card" shirts are offensively negative. I wouldn't want any of my children to think of themselves that way.

    By Blogger Synova, at 10:49 PM  

  • I agree with both of you about the bratty tees! I hate them, too! I also hate the boy tees which have the same kind of messages--insulting their sisters, "Lazy," "Underachiever," etc.

    If the shirts can't refer to something to be proud of, they shouldn't say anything at all.

    Maybe we're preaching to the choir here, but Geez, Parents, "teach your children well!" Nobody likes or needs a 33-year-old spoiled brat or potty mouth. Teach them what works in the adult world before it's too late!

    Respect for achievement and kindness, please!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:04 PM  

  • I am a fan of Wendy and I enjoyed reading the rebel column on her site.I bought and really loved the Princess Bubble book she reviewed.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:24 PM  

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