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Showing 1-10 of 13 reviews(3 star)show all reviews
on November 29, 2001
I picked up this book with the notion that I was going to enjoy it. I finished this book disliking it ever so slightly. It would have made an awesome college report, but once you decide to publish it for the general public, the standard changes and the bar is raised. For one thing, I could have done without all the "kind of" and "gotta". This book, so academic, should have been proofread with that in mind. The casual use of colloquialisms and slang was out of place and detracted value.
Although I share many of her thoughts, I was irritated by some of the liberties she took when presenting them. For one thing, Wendy likes to generalize. She writes about a 19-year old who decided to get married. Wendy praises her decision, and makes a comment on the "words of tragedy" that the young bride had to hear. I too would issue words of tragedy to the vast majority of 19-year old GIRLS thinking about getting married! Statistics tell us that the younger you are when you marry, the higher your chances for divorce. Although the specific case that Wendy mentions might have been different, why does she turn up her nose to the "words of tragedy"? It is a poor idea to get married so young, because your chances for success are stacked against you. This is a substantiated fact. If Wendy had been truly rigorous in her analysis, she should have refrained from criticizing those who objected to such a young marriage, therefore generalizing marrying at 19 as a "swell" idea.
One area that I found particularly offensive is her opinion on antidepressants. Depression is a legitimate mental ailment, that in many cases has a clinical origin. For decades men and women alike have been blown off by their doctors whenever they have complained about feeling "blue". "Oh, you just need to get out some more. Take a vacation, go shopping! You'll see how you'll snap out of it soon!". What can you do if you have a biochemical imbalance in your brain? What would happen if doctors treated pancreatitis with the same cavalier attitude? Once again, Wendy falls prey of generalization, an easy resource for green writers. There might be some physicians out there that prescribe Prozac in the way Wendy describes, but this is no ground to make a sweeping generalization on the use of antidepressant medication.
The episode when her friend goes to the doctor to get a prescription for the pill is sad. Wendy paints the doctor as devoid of any sensitivity, when the only thing the woman was trying to do was her job. I found it downright pathetic the squeamishness that her friend experienced once at the doctor's office, but I find a million times more objectionable the account that Wendy makes of the episode.
Her quotes on Marx are quite ridiculous, which are not improved by her writing. It is almost as if she had reached a circular reference (see page 146).
She is right on when commenting on the loss of manners in our society. I notice an omnipresent lack of respect in our daily life, to the point that someone having a courteous gesture towards you is more of a surprise than the norm. But I fail to see the correlation between lack of modesty and lack of courtesy. Bad manners are an equal opportunity defect, affecting men and women alike.
No matter what, I agree with Wendy Shalit's thesis. As a society, we are oversexed. Women have gotten the short end of the stick after the sexual revolution of the 60's. It is indignant that fourth graders have to learn about masturbation and orgasms. And I am too an essentialist! I only wish Wendy had communicated her message better.
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on March 22, 2001
Apparently this book grew out of the issue of unisex bathrooms and showers at Ms. Shalit's college. I can't say as I would care for that, either. The problems with uncritical condemnation of the sexual revolution (which, as Riane Eisler clearly demonstrates, was still largely a male-dominated affair) include: (1) different women (and men) have different levels of sexual modesty; each must be free to discover and assert his or her own comfort zone; (2) the author speaks as if assuming that all women are modest by nature and all (or most) men are more sexually aggressive than women; (3) there IS such a thing as too much security, protection or enforcement of modesty requirements, to the point where women in some cultures are taking their lives in their hands every time they step outdoors or show their faces in public; and (4) the sexual revolution was merely one facet of women's overall struggle for freedom, autonomy and self-mastery, and away from the world where they were the possessions of legal (male) guardians until they were well into their 30's. It is highly unlikely that it is necessary or desireable to go back to that world, regardless of how aggressively its backlashes attempt to drive us there. It is incumbent upon whole societies to build a world where women's autonomy and self-authority are honored and respected, and it is not necessary to retreat into old systems of hierarchic control in order to be both free and safe from sexual harm.
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I confess to expecting not to like this book when I read it. I was pleased to find that there were more than a few points where I and the author shared common views. I, too, generally find modesty (generally left undefined in the book, defined by me as a lack of pretentiousness) a turn-on, and firmly agree (for pressing personal reasons) that the pressure to have sex exists pretty much as described (as I cannot testify from personal experience to the female perspective, I will merely say that it DEFINITELY exists in the culture for men). Unfortunately, Ms. Shalit rests her periodical keen insights on what seems to me a fundamentally flawed premise. Rape and male oppression of women certainly did not start with the modern (1960s) feminist movement, as the author seems to imply. We are offered a rather distorted and whitewashed version of sexual relations throughout the centuries. The whole male obsession with pornography has a long and twisted history, going back well before modern feminism. Even the modern objectification of women's bodies got a jumpstart with Hugh Hefner and PLAYBOY, about ten to fifteen years before the radical feminist movement of the 1960s-1970s. The problem is not that women brought this "crisis" on themselves. I must agree with Susan Faludi that the continued degradation of women is a result of a male determination to hold on to power. REAL men don't treat women that way, and don't have to resort to superficial rituals (flattering and enjoyable as those may sometimes be) to show women that they respect and value their minds and their bodies. Shalit's sources could also be broader; it struck me that in many outright feminist works I've read, the authors quote a great many relevant statistics and use a great deal of firsthand interviews and reports (Faludi's BACKLASH is particularly impressive). Ms. Shalit largely depends on (as another reviewer noticed) COSMO, other women's mags, personal memories, and the observations of memoirists and psychiatrists, often representing a very narrow stratum of American society. This is like Freud trying to define the whole sum of human subconscious and sexuality through the observations of troubled, well-to-do haute bourgeois Viennese of the 1890s. Ms. Shalit's views on the pressure to have sex are appreciated, but Sheila Kitzinger brought the whole argument down to a few pages in her WOMAN'S EXPERIENCE OF SEX. I paraphrase (I think): "The right to express oneself sexually can also mean not having sex at all." This book, while interesting and occasionally prescient, foundered on fundamental flaws.
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on April 11, 2000
I picked up Wendy Shalit's book after hearing Barbara DafoeWhitehead speak on the decline of marriage, and another audiencemember mentioned this book as putting forth a possible solution. I had heard about the Shalit wunderkind, but after all the hoopla I hadn't bothered to actually read the book.
Once I picked it up, it was a quick read -- and that's the first clue that this is really not a significant piece of cultural criticism. While I agree completely with her assertion that the main beneficiaries of the sexual revolution have been men, I found her relentless use of women's magazines as her only source of material (except, of course, her own personal stories, which are also thrown in pell-mell as some kind of validation) less than convincing.
Her writing is articulate and entertaining, and I suspect that when she is a bit older she will do great things. This book, however, is pretty fluffy, and will probably only speak to those who already feel as she does. There's nothing here for anyone who needs to be convinced.
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on March 31, 2000
Much of this book is downright silly. It's almost unbelievable that she is 23 years old, yet apparently believes that the voices of young women begin and end with anecdotes ripped straight from the pages of Cosmo and Glamour, dappled with a few wide-eyed tales from camp. It almost destroyed her credibility for me. Even the most library-bound scholar could not escape the slew of popular music, both good and bad, that comments directly on her thesis (Liz Phair's "F* and Run," anyone? Alanis Morrissette's entire oeuvre?), to say nothing of TV, movies, zines, etc. Her link between Prozac and immodesty is a complete crock. And I flat-out don't believe that women's sexual immodesty has caused increased stalking and rape.
Her treatment of modern-day modesty is almost as narrow. There are many traditions of modesty in addition to orthodox Jews and the Taliban. What about nuns, who until 30 years ago covered themselves from head to toe? That would have been fascinating.
The most solid part of her book is the part that obviously was her senior thesis: the history of modesty. Amazingly, contemporary society is what trips her up -- and that could have been the best part. There's so much there for the analyzing.
But the core theory -- that modesty can benefit women -- survives these glaring faults. The pressure for women to be sexual is real, and it can be oppressive. (The tremendous pressure back in the day for women NOT to be sexual was oppressive too.) Modesty can inspire respect in men. Modesty can make women feel safer and more confident. As someone who used the showers at Williams once, I can attest to the fact that the co-ed situation was mighty uncomfortable.
How can we improve the situation of women? is one of the most worthy questions we can ask today. Shalit's answer has merit if you can see past her cluelessness.
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on February 20, 2000
When I first saw this in the store, I dismissed it as ChristianFundamentalist. Picking it up one day, I was intrigued to discoverthat it had little to do with Christianity, and more to do with Judaism, trends among modern young women and the author's own observations and feelings. And though the background she writes from is politically conservative, her message actually has its roots in good feminism, in feminism's tradition of observing the conditions women actually live under, their benefits or lack there of to women, and trying to find a solution. This solution isn't everyone's solution. A wholesale return to virginity for women or men isn't really practicable. But increased respect for the idea that sex and love, sex and relationship, sex and commitment should be connected, is hardly a bad idea, or one that is really against women. Naming the reality that those things tend to go hand in hand for women is certainly not wrong, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. It's about time women reclaimed our right to consider lovemaking an emotional, deeply bonding experience that even gives us the right to expect some commitment from our partners. A cultural that treats sex as really separate from love and even humanity is not healthy, and expresses that disconnection in severely sexist ways, as we can see so clearly by looking at the average cable TV or video offerings.
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on October 18, 1999
Wendy Shalit's basic thesis confirmed what I have long thought obvious; a fact that many misguided women refuse to face. The sexual revolution liberated men, not the other way around. When there is no quid pro quo, men can become sexually fulfilled without being burdened by built-in social mores and responsibilities that had once been foisted upon them. Ask yourselves, who has paid the price for the explosion of narcissism, divorce, and illegitimacy? I can personally attest that it isn't men. At the same time, women have never been more objectified and belittled by the mass media, have never suffered the kinds of weight issues, eating disorders, and insecurity about their looks to the extent they do today. Too often, girls are led to think that their personal value is a function of their sexuality. Despite the dubiousness of some her citations (She quotes letters from women's magazines and classmates of hers at Williams, which from her description sounds more like an institutional orgy than a school), she succeeds in the simple task of illustrating innumerable examples of the consequences of living in a sex-saturated society. Having pointed out such obvious facts, Shalit's argument ultimately seems futile in imagining that there's any going back. Can you think of any society that ever regained lost innocence? If you can't legislate morality, what chance does morality have?
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on January 19, 1999
The author should be lauded for being published at such a young age (23) with such a potent statement to make. Her sense of self radiates from most pages--one hopes that she doesn't fall into the trap of becoming just another pundit who becomes talking head on the talk show circuit. And, at times, the book slipped into seeming like more of a resume from someone desperate to get attention. (Isn't it ironic, don'tcha think?)
On the other hand, her disposition--and jacket photo--makes her alluring enough that she'd captivate me all the same. Maybe that's where the book falls short of perfect... just a little too much collegiate-level braying where I'd have rather read more personal anecdotes. No doubt, those will develop with her celebrity status, and there is no better candidate in America to make a statement about the need to preserve personal pride and a sense of individualism. (Which is a much better selling point than a book by a "professional virgin".)
Ideally, she'll bring others out of this strangely taboo "closet"--while modesty is an essential part of the Jewish religion, too few secular members of the faith have taken this stand. I'm more eager now to read the sequel than reread this initial effort...
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on April 30, 1999
This is a good book for combating female stereotypes, yet what does it say to male stereotypes? To me, it still places the issue of restraint on women alone. What about men's role here? I think that she falls short in adressing a TRUE DIALOGUE between the genders and still falls into the idea that it is women's problem. Is there not a better compromise?! But I wish more young women our age would write about our experiences, after all age is not the only indicator of experience because: "There are some people who see a great deal and some people who see very little in the same things." (T.H. Huxley
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on August 3, 1999
As someone very wise once said, "the only thing more boring than someone who brags about how much sex they've had is someone who brags about how much sex haven't had." why does Shalit deserve kudos for writing her book at such a young age? While I don't think the "Don't knock it until you've tried it" approach to sex is valid here, I do think it's gross for a prissy college grad to make far-reaching statements about societal ills and where their cures lie without knowing anything of societal ills herself.
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