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Jewish World Review Jan. 13, 1999

Mona Charen

Mona Charen

The backlash picks up speed

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) THEY ARE YOUNG, ATTRACTIVE AND INTELLECTUAL. They write with style and piquancy, and their impassioned attacks on feminism and the sexual revolution will give the establishment a bad case of heartburn.

Wendy Shalit, a recent graduate of Williams College, has found the courage to question pretty much everything that comes under the label "gains of the women's movement." She trains her guns particularly on the sexual revolution -- or rather what has become the sexual status quo -- and argues with considerable learning and terrific passion that women have been sold down the river.

Her book, "A Return to Modesty," begins modestly enough, by putting the dating and sexual etiquette of her generation under a microscope. Analyzing "hooking up," she wonders how this casual, no-strings-attached sex is supposed to benefit or satisfy women. In the clinical, unromantic world the sexual revolution has created, women have been trained to be as promiscuous and blase about sex as men, demanding nothing and expecting nothing (except perhaps a phone call) from the men who have known them in the biblical sense.

Shalit sees through the cant and pretension of this arrangement. She notes that a man does not sit by the phone pining for a call from a woman just because he has been sexually intimate with her. Men are not vulnerable in this way.

With that and many other examples, Shalit plants her flag with those who dare to notice that men and women are profoundly different sexual creatures.

She then embarks on the really dangerous part of the argument. From taking a dubious stance on promiscuity (which nearly everyone on every side of the culture wars at least pays lip service to), she moves on to argue that traditional modesty in women, and respect for that modesty among men, lies at the heart of loving relations between the sexes. She conjures the image of her nervous grandmother as a blushing girl who rushed off to the ladies' room at the movies several times during a date with her soon-to-be-husband.

Whether it was the romantic plot of the film or merely the close physical presence of the man to whom she was attracted, Shalit's grandmother was embarrassed and self-conscious.

Far from despising such innocence, Shalit clearly longs for it and makes the strenuous case that when we threw over innocence in favor of carnality and sexual "freedom," we all, but especially women, lost a great treasure.

Danielle Crittenden's "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman" picks up the story line where Shalit leaves off (though they didn't plan it this way). Crittenden, a happily married mother of two, also makes short work of the sexual revolution, insisting that most women have discovered, to their sorrow, that they now have the "right to make love to a man and never see him again; the right to be insulted and demeaned if (they) refuse a man's advances ... and the right to catch a sexually transmitted disease that might, as a bonus, leave (them) infertile ... "

The feminist prescription for happiness is precisely wrong at every stage of life, Crittenden contends. The modern combination of sexual libertinism and late marriage conspires, she argues, to deny women what they most want and need -- a stable marriage to a faithful husband who will not abandon them or their children. If young women withheld sex, young men would be far more inclined to marry in their 20s, Crittenden observes, an age at which women are at the peak of their allure and their fertility.

These days, millions of women waste their 20s in a series of fruitless "relationships" with men who decline to "commit." After turning the corner of 30 or 35, when beauty and fertility are declining, desperation often sets in. Panic is only exacerbated, Crittenden reminds us, by the presence of a new crop of 20-somethings providing free sex.

Crittenden's highly quotable book offers comparable wisdom about marriage (egalitarian is out), children (day care is out), careers (flexible) and aging (don't do it alone).

Shalit and Crittenden together undermine the entire foundation of relations between the sexes today, which are based on the fiction of equality and sameness. By taking women as they are, instead of the way the ideologues would prefer, they steer a common course toward happiness.


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.