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Jewish World Review /Jan. 5,1999 / 16 Teves, 5759

Don Feder

Don Feder Monica and a call to modesty

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) FROM HER HOME IN ISRAEL, Monica Lewinsky's grandmother, Susi, says the Intern of the Year has "brought shame on us . . . I'm glad my husband did not live to see this happen.''

I'm glad someone in her family finally said it.

Early this year, Barbara Walters' interview with Monica will be aired on ABC's "20/20.'' It's unlikely Bubbe Lewinsky's comment came up. ("Tell me Monica, why does your grandmother think you disgraced the Lewinskys?'')

Instead, the interview promises to be as probing as a Larry King celebrity smooch-a-thon.

Walters tells TV Guide that the presidential paramour impressed her. "I found Monica warm and intelligent and very open. I told her, ‘You are very alive.' And she said, ‘Maybe that was the appeal' (to the president).''

Indeed, Bill Clinton looks for women who are "warm and intelligent'' and "very alive.'' Actually, breathing will do nicely.

Before you watch the Lewinsky interview, read A Return To Modesty, Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit. Both Lewinsky and the author are young Jewish women (at 25, Lewinsky is two years Shalit's senior). There the similarity ends.

Lewinsky is very much a creature of the times - of a culture that encourages young women to be promiscuous, that tells them they have exactly the same sexual drives as men, that assures them that the road to equality leads through a series of bedrooms.

To this, Shalit, in effect, says, Nuts!

This Williams College graduate asks: Why are so many women so unhappy? If modesty is the archaic product of a patriarchal society, why hasn't our near obliteration of blushes brought us bliss?

"From anorexia to date rape, from our utter inability to feel safe on the streets to stories about stalkers and stalking, from teenage girls who find themselves miserably pregnant to women in their late 30s and early 40s finding procreation miserably difficult, this culture has not been kind to women,'' Shalit writes.

It starts in sex-education class, where natural modesty is suppressed and grade-school girls are told not to be embarrassed by instruction that would make a porn star squirm.

Sex-ed alumni do post-graduate work with the opposite sex. Instead of dating, adolescents "hook up'' (the current euphemism for casual sex) after numbing their senses with alcohol.

Lessons learned here are reinforced in the pages of women's magazines, where articles on "How to tell if your mate is cheating'' compete with pieces on "How to cheat on your mate,'' and retired Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown encourages single women to "keep a married man or two'' as "pets.''

Says Shalit: "We're not supposed to be little wives in training, because that's sexist. Instead, we're supposed to be little adulteresses-in-training, which to me is much more insulting.''

In this vapid culture, women are conditioned to suppress their natural longings for loyalty and romantic love. Such hopes are neurotic, they are told. Better to be autonomous - that is, cold, calculating and detached.

Poor Monica, try as she might, she couldn't quite cut it. While telling herself that Clinton was merely her biggest trophy to date, she sulked when he didn't call. When he didn't get around to asking about her life until their third or fourth sexual encounter, she wondered if he had much regard for her as a person. (What tipped her off?)

She tried playing the femme fatale but ended up the woman scorned, sobbing into Linda Tripp's tape recorder.

Though Shalit doesn't discuss Lewinsky directly, she does describe, in detail, how Lewinskys are made. ("We've equated modesty and virtue with boredom.'') In reality, it's modesty that keeps us connected to our emotions, protects us from exploitation and offers the possibility of enduring love.

Shalit wisely observes, "When you haven't yet learned to separate your physical desires from your hopes and natural wonder at everything, the world is, in a very real sense, enchanted.''

Modest women find their natural counterpart in honorable men, who will respect their vulnerability and act virtuously toward them.

If men were taught to treat women courteously, Shalit muses, "Perhaps we wouldn't have to waste so much time with sexual harassment law suits. In the old view, if you weren't considerate to women, you weren't really a man.''

That certainly applies to our Peter Pan president, who rarely exercises restraint, doesn't take responsibility and - ultimately - never grew up.

After you've read Shalit's book, send the underlined copy to Lewinsky. If Donna Rice (Gary Hart's playmate from 1988) could become a born-again Christian and anti-porn crusader, there may be hope for Monica.


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©1998, Boston Herald; distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.