The problem is a simple one; extreme viewpoints are almost assuredly wrong. I have a great deal of respect for Valenti and her feminist blog Feministing 1, of which I have been a regular reader ever since I ran across Jessica's article "Abstinence Double Standard Threatens Girls' Health" around a year ago. Generally, I respect her views and find her points to be salient and thought provoking2, but in this particular article she castigates the whole "Modesty Movement" based on a few rather loathsome aspects. After I finished reading "Chastity...", I was left with the understanding that in the feminist world, there are only two types of girls: the prudes and the sluts.
This is clearly not the case.
Feminism is about choices. It is the fight to give women the right to choose who they want to be—not to have the same rights to choose as men, they should definitely aim higher than that—but the right to make lifestyle decisions without benefit of enforced gender roles. It is not, however, the right to make lifestyle choices without benefit of judgment or consequence.
If a woman wants to have a series of casual sexual relationships, that should completely be her choice. By the same token, if she wishes to remain abstinent until marriage, that should also be her choice. But both women should recognize that there will be a segment of the population that will look down on them for their choices. This is not a sexist notion, it is a humanist notion. So those who abstain will be prudes and those who do not will be sluts—full stop. We, as people, are judgmental of those who do not adhere to our sense of morality; so the solution isn't to try to convince each other of the inherent correctness of our moral code, but to live-and-let-live. To allow others to do what they feel is right, while we do what we feel is right. That's what choice is all about, isn't it?
But what about the hypocritical double-standard that exists? Women that sleep around are sluts, men that do are studs. The solution is not to start calling promiscuous women "studs", but to recognize that promiscuity—as used in the pejorative sense—is not a desirable trait in either gender. Listen, if I see a guy in a camouflage suit with a brush-cut and a rifle, I think soldier. If I see a chick in a long white coat with a stethoscope around her neck getting out of a BMW, I think doctor. If I see a chick in a crotch-length skirt and a midriff revealing shirt with a pound and a half of eye makeup smeared on her face, I think slut. When people see me in my sleeves-off shirt and tattooed biceps, they think convict. It isn't necessarily sexist, part of how we judge people is based on appearance. While it is titillating to see a chick pop her top on a Girls Gone Wild DVD ($13.99 on DVD), marriage is not the first idea that finds its way into my head once blood flow resumes its normal course.
It is about choice, and I find it hard to fault any movement that tries to make a wider range of healthy choices cool to our youth. I applaud the feminist movement for helping women to become more comfortable with their sexuality, helping close the pay gap, fighting for reproductive rights, and all of the other good it has brought. I similarly the Modesty Zone for trying to portray the other side of the sexually liberated fence as a viable option too. Take it from a guy, growing up, you are inundated with the notion that only "nerds" and "losers" are still virgins by high school graduation; and this is becoming a growing problem among girls now.
The problem is the heterogeneous nature of "feminism" and the strange bedfellows it brings together. Uber-conservative women who have a strong interest in pay equity are suddenly lumped in with man-hating grrls and womyn who wish to see men shipped off to an island—and they are, in turn, joined with socialist women in search of an end to the evil, sexist capitalism. Shalit's message of chastity and Valenti's message of sexual freedom aren't really at odds with one another, but because they come from remarkably different socio-political views, it would certainly appear that way.
The solution is, as usual, the middle of the road. Wendy... Jessica... kiss and make up, because you are both right. Women are in fact over sexualized from a very young age, and I cannot believe that it has no impact on relationships, pregnancy rates, and a host of other issues. Conversely, the ideals expressed (heavy handedly, I might add) by the so-called "modesty movement" are not for everyone—that's why we're not asking you to the prom, it's not that you won't put out, it's that you're too judgmental! I think the only real solution is for both of you ladies to come by my place in lovely Detroit; and you can both kick me in my sexist, misogynist balls! (Then make me some dinner)3
---1 If you are even vaguely interested in the feminist movement, I highly suggest pointing your RSS reader at Feministing. It is a great way to keep up with contemporary feminism.
2 Oh, and she's hot. Oh, wait, I didn't mean that; I'm not sexist. I meant her brains make me hot. Err. I'll stop now.
3 Just kidding. Unless, you know, you want to make me some dinner. I'm partial to Italian.