The Good Girl Revolution


Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a question for Wendy that is not in this list, go ahead and ask her.
Why did you write this book?

I wanted to showcase a new generation of role models beyond Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, to get people thinking about--and talking about--girls who represent something deeper. There are so many amazing young women out there, but all you usually see in the media is the exhibitionists.

Why don't we hear more about these girls?

Well, people tend to think goodness is boring, they misunderstand what the good girl is about. So I wanted to challenge people's preconceptions about the good girl and say: "She's not who you assume." The girls I profile in this book are very outspoken; they're not demure or mild at all. Society assumes they are but in fact, as their individual stories show, these girls are the real rebels.

What's wrong with the exhibitionists? Don't you think women should express their sexuality?

Some of my best friends are exhibitionists, actually. This book is definitely not meant to be a personal attack on them. The problem is that if we only focus on one narrow notion of empowerment--taking your clothes off in public, being casual about sex, that sort of wildness--then girls don't have real choices. We have to allow for another idea of empowerment, and I wanted to detail what that looks like, so girls would have an alternative ideal to aspire to.

Lots of sex-ed curricula today teach "you can wait until you're ready." Isn't that an alternative?

If an adult pats a girl on the head and says, "There, there--you don't have to have sex if you're immature and you're not ready yet," that's not a viable alternative. That's an insult.

What would be a real alternative?

First we have to collapse this false dichotomy we've set up, between the sexually experienced girl who has feelings, and the inexperienced girl who is a prude and repressed. This dichotomy doesn't capture the experience of most young women--nor men for that matter. We have to allow for young people who are mature, have feelings, and yet want to wait until marriage and find that one special person to bond with and commit to.

If things are as bad as you say in the book, then how can there be a rebellion? It must be insignificant, right?

Well, there are pockets of resistance, but I wouldn't call them insignificant.  In fact,  I found that there is actually a relationship between the public display of sexuality, and young people seeking an alternative. The more crude things get, the more obvious it is that there is a defect in our current philosophy of empowerment. When you start talking about pressure on gradeschoolers to look "hot," it's pretty clear that something has gone very wrong. And the thing is, this is obvious to the young people themselves. You can't dip your toe into mature waters when you're already swimming in a triple-X lake to begin with. They're sick of this stuff being pushed on them.

What do you think is the future of these girls you write about, and how do you know that they're really going to change society?
I tried to confine myself to the facts in this book, to stick to reporting and letting the girls I interviewed speak for themselves. For example, I did cover the Harvard Business Review's prediction that sex won't sell as much with young people today--businesses could provoke outright bans of their products if they don't understand this, the Review pointed out. But I quoted this in the context of a ban that was actually happening: the "Girlcott Girls'" campaign against Abercrombie & Fitch. These young women are already changing society.
But how can we know that this trend will continue?
We don't--the future depends on my readers. The more we smirk at the good girl, the more girls will behave in ways they are deeply uncomfortable with, just to fit in. But if we can get over our preconceptions about these girls, and expand our notion of empowerment to include them, then, yes, I believe society could really change. These girls are already out there--we just have to appreciate them, and their ranks will increase. I can say this confidently because I get letters all the time from girls who say, "I was about to give up on what I wanted, because I thought I was the only one, but now that I know I'm not, I'm going to live the life I want to live and stand up to the peer pressure." So let's give young people that chance, instead of automatically scoffing at those who don't want to go along with the crowd.
Why did you change the title for the paperback?
I think it's significant that much of my support has come from high school and college students, whereas my critics tend to be older and tend to pre-judge these girls without even hearing their stories first. What I've realized is that we need a revolution in the way we approach these issues: a new vocabulary and a new concept of female empowerment. Fortunately, the beginnings of one is already underway. 

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Notable and Quotable

"Wendy Shalit’s first book, A Return to Modesty. . . created a storm when it was published nine years ago but whose influence can be detected in today’s campus chastity clubs, including here at Harvard. As a veteran of pro-sex feminism who still endorses pornography and prostitution, I say more power to all these chaste young women who are defending their individuality and defying groupthink and social convention. That is true feminism!"

— Camille Paglia, Harvard Feminism Conference Keynote, April 10 2008