Prude or Slut? We’re asking the wrong question.

A few weeks ago, Jessica introduced us (or at least me) to the latest nut of the “pro-modesty” crowd: Carol Platt Liebau (watch out for the scary eyes!). She has recently published this new book, just like all of the other pro-modesty books, called Prude: How the Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls (and America Too!). The title made me giggle out loud, but Liebau isn’t joking. Today, the Telegraph, a British online news source, gives her some press time.

Teenage girls would rather be sexy than clever, according to a female academic.

In a society that celebrates people such as Paris Hilton, girls are being brainwashed into believing that promiscuity is synonymous with success, says Carol Platt Liebau.

In Prude: How The Sex-Obsessed Culture Damages Girls, Liebau claims there is “scant recognition or respect” for a woman’s achievement that is not associated with sex appeal.

Liebau says the sexy images of performers such as Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera catapulted them to fame.

She claims that teenage girls are growing up in a culture in which being called “a slut” is preferable to being labelled “a prude”.

“The overwhelming lessons teenagers are now learning from the world around them is that being sexy is the ultimate accolade, trumping intelligence, character and all other accomplishments at every stage of a woman’s life,” says the author, managing editor of Harvard Law Review.
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“The new female imperative is that it is only through promiscuity and sexual aggression that girls can achieve admiration and recognition,” she says.

The biggest problem here is how the Telegraph takes her seriously. Of course, I know that it’s the Telegraph, and we can’t expect much better. But we should be able to, because people do actually read the thing and they actually do believe what’s in it.

Let’s run through the problems.

First of all, it’s published in the “News” section, instead of books, culture, etc. We can’t get the NYT to put a damn story about how sexist culture affects women in the work workplace, but this stuff gets billing as actual news. Brilliant.

Secondly, they feel the need to point out that she’s an author and “female academic,” but not to point out — as can be discovered on the main page of her website — that she is a right-wing commentator. Nice way to grant unearned credibility, eh?

And because of the fact that they don’t feel the need to point out her political bias, it’s also taken for granted that Liebau has the best interest of young girls at heart. She’s a female academic, after all. She’s talking about the problems that young girls are facing — and who doesn’t want to do the best by young girls, right? I wish.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, there’s the fact that the article contains not a single word of criticism for Libeau’s ideas.

I’m sure that if they called up any feminist, they could have gotten a good statement. They could have found one of us to say that the fact that we still even have promiscuity as a concept in our culture and the fact that we still judge women based on their sexual decisions is the problem. They could have found one of us to say that the issue shouldn’t be whether “prude” or “slut” is a bigger insult, but why these terms still exist and have any relevance in our society. They could have found one of us to ask why Libeau is spending so much time promoting the concepts as necessary, and to point out that Libeau isn’t really supporting a society where girls aren’t objectified and rewarded only for sexuality, she’s advocating a world where all of the little hussies just keep their damn legs shut.

The saddest part of all is that we actually do agree on many things. Or, at least we do if any part of her statements are to be believed. Most feminists would agree that girls face too much pressure to be sexual too young. Most of us would also agree that women are rewarded more for sexuality than for intelligence, and this needs to change. We would agree that such a current system is damaging to the development and health of girls and women.

And yet, where we take those beliefs couldn’t be more different. Most feminists want to change sexual culture so that women seek out sex because sex is pleasurable, and not for some desperate bid for love or power. Libeau wants to change sexual culture so that women don’t have or enjoy sex unless she says it’s okay. Most feminists want to break down concepts of prudishness and promiscuity. Libeau, on the other hand, doesn’t merely want to end prude-shaming, she wants to bring back slut-shaming (which, for the record, never really went away). Feminists tend to think that “promiscuity” is an outdated concept and that sex with many multiple partners is healthy and pleasurable, so long as it is done consensually and safely. Libeau finds casual sex to be horrifying. And while feminists would generally applaud a woman’s right to chose to be celibate, to have few sexual partners or to be in a monogamous sexual relationship, Libeau finds these conditions to be measures of self-worth that we should teach to all young women.

It’s sad, in a way. Libeau seems to be unable to imagine a world where sex is mutually agreed upon, mutually pleasurable and honest regarding emotional inent. Instead, she sees two options: the “old” days where women exerted power over men by refusing sex, and the “new” days where men assert power over women by expecting them to behave sexually. I genuinely do almost feel bad for her — anyone who actually believes that sex is no more than a power struggle, a female test of worth and a womanly bartering tool surely deserves some sort of compassion — but the fact that she’s actually promoting this crap to mass audiences as though it’s fact makes me snap out of it.

Here’s to hoping that the book tanks.

0 thoughts on “Prude or Slut? We’re asking the wrong question.

  1. zombie z

    “Teenage girls would rather be sexy than clever, according to a female academic.”

    LOLDUH. Because “clever” or “smart” women don’t exist, according to our culture, and your only value is in your sexiness. That’s the only thing men are looking for, right? And the most important goal is to get a good husband? So of course you need to be attractive and have the proper amount of sex appeal…….I don’t see “clever” on that list.

    Way to State The Obvious while completely missing the point, Liebau.

    Reply

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