LETTERS

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November 12, 2013

Letter: Modesty needn’t slut-shame

Eliora Katz’s article in the November 8 issue of the Maroon gives an excellent defense of virtue’s place in an all-too–licentious environment. Nevertheless, she makes a misstep by citing Kate Taylor’s atrocious New York Times article about “hookup culture” at Penn. The article, which flagrantly cherry-picked and misrepresented the attitudes of Penn students, was based on the incredible premise that the sex lives of college-age women are both newsworthy and deserving of censure.

There is a necessary place for those, like Katz, who would champion temperance and modesty, but such arguments must be made without demeaning and punishing women who make other choices about their own bodies. Too often, as in the Taylor piece, discussion of modesty turns into slut-shaming, which portrays women who choose sex as not just different, but disgusting and wicked. Taylor’s article was the worst kind of journalism: appealing to readers’ prurient impulses, and intending to inspire outrage and shock that women admit acting in ways that men always have.

Throughout history, women’s sexuality has rightly been seen by men as a threat to hegemonic, patriarchal power structures, and by taking control of their own sexuality, women have freed their bodies from male control. In response, both laws and social mores have condemned those women brave enough to admit the fact of their sexuality. Those pressures were clear impulses even in the development of some parts of the halachic codes that govern Katz’s own life.

Katz rightly explains how the strictures of halacha can be deeply empowering to her and to all Jews seeking refuge from the chaos of modernity. Nevertheless, her rhetoric worryingly mirrors Taylor’s when she condemns sexually active women as “heartless overachievers at UPenn with boy toys.” Such language plays into deep-seated cultural fears of sexually aggressive women as “vamps” or “femmes fatales” who seek to dominate and destroy men. Ideas of this sort have always been incredibly damaging and oppressive to women, and should not be thrown about so carelessly as in Katz’s article.

Katz is entirely sensible in her contention that the sweaty, anything-goes atmosphere of a frat party is more conducive to vice than to virtue, and the dialogue she begins is an important one to have. In this, as in any other dialogue, we must be vigilant that we are guided by respect and understanding, not by the sensationalism and sexism which filled Kate Taylor’s article.

Benjamin Gammage, Class of 2014

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