Book Review: Girls Gone Mild by Wendy Shailt

18 04 2008


As Wendy Shalit explores in her newest book, Girls Gone Mild, we’re now living in a new paradigm where — unlike pervious generations with bad boys like James Dean or the Fonz — “badness” isn’t regarded as “daring” or “cool” or “sexy”; it’s become the new social norm, which Shalit explains has created a new kind of repression among girls.

In the same way young women of pervious eras were expected to be good, pure and well-mannered.  Today’s girls are faced with the social pressures and expectations to be wild, brought on by the media, skimpy teen clothing, sexualized toys like Bratz, boyfriends, cliques, and sometimes even their own parents.

In this much needed book, Shalit takes on the challenge of making a case for the “good girl.”  To help — as her subtitle says — Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It’s Not Bad to be Good.

Wendy Shalit’s goal, she says “is not to attack those who want to be ‘wild,’ but rather to expand the range of options for young people, who I believe are suffering because of the limited choices available to them.” In other words, instead of trying to ban “wildness,” she wants purity and innocence to be acknowledged for what they are – valid, practical options, even or especially in our sex-saturated culture.

I was originally under the impression Girls Gone Mild was written to middle school and high school age girls, but although there are short exercises and pop quizzes at the end of each chapter that have a vague teen magazine flare to them, Shalit talks more about girls then to them, and it’s written in more of an upbeat report-style – very well researched and insightful, but not exactly the sort of thing I could see most middle school or high school girls wading through just for fun.  It’s also rather long.

In the first couple of chapters, when Shalit emphasizes how sex-saturated our culture has become, some of the examples (bad examples, but they’re still in there) wouldn’t be appropriate for a lot of preteen or early high school girls. Because of this, even though Shalit doesn’t go into much detail, I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving Girls Gone Mild a recommendation to girls (maybe a select few, but not a general recommendation). 

Although, it isn’t the book I’d originally thought it would be, I do think Girls Gone Mild is a great, eye-opening resource for parents, teachers, youth workers and anyone else hoping to help girls and young women successfully navigate their way through their school years and beyond.  And I hope, for the sake of the girls in their lives, they’ll take advantage of it.

I could also see Girls Gone Mild being a good resource for girls planning or considering living on campus while attending college, because it could provide them with a chance to think through some of the potential problems college students can encounter (co-ed bathrooms, the hookup culture, roommates wanting to hookup in your room, etc.) and how they could handle some of the things they won’t hear about on their college tour.

Wendy Shalit is an Orthodox Jew, but this book isn’t written to those who are religious or conservative in their morals — it’s written to the general population, which I believe is its best feature because in questioning our culture’s view on sexuality, modesty and being good, Shailt has opened the door for further discussion sparked by the question — “Is it so bad to be good?” 

Recommended Age: 17+