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The Plurality of One

A message from Wendy Shalit ’97 in response to this post from Professor Norman Birnbaum ’46.

I don’t typically respond to personal attacks. When you try to get people to consider a different angle on a topic, being attacked comes with the territory and sometimes it can even be a compliment.

However, Professor Norman Birnbaum’s gratuitous and entirely inaccurate attack on me exemplifies a larger disease in our society. This disease typically has four stages:

1. Defining tolerance so narrowly as to render it meaningless: “If someone agrees with me, I will tolerate him, but not if someone’s views threaten my own.” In fact, tolerance is only meaningful when two people disagree. Yet for some, disagreement creates too much cognitive dissonance and the idea of reexamining–and potentially, having to abandon–their preconceptions is too painful. In order to feel better about themselves, they must find a way to lash out at those who dare offer an opposing viewpoint. Read more


Speakers for Claiming Williams

From WSO:

This year during Claiming Williams Day, on Thursday, February 4, 2010, speakers, performers, and facilitators from many fields will appeal to a wide range of interests. We hope that you will join them!

Just how “wide” is the “range of interests” that the organizers are looking for? To the extent that they want to hear some non-PC musings about diversity at Williams from an alum, I am available that day . . .

Who would you suggest? How about Wendy Shalit ’97 or Harry Jackson ’75?


Pay for Sex

Wendy Shalit ’97 argues that it is wrong to pay for sex.

Hat tip to Marginal Revolution. I did not watch the whole debate, but Shalit’s speech was well done.

I think that the answer to these sorts of conflicts (prostitution, abortion, drugs, euthanasia, et cetera) is fairly simple: federalism. If the good people in Nevada want to legalize prostitution, then more power to them. That’s their business. As long as they don’t tell me and my fellow Massachusettians how to run our state, it is none of my business what they legalize and forbid in Nevada.


Modest Proposal

Interesting video of Wendy Shalit ’97, author of Girls Gone Mild, discussing mentors.

There is a story about a Williams professor toward the end. Previous Shalit posts here.Related (?) is this Record article about Liz Osthus ’96, the only (?) Eph stripper.

For graduating students, entering the real world often means following a dress code. Sometimes it means wearing a three-piece suit, or sometimes it means wearing Abercrombie & Fitch. For Liv Osthus ’96, also known as Viva Las Vegas, it means wearing her birthday suit. It’s not that Osthus doesn’t ever wear clothing for her job; it’s that she takes it off while she works, because while most Ephs start work at 9 a.m., Osthus’s job at her Mary’s Club doesn’t begin till at least 4:30 p.m., or 9 p.m. if she’s taking the night shift.


It’s been about 10 years since Osthus started stripping. “I was trying to be a musician and a writer and so I needed money to allow me to do those things,” Osthus said. “I thought I’d just be doing it for a year. I had a lot of loans from Williams and I thought I’d do it for a while and get my loans paid off.”

Another reason to be pleased with Williams move to a no-loans financial aid policy? Just asking! Previous posts about Osthus here.

“I’ve been writing my book for the last four years,” Osthus said. “I would like to have stopped [stripping] before now, but I still love my job – and I can still afford my mortgage.” And it’s not just through her well-roundedness that Osthus shows her Eph background. She has put her Williams education to good use – she speaks five languages and has used them all during her act.

“I met Sean Penn, and he just spent some time in East Africa so I spoke Swahili with him,” she said. “I speak French, German, English, of course, and I studied in Bali for a semester and east Africa for a semester. Both are very, very rusty but we had a whole bunch of sailors from Indonesia and I was able to talk to them, and a missionary dude from east Africa.”

Am I a bad father for hoping that my daughters don’t become strippers, for Indonesian sailors or anyone else? I can’t come up with the exact culture reference, but isn’t it the father’s job to “keep his daughter off the pole?”

Her old classmates have been supportive as well, and many have come in to see her act. “They knew I was a wild card, and I think most have been in to see me dance,” Osthus said. “They’re always shocked by how normal it is – I just happen to be unclothed and dancing.”

Even her father, the preacher, supports her now. “He was initially very upset and disappointed, but I’ve taught classes on it and even the philosophy of it,” Osthus said. “It’s my pulpit when I get on that stage – he gets that. It’s so not about the sex, it’s about performance and I love it.”

A good father’s love is unconditional.

I have exchanged e-mails with both Shalit and Osthus. Best to both during the holiday season.


Girls Gone Mild

Generally flattering review in the Wall Street Journal of Wendy Shalit 1997’s new book, Girls Gone Mild.

Fortunately for Wendy, she attended Williams prior to the age of Facebook and Myspace — otherwise, all those incriminating topless, thong-revealing kegstand photos from Armstrong basement would come back to haunt her. That’s a joke, of course. Regardless of my disagreement with many of her opinions on, and characterizations of, society-at-large and Williams in particular, I can confidently assert that, while in college, Wendy’s behavior was 100 percent consistent with everything she espouses (which is more than can be said for that other prominent Eph moralizer, Bill Bennett).


Modesty’s Opposite?

Wendy Shalit ’97 is blogging at the Modesty Zone. Wendy wrote on Friday:

We’ve talked about how modesty is prudery’s true opposite, right? Reserving sexuality for the sake of protecting its power, and so forth and so on. Well, lately I’ve been thinking that maybe promiscuity could really be related to asexuality–since without integrating the emotions, sex tends to be “no big deal.” We’ve certainly all seen examples of exhibitionism being perfectly consistent with a low sex drive.

Compare this to Liv Osthus’s ’96 comments from last Sunday.

After the initial meet-and-greet, we are asked what issues we’d like to discuss in therapy. My guy says innocently enough that he’d like to have more sex.

I almost blurt out that he should go find himself another chick, but instead I hear myself saying, “I love sex!” Or at least, I explain, I did love sex, once upon a time, before I was writing a book and fronting a band and stripping almost every night and paying a mortgage and managing a household and trying occasionally to sleep.

I would love nothing more than to have my libido back, I tell them, and I’d welcome their guidance. But if my guy really wants sex, maybe he should come back when I’m 45 and not trying to juggle three all-consuming careers, hoping desperately to get one of them off the ground before the plug gets pulled on my biological clock.

“And what if I don’t want to? It’s not like it’s that enjoyable. I understand I’m supposed to want sex for the sake of our relationship, but the truth is I just don’t. And having sex when you don’t want to isn’t like other things, like massaging someone’s feet or cooking someone dinner just out of love for them. It feels violating to have sex when you don’t want to. Why should I want to have sex anyway? I’d rather fit in an hour’s worth of guitar or maybe a long walk.”

There are no easy answers here. But, at EphBlog at least, we are pleased and proud to offer commentary from Ephs like already-author Shalit and soon-to-be-author Osthus. The value here is in the conversation, not the conclusion.


Modest and Immodest Ephs

There is a spectrum of opinion among female Ephs on the virtue of modesty. At one end, we have Wendy Shalit ’97 author of “A Room of One’s Own”, one of the most controversial articles about Williams in the last decade. (Note our previous discussion of Shalit’s work, especially the last comment by Eric Smith ’99. If anyone could send in a copy of that article, it would be fun to post some selections, consistent with Fair Use, of course.)

Shalit is also the founder of the Modesty Zone.

Modesty Zone is an informal community of young women who don’t have a voice in the mainstream media. It was founded in 2005 by Wendy Shalit.

Whether you’re a virgin waiting until marriage, or just against casual sex more generally, you can find a safe harbor here to share your ideals, interests, and goals for the future.

Join forces with other young women who are tired of power struggles between the sexes. Believe in the possibility of real intimacy.

Speaking of intimacy, at the other end of the modesty spectrum we have the female Eph (a current undergraduate) who appears in a porn video. A clip from the full video is available free of charge on the web and has been viewed, I believe, by a majority of male undergraduates at Williams (and, no doubt, many female undergraduates as well). Comments:

1) We will not be posting a link to the video (although one of my fellow EphBloggers has kindly volunteered to provide a link to the video to any interested readers . . . for, uh, research purposes, of course). Long time readers will fondly recall our discussion about what sorts of sites EphBlog should link to. Since the site in question is not really an Eph site — more a site on which one Eph appears — there isn’t much of an issue here.

2) We will not be posting the name of the Eph here. She does not use her real name and so we may assume that she has no interest in publicizing her participation.

3) I would still be curious to hear arguments against these decisions, should anyone choose to make them. If the young Eph in question wanted us to post a link (or her name) we would probably comply — Grrrl Power and all that — but my guess is that she regrets the whole experience. Then again, perhaps I am just another voice from the patriarchy. That’s what all my feminists friends said 20 years ago.

4) I wonder if the Record will cover this story, with or without the same sort of discretion exhibited by EphBlog. On the one hand, it is clearly news on campus. On the other hand, the current Editor-in-Chief, Ainsley O’Connell ’06, is a woman. I think female Ephs have a different take on this situation than male Ephs, at least on average. Perhaps her predecessors Bart Clareman ’05 or Mike Needham ’04 would have handled it differently.

5) There is a great senior thesis to be written about pornography and Williams. No, really! Students today, I am sure, think about and interact with pornography in a different way than students in my era — although a special shout-out to my avant-garde theatre roommates for being on the cutting edge of this topic in 1986-1987 — much less in my father’s era. [Do you really want some stories about pornography in the DKE House 50 years ago? — ed. Probably not. But Frank Uible is unlikely to be silent on this topic.] Tracing that social evolution would make for interesting reading.


A Modest Eph

Wendy Shalit ’97 is quoted in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine article on “Friends, Friends With Benefits and the Benefits of the Local Mall.”

Wendy Shalit, whose book, ”A Return to Modesty,” embodies what has been termed ”the new chastity,” also says she believes that girls are being manipulated, but by a society that tries to convince them that they should act like boys, turning sexual modesty into a sign of weakness or repression — something young women are taught to be embarrassed about. ”In the age of the hookup,” Shalit writes, ”young women confess their romantic hopes in hushed tones, as if harboring some terrible secret.”

Shalit was one of the most famous undergrads on campus during her time at Williams because of an article that she wrote about co-ed bathrooms in Commentary. Although that article does not appear to be on-line, interested readers can look here for an example of Shalit’s writing.

I first became interested in the subject of modesty for a rather mundane reason — because I didn’t like the bathrooms at Williams College. Like many enlightened colleges and universities these days, Williams houses boys next to girls in its dormitories and then has the students vote by floor on whether their common bathrooms should be coed. It’s all very democratic, but the votes always seem to go in the coed direction because no one wants to be thought a prude. When I objected, I was told by my fellow students that I “must not be comfortable with [my] body.” Frankly, I didn’t get that, because I was fine with my body; it was their bodies in such close proximity to mine that I wasn’t thrilled about.

How is the co-ededness of bathrooms decided in First Year entries nowadays? I would think that a private vote by mail over the summer would make for a better proceedure that a public vote during First Days.


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