Those who dreamed of a time when men would appreciate women for their minds rather than their bodies can only lament the proliferation of explicit sexual publications by students of elite universities that are now exploding on the American campus. Once we all took understandable pride in how women came to constitute majorities at America’s top universities like Harvard, Yale, and Boston University. A time to take women seriously had finally arrived. But what are we to make of wildly popular student-run sex magazines like H Bomb (Harvard), Boink (Boston University), and SWAY (Sex Week at Yale)? What are we further to make of the fact that the magazines are mostly run by female students who disclose the intimate details of their "hookups" and take their clothing off for male students? Boink’s circulation, for example, is an unbelievable 40,000 and its editor, Alecia Oleyourryk, posed nude for its first issue.
The female editors of each of these publications told Newsweek that one of the principal reasons they publish the magazines is that they "hope it will lead to professional opportunities after graduation." Huh? What professional opportunities are we talking here? Surely you don’t need a Harvard degree to dance on a pole. And was it really worth the hassle of acing the SAT and spending $40k a year on tuition to do what women in Playboy get paid for? Is this was what generations of courageous feminists fought for? The right to get into Yale and write of your latest shag?
Pornography may be all over the Internet. But let it remain in the cyber-gutter and not in our highest academies of learning. What can be said of a culture where even the most educated women are conditioned to be a male plaything? Are there no women who are outraged by this development? Has our society become so decadent that we will even tolerate the corruption of scholarship itself?
One despairs at the thought that male respect for women may never be achieved in our lifetime. When I visited a campus recently for an academic symposium, I was surprised to see many miniskirts, even though it was high winter; one would assume the women were not dressed this way for themselves.
Can anything be done to persuade women to cover up and regain their self-respect?
About two years ago my daughter came to me and complained about the paucity of modest clothing available for religious girls in department stores. The clothing that did exist that covered you up was frumpy, ugly, and uninspiring. From there was born my daughter’s idea to one day create a clothing line of modest wardrobe that was colorful, form-fitting, and striking. My contribution to her idea was the tag line: Modest is the new sexy.
Indeed it is. What all these misguided young women don’t understand is that attraction is created by that which is hidden, eroticism by that which is concealed. Is anyone really interested in seeing Britney’s private parts after they were splashed all over the Internet? Or does the whole thing become not just distasteful but gross? Pamela Anderson flashed her mammaries for a decade. Anyone still looking?
While eroticism is manifested in the body, it is created in and sustained by the mind. That’s why pornographic forms leave viewers feeling empty. They are purely material and leave no room for the individual soul to discover its intricacy. Because eroticism is a perceptual function, it is sustained by building complexity. Why is it we get bored with something? Because the thing in question has ceased to challenge us. We have come to know it completely, and when there is nothing else to know, it no longer provokes mental engagement. Eroticism must be built on knowledge. It must be built on things that require more investigation, things that are multi-faceted in nature. That’s why the woman with a brain will always be more deeply alluring than the woman with merely a bust. Eroticism invites the mind to be invested in the sexual experience. Eroticism is the fusion of material and non-material. Body with soul. And if we approach eroticism as a quest to unearth the great mystery of existence, then this develops into a wellspring of fulfillment and passion, a wellspring that will never run dry.
Whereas our Islamic brothers and sisters by and large see the purpose of modesty as preventing men from having bad thoughts, Judaism insists that we cover the body for precisely the opposite effect. Men and women dress modestly in order to enhance the natural attraction of the masculine and feminine poles so that when they marry and get intimate, the act of removing clothing will elicit powerfully erotic thoughts and actions. The human body will never lose its magnetism.
Here’s the truth of the matter. Modest women are the sexiest of all. They look feminine, desirable, and their covered bodies invite male curiosity. True, they might not get the immediate stare drawn by exposed cleavage. But the difference is that the man will stay focused on the covered woman’s flesh well after her cleavage-baring sister has nothing left to offer. The modest woman who conceals her sexuality invites a man to reveal it, always teasing the possibility of more. And what is eroticism if not the arousal of limitless possibility?
It is also time to praise the religious Jewish woman who, with her sleeves, stockings, and long-flowing skirt, is not just a model of femininity but is super-desirable to boot. Her modest reserve is erotically irresistible. These are girls who do not date recreationally. They are no man’s game and are thus absent of artifice and guile. They do not dress in a manner that would manipulate. They do not use flirtation to slip under a man’s armor. Less so do they use their sexuality to gain power. Rather, they exude an innocence that draws forth a man’s emotional nakedness.
And by giving a man a safe arena within which to express his feelings and overcome his fears, he comes not just to love a woman, but to respect and be stimulated by her — because encased in that attractive body is an even more attractive mind.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hosts a national radio show on "Oprah and Friends," airing at noon and 5 p.m. daily. His book "The Broken American Male and How to Fix Him" has just been published by St. Martin’s Press.