Monday, November 27, 2006

Opus Day

When I was writing my book, I was struck by the contrast between modern-day models of "empowered" single women — like the neurotic nellies of "Sex and the City" — and the truer image of empowerment that I saw in an icon of the past. From Chapter 2 of  The Thrill of the Chaste, "Sex and the Witty: Getting a Rise out of Chastity":

Sometimes I wonder myself why I do it. It’s hard to pass up opportunities for no-strings sex. When I have a boyfriend, as I did for six months last year, it’s even harder to keep in mind why it’s important to me to remain chaste until marriage.

The incongruity of the situation is even more striking when I think about what my life would have been like had I been born during my mother’s time. Sure, there were “bad girls” in the Fifties, but saving sex for marriage was nonetheless considered a worthy and attainable goal.

Think about it! America’s sweetheart was Doris Day—the sexy blonde singer and actress who, in the words of film critic David Thomson, “played career women that acted like coy ingenues in what were supposed to be sophisticated comedies.”

During the time of Day’s most popular films—the Fifties through the mid-Sixties—her onscreen purity was so legendary that Hollywood wit Oscar Levant famously quipped, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.”

Yet, audiences didn’t want her any other way. Women adored how Day appeared bold, independent, willing to take risks, and totally in control of herself. Men simply adored her.

It was the last time chastity was cool.

Here in the 21st century, trying to be like Doris Day—sexy yet modest, confident yet humble, lighthearted yet deep — is simply unhip. However, it’s so unhip that it’s considered downright subversive.
Here's the best Day clip I could find on YouTube, from "Teacher's Pet" (1958), in which a weatherbeaten Clark Gable challenges our heroine's chastity. She plays a college journalism professor; he's a seasoned newspaper editor posing as a student:

The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On is currently arriving in bookstores — its official release date is December 5 — and is shipping from and other fine shops.