My adult sympathies have always leaned toward the conservative. Blame it on my very conservative upbringing, if you wish. But it becomes apparent more and more frequently that I fit uneasily in this age of anything goes.

I’m not talking about politics.

Years ago, conservative columnist George Will commented with despair the utter lack of decorum in fashion, stating that all concept of elegance had disappeared. His basic premise was that if Grace Kelly wouldn’t be seen in public wearing something, then neither should any other woman. Last night while enjoying a dinner out with my husband and boys, I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Mr. Will. One of the Gabor sisters–either Zsa Zsa or Eva, I can’t remember which–said that a woman’s fashion should leave something to the imagination, create a little mystery. I agreed with her, too.

It was very obviously prom night for the local high school. Boys, dashing in their rented tuxedos, escorted their dates wearing outfits, many of which could have graced a Hollywood stage. My husband commented, “It’s nice to see a return to elegance” I turned around to see a girl in a long skirt, sky-high heels and midriff-baring top. The girl’s pierced navel was proudly on display. He looked, too, and said, “Oops, I spoke too soon.”

We watched as more prom-goers strutted past us. I noticed a trend among a majority of the girls: 2-piece dresses that bared a lot of skin. I reminded me of attending a ceremony at my older son’s high school. The boys dressed in suits; the girls were more undressed than dressed and what they wore completely unsuitable to anyone not legally an adult and definitely unsuitable to a parochial school environment. (Let’s just say that my husband and I agreed it was a good thing we didn’t have any daughters.) And I could not help but remember Mr. Will’s lament. No, Grace Kelly–an icon of elegant fashion–would not have been caught dead in those dresses.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a return to 1950s social mores and prejudices, much less the oppressive and restrictive allowances of certain countries that penalize a woman for showing anything more than her hands. I firmly believe in women’s rights and political equality even as I recognize that women and men are different. (Why a uterus makes one unsuitable for the priesthood is something I’ll never understand.) However, we could learn a lot from the fashions of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, like how to be sexy and elegant without being slutty. It’s a wish for more personal restraint that I fear we won’t see any time soon.  

So, let’s turn this fuddy-duddy’s diatribe toward literature. Simply put, women who present themselves as nothing more than sex objects should not complain when men perceive them as such and treat them as such. Self-respect requires some restraint in dress and behavior. A man will more likely respect a woman who respects herself.

The blatant lack of respect is evident in today’s romantic literature. I came across a new release, Pimp, in which an innocent college girl is forced to turn to prostitution in order to cover her father’s debts. Her pimp is none other than her stepbrother. Of course, the premise is that girl and her lecherous stepbrother fall in love. But really, would any female with an ounce of self-respect tie her future to someone who sells her body for his profit? Abuse under the guise of the BDSM subculture also pervades modern romantic literature. Beat me, hurt me, make me bleed, because that’s how show love. Nonsense. Rubbish. Hogwash. And a whole host of other synonyms that aren’t fit for polite discourse.

So, I challenge readers and writers: read and write about the women you’d like to know or be. A strong female character doesn’t have to be foul-mouthed and promiscuous, she can stick to her principles, demand that her love interest treat her with respect, and think for herself.