Kathryn Lopez
"I am so glad not to be in high school anymore," Mary Hardy tells me.

The wise college sophomore was responding to an article I asked her to read about adolescent girls dressing badly.

As in, like sluts.

Mary tells me: "My parents never let me dress like that and I am grateful -- only now -- to them because the boys in high school, although they did not say it, did respect me more especially at the dances, where no one tried to come up and 'dance' with me in the manner they did with the other girls, whose bodies were mostly exposed."

She got a little R.E.S.P.E.C.T, in other words.

As it happens, Aretha Franklin's signature song was among the covers Charles Atkinson's band Dandelion Wine played at a pub near where Mary and some of her friends were opening a university conference they organized on work and femininity.

Mary, her cohorts and Charles (who's in his third year, studying literature and classics) are undergraduates at Ave Maria University in Southwest Florida. It's a Catholic school, so some of the conference discussion dwelled on biblical principles, theology and prayer. But it was also oh-so-practical.

There is a sense of true social justice here. These young people understand human lives to be great gifts that should be offered in creative service, not spent in desperation or in demeaning disjointed or selfish ways. They understand that there is great beauty and true happiness to be found in living according to a natural law, one that so many of our traditions and the best of our history and culture teach, reflect, and aspire to.

When Monica Waldstein walked into a room at her all-girls high school, a particular clique would mimic throwing up, she remembers.

Being a self-possessed young woman, dressing with a little modesty, was not cool in school. But for at least one of those girls, Monica had something she wanted. "Once she asked for my advice because she was trying to decide which of two boys she should go out with. (She said), 'You seem so much happier than every one else, so I thought that you would give good advice.'"

The poised junior biology major's experience only affirmed her upbringing. "When I see girls who dress that way, I feel sorry for them because they think that the attention they are attracting will make them happy but it really will not. They do not know that they would be much happier if they behaved differently."

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.