This issue of the Atlantic has an article on the Conficker virus. Read it. It’s scary.
But I’m really here to talk about Caitlin Flanagan’s article on the sexuality of teenage girls. And people say that fantasy writers write the same thing over and over.
The jumping off point of the article is a horrendous sexual escapade perpetrated on (and by) a teenage girl at a posh (it can only be posh, right?) private school.
Flanagan’s obsession with the emotional, sexual, and physical vulnerability of teen and tween girls is really creepy. And one of the creepiest things about her take on girls is that she doesn’t allow girls any power in their own lives and outcomes. They are victims of their brains, their hormones, of boys, and of media. And every time she writes on the subject, I end up wondering, does she even know any teenage girls?
My daughter has officially left teendom, but those years are not so far behind us. And I can categorically say that plenty of girls have full agency over their actions and desires. They are artists and athletes, crack students with ambition to go to top schools. They enter fields that were previously closed to them, and it’s annoying how little gratitude they show for the groundbreakers who came before them. My daughter has friends of both genders and traverses these friendships with a forthrightness that is to me, her geeky mother, a little breathtaking.
So who is right? Are girls dreamy hairbrushers who look into their soft-focus futures with wistfulness and trepidation and are buffeted by the fascinating, stronger-willed males among them? Or are they, in fact, fully capable of making decisions about their futures, sometimes calculatingly so, with optimism, hopefulness, and resilience?
The incident in the books, in which a girl gives sexual favors to a bunch of boys in front of an audience, is an anomaly. That girl was screwed up. She was emotionally compromised prior to the act, and it is not something that a healthy teen would do. I also feel the same way about the boys taking part in the act, that it was equally sick and twisted. I don’t think I’ve read anything that Flanagan”s written in which she has talked about the sexual lives of boys. I do hope that she doesn’t think that this is normal for boys, because it’s not.
So taking it as an illustration of the pressures on girls, and the way we are abandoning them to navigate the treacherous shoals of sexuality on their own, is simply misleading. And Flanagan does this again and again. She will take the singular and the deviant and make it the norm, and it isn’t.
I don’t want to brush aside the pressures on girls to succumb to someone else’s decisionmaking regarding their own sexual lives, whether that is to give some guy a blowjob so he’ll say he’s her boyfriend, or let her father put a ring on her finger in a True Love Waits ceremony. Part of growing up is making those decisions, navigating those waters, and for the most part girls have the resilience and the judgment to choose accurately. As for the others, who fall into bad decisionmaking habits, who can’t break destructive patterns, why does Flanagan hold these girls up as the example of what girls suffer and endure? Yes, we can feel compassion for a girl who is so lacking in self knowledge that she gives sexual favors to a group of deviant young men. But that doesn’t mean that we disrespect all girls by saying they are equally at risk of being victims of the same crime.