I listened to author Caitlin Flanagan make her case for a safe place from which girls can escape the toxicity of 21st century adolescence in an interview on WBUR’s On Point. Few progressively-minded people will deny the minefield that girls have to navigate – not the least part being a culture of sex that includes the publicly humiliating, online objectification of girls by their peers, contracts for sexual favors in peer groups that give all of the power to boys and completely disconnect girls from their rights to their own dignity, and out-and-out sexual violence and exploitation. My problem with Ms. Flanagan’s argument is to what she’s decided to attribute this problem – the freedoms demanded and won by feminism.
Ms. Flanagan seems to hearken to a time – a less “sex- and porn-forward” time – that was somehow better to girls. The first exception I take is that life for girls was somehow idyllic in the pre-Internet era. My second exception is the wild logic leap she makes from a struggle for gender equality (Flanagan strangely cites Title IX, which ensures that girls can’t be excluded from public school sports programs) to an adolescent culture of “sexting” and easily-accessible pornography. I just don’t understand how gains in women’s freedoms to pursue what used to lie beyond the gender line gets equated with a modern “hook-up culture” and emotionless sex.
Are the new, technology-enabled ways in which girls are hurt and exploited not more attributable to the persistence of misogyny? This is the title of my essay specifically because it’s the phrase most lacking in Ms. Flanagan’s discourse. In fact, any conversation that talks about abuses (emotional, physical and otherwise) against girls but fails to even mention misogyny is misguided. Ms. Flanagan, however, in her interview (and in her book Girl Land, I presume) argues for a “protected place” where girls can escape the torment and violence – a place characterized, in part, by being cut off from the Internet? Really? I’d like to know where the part about educating young boys comes in to play. Where’s the critique of a culture that continues to demean and dehumanize? As far as I’m concerned, the slings suffered by girls in 2012 – Sexism 2.0 – is the reason why we need a stronger culture of feminism; not a weaker one.