• Thu, Jan 26 2012

Caitlin Flanagan Refuses To Talk To Mommyish About Her Book ‘Girl Land’

Caitlin FlanaganCaitlin Flanagan‘s new book Girl Land has been received with quite a lot of skepticism from girl enthusiasts all over the web. The sophomore author fanned those controversial flames with a recent NPR radio segment and has kept the fight going as she does the promotional circuit for her hybrid of both parenting advice and memoir. It was precisely because of her controversial claims about girls that I was so excited to be approached by her PR team for an interview.

But after viewing my questions, she cancelled on me. Indefinitely.

I write about the sexualization of young girls often, but Flanagan and I have vastly differing opinions on the subject which is why I was excited to ask for more details on a few points.

In the book, Flanagan vilifies Planned Parenthood for giving kids detailed instructions on sex rather than information, dismissed the reaches of the Internet as “vulgar, and highly-crude” and insisted that what prevented girls from truly enjoying “Girl Land” — adolescence — was that they no longer kept old-fashioned diaries. But it seems that if your daughter is of color, not middle- to upper-class, or even not completely heterosexual, she doesn’t have a “Girl Land” according to Caitlin Flanagan, as her examples and tales of girlhood all draw from white, heterosexual girls of privilege. From Patty Hearst to the author’s own teenage years, I planned to ask her why she had omitted so many girls from her book on modern girlhood.

Generalizations about the roles and interests of girls sprawled the pages and I was most eager to ask why she had sanctioned the Internet a uniformly awful place for teenage girls. There are plenty of girl-minded, smart, savvy places where teenage girls can occupy their time online without being confronted with hardcore pornography — one of the assertions in Flanagan’s book. Jezebel, Feministing, and Rookie are just a few sites that address current events, lady dilemmas, dating, cultural quandaries, and maybe even a little advice about makeup without talking to girls like they’re stupid porn stars. Written by young women for other young women, mind you. “Common knowledge,” I noted in the margins of Flanagan’s Girl Land.

But let’s say you do have an 11-year-old daughter who is just retreating into her room to post sexy pictures for her Facebook so that she can accrue lots of comments that read “SO HOT!,” I don’t see the need to yank the computer from her room. Why should our daughters be sheltered from the Internet instead of being encouraged to use that WiFi connection constructively? Such was my biggest question to the author as she described how little girls everywhere are just placing themselves under further scrutiny by crafting sexy profiles and Twitter feeds replete with their every move. While I concur with this observation, I have more faith in the capabilities of girls than to simply deem them too inept to find other uses for those social media accounts — such as discussion, campaigns, and other happenings about the world. Because as “crude” as the Internet may be to those who don’t spend much time on it, there is still much to offer girls — from political activism to fashion to literary conversations to equestrianism — should they have the guidance, the interests, and the resources. And instead of telling our kids that they can’t be trusted to use this powerful tool, I advocate telling that vanity-stricken tween obsessed with documenting her cleavage on Facebook that she could be using that same space for other pursuits.

The Internet may in fact be porn-ridden, but this same platform has brought some very enterprising young ladies to the surface like young Tavi Gevinson, the 15-year-old founder of Rookie who started her popular style blog at only 11 years old. Or most recently, young Sarah who brought her concerns about slut-shaming and rape culture to YouTube and was consequently praised by countless viewers for her articulate delivery and maturity on a phenomenon so common in young girls. She was then invited to speak with Anderson Cooper on national television addressing purity balls, her observations coupled with that of celebrated author and feminist Jessica Valenti.

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  • Jen

    Wow. With so much rape culture language being thrown around by this woman I’d be very concerned about the messages her sons are receiving. She might not worry about them receiving a blow job here or there, but I worry about them receiving negative messages about female sexuality and value.

    • Byron

      I wonder if she’d do the same thing if her sons were the ones performing and nor receiving the oral sex she says girls need psychotherapy to recover from.

      I bet she’d outright disown them and then write a book about how to raise boys so they don’t turn gay.

  • Shannon Drury

    She seems like a very unpleasant person who will say anything to get a book published. I pity her kids!

  • Frances

    I loathe that woman. She reminds me of my rigid step-grandmother who believed that Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters was exactly how young girls interacted with each other (she also accused me of hitting on my Step-Dad). Women like Flannagan are fucked up in the head.

  • CW

    You really think an 11 y.o. should have unsupervised access to the Internet? Seriously???? I’m not even sure I’d be comfortable with a high school student having Internet access in her bedroom (that just seems like it is asking for trouble). If she isn’t comfortable doing whatever she’s doing online in a public place like the family room with parents right there, then she probably shouldn’t be doing it at all.

  • Erin

    @CW I think you underestimate what eleven-year-olds know about sex. Unless parents plan on keeping their kids indoors all the time, homeschooling them, and not allowing them over to friend’s houses then children are probably going to have some sort of exposure to sex via access to other children. Even if they are looking at pornography, so what?! If I was a mother, I’d much rather my child was masturbating than engaging in risky sexual behavior from which she could contract sexually transmitted diseases and/or bring a child into the world that she and the father were ill equipped to care for.

    I think you may have missed the entire point of Koa’s article: young women use the internet to communicate mature ideas. It’s ludicrous to say that young women should be doing everything on the internet in front of their parents. Should we force young women to read in front of us and do their homework in front of us and constantly watch them while they’re playing with other children? Obviously not. We should encourage female individuals of all ages to engage in intelligent, critical thinking, not treat them as prisoners in a world that bombards them with highly sexualized media.

    • Jen

      So much this.
      As a parent I think it’s important to teach kids to use media properly, but you don’t do this by monitoring their every movement. It’s silly to think that children in their pre-teens and teens would want their parents looking over their shoulder for every conversation they have and every website they peruse, but that doesn’t mean that what they are doing is objectionable. Think back to being a kid and how embarrassing it was to talk about things like boys in front of your folks. And there are lots of girls and boys who use the internet as a resource for things like struggling with their sexual or personal identity.

      In short, teach your kids to be responsible with new media, have conversations with them regularly about sex, sexuality, perceptions of women; etc and they’ll be just fine.

    • CW

      It’s not the viewing of explicit content that concerns me so much (though I obviously wouldn’t be thrilled about that and a big reason why we do not have cable/satellite) so much as the possibility of my children engaging in inappropriate contact with others. Do you seriously want your 11 y.o. to have the opportunity to meet some pedophile in a chat room?

    • Jen

      CW: Do you think that having a computer in the family room is going to solve that potential problem? With laptops, smart phones, free wifi pretty much everywhere, many schools becoming internet accessible, etc your dream of a child who only has internet access from a computer in the middle of the family room is an impossibility.

      The ONLY way to ensure that your child behaves responsibly when using new media is to discuss those sorts of hard topics with them and teach them how to navigate online interactions. If you make your kids feel ashamed or embarrassed by sex and sexuality they aren’t going to stop being sexual beings, they are just going to hide things from you.

      And, I’ve got bad news. The idea that you can prevent your children from being exposed to explicit content is as impossible as your belief that you can somehow control your kids’ access to the internet. Unless of course you’ve ceased driving down roads, going to stores, speaking with other human beings and of course reading the Bible (Old Testament is FILTHY and violent).

  • Missy

    I’m 21 now and started using the internet in 2000. I went on Neopets, used AIM to talk with my school friends, and talked about fashion and stuff like that on AOL message boards. My mom still monitored everything I did (she had a program that recorded everything on our home computer), and I hated it. She would print out conversations that I had with my friends and ask me questions about them. She still did it as I got older. One time when I was in 11th grade, I was talking with a friend on AIM about how I couldn’t believe another friend had cheated on her boyfriend with 2 guys. My mom actually printed out that conversation, and showed it to a bunch of people (including the friend I was talking about) because she was trying to “show” everyone that I was “two faced”! It was invasive and creepy and I never did anything “wrong” on the internet like watching porn or bullying people, but my mom still felt she had to look at everything I did. People, give your kids some damn privacy, and maybe if you want to know more about your childs life, TALK TO THEM instead of just looking at everything they do and say on the internet!

    • CW

      Parents who are supporting their minor children have the right to set & enforce rules for media use. You want privacy? Graduate high school early and get a job that will allow you to support yourself and move out. My parents were super-strict with me growing up, and while I resented it at as a teen, now that I’m an adult I am SOOOOOOO incredibly thankful that they were. By the time I had the freedom to make my own decisions, I had the maturity needed to make good ones.

    • self help

      CW, she couldn’t do that because she was still in high school. Her mother sounds overbearing. It’s one thing to monitor your child’s internet access, it’s another to be obsessed with everything your daughter does online.

    • Chelsea

      CW, a lot of the children of ultra-strict parents were the ones who started having tons of sex and lots of partying, drinking and drugs once they got out of the house. During my freshman year at college, you could tell who had been grounded and sheltered their whole lives – they went nuts. People who have a little experience didn’t act like that.

      And its one thing to be monitoring your child’s internet usage. But printing out AIM conversations to try to get involved in high school drama and trying to use it to get high-schoolers mad at your own daughter is just creepy.

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