Irin Carmon Talks To Mommyish About Caitlin Flanagan’s Girl Land

Caitlin FlanaganCaitlin Flanagan may have cancelled her interview with me after seeing my questions about her new book Girl Land, but I’m still curious about a few of her points. So considering that she won’t talk to me, I decided to chat with someone else familiar with her work. Irin Carmon, writer at Salon and formerly of Jezebel, reviewed Girl Land and discussed her own criticisms of the book during an NPR segment with the author. Given Irin’s deep understanding of Girl Land as evidenced by her Salon review, I asked her to weigh in on the book with me and answer the questions that I had originally reserved for Flanagan.

One of the most striking aspects of Girl Land is that it’s uniformly white and heterosexual. It would seem that Flanagan’s Girl Land does not account for girls who aren’t middle- to upper-class, who are of color, and who aren’t entirely straight. Why is that?

This is also a concern I had with the book. Beyond the basic fact that not every girl is dreaming about a boy, the sad truth is that many girls live in realities where the worry is less about whether they have the Internet in their room and more about basic survival and safety. I think Girl Land would be a more honest book if Caitlin Flanagan were open about the fact that she’s only talking about little girls like she was, or like the ones she taught at Harvard Westlake.

Flanagan’s biggest advice to parents raising daughters is that Internet access should be removed from their bedrooms to create more space for personal reflection. How do you respond to the strategy of sheltering girls from online spaces rather than encouraging them to use the Internet constructively and to engage in online discusses?

I went for almost my entire life to a Waldorf School, where media use was strictly discouraged until the very end, so I appreciate the benefits of creatively interacting with the world without a screen in front of you. I also spent so much of my childhood buried in a book that the idea of a girl retreating to a book isn’t entirely foreign. But it’s not all inward retreat — it’s also discovering the world, and part of that venture out of the cocoon includes the Internet, for better or for worse. Why not reorient the discussion to how to arm girls and boys with the tools to be resilient and have integrity as they head out into the world?

Flanagan also makes the point that constant Internet usage prevents girls from keeping diaries, which she asserts is fundamental to the life of a young girl. But plenty of young girls use the online space to blog their thoughts and perceptions which have produced some savvy young ladies like style blogger Tavi Gevinson and the 13-year-old who made a YouTube video denouncing slut-shaming. How do you respond to these young girls using the internet to make their voices heard in an otherwise “vulgar, and highly-crude” space?

I’m so inspired by those girls. The Internet is just a platform; it’s not just full of ugliness or vulgarity, and anyone consigning it to that alone is missing out.

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  • Jen

    I am so sick of the generalization that men think one way about sex (emotionally unattached) and women feel another. It is incredibly obvious that BOTH sexes contain a wide array of personalities that have a range of emotional responses to things. My husband has always been the more emotional one in our relationship. While I have had no-strings attached sexual encounters with no emotional fall out, he has never had sex outside of committed relationships because he views it as a serious thing. In my group of friends I’d say the number of men and women who view sex as emotionally fraught vs. not is pretty evenly divided, with no real difference between the sexes.

    The ideas that this book espouses about female and male sexuality are not only incorrect, they are harmful to boys and girls as they seek to reinforce a strict binary of behavior that is just not valid.

  • Byron

    While I wouldn’t wanna defend this book, it should be possible for people to write books which do not entail all of the variety around us without needing some explicit element about them that lets us know they’re doing that and without having to answer about it.

    I’m sure people wouldn’t want the book titled “white girl land” or “straight girl land” or any combination of the two since it would seem like something aimed at excluding people when in fact it just is what it is and you can’t blame somebody for not being multicultural enough in their experience, not even when that person is a writer, since nobody ever claimed to be that.

    Not everything needs to include everyone at the expense of a desired message or idea or even plain old “making sense”. People should be able to talk about “just-white” or “just-straight” issues and points of view without being asked about why they do so and without having to explicitly state that they’re doing so, as it is a perfectly natural thing to do and equally as valid as any Malcolm X book ever written.

    • Jen

      The point isn’t that you can’t write only from one perspective. The point is that if you do choose to write a book from a place of privilege you shouldn’t talk about it as if you are speaking universally.

    • Byron

      But assuming that a book is written by a single author and is not co-authored, only one perspective can be provided as every single person only has his or her own perspective to offer. People should be free to do so without such fallout.

      I don’t think this is being presented as though it is universal either, I think people just expect it to be so because the title is not exclusionary enough and nothing is explicitly stated but you can clearly tell, as mentioned in the article, that this was written about and for a specific group of people and I can hardly see it claiming to be about minority/homosexual girls too when it acts as though they do not exist.

      Again, not everything needs to be about everybody equally. This woman clearly has nothing in her experience to give to non-white non-straight poor girls, so she doesn’t attempt to do so but just does what she feels she can do well. That is a good thing, that is people remaining in their field and not trying to be opinionated about issues they don’t really have much familiarity with.

      I can see why it would seem like she is just ignoring all those girls or saying that they do not matter but the truth of the matter is that if she just went and said that she wants to write a rich white-only girl book the book deal would be unrealistic and probably thrown out.

      This is ultimately the fallout of PC.