Girl in Progress, an aptly scheduled film for Mother’s Day weekend, depicts Grace (Eva Mendes) as the self-obsessed single mother who cares more about the placement of her hair than raising her teenage daughter, Ansidad (Cierra Ramirez). Between working as a waitress in Seattle and blowing off night school to pal around with her married boyfriend, Grace leaves other staples of motherhood like dish washing and dinner preparation to her responsible daughter.
So when young Ansidad decides to just skip the final days of her childhood by gunning it straight to adulthood, she knows that being a “bad girl” is precisely the way to do it. Prompted by a classroom lesson on coming of age stories, it doesn’t take more than a few frames for Ansidad to visualize the key to shedding her childhood: “bad girl” conventions such as promiscuous sex, drugs, and even abandoning her childhood best friend.
But despite obligatory scenes of library research, Ansidad’s quick plotting of her race to adulthood with sex and “slutty” clothes reveals what many young girls know — perhaps thanks to nearly two decades worth of those coming of age movies. From Pretty In Pink to She’s All That to Mean Girls, the cultural suggestion for any girl who wants to metaphorically shed her pinafore is to take up a low-cut dress and a sexually active status. That the quickest way to leave her childhood in her mother’s photo album (or iPhoto?) is to attend those flyered parties, steal some booze, and pick up some dark eyeliner on the way home.
The question remains though why for girls specifically, growing up usually translates to being transgressive. The equation could be confined simply to the corners of teen coming of age of films. But while boys certainly have their fair share of their run-ins with the law, their cultural trespasses don’t seem nearly as synonymous with leaving boyhood behind. Even the terrain is often different for boys than it is for girls. Although a boy hooking up with some random girl at a party could very well bring some mothers to tears, a girl doing to same is likely to incite more scrutiny and concern. The societal price is still much higher for any girl who takes up with a crew of “fast girls” than a boy whose friends also happen to be somewhat sexually experienced.
Even so, as somewhat mirrored in the Girl in Progress mother-daughter dynamic, teen girls are reportedly more responsible with their birth control than their mothers were, consistently using highly effective contraception or putting off sex completely. While we can perhaps cite stellar parenting in that statistic, the numbers — and premise of Girl in Progress — illustrate that girls are well aware of that “fallen girl” archetype. And whether they are actively avoiding such a route or glancing down the way in mere curiosity, modern girls know it when they see it.