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. . . Bratz already puts out a magazine that’s like Cosmo for eight-year-olds, spotlighting a “flirty denim skirt,” a “divine golden halter top,” and Paris Hilton’s “alluring outfit that can’t fail to impress!” all in the August-September 2006 issue. After the editors field a heartrending question about divorce from a nine-year-old, who fears that her father prefers his girlfriend to her, since he spends so much time with the girlfriend--“What should I do?”--they then go on to their main business, asking their readers questions like, “Are you always the first in your group to wear the hottest new looks?” and “Do you love it when people look at you in the street”? Though surely the editors do not mean to imply this, if I were the nine-year-old, I might come away with the impression that I had to dress sexy to win back my father’s attention.
. . . Parents want to know how to speak to their children about sex, and kids certainly want to hear from parents (“Teenagers Want More Advice From Parents on Sex, Study Says” is a typical news headline). And the experts tell us that parents are the biggest influence on whether a teenager decides to have sex. Yet there is one big stumbling block: Often parents don’t realize that their sexual revolution has become the entrenched status quo. Today many young women feel oppressed by the expectation that they will engage in casual sex, just as their mothers once felt oppressed by the expectation that they would be virgins at marriage. Parents in the grip of a notion that they need to be “cool” want to show that they understand the kids are going to “do it anyway." Ironically, this just adds to the pressure. For boys too, You’re liberated, so get going! doesn’t always translate into an “I care” message.
. . . Cece, an attractive brunette from Manhattan, confides: “One of my good friends lost her virginity in college when she was 21. I guess that was considered really old and there was a lot of talk about it. . . . Her parents loved her, but they were like – get out there and do it already!”
. . . I glance behind me, and everyone is transfixed, hanging on Taylor’s every word. The boys who were slouching are now at the edge of their chairs, and several girls are taking furious notes in the way that girls do, as if their very lives depended on it. In this case, they well may. Then Taylor [age 15] sings...:
Don't want to toss away my pride,
I’m worth waiting for. . .
Friends with benefits
Just can’t get with it
What’s wrong with being a good girl?
I can make a difference in this world!
. . . I would encounter this contradiction over and over again: Emotional, dreamy girls are a thorn in our side, but when boys are romantic, their every tear is precious. It was a mystery to me. On “Teenwire,” Planned Parenthood’s website, you will find the same paradox. On the one hand, girls are discouraged from expressing emotions, which are supposedly culturally-based; on the other, boys who are emotional are praised. . .
...According to a study by sociologists at Duke University published in June 2006, Americans have one-third fewer close friends and confidants today than two decades ago, and the number of people who say they have "no friends" has more than doubled. Dembe, a twenty-six-year-old designer who has lived in the United States, Africa, and Japan, feels that "the demise in female friendships is true across all cultures":
I have noticed that in their twenties, especially the early twenties, many college-educated women take a less than positive view of female friendship. I have friends still living in Botswana and they have mentioned the same point. It seems that the friendships of our teens which we felt nurtured us have turned into very negative interactions. Then if you are trying to be positive you are seen as naive. I think cynicism has become the norm and that makes me very sad.
. . . The Pure Fashion divas do seem to be making a difference. “I actually haven’t seen too much of the stomachs anymore,” reports Robin Gunderson. Then she beams at her younger sister: “It has a lot to do with Ella.” At first I’m not sure whether she is playfully ribbing Ella, but she seems genuinely proud of her kid sister. Not that Robin doesn’t have a sense of humor about it. “I should really get discounts while shopping because I am Ella Gunderson’s sister,” she muses, her blue eyes dancing. “Actually, I think Ella should wear a big sign with arrows when we go shopping, and she could be, like, ‘Don’t make me write another letter!’” It’s not a bad idea.
. . . The scorn heaped on the “good” girl is part of a misguided attempt to correct the old double standard. Women now have to prove that they’re liberated by being sexually active outside of marriage, to a degree that men do not. Even teenage girls like Brittany Hunsicker bear the burden of proving that they aren’t prudes--and proving it to middle-aged soccer Dads. This is preposterous and damaging.
. . Yagmur has, of course, thought of this already, and in fact she used an environmental metaphor when speaking to Abercrombie executives: “I talked about poising the water that they’re going to drink. Well, these shirts are poisoning their own consumers.” Did that go over big with the execs? Well, either way the reps heard her returning to the subject of “morals,” which they must have loved:
Morals. It’s not like a T-shirt defines a person’s ethics but it’s definitely a reflection of it. And you show everyone. Everyone who sees the T-shirts being worn thinks that girls, they’re all like loose, or they’re easy, or you know, they’ve done this and they’re proud of it--and you show everyone that, well, it kind of reflects an idea that isn’t true, and there’s more to girls than just that.
. . .Though the number of girl bullies is on the rise--both in schools and in virtual areas such as MySpace--and though the U.S. military is still reeling from the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib and the participation of a woman, Lynndie England, many parents remain in denial. Defending her daughter’s taunting of naked male prisoners, Lynndie England's mother, Terrie, told reporters: “They were just doing stupid kid things, pranks.” Many parents go further and see girls’ being mean as the highest level of empowerment--for them, although not, presumably, for their victims.
. . . The problem, I hope, is obvious by now: if the only public voices girls can hear are those who advocate wildness, and if those who believe in wholesomeness seem afraid to make their case, girls don’t have much of a choice. Being an exhibitionist then becomes the only way of being “good.”
Why are people so terrified of the good girl? In truth, it’s often with good reason. Take Elsie Dinsmore, the eponymous heroine of a popular didactic series written by Martha Finely in the late nineteenth century. Elsie is ridiculously, preposterously good.. . .
Wendy Shalit, on why tweens shouldn't have to look "sexy":
"There is no longer any mystery or power to sex--it is just expected that everything will be sexual, and so nothing is. There is nothing to wait for, or to look forward to."