Thursday, April 5, 2012

Girl Land

Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan (NY: Little, Brown, 2012). Review copy provided by publisher.

According to Caitlin Flanagan, Girl Land  is that special terrain adolescent females must traverse to become women.  Some of the most important and enduring landmarks are friendships with girls (and boys), menstruation, dating, proms, and sexual initiation.  Girls need to spend a lot of time alone to make the journey successfully, much more so than boys, and unfortunately modern girls have much less of this important solitude available to them than the girls of previous generations, which is changing the types of women who are emerging.

Flanagan's social history focuses almost exclusively on a subset of adolescent girls who happen to be at least middle class if not upper middle class to simply wealthy. While there may be some overlap of experiences with all girls (every girl gets her period; not every girl goes to prom), there are plenty who do not have the luxury of solitude due to family and work obligations, so where does that leave them on this journey? Apparently in some kind of psychological quagmire. Don't get me wrong--this was an interesting book, but I kept thinking that most of the examples and discussion assumed a particular (well-to-do) subset of girls who had time for navel gazing introspection. I enjoyed Flanagan's comparison of girlhood and adolescence in various decades in the twentieth century to the contemporary scene, especially the impact of  social media and the Internet on girls' interior life.  Overall, this extremely readable book dwells nostalgically on the past, sentimentalizing and white washing the negative to a certain extent. However, Flanagan makes the point that girlhood has certainly changed with girls today having much less privacy, and this change may negatively affect girls' development. 

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