Thursday, May 13, 2010

2010 : Taylor Swift :: 2000 : _____?

Caitlin Flanagan does it again. It's hard to even isolate all the absurd assumptions and generalizations in this piece.

Note in particular the set of "assumptions" that Flanagan cites as the grounds for second-waver's promotion of sexual liberation, including "that a girl is capable of great sexual desire." Flanagan's skepticism of this underlies her entire essay.

She also apparently feels we should accept a novel by a sexagenarian about a largely apocryphal phenomenon as accurate evidence of contemporary "values of girls’ desire for committed relationships [and] the realities of the sexual era in which we live."

The entire piece is confused; Flanagan doesn't clearly differentiate between when she's talking about the teens of today and the teens of five to ten years before. The upshot: Today's teens are supposedly adapting 1950s "Boyfriend Story" norms and practice in reaction to the aimless whorishness of their elder sisters. That previous generation of girls, cautionary tales that they were, provoked a backlash against "acts and experiences that are frightening, embarrassing, uncomfortable at best, painful at worst." And these girls only were conned into such acts because they were "taught by [] peer culture that hookups are what stolen, spin-the-bottle kisses were to girls a quarter century ago." 

But though Flanagan intones that in her day,  girls "looked forward to sex, not as a physical pleasure (although it would—eventually—become that for most of us [EDITOR: Oh, honey.]), but as a way of becoming ever closer to our boyfriends," these modern girls had sex ... for reasons that Flanagan cannot or does not explain. If it's true that the most modern girls could expect was a hookup, and said hookups were not fun or pleasurable, then what was the draw? What story is the "Boyfriend Story" replacing?

Then we reach the crux of the issue: There never was a time where the "Boyfriend Story" was not ascendant. Music and books marketed at teenage girls may vary in their degree of explicitness, but the mainstream media thrust has always been romantic fantasy. I'm reaching for examples from the Bad Old Days (which span what, exactly? 2000-2005? 1995-2005?) for narratives targeted at teen girls that promote clinical and unemotional sex and coming up dry. Even raunchy teen movies of the period typically succumbed to romantic sweetness at the end.

And romantic fantasy is not the exclusive province of girls, any more than lust is solely male. There are indeed girls pining for emotional intimacy with boyfriends who are more interested in merely physical gratification. But there are also teen boys mooning over vivacious, bodacious girls.

Flanagan is, as usual, simultaneously soporific and alarmist, waxing eloquent on the perils of modern feminism and then lulling the reader with the idea that all that unnatural liberation stuff will ultimately not prevail. I'm not sure what the Atlantic gains from having a professional anti-feminist troll/mole writing these columns, but I hope the traffic spike does their revenues enough good to justify the presence of this artfully written dreck.
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