I recently read Peggy Orenstein's fantastic journalistic book on the sex culture of girls between 15 - 20 years old.
At first it seems completely random that I would pick this book up since (a) I don't have girls and (b) I don't have teens. But it actually makes sense when you consider that I'm officially old. And as an old-timer, I want to understand the younger generation. What are those whipper-snappers up to?
I want to be informed about youth culture since that's the missing link between me and my kids, and since I hate youtube and instagram and twitter and being on the internet in general, I have to get my data from good ol' fashioned books - harrumph! Back in my day, we read books! Real books with pages. That you flipped. One by one. Dang it!
And so I picked up this fabulous book that just came out a few months ago. Orenstein is a prominent journalist for publications like the New York Times Magazine and has written broadly about girls and culture. She interviewed 70+ girls, mostly from wealthy Bay Area neighborhoods, and includes all facets of sexuality in her book - views on sex, sexual experiences, assault and rape, coming out as gay, etc.
And...I'm just a little bit glad I don't have girls.
There's no way I can sum up this weighty book in a single post, but here's my top 3 takeaways:
(1) Looking Hot
Orenstein shows how prevalent and pervasive and all-consuming the cultural message is for girls - your value is significantly based on how hot you look (hot as defined by Victoria Secret models). Whether you are a teen, a young adult, a senator, a business woman, a scientist, a presidential candidate - your hotness is always up for evaluation.
The girls in Orenstein's book will say, matter of factly, that they're having a good day because they feel like they look hot that day. Or they were having a bad day because they felt insecure about their looks that day.
This is not a surprising insight. Nor is it a new revelation. It's just...really, really sad.
Porn is pervasive. Most teenage boys consume so much porn that there is now an epidemic of porn-induced erectile dysfunction due to the inability to feel any sexual stimulation outside of watching porn.
But what was most disturbing to me was Orenstein's very graphic description of the typical content of porn. I always, in my completely innocent head, imagined it was just a very long extended version of the stuff I see in regular movies. Nope. Wrong. Totally wrong.
It is, in a nutshell, degradation of women as titillation. The more degrading, the more titillating.
This may not be surprising or novel. But it is, again...really, really sad. Especially when you consider how this form of media automatically becomes a social script for young men.
Apparently the run of the mill female college experience goes like this on the weekends:
Drink 3-4 shots with your friends before going to a frat party (aka pre-gaming).
Drink 3-4 more shots at the frat party.
Dance, make-out, fool around at the frat party.
Drink more shots.
Lose track of how many shots you've had.
Lose track of everything.
Wake up the next day feeling not great (best case scenario) or like you had non-consensual sex (one of the worse case scenarios).
This also is probably not surprising, but again, very heartbreaking.
And there you have it.
Girls and sex.
Hide your daughters.
Actually, Orenstein advocates the opposite of hiding. She thinks one of the main contributors to this broken culture is the lack of parental guidance and instruction on sex. Most parents, whether conservative or liberal (yes! they have one thing in common when it comes to sex!) do not tell their daughters anything about sex or their bodies beyond the typical 5 minute spiel about waiting until you feel ready, being safe, using a form of birth control, etc.
And so girls are left adrift to find out and explore for themselves.