Caitlin Flanagan wants to protect your daughters!

1 Feb






Essayist and op-ed columnist Caitlin Flanagan, recently published author of Girl Land, a memoir-cum manifesto concerning her girlhood and others’, opined in the New York Times on Sunday. Titling her column “Hysteria and the Teenage Girl,” Flanagan began her essay speaking about the apparently common and troubling condition of hysteria and its popular occupant–the teenage girl. Citing cases from now and the sixties, this country and Tanzania (?!), she wonders as to how and why no one is able to decipher and circumvent the rampant problem.

She concludes that to be a teenage girl is to be confronted with burgeoning sexuality and its concomitant childbearing possibilities, and the approaching departure from  her childhood home. However, she concludes with the assertion that “a teenage girl’s home is more important to her than at any time since she was a small child. She also needs emotional support and protection from the most corrosive cultural forces that seek to exploit her when she is least able to resist…girls need and deserve more protection during this time of their lives.”

Okay, granted Flanagan assuredly has the best of intentions here. But let’s parse this out: what are “corrosive cultural forces”? How is the teenage girl, at this particular point of her life, “least able to resist”? What does “protection” mean in this instance?

These kinds of arguments, be they cloaked in cultural, political, historical, religious, or self-helping terms, must never be taken at face value, or as innocuous or objective assertions or advice. Presumably, “corrosive cultural forces” can be construed to mean just about anything that the user wishes. The inability of the teenage girl to resist can be connected to a long line of (male) prophets, politicians, and “leaders” who warn of the female inability to resist temptation: be she too physically, intellectually, or emotionally weak. From the Biblical tale of Eve onwards, female weakness has long been detailed, storied, condemned, and used as justification for her “protection.”

Further, her “protection” often involves a kind of impedement of her movement, dress, and freedom; all in service of a greater, benign and omniscient protection of her. Most likely Flanagan does not mean to imply that her teenage girl wear a veil, or be kept segregated from the males in her community, or be locked in her room come parties and proms. But it is hard not to come to these hypothetical conclusions….who does Flanagan really want to protect? And what values are automatically in the protection? What does it mean to “protect” someone? And, how does this protection relate to the feminist and cultural history and reality?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: