Book Review: Girl Land

As I’m making my way through the literature on the representation of women and girls in the media, I encounter very different views, opinions, suggestions and theories on why adolescence is so difficult to understand. I’ve read about those who advocate for attachment parenting to closely monitor a young girl’s media usage, and also studied those who suggest censorship is the devil. I’m learning that you’ve got to draw your own conclusions from the bevy of information available, or you’ll go crazy trying to apply it all to your own life.

One book that skews to the more conservative side, is Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan.

girl land

Girl Land is about, you guessed it, adolescent girls and how they are impacted by so many factors surrounding them. This book deviates from a media effects focus, and more historically covers the ins and outs of growing up as a girl, and how society’s fascination with all things sexual is silently killing their innocence.

The New York Times wrote a review of the book, calling it “hyperbolic, incoherent, sometimes smart and occasionally maddening.” Now, I think this is a bit much, and probably stems from the fact that Flanagan promotes more conservative types of values, actions and processes for raising strong, powerful girls.

But, what I found most intriguing about the book was its historical references. Each chapter is divided into different areas of “Girl Land” or the “girl anticipating her first period, nursing her first crush, brooding and withdrawing… coming to terms with her emergence as a sexual creature, with everything good and everything frightening that accompanies this transformation.” The chapters ranged from dating to diary keeping.

And the references to the growth of these activities (dating, diaries, sexuality, etc.) showed a historical and societal context I had not considered before. For example, she covers the emergence of “dating,” grown out of a rebellion against courtship and in the development of the teenage culture we know today that started in the 1920s.

There were parts that left me thinking “that’s a little harsh” and the book does draw sweeping generalizations about how a young girl should be treated. But it did make several good points about how girls will endure this time in their lives, but often emerge from the other side more vibrant and energized than when they entered. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the historical context of adolescence, but it was lacking in the implications of the media on this age group, which would have made her argument a bit stronger. Warning through: it does include some graphic descriptions of sexuality and menstruation, not usually suggested for light beach reading 🙂