Girl Land offers no insights into the land of girls

Caitlin Flanagan’s Girl Land is a long-winded rant about adolescent girls and their emotional journey to womanhood and sexual maturity. It’s clearly a worthwhile subject, but I found myself increasingly annoyed as I read it. Flanagan’s book is a series of broad and sweeping generalizations, long on opinions and short on facts. The result is a truly excruciating read, an eye-roller instead of an eye-opener.

As described by Flanagan, “Girl land” is that period where teenage girls blossom into young women. It is a time for writing in diaries, dating and endless dreaming, while they attempt to understand their changing bodies. It is also a time for “mourning the loss of her little girlhood in ways boys typically don’t mourn the loss of their childhoods.” Hah! I would have more respect for Girl Land (Little, Brown and Company, $26) if Flanagan had written a straightforward memoir, stuck to her own childhood, her own journey.

She writes, “Men and boys are not as likely to be wounded, emotionally and spiritually, by early sexual experience.” Is that so? Flanagan is the mother of two sons, so where does she get off trying to write authoritatively about raising girls?

I grew up with three sisters, a domineering mother and an old-fashioned father who believed parenting was mostly woman’s work. In an effort to understand my sisters, I read my share of books by Judy Blume and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I have no trouble buying tampons, and spent two years as an at-home father, raising a daughter who is now a junior in college. It’s been ages since we read a book together, but I consulted her immediately.

She agreed that Girl Land is heavy-handed and preachy, and that women are much stronger than the vulnerable innocents Flanagan describes. She also doesn’t buy Flanagan’s assumption that boys aren’t as emotionally invested when it comes to dating and sexual exploration. “I know plenty of boys who were devastated by that process,” she said. I asked her if there was any truth to the blame Flanagan placed on unlimited Internet access or rap music; my daughter just laughed. In the end, she dismissed Girl Land as a lot of nonspecific ideas that don’t go anywhere or amount to much.

Flanagan, a former high school teacher, should have known better than to turn in this poorly researched term paper. When she writes lines such as, “As a parent, I am horrified by the changes that have taken place in the common culture over the last 30 years,” she sounds like a political candidate. Flanagan may well be mourning the loss of her own adolescence, but she clearly doesn’t have any special insight into anyone else’s. ★☆☆☆☆

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