Pink Girls and Beyond

One of the most frustrating things about being a writer is the lack of honest, blunt opinions.  People who love you tell you it's wonderful.  People who don't love you sometimes give you a limited compliment; sometimes they invent a platitude (I've actually heard that line at the end of Sideways, the one about "a great book" with "no place for it right now.")  But mostly, they just ignore you.  This is the worst thing they could possibly do, but I've come to expect and even accept it.  So when you get a real compliment, you hang onto it.

After my first year of classroom teaching, I wrote a piece for my school's alumni magazine.  It was a half-rant, half-rhapsody about teenage girls and how wonderful and frustrating they were to teach.  At the time, I wasn't at all sure I would ever teach again, so it was a sort of swan song, just in case.  A little like my friend Chris' (sadly, his piece has now been archived and costs money to view, but you can take my word for it that it was compelling and true-to-life.)

That summer, I asked my dear friend Terry for some advice.  I wanted to write more, but I was lost about how to do it.  Getting into the business is a lot like getting into acting or fine art: you have to know someone, or preferably, know a lot of people.  What should I do?  I wondered.

Terry is nothing if not direct.  "I think you should write more about the Pink Girls."

At first I didn't know what he meant.  Then he started suggesting reading material: Reviving Ophelia, A Return to Modesty, I am Charlotte Simmons, unhooked.  I read them all, but I had more questions than answers.  Mainly: What on earth was going on in the minds and hearts of these women, who were barely younger than me but appeared unable to take part in a healthy, normal relationship of any sort?

Of the four, I think unhooked resonated most clearly with me.  I could sense the author's concern, shock and bewilderment in every page, all emotions with which I could sympathize.  I wrote the author, Laura Sessions Stepp, and wound up in an extended e-mail and phone conversation that continued sporadically over a few years' time.

It's been simmering for several years now, boiling over every now and again when I hear another story of serial hookup followed by serious heartbreak.  So when I had the opportunity to write about an issue of social justice for my current class, Child & Adolescent Development, I jumped.  The paper is much too long to post here, but I'll give you a teaser in preparation for the next few posts, which will contain controversy-laden excerpts (having done my research, I'm prepared to be attacked, as has everyone who's written about this from a point of view I admire:)
It’s no secret that teenagers tend to be emotional, volatile and insecure, or that they take evident pleasure in flouting the rules set for them by parents, teachers and other authority figures.  The last decade, however, has revealed a disturbing trend among adolescents that persists well into young adulthood: the replacement of healthy short- and long-term relationships with episodes of unplanned, emotionally-detached physical contact called “hookups.”

Sex is easier than ever for teenagers; we live in one of the most permissive societies in history, in which sexual innuendo permeates even the children’s entertainment market.  As a result, teenage pregnancies are on the rise for the first time in over a decade. I believe this is because our sex-education programs (some of which begin in elementary school) are falling short in a crucial area: emotions and relationships.  We are failing our young women by denying them models of healthy relationships, experiences they can learn from and build on, and forums where they can define for themselves what they want out of a partnership.  In denying them the tools they need to negotiate in relationships, we as a society have essentially set them up for continual failure, and only through a focused effort to reverse these conditions can we hope to change the pattern for future generations.

How bad is it, really?  You have no idea.  Stay tuned.