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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book Review: Girl Land by Caitlin Flanagan

Years ago Ms. Flanagan's book To Hell With All That really opened my eyes. Although I am not a parent (nor intend to be) I did appreciate its message about how important working mothers are, and really made me appreciate anew not just how hard it was for my mother to work a full-time job, cook dinner every night, and keep our house spic and span (she was smart and made all us kids help with the cleaning and other chores.) But I also just appreciated the example she set of a professional woman (a vice-president no less for most of her time at that job) who used her degrees and was valued. In our family, regardless of the fact that none of us have (yet) reproduced except one step-sister, I don't think any of us would consider not working. It was like going to (and finishing!) college--in my family this was not optional. It was so ingrained that it never even occurred to any of us.

In Girl Land, Ms. Flanagan tackles the hardest and most influential years in any woman's life: adolesense. She talks about the beginning of this phase in the early 1900s (yes, before that you simple went from being a girl to a woman with no in-between.) She talks about how it changed through the decades, how the teachings of the day made sense at the time but set up false dichotomies (girls were the "good" ones who were supposed to set the rules and boundaries with boys, but how on earth were they supposed to enforce those boundaries with boys who were vastly physically stronger? Did what we were taught in the 1950s lead to the culture of rape we're now dealing with?), how the media and pop culture affected us, and how things have been changing.

This short book just ripped by in mere moments (I did read it in only two days). Even while I was reading it, I thought to myself, I must force this book onto all of my friends with daughters. You might not agree with all of her arguments (I understand she's rather controversial although I didn't know that before) but she makes a lot of valid points about how tricky society is for girls to navigate and how we can try to ease the transition.

I bought this book at an independent bookstore, Parnassus Books.

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