We worry for our girls. We — parents, teachers, journalists, big brothers, doctors, celebrities, religious leaders, bloggers — see danger for them everywhere. Estrogen in milk, anorexic models in fashion magazines, math-hating Barbies, sexy Barbies, sexy Halloween costumes, sexy everything, sex education or the lack thereof, online bullies, online predators, eating disorders, mood disorders, rapists, rape culture — it’s a dangerous world out there for the vulnerable, for the naive and the easily corrupted. It makes sense to worry for them. But worrying about them is also another way of saying — and saying to them — that we think they’re weak. Vulnerability offers an excellent excuse for dismissal, something women have understood for centuries, something modern teenage girls know all too well. How often we disdain their narratives, relegating stories for and about teenage girls to categories meant to defy serious consideration: See the easy and vicious dismissals of the Twilight phenomenon (as opposed to the consideration offered to serious bildungsroman about boys — and the respect accorded to the men who write them); see the shaming of adults who dare to read fiction written for teengers; see the kerfuffle over whether that young adult fiction is too much for its frail, easily influenced girl readers to handle; see the eruption of venom when a woman young enough to be thought of as a girl creates a show called Girls and the gatekeepers of high culture have the temerity to take it seriously.
We could do better; we have done much worse.