There’s a huge hoo-ha coming our way about girls and the internet. It’s generated by an American writer and journalist called Caitlin Flanagan who, I’m sure, is utterly delightful, but comes over like someone who is never happier than when stirring up tornados in teacups. One of her previous books was subtitled Loving and Loathing our Inner Housewife, and was based around her premise that ‘women have a deeply-felt emotional connection to housekeeping.’
Well, I actually do have a deeply-felt emotional connection to housekeeping – but then, as my many friends will attest, I am a bit bonkers. And I am the ONLY person I know who gives a toss if their skirting boards are dusty. Most of my friends are way too busy to know they actually have skirting boards, and I suspect even their cleaners have more of a life than to give them a passing thought.
Having annoyed everyone with the housekeeping book (and yes, that includes me – I fully uphold every woman’s right to be deeply uninterested in skirting boards), Flanagan is moving on to adolescent girls. Her theory seems to be that girls are damaged by the increasing sexualisation of our culture, and the Internet is making things worse. So far, so obvious, and I’m sure hardly anyone would disagree. Teeth will be ground, though, when Flanagan makes it clear that she believes girls are bound to be helpless victims, preyed on by boys, who are growing up cruder, more brutal and with even less idea of what real girls and women are like than ever before, thanks to surfing porn 24/7.
While it’s probably not the case that all boys are now Internet porn junkies (I said ‘probably’), it’s a bit of a shame that Flanagan doesn’t suggest, for a second, that anyone should stop boys from being boys in this way. All her suggestions focus on changing girls’ behaviour, not boys, even though it’s not the girls’ behaviour that is the problem.
Sigh. All a bit silly, really, and I wouldn’t give it a thought, except that I happened to see the list of one of my girls’ Facebook friends on the computer the other night. I didn’t pry, really I didn’t, but I was struck by how much effort these girls had put into their profile pictures. Careful make-up, alluring poses, dramatic outfits – from very young teens. It all looked a lot more like hard work than anything in my day. We didn’t have to present ourselves to the world in as attractive a manner as possible, in order to gain the maximum number of friends. Yes, granted, I did pose in front of the mirror with different hairstyles, and experiment with make-up, and try on every item in my wardrobe before even going to the corner shop, but that was only for an audience of about seven bored people. Girls now are out there, on the Internet, trying to look as old and as worldly-wise as Britney Spears (God forbid), in front of countless millions. It’s just sad.
I’m not going to stop my children going on Facebook – I do value my life – but it all makes me queasy. I’m feel I am almost on the point of agreeing with Caitlin Flanagan. And that’s very worrying indeed.