I haven’t read Caitlin Flanagan’s Girl Land yet, but her appearance on On Point yesterday, particularly her breathtaking condescension to Salon’s Irin Carmon about the latter’s high school dating life, has to be heard to be believed. During the hour, she spends a lot of time defending the idea that brutish teenaged boys are out to take advantage of teenaged girls. And while I’m in absolute agreement with Irin that if we want to keep girls physically and sexually safe, it makes as much sense to focus on boys as on girls, and with critics who argue that Flanagan has absolutely no insights into non-straight girls, I think there’s another broad exception to that dynamic. Flanagan seems to have no sense whatsoever that boys and girls can be friends, and that encouraging those relationships could help women build better relationships with male bosses, and male coworkers, and male friends.
My male friends are among the most important in my life. The friend I’m most in touch with from high school is a man, who introduced me to action movies and hung out with me after work and at debate team practices. There’s no question my love of campy movies like Starship Troopers and Hackers is a legacy of our friendship, and part of the reason I’m a critic. My best friends in college were the guys I worked on political campaigns with, lived with during my summer in New Haven (contra Flanagan’s domestic ideals, we survived mostly on fried chicken, pancakes, and deeply terrible takeout Chinese), and argued about movies and music with. It wasn’t that I didn’t have female friends — the women I met in college have been critical to my adult life — but there’s no question that these men were formative to my artistic, social, and moral development.
At one point during the interview, Flanagan says, “Girls are hugely interested in boys. That isn’t ever going to change.” But what she — and a lot of the culture she decries — misses is that there are a lot of different ways to be interested in boys. I would hope she’s raising her sons not just to avoid being sexual predators, but to see women as potential friends as well as lovers and wives. And I hope she wouldn’t see their adolescence as failed if they emerged from it with female friends who would last a lifetime instead of having had a bunch of girlfriends.