The XX Factor

Are Teen Girls Revolting Against Modern Culture by Loving Twilight?

So it seems our teen girls are finally revolting against the terrible hook-up culture they’ve been bullied into over the past decade or so. At least according to Caitlin Flanagan’s latest piece in the Atlantic . The evidence? They like movies like Twilight .

Uh, sure. We’ll return to that point.

Flanagan argues, as usual, that our modern hook-up culture is destroying young ladies’ lives, that parents have lead their girls into it fingers first by willingly giving them cell phones to sext on and laptops with Wi-Fi that conjure up loads of hardcore Internet porn and that there’s “very little middle ground” between evangelical, Purity Ball-style abstinence values and the destructive hook-up values that most teenagers adhere to. Of course, the question always is with these articles: What are we actually talking about when we talk about our modern hook-up culture? It would seem that Flanagan is talking about a society in which it’s fairly normal for barely pubescent girls to jump right into rainbow parties and high school sex orgies. In fact, the only example she provides over and over and over again is a passage from Anita Shreve’s novel Testimony , which centers on the ramifications a group of teens face after a schoolgirl has sex with four boys in a locker room. To be fair, Shreve’s novel is based on a true scandal that happened in a Boston-area private school circa 2005, but it’s also fair to point out that the occasional sex scandal has been happening since the beginning of time (though if you were unlucky enough to be involved in one as a 1950s teen girl, you were probably sent to a home for young mothers). The point is: There’s a much more defined middle ground than what Flanagan sketches out. Statistically, there has to be- 47.8 percent of teenagers are sexually active, down from 54 percent in 1991 , and even the 1991 rate isn’t the stuff crazy sex parties are made of. Hey, lots of teens are smart! And they make their own smart decisions despite cultural influences and the constant media fear-mongering about their loose morality. Teen girls, specifically, may hook up or have boyfriends or have sex before marriage. But love and sex for teenagers are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Flanagan’s only evidence to the contrary is that teen girls are spending billions on entertainment that exalts the “Boyfriend Story”- Twilight , High School Musical , and basically every romantic comedy ever made. And somehow this is supposed to indicate a teenage girl “cultural insurrection” whereby, with their bulging wallets at the box office, teen girls are demanding a return to old-fashioned values. But what Flanagan misses is that there’s no alternative, at least cinematically, to the boyfriend story. Teen movies have, and always will have, a romantic plot, whether they happen to also involve the fantastically cloying, abstinent love between a teen girl and a vampire (even American Pie , the quintessential ensemble teen sex movie of my generation, featured a romantic plot line). Frankly, hook-up stories don’t provide a film-worthy narrative. And that says more about what a movie needs to provide to its audience than it does about innate teen desires. The princess-finding-true-love narrative, to quote a favorite Disney film that quite neatly fits into that paradigm, is a “tale as old as time.” (And, Barbara Ehrenreich would argue, a sexually damaging one, too .) And if the name of the game is to lob film trends as signifiers of cultural teen revolution then the rapid ascendance of bromantic beta-males pining for girlfriends throws the hook-up theory’s whole teen-boy-as-predator into whack. The boyfriend imperative has always been a cultural trope, and who is to say that it’s not just as learned as Flanagan’s idea of the hook-up imperative?

Or, in that case, just as detrimental?