Letters

"Good girl or bad girl -- I don't know anyone who isn't a little bit of each." Readers respond to Corrie Pikul's interview with author Karen Stabiner.


Salon Staff
April 22, 2005 7:58PM (UTC)

[Read "The Girls Are All Right," by Corrie Pikul.]

I dislike Karen Stabiner's implication that yes, there are bad girls, but they are cordoned off, elsewhere, not our daughters (who, yes, have horses and go to the sorts of schools where well-respected cultural historians come to discuss body image). The good girls and the bad girls are the same girls. They may be the best and the brightest, but sometimes they get sad or mad for a few years. Sometimes that throws them off the rails; sometimes it doesn't. I know a lot of girls who've had some pretty serious sad and mad (those would be bad girls, in Stabiner's estimation -- girls who've thrown temper tantrums and told their parents to shut up and drunk too much and eaten too much or too little or both and cut classes and their arms) who'll be leading both their fields and some pretty beautiful lives in years to come. I hope to count myself among them.

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Girls and the young women who were girls until only recently are served no better by the declaration that we are mostly "good" than by the declaration that we are mostly "bad." The trouble, I think, lies in the thick line between. Good girl or bad girl, one or the other. I don't know anyone who isn't a little bit of each.

And by the way: 10 to 14? Not really the danger zone, in my experience.

-- Mollie Eisenberg

Corrie Pikul couldn't be more right in her conclusion that many, many teenage girls are not only "all right" but also happy and healthy and normal and full of self-esteem.

I volunteer for a mentoring program for teenaged girls, ages 13-17. Most of our girls come from middle- to lower-class homes and are often dealing with a one-parent situation, extended familial responsibilities, and the realities of their socioeconomic status (many live in gang-ridden neighborhoods or attend very poor public schools). But the one thing all the girls have in common in the program? A wonderful sense of self and a joy for living. These are bright, creative, outgoing, funny, engaging human beings. They're not angry or mean or self-destructive or into drugs. They actually think those things are pretty uncool! I am constantly surprised at how amazing they are. The other volunteers and I are supposed to inspire them -- but it usually ends up being the other way around.

Sometimes teenaged girls just deserve to be applauded. Hurray to Ms. Pikul for spreading the message.

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-- Hilary Galanoy

I am very happy for Karen Stabiner and her daughter, Sarah, who seem to be navigating their lives with grace and satisfaction. More people should be so lucky. But despite her claims not to extrapolate any universals from her experience and that of other women in her educated, middle-class circle, she seems to resist seeing herself as lucky -- as if it could be like this for everyone if only they'd stop being so paranoid.

Being educated and middle-class doesn't mean you don't have a story to tell, but like every other story it belongs to a particular time and place. My own lower-class, child-of-high-school-dropouts adolescence was also fraught with eating disorders, promiscuity, drugs, alcohol and deceit. These problems are ascribed by Stabiner and others to "bored" affluent girls largely because girls who grew up like me are expected to have them. As Stabiner points out, nobody writes about those girls who are meeting expectations. They're not special. The mother-daughter relationships around me resembled nothing so much as a blood sport. Plenty of adult women are as bad as, if not worse than, their daughters are.

-- Angelle Haney Gullett

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I really enjoyed Corrie Pikul's interview of Karen Stabiner. I have been having similar thoughts for a while. Since I had my daughter five years ago, I have become indignant about all of the presumptions people make about adolescent girls being demons. I admire my little daughter so much that I am offended on her behalf when I hear talk of how girls like her turn into cruel sluts after 12. I cannot help but hear these fear mongers (and they seem to always be parents of boys), though most of the time I try to shut them out and look forward to my daughter's adolescence -- which will likely be as interesting as every other age has been so far. Thank you, Ms. Stabiner, for sticking up for the girls.

-- Ellen Donohue

I am glad Ms. Stabiner's daughter is great. But I cannot support her assertion that because that has been her experience, it reflects the majority's.

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Most girls are not rich. Go to the mall -- many of the girls there are dressing inappropriately, and in survey after survey, are claiming to be pressured for sex. Pampered princesses are more likely to be druggies, drink to excess, and have unwanted sex as late teens. Ms. Stabiner has the resources prevent that -- or at least she thinks she does.

But for lower-middle-class and underclass girls, and many children of divorce, pressure to be sexual is overt. For girls in the inner cities and rural America, the risk of normalizing self-defeating behaviors is high. They are most vulnerable to predators who are five years older than them, even at age 14. They are the ones most at risk for pregnancy, not pampered girls with show horses.

But those "troubled" girls don't live in the wealthy exburbs, so maybe their struggles don't matter. This is why the author's small sample size robs this study of any validity or even importance -- there is not enough diversity of income, race or even geography (has this woman seen bored teens in small towns?) to make it extrapolatable.

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I'm glad her privileged daughter is doing well; I'm not worried about her. It's the latchkey girl of any race (white teenage pregnancy is rising as black teenage pregnancy is falling) -- whose mother had the baby out of wedlock, whose parents are struggling or never married, and who lacks adequate supervision because of the need to put food on the table. Study after study (methodologically valid ones) indicate that these girls are vulnerable to threat. That's why Essence magazine, for example, has launched the Take Back the Music drive. Too many fans of pop music, of all races, think these images are what men want, and are far too willing to play into them, with devastating results.

Ms. Stabiner, you have produced a brag book. You think your daughter is marvelous. You have the resources to keep it that way. But it is unproductive to tell us that this must be the case for most other girls. Maybe taking a statistics class, or sociological methods class, or an elementary logic class, will teach you how to make valid extrapolations from data. Your book is flawed, your method invalid, your cohort too small and privileged, and your data too adulterated by interviewer bias to be meaningful to any group other than upper-middle-class white females.

-- Selika Ducksworth

Thank you! As the father of a young daughter (very young, she's only 4), I've been hearing the prophecies of doom since the day she was born. "Enjoy it now -- in 10 years she's going to hate you." Usually, I'd laugh it off, but sometimes I'd shoot back, "Well then, why bother even trying? If it's inevitable she's going to hate me, why don't I just give up now?" Of course, I didn't give up, and don't intend to. But thanks for reassuring me that it is not, in fact, inevitable.

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The "just wait until..." people are everywhere, and I agree that they resent any feelings of happiness one has with their kids. When my daughter was a baby, a number of our friends would say, "Just wait until she's 6 months, then you'll see how bad it can be," or "Just wait until she's 2" or "Just wait until she starts school." I'm still waiting, and I just enjoy it more every day, in fact.

-- Chris


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