The conversation on my neighbor’s front porch is so animated the mosquitoes have trouble lighting on us.
My daughter Katie and I have stopped while walking the dog to say hello to a friend, which seemed like a good idea before the possibility of malaria evinced itself.
Bug spray, anyone?
No matter. My neighbor, Lisa, has questions about the current state of social life for high school girls. Her only daughter will be a freshman in the fall, while my eldest daughter graduated a year ago. This makes Katie an expert on the subject.
Lisa is worried. Already she sees her daughter’s friends changing — acting more worldly and sophisticated than she thinks is appropriate for 14-year-olds. She’s concerned about protecting her daughter’s innocence against the peer pressure to grow up too fast.
Based on our experience, her concerns are not unfounded.
“I’m not going to lie,” Katie tells Lisa. “The girls in high school can seem scary. I remember my freshman year, some girls showed up drunk at the very first dance, and I was shocked. But I just kept my distance and stuck with my group. My friends were all good girls — and they still are.”
Katie paints a positive picture of high school as a self-proclaimed “good girl,” and Lisa hopes her own daughter will follow my daughter’s example. She’s relieved to hear that it’s still possible to make it through high school without partying, hooking up or becoming a serial girlfriend.
There’s just one caveat: “Of course, I’ve still never been on a date,” Katie admits.
Lisa is shocked.
In truth, everyone who hears this is shocked. Katie is beautiful, articulate, fun and friendly — and I don’t care if I am her mother, it’s true.
Sadly, those qualities aren’t likely to attract a guy these days: Being a good girl seems to have consequences.
Author Wendy Shalit’s new book, “The Good Girl Revolution: Young Rebels with Self-Esteem and High Standards” (Random House), brilliantly explores the cultural conundrum my daughter is experiencing.
This is a book — and a movement — whose time has come.
“I wanted to showcase a new generation of role models beyond Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, to get people thinking about — and talking about — girls who represent something deeper. There are so many amazing young women out there, but all you usually see in the media is the exhibitionists,” Ms. Shalit says.
Of course, celebrity role models of the “bad girl” variety are only part of the problem. Ms. Shalit explains a host of reasons why today’s hypersexuality and bold attitudes have permeated girl world, from the pathetically trashy Bratz dolls to parents and teachers who pressure girls to vamp it up just to fit in.
As the mother of three daughters, I’m grateful that Ms. Shalit has recast “good girls” as powerful and self-possessed. Rather than feel sheepishly awkward about admitting they don’t date, I want my girls to feel proud that their authentic self-esteem and high standards are worth honoring.
Of course, it’s hard to ignore the irony here: In our culture, it’s hopelessly uncool to be good, while being a “bad girl” is both normal and expected.
Mosquitoes notwithstanding, I take the time to reassure my neighbor that not every high school girl morphs into a tart for the sake of popularity and social status.
“You’ll have some challenging experiences, and it’s a good idea to go into the next four years knowing that it won’t always be easy. But raising good girls is entirely possible and worth the effort.”
Then again, if it gets discouraging for Lisa and her daughter, I know just the book to recommend.