Flanagan on Girl-on-Girl Action


Caitlin Flanagan takes some time off from hating on working women and watching a nanny clean up her son's vomit to pen a pretty amusing review of Lynn Peril's College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens, and Co-Eds, Then and Now. One cavil:

Peril reports, accurately, that much of the historical anxiety about sending girls to college had to do with the question of sex. In the 19th century, many believed that too much education could rob a girl of "the womanly virtues" and set her on a course for spinsterhood. Coeducation was problematic on two fronts: Not only was a girl in danger of losing her virginity; she was also capable of falling in love with the wrong kind of fellow, perhaps even returning home engaged to someone her family had never met. Nowadays, with the threats to a woman's virginity ever more numerous, and engagement regarded by most coeds as a quaint arrangement slated for the distant future, parents' worries have only multiplied.

Have multiplied? Really? Cultural norms lag, no doubt, but are parents sending their daughters off to college now more worried than parents were at the advent of coeducation? In many if not most cases, women going off to college today won't have a virginity to lose. But more importantly, the subjective value of virginal purity is surely lower than it was in 1920, even to parents. In Flanagan's telling, college women happily embrace Ariel Levy's sex-soaked dystopia, but parents' attitudes haven't budged in nearly a century.

Also, this is funny:

The other thing that the girls tended to do was to fall head over heels in love with one another. The tendency of these crushes to tip over into actual lesbianism terrified and disgusted parents (as well as college administrators, who were ever on the watch for an "exaggerated athletic bent" or "over-boisterousness") even more than coitus, and may have played a small role in the gradual movement toward coeducation, a phenomenon that skyrocketed in the 1920s, when the population of American undergraduates swelled.

Reason contributor Shannon Chamberlain takes on Flanagan here.