Explore The Text: Girls and Sex

By Katherine Reber
NEWS Reporter

When I sat down in the Hale Studio Theatre on Tuesday, September 6 to discuss Peggy Orenstein’s book, Girls and Sex, the feeling in the room was of visceral discomfort, and I wasn’t the only person who felt that way. The 22 girls and one boy who gathered spoke softly and fidgeted as they took their chairs. As Kaufman Butler ’17 said, “I think I was concerned abouscreen-shot-2016-09-25-at-7-22-38-pmt how people would view [the book] and if they would appreciate it in the same way I did.”

After a brief disclaimer that the conversation was being recorded and that the words of each participant were not to be disclosed outside the group, the discussion that ensued confirmed both my hopes and fears, and Kaufman’s, and probably many others’. Our hope was that we had found others who understood the pressures we felt; our fear was the same. Orenstein’s accounts and our discussion finally acknowledged that the sources of girls’ feelings of inadequacy were pervasive and unlikely to change without a major cultural overhaul.

Girls and Sex is exactly what it sounds like. It is a book about the realities of high school and college aged girls, and their struggles to navigate the world of sexuality and relationships in a way that is decidedly different from their mothers. Orenstein argues that Americans culture is one in which women are constantly projected as objects. This has, in fact, created a situation in which girls are overly sexualized and pressured to satisfy the needs of men while expecting little in return in the way of emotional or physical reward. This idea has spun a dangerous web, integrating warped perceptions about the female body, about the qualifications for rape, about how girls should be presenting themselves on social media, and about how they experience feelings like pleasure and pain in a sexual context.

The buzz surrounding the book in the Mercersburg community is something that started with the Women’s Activist Club, a group that began informally meeting last spring to discuss feminist literature. The club’s advisers, Ms. Stephens and Ms. Dyson, decided to take a vote within the club to determine the summer reading book they would endorse. The club members chose Girls and Sex after hearing the author interviewed on Fresh Air. Perhaps some found the book’s title intriguing, but even more the girls sought a text and a discussion in which their experiences with and fears about sex would be recognized openly; in the end, the meeting did just that. As Maddie Rogers ’17 commented, “Coming out of the discussion, having heard how other people felt about the book, I realized how personal it was to every one of the participants, but also how we had all been affected by the same culture.”

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