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01 Aug

By some measures, girls appear to be faring rather well in twenty-first-century America.

Teenage pregnancy rates have been in steady decline since the 1990s.

All of her interview subjects agree that on sites like Instagram and Facebook, female popularity (as quantified by the number of “likes” a girl’s photos receive) depends on being deemed “hot.” “You have to have a perfect body and big butt,” a fifteen-year-old from the Bronx observes grimly.

“For a girl, you have to be that certain way to get the boys’ attention.” Girls who spend long enough in this competitive beauty pageant atmosphere don’t need to be coerced into serving themselves up as masturbatory fantasies, Sales argues.

Orenstein, it is worth noting, is not concerned about the quantity of sex that young women are having.

(There is, she points out, no evidence to suggest that rates of sexual intercourse among young people have risen in recent decades.

The fact that being “the girl everybody wants to fuck” can now be characterized as a bold, feminist aspiration is one measure, she suggests, of how successfully old-fashioned sexual exploitation has been sold to today’s teenage girls as their own “sex-positive” choice.

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Orenstein interviewed more than seventy young women for her book, each of them chosen to represent those who had “benefited most from women’s economic and political progress.” All were at college or college-bound, and almost all struck her as “bright, assertive, ambitious” students.Taking their cues from celebrities like Kim Kardashian—whose vast following on Instagram Sales identifies as a marker of social media’s decadent values—they post “tit pics,” “butt pics,” and a variety of other soft-porn selfies as a means of guaranteeing maximum male attention and approbation.“I guarantee you,” a seventeen-year-old from New Jersey tells Sales,every girl wishes she could get three hundred likes on her pictures.There were some in the 1950s who were pretty sure that the decadent new practice of “going steady” augured moral disaster.Both Sales and Orenstein have undoubtedly grim and arresting information to impart about the lives of American girls.