Sexual identity, the cyberbubble, obsessions, environmental toxins: these are the four factors driving the current crisis for girls that Sax describes in his latest book, Girls On The Edge. It could just as easily have been called Girls On The Surface, because that is the cumulative effect of the risks he is concerned about: girls focused on how they look, on performance, on what they do rather than who they are; girls insatiable for the next bit of gossip or the next A grade, and inconsolable when they meet with setbacks and failures.
That grim scenario represents only half the book, however; the other half is about solutions, and what those solutions have in common is the importance of gender -- one of the most fraught issues of our age, and one on which Sax definitively took a stand when he helped found the National Association for Single Sex Education back in 2002.
Some people think Sax is obsessed with gender -- his first book was Why Gender Matters -- but that is because the dominant gender narrative in recent decades has ignored or tried to obliterate the roots of gender in masculinity and femininity, concepts which he takes seriously, if not in quite the way some of us might want (more on this later). In his new book he says:
Most enduring cultures of which we have any record have taken this process -- the process of transition to a gendered adulthood -- very seriously. We ignore it. Indeed American parents seldom speak to their children at all about the meaning of womanhood or manhood (as opposed to generic, un-gendered adulthood). Most parents today don't know what to say.
But girls still want to know, What does it mean to be a woman? Boys still want to know, What does it mean to be a man? We don't tell them. As a result, the marketplace fills the vacuum, providing "the ready-made masculine and the ready-made feminine" which are caricatures of the real thing; but young people don't recognize them as caricatures, because they have received no guidance. (page 185)
Read it all here.