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American Girls: Social Media and the Secret…

American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers (2016)

by Nancy Jo Sales

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Showing 4 of 4
  activelearning | Nov 27, 2016 |
[SHUDDER] Some of the specific stories girls shared about the messages they received via text or online ... horrifying. As far as the text goes, I wish that Sales had organized it differently, in themes rather than by age. This couldn't be read cover to cover but is rather better suited for research purposes. It started to feel repetitive from chapter to chapter. Nevertheless, it has a place in my high school library. ( )
  readerspeak | Oct 3, 2016 |
Despite a real effort, I only reached the middle of this e-book before my library loan expired (though I did skip ahead to read sections, including the short conclusion). . I doubt I'll bother to borrow it again; it suffers from problems of structure, research method, and presentation. The chapters bounce around, without obvious unifying themes and with some of the same interviewees popping up in different chapters. It's rarely clear whether time has elapsed between the pieces of conversations or whether they have been artificially split up - and if so, why. In terms of method, the book recounts a lot of conversations and anecdotes, but lacks statistics or grounding in social science research needed to provide context or to clarify whether the individual stories offer broader social insight.

My strongest criticism has to do with the author's presentation of her subjects. As a part of my job, for the last fifteen years I've listened to adults in legislative, agency, and public meetings, and transcribed what people said at those meetings to inform a bunch of colleagues who needed the gist but could not attend in person. One thing I've learned from that experience is that nearly all of us sound vain, confused, short-sighted, or misguided if we're quoted at length speaking on a topic we're still figuring out. How much more true that is of adolescents trying on ideas of who they are, who they want to be, what they want, how their bodies and emotions work, and what they think of their sexual selves. The basic presentation of this book - 'here's a conversation I had with these three teenagers, and now with this other teenager' - looks straightforward, just-the-facts; it is anything but. Instead, the approach inevitably paints most of its subjects - using their own words - as lost, perverse, and shallow. Perhaps some of them are. Perhaps more are in need of a confidant who, with greater faith in them, can capture the ways that they - like generations of teens before them - are making mistakes but recovering, finding their way, experimenting and discovering unexpected graces. That's less sensational, but I suspect would be a good bit more revealing, of the good and the bad in teens' lives today, on social media and off.

I read Peggy Orenstein's Girls & Sex at roughly the same time, and found that book better organized and more insightful, while covering much of the same ground. ( )
  bezoar44 | Aug 28, 2016 |
This book had me completely freaked out. The stories these girls tell, and the facts that Sales provide are shocking and depressing. Thirteen-year-old boys routinely texting girls they know for nude pictures of themselves, and the girls unable to say something reason, like "are you fucking insane?" Instead they feel they have to laugh it off (except when they say ok). And the bullying these girls take online from friends and strangers, causing them all sort of drama that only exists online. Real world friends and family, like their parents, have no clue what is going on. The the reversal of feminism, the objectification of women as sex objects, comparing themselves to Kardashians, girls who are replaceable by an endless pool of other girls online, who routinely deal with boys who want rougher sex like all that they find in online porn. Sales begins with the porn and seems to pin everything there.

Some (abbreviated) quotes just to highlight where this book was taking my sense of parental worry:

"Social media is destroying our lives," one of the {teenage} girls said...

"So why don't you go off it?" I asked.

"Because then we would have no life,"


In a regular case...a boy who asked for nudes could be handled with humor, they said. It must be humor, never anger..."If you get mad they'll think you have no chill. They'll be like, OMG, like chill, I was just asking. But if you say no and laugh, they'll think you have chill. They judge you if you don't send nudes, like you're a prude. But if you just laugh, then they'll be aggravated, but they won't do anything."


A 2015 study...found a possible link between anxiety in girls ages eleven to thirteen and seeing images of women being sexually objectified on social media. Girls this age were significantly more likely to feel nervous or show a lack of confidence than they were just 5 years ago, according to the study...

It seems relevant that it is in about the last 5 years that the majority of girls have gotten smartphones


She posited that at the onset of adolescence, girls' confidence levels drop as they begin to become aware of their own objectification and sexualization in the wider world. "They lose their resiliency and optimism and become less curious and inclined to take risks,"..."They lose their assertive, energetic and 'tomboyish' personalities and become more deferential, self-critical and depressed. "

- "she" is author Mary Pipher. The quotes come from Reviving Ophelia, from 1994.

The book follows girls by age, each chapter focusing on one teenage age, from 13 to 19. Each chapter mainly reports various interviews Sales did of many girls in different situations and lifestyles. Much of the chapters are taken up by direct quotes. The reader can feel the Sales's usually unstated sense of shock. These stories are wild and tell things I never would have expected.

As the girls get older, the effects of social media become hard to separate from other cultural factors and the book, unable to separate them, loses focus. Her 18 year-olds will provide sharp and perceptive criticisms of social media. Some of them have given it up. Her 19 year-olds tend to be in a university setting, in the midst of all the sexual activity going on there. Shocking as these stories, they aren't new. Many of us witnessed all this stuff ourselves in this setting. And social media is reduced to just another stress on relationships. It was interesting that these kids don't go on dates.

The book evolves in these kinds of horrors of info:

on hookup culture:

"Conservatives sort of love all the stuff I’m saying", Donna Frietas says, “but it’s really hard to get liberal woman to have this conversation ... Big-time feminists won’t go near hooking up because they see it as sexually liberated. But I’m looking at it on the ground, and it doesn’t hold up as sexual liberation. Hookup culture is incredibly antifeminist culture. It’s the antithesis of empowerment and choice.”

on the routine normal-ness of sexual harassment in school:

A national survey in 2011 by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) of students grades 7 to 12 found that 'sexual harassment is part of everyday life in middle and high schools.' Nearly half (48%) of students surveyed experienced some form of sexual harassment in the 2010-11 school year, and the majority of those students (87%) said it had a negative effect on them.

And, a maybe apt summary:

"And he would post pictures of other girls and I would tweet about my experience with guys. I acted like I didn't care. Nowadays, if you care, you're dumb."

I finished the book really disturbed by the trends. I hate to see my girl heading into this world.

But ... this stuff is really anecdotal in sum. Sales is a journalist, not a sociologist and her reporting is of the girls she met. If she found a more extreme story, one where social media led to suicide, or documented some terrible event, she was sure to report it here. Also, a lot of this stuff has been going on for a long time, and was happening well before social media entered our culture. Horny boys have been assholes for a long time, and girls have always been by trying to make boys happy, either by giving in or playing them off some other ways. This is part of the nature of adolescence. The atmosphere is always moving, and it might be getting worse. It is uncomfortable that so much is happening online, outside the awareness of parents and teachers, and it's painful to see publice school choose, as policy, to not look into it. This might be leading to more abuse and might be pushing culture to one of less respect for woman, a reversal of feminism.

I feel a little tied up in how to respond to this book overall. But, Sales brings a great deal of information that needs to be discussed - on topics really pertinent to girls, boys and their parents. I think it's a valuable book for any of us here that deal with kids, girls or boys. ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Jul 23, 2016 |
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On the subject of agency:

There's so much emphasis on acknowledging the need for this, and in honoring girls' and women's capacity for this, that there's never much questioning of whether they actually have it. Agency isn't something that's always necessarily present in someone's decision-making. In fact, ti's the nature of a sexist society to rob a woman of her agency long before she becomes a woman, when she's still a girl. Women's identities crystalize in cultures that are in many ways dead set against their interests. Girls are exposed to expected norms of behavior long before they're able to decide whether these norms are what they choose to inhabit.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385353928, Hardcover)

Instagram. Whisper. Yik Yak. Vine. YouTube. Kik. Ask.fm. Tinder. The dominant force in the lives of girls coming of age in America today is social media. What it is doing to an entire generation of young women is the subject of award-winning Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales’s riveting and explosive American Girls.

With extraordinary intimacy and precision, Sales captures what it feels like to be a girl in America today. From Montclair to Manhattan and Los Angeles, from Florida and Arizona to Texas and Kentucky, Sales crisscrossed the country, speaking to more than two hundred girls, ages thirteen to nineteen, and documenting a massive change in the way girls are growing up, a phenomenon that transcends race, geography, and household income. American Girls provides a disturbing portrait of the end of childhood as we know it and of the inexorable and ubiquitous experience of a new kind of adolescence—one dominated by new social and sexual norms, where a girl’s first crushes and experiences of longing and romance occur in an accelerated electronic environment; where issues of identity and self-esteem are magnified and transformed by social platforms that provide instantaneous judgment. What does it mean to be a girl in America in 2016? It means coming of age online in a hypersexualized culture that has normalized extreme behavior, from pornography to the casual exchange of nude photographs; a culture rife with a virulent new strain of sexism and a sometimes self-undermining notion of feminist empowerment; a culture in which teenagers are spending so much time on technology and social media that they are not developing basic communication skills. From beauty gurus to slut-shaming to a disconcerting trend of exhibitionism, Nancy Jo Sales provides a shocking window into the troubling world of today’s teenage girls. 

Provocative and urgent, American Girls is destined to ignite a much-needed conversation about how we can help our daughters and sons negotiate unprecedented new challenges.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 19 Feb 2016 15:35:32 -0500)

Explores the changes in the way teenage girls are growing up in America, discussing the new norms, from extreme behaviors to lack of basic communication skills.

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