Caitlin Flanagan's most recent piece on teen America has attracted a fairly predictable controversy. Any article that called pop singer Taylor Swift a leader in a "cultural insurrection" would get reactions; however, Flanagan's master stroke was not in casting Swift as a culture warrior, but in her description of the cultural war in question, itself—the movement Flanagan describes as "one of the last, great stands for human dignity." Whereas the women of previous generations fought for the right to vote, the right to work, and the right to choose, today's young woman, as per Flanagan, is fighting a for a new kind of feminist victory: The right to want a boyfriend.
Whether girls of any era have lacked cultural permission to pine over boys, or drippy crush anthems to listen to while pining, is debatable. But Flanagan perceives this pining as a bold stand against casual sex, which she casts as both a recent invention and a slap in the face to feminists of generations past.
"No matter how forward-thinking, no matter how progressive, those long-ago women might seem to us now"—here, Flanagan is describing women of her mother's generation, women who campaigned for birth control and sex education and would have been old enough to have teenaged daughters in the late 1970s; roughly the age, that is, of Gloria Steinem, who turned 40 in 1974—"they shared one unquestioned assumption about girls and sex, a premise that, if expressed today, might cast doubt on one's commitment to girls' sexual liberation: all of them, to a woman, believed in the Boyfriend Story. This set wasn't in the business of providing girls and young women the necessary information and services to allow boys and men to use and discard them sexually."