Why Do We Expect So Little From Teenage Girls?

A few days ago, the internet exploded over an op-ed written by a woman named Lauren Duca in the popular magazine Teen Vogue. Titled “Donald Trump is Gaslighting America,” the article is a tightly written, well thought-out, explanation of Donald Trump’s deceptive campaign and the way he’s misled his supporters and confounded opponents by making the truth malleable. It’s also one that we can imagine it being one that could polarize the internet, drawing up battle lines between the left and right. Most of the reaction online, however, wasn’t taking a stance on the article as much as it was expressing surprise that this kind of sophisticated and aggressive political commentary was coming from or even could come from the pages of a magazine whose readership is mostly young women.

This surprise is disappointing, though not in itself surprising, to a great many people. After all, the young are quite often written off as not sophisticated enough to talk about things like politics, far more interested in celebrities or gossip or their own love lives to really engage with important things. Why though? Why do we think that young women, who are involved in some of the most complex social dynamics imaginable, constantly attuned to the largest repository of information in the world, and engaged in complicated psychological, ideological, and physical changes, are somehow only interested in boys or makeup? Why do we expect young girls to be interested in only one thing, to be incapable of or unwilling to grapple with complex issues?

Furthermore, why should we assume that a magazine that’s being read by young women can focus only on one aspect of their interests? If we admit that teenage girls can care deeply about things other than eyeliner, as we should, why would we expect Teen Vogue to not do the same? Why does the fact that teen vogue publishes articles about makeup and boys mean that it can’t, won’t, or shouldn’t publish substantive articles about politics or gender equality? Girls care about more than one thing, and more than ever young people are engaging with substantive topics in an intelligent way. We should expect a magazine that caters to them to reflect that engagement and diverse range of interests

Teenagers and children do not need to be spoken down to. Teenagers and children who are girls do not need to be spoken down to. Teen Vogue recognizes this, and that’s probably why the magazine is currently the second most popular magazine aimed at young women in the country. So many of us, however, treat young people, and especially young women, as if they either don’t care about or cant understand deeply important issues, and in doing so essentially exile young girl from these spaces, telling them “you are not allowed to speak here.” We need to stop expecting the interests of young girls to be confined to hair and nails. Maybe if we did so, we might actually be able to have an inclusive discussion about the things that matter. 

With excitement and optimism,

Alex