As a teenager, Jessica Pishko says, she read Dr. Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls cover to cover, describing it as “a call to arms that both spoke to me and was about me.” Like the girls at the center of the case studies recounted in the book, Pishko remembers feeling “uniquely vulnerable, penetrated on all sides by consumerist culture and patriarchy.” But she also acknowledges the presence of a sexual tension, one that rendered her “dangerous.”
“The teenage girl can’t win. Approaching us, she’s a brazen Lolita; walking away, she’s innocent and naive, which — in a young female body — is also coded as sexual. We project on her all our feelings about lust, about beauty, about neediness and control,” says Pishko.
As Pishko points out, the notion of, and word for, “teenager” did not become common until the 1940s, when young folk were first able to cruise around in cars and “explore” their sexuality—and became “inextricably tied to the twin evils of sexuality and capitalism.”