Stockton, California, is inland, hot, 20 percent poor, and crime-ridden. The top nine employers are schools, hospitals, the government, and Amazon, which has two giant fulfillment centers in the city. As ever in places like this, the high schools are full of trouble and promise, and one of them—Bear Creek High School—has lately been in the news because of two of its students: Bailey Kirkeby, a junior, and Caitlin Fink, a senior.
They are thoroughly creatures of the modern age, but what impresses me about both of them is how deeply they also exemplify some of the most enduring traits of girlhood. They are hopeful, concerned about fairness, foursquare on the side of the underdog, and drenched in a romantic vision of life, in which sorrows can be easily overcome and infinite happiness is always on the horizon.
Bailey, who is 17 years old, has long wavy hair, glasses, a heavy course load, and a raft of positions at the school newspaper, where she is the managing editor and news editor, as well as an entertainment columnist and a staff writer. It occurred to the staff of the Bruin Voice that a story that treated Caitlin like any other inspirational student—one who had faced and overcome obstacles—a piece that allowed her to tell her side of the story, would be helpful to Caitlin and good for the paper.
Because Bailey had a class with Caitlin, she seemed the obvious choice to write it. However, things quickly went sideways. Read: Students who do sex work. The superintendent of the Lodi School District heard about the article, a mysterious turn of events, as there are almost 30, students in the busy and troubled district, and at that point only a handful of them knew about the article. The superintendent demanded to review it before publication, and Duffel refused. The uplifting tone belies much of the reported information about Caitlin. When did we lose the ability to interpret the signs of a girl in bad trouble?
Their arguments about the nexus between violence against women and hard-core pornography were powerful, but the whole enterprise was a hard sell in the midst of the sexual revolution. Catharine A. Porn surrounding you in the room where you sit reading this article—all you have to do is set your phone to pick up the signal.
It was a gyre that kept widening, and everything fell into it and disappeared, until porn was the truth and private behavior was the lie.
The curtain stirring in the breeze fell into the gyre, and the missed class, and the hotel room. The shirttails tucked rapidly into chinos, the skirt quickly zippered fell into it. These things still existed, of course, but they were mediated by porn, as all sex was mediated by it—a performance of it, or a rejection of it, or an attempt to erase certain images from it. Everyone is welcomed into this vast emporium of sex, and although the party line is that consumers bring their own desires to it and simply find the porn that suits them, the influence runs in the other direction.
These are all things that are just unlikely to go over well. Natasha Singh: Talk to your kids about porn. Culture is progressive and cumulative, and so is porn, restlessly seeking and crossing the next boundary, and thereby making whatever came before it seem tame and ordinary.
The problem is that there are some very old human impulses that must now contend with porn. Working this out within the closed world of a high school was painful, and almost always contributed to suffering, but it was something that could be transcended—eventually everyone moves on and the past settles into place. But working out these impulses within the pitiless economy of the vast, global pornography industry is an entirely different proposition.
Whenever a third party stands to profit from the sexual choices of a woman, a door is opened into another world, far beyond the high school, the disappointed parents, the town where she lives.
Girls who feel uncomfortable or shamed about their body are deeply drawn to it. I enjoyed it because it made me feel good about myself. But it seems to me that a troubled teenager, desperate to be called beautiful, will have her sense of self deeply affected by work in that industry, which will quickly seek to put her in ever more extreme forms of on-camera behavior. Read: Is porn culture to be feared? The left decided to champion porn in a variety of ways, beginning with reconceiving the women who work in it as fully liberated, empowered feminists, as though every woman you see in porn is driving carpool and making the weekly Costco run.
Sure, there are women in porn who do those things. Do you know what percent of the vast, global porn industry these self-actualized porn workers represent? Not a large one. The right understands porn as a thing for sale, and so has a grudging respect for it. I want to keep it. It gleefully elected a sleazeball whose personal history is that of a man with contempt for the ideas of personal responsibility and duty to others that were once central to social conservatism.
Maybe she had gained—from Napoleon Dynamite and Ellen —the impression that she lives in a society where the center holds, and where promising girls are not left to drift so far beyond the shoreline that no one feels impelled to consider a rescue. In fact, it referred Duffel and Bailey to Cate.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters theatlantic. Skip to content. Sign in My Account Subscribe. The Atlantic Crossword. The Print Edition. Latest Issue Past Issues. Getty Link Copied. Caitlin Flanagan is a staff writer at The Atlantic.