Culture > Books

Books: Gurl vs. young lady

Books | Two manuals for young girls: One markets feminism, lesbianism, and abortion to 10-year-olds; the other tells the story of a daughter who stood by her embattled father

Issue: "Mid-term, mid-field pileup," Dec. 11, 1999

Nearly as offensive as Deal With It: A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain and Life as a Gurl, is Publisher's Weekly's glowing note on it: "In a frank, nonjudgmental tone, they discuss topics and details that more conservative guides might skip: lesbianism and bisexuality receive respectful and thorough treatment that is remarkably well-integrated into the broader discussion of sex in this happily nonphallocentric book." Deal With It, a hot book among teens and a top seller on Amazon.com's young adults list, is nothing less than an assault on our daughters' innocence. Aimed at even pre-pubescent girls, the book is a manual on how to become a lesbian, feminist, and pro-abortion activist. What's difficult is demonstrating this with quotes. Most are simply too obscene-or, in publishing terms, "frank." The book grew out of the www.gurl.com website, operated by the authors ostensibly as "an irreverent online magazine," but in reality a recruiting tool for the Angry Feminists and Potty Mouths Society. The website and the book (which is finding its way to plenty of public-school libraries) are basically the logical extension of the old feminist stand-by Our Bodies, Our Selves. But what's new and reprehensible about this book is its target audience: young girls, as young as 10, who are exposed to a how-to manual on lesbian sex acts, finding an abortion clinic, and diagnosing your own sexually transmitted diseases. The book sticks with a modern morality: "Different sexual activities pose different levels of risk," the authors write. "It's important to understand what risks are connected with which activities so you can make informed decisions about what you want to do." But that's just it: Young girls can't make informed decisions in this area-they're simply too young. That's not such a difficult concept for society to apply in other circumstances: We don't let 10-year-olds drive automobiles; we don't let them buy guns; we don't let them vote; and we don't let them buy cigarettes. So why should we expose them to this? A far better book, and in important ways itself a manual for young girls, is Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love. Miss Sobel's book is based on a fascinating set of letters between Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) and his daughter. He was a famous scientist (even in his day) whose observations ran afoul of the Roman Catholic Church; she was a cloistered nun. Both deeply loved God and His handiwork. Before he began his career as a scientist, Galileo tried to enter a monastery. Though he loved God, he had his failings; his daughter Virginia was the first of three children he fathered by a woman to whom he wasn't married. Virginia didn't keep that name; when she entered the cloister, she took the name Suor Maria Celeste, in honor of her father's passion, the "celestial" realm of the heavens. And she supported her father through his trials and his final years. He was charged with heresy for contending that the Earth traveled around the sun. "In a world that did not yet know its place, Galileo would engage this same cosmic conflict with the Church, treading a dangerous path between the Heaven he revered as a good Catholic and the heavens he revealed through his telescope," the author, Miss Sobel, writes. That provides the drama, of course. It was a grand battle, against the Inquisition and the ghost of Aristotle, and it did not end in 1633 when Galileo signed a statement affirming all that the Catholic Church then taught, including that as the center of the universe, the Earth remains immovable. According to various accounts, almost as soon as he signed it, he either muttered under his breath or shouted out, "Eppur si muove" (But it still moves). These accounts are legendary, and he most likely recanted a few weeks later, in the company of friends. Nevertheless, Pope Urban VIII refused to pardon him, so he spent the remainder of his life in the custody of the sympathetic archbishop of Siena. Throughout, his daughter sent letters of encouragement and advice. "My dearest lord father, now is the time to avail yourself more than ever of that prudence which the Lord God has granted you," she wrote to the great astronomer. "You must not make too much of these storms, but rather take hope that they will soon subside and transform themselves from troubles into as many satisfactions." How much better a manual for young girls-how startling the truth that Suor Maria Celeste knew, and told her father: "The prayers of a pious daughter can outweigh even the protection of great personages."

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