Puberty Blues: message to girls still the same

A still from the Puberty Blues remake.When I read Puberty Blues by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette at 14, I was shocked by what girls got up to in the big city.

The sex, drugs and disobedience seemed as foreign to me as riding a horse for an hour to visit your friend would have been to them.

The decadence of life in Cronulla astounded my country-town mentality back in 1979 and I actually couldn’t believe my mother was letting me read a book so risque and rude.

Sex, back then, was something that only the “bad” girls at school did – and then it wasn’t until they were at least 16 or 17, which seemed like a lifetime away even when I was 14.

Reading about Debbie and Sue’s slide into the darker side of life was frightening and although their story was just that – a depiction of life in the city suburbs in the 70s – it also made me realise how easy it was to make a bad decision and the implications it could have on the rest of your life.

The social mores of the times were like a slap in the face as well. The chauvinism, the lack of respect for women, the abuse of power, weren’t something I had experienced as a young teenager in Wagga. Sure, boys were boys and girls wore dresses, but growing up in a rural community where everyone was required to dig in meant the chicks could ride a motorbike just as well as the blokes, and just because you had boobs didn’t mean you got out of pulling your weight.

And although the book focuses on the challenges Debbie and Sue faced growing up in the Shire, the underlying dramas of their parents was also an eye-opener.

But I wonder if things have changed that much in the teenage landscape of the new millennium.

Panel vans may have gone and, although feminism barged its way into the world so young women could have the opportunities that their grandmothers did not, I’m still uncertain whether the psyche of teenage girls has moved on from pleasing their man at any cost.

The most-recent depiction of the story in The Shire on TV is a prime example, though not the only one.

Everywhere there are messages to young girls that being the object of male fantasy is the only way to achieve success and acceptance.

Wearing – or not wearing in most cases – clothes that show off as much booty and booby as possible are de rigueur, even when the mercury slips into single figures.

The prevalence of “fitness” programs that promise a better bikini body in 12 weeks – and forget the basic messages of nutrition, or realistic sustainability of such drastic regimes – is increasing.

While there’s plenty of evidence to show young women now have greater expectations of what they can do with their lives, the statistics for teenage pregnancy are still one in four.

More young women are moving into higher education and taking on positions of power and responsibility, but they’re not the ones that are being celebrated in the media.

Rather, it’s the Jessica Simpsons or the “dramality” starlets that get the fleeting fame that young people – not just girls – think is going to get them the good life.

So, although the fashions may have changed and there are perhaps more girls out competing for a wave than in the 70s, when Puberty Blues shocked middle-class Australia, the underlying themes have not moved too far forward.

Even though the baby oil has been replaced with an SPF 30 sunblock, those skimpy crocheted bikinis still grace the sands along the coast, and instead of Chiko rolls, the girlfriends are standing by with a bottle of Evian water and a protein bar.

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