Peggy Orenstein: Both a woman and a thinker
How a mother turned her daughters concerns into a movement for others
By; Vanessa Turner
You know when you read something, and it instantly scratches that little itch sitting in the back of your brain? Sometimes I’ll pick up a book or a magazine and I feel like it lacks substance. I find myself wanting something that contains depth and opinion. That brain exploding itch is relieved only when I read something written by Peggy Orenstein. As someone who spends a lot of time with her nose in a book, I was instantly intrigued when I stumbled upon Orenstein’s work about the influence of sex on entertainment and children’s media and vice versa. It feels so good to read something and think to yourself, “Wow! Finally, someone who gets it.”
Before I was introduced to Orenstein and her writing, my perception of a journalist was just someone who spends time in a newsroom or someone who reports on breaking news live on television. I had no idea that journalism could be so fact-based, interactive, and opinionated. The way in which Orenstein takes real-life questions and answers into account when conducting researching to analyze certain aspects of greater society is exactly what I look for in a great journalist.
A new side of Journalism
The bulk of Orenstein’s writing surrounds young women, motherhood, the effects of sex on young boys and girls, and how those have detrimental and long-lasting impacts of their relationships and outlook on life. With nine books varying from topics related to ‘Disney Princess Complex’ to the relationships formed between teenage boys and teenage girls. Her method of research could be considered “applied journalism,” which, according to The London School of Economics, comes from using journalism to find sources, connect concepts and pull information in order to create a developed perspective on a given issue.
As a contributing writer for the New York Times, Orenstein focuses on opinion writing about children’s sexuality written for adults. Her more popular pieces, "When Did Porn Become Sex Ed?" and "If You Ignore Porn, You Aren’t Teaching Sex Ed," are straightforward in content, but come from places of concern where there are young adults and children involved. Orenstein’s opinion writing has been featured in The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Vogue, The Atlantic and The New Yorker, as well as being featured on NPR’s All Things Considered and the PBS News Hour. She has also been featured on TED Talk, where she discusses her encounters with young women and what they believe to be true about their own sexuality and sexual pleasure. The video has surpassed one million views on YouTube.
A Concerned Mother
When Orenstein’s daughter got to the age where she was curious about sex and relationships, she quickly found that navigating the conversation around sexuality was uncharted territory. In her book "Girls & Sex", Orenstein focuses on interviews with more than 700 young women ranging from ages 13–20, and their experience and relationship with sex, sexuality and self-objectification.
In a Washington Post article from 2016, Orenstein explained that as a mother, having a teenage daughter is very difficult. “I know I’m raising her in this culture that is complicated, contradictory and saturated with sexual imagery, and yet we never talk honestly and frankly to our kids about sex.”
Peggy Orenstein is a great example of an applied journalist and I love what she writes about. These are questions and answers that young women are asking, and as a journalist, I’m glad that someone has taken so much time to find some answers. Orenstein’s work in published books and magazine articles show that there’s more to be found in parenting advice than people think there is.
About the Author
Vanessa Turner is a senior public relations student at the University of North Texas. Born and raised in Dallas, Turner is studying journalism and anthropology with plans to graduate in May 2022.