Book Review: Daughters in Danger by Elayne Bennett

Daughter’s in Danger by Elayne Bennett is a book that will fill you with righteous indignation.

Elayne Bennett is the Director of the Best Friends Foundation, an in-school program which encourages teenage girls embrace “self-respect through self-control.” The program helps teach girls to make positive life choices about sex, dating, drugs, and alcohol. While the program showed positive results in DC schools, the Obama administration defunded it and other community-based abstinence education programs in favor of contraception only programs. The chip remaining on Bennett’s shoulder is apparent throughout the book and she returns again and again to both the Best Friends program’s model for wisdom and its opponents to demonstrate the fault lines in our country.

What are our daughters in danger from?

Bennett focuses on a few key issues – violence, STDs, rape, bullying, and shattered identities. She tells a lot of high profile and scary stories, most of which take place either in secondary school environment or on college campuses. She may be a bit overly sensational here but her goal, I think, is to show what leads to the dangers our daughters face.

Why are our daughters in danger?

Our daughters are in danger, says Bennett, primarily because of elements in our culture which put them in danger. In particular Bennett goes after feminists.

Bennett sees two kinds of feminism. “Good” feminism, she says, promotes respect for women in the home and in the workplace, supports equal pay for equal work, and does not tolerate sexual harassment. Bennett embraces this kind of feminism. She frequently holds up strong and confident women as ideal models for young women.

Bennett strongly opposes what she calls “progressive feminism.” This left wing of the feminist movement promotes “sexually liberated” women. It promotes an androgynous view of humanity which denies any differences between male and female. Progressive feminism devalues the role of men. It sees fathers as superfluous, or it outright blames men for all the problems of the world. It despises marriage and the family, openly pursuing its demise. Finally, it looks down on motherhood and child rearing as something demeaning and second-class.

To illustrate the above, Bennett quotes several progressive feminists:

“The nuclear family must be destroyed. Whatever its ultimate meaning, the break-up of families now is an objectively revolutionary process.” (Florence Kelley)

“We can’t destroy the inequalities between men and women until we destroy marriages.” (Robin Morgan)

This form of feminism, says Bennett, is putting our daughters in danger. It undermines the parenting and family structures children need to thrive. Bennett points out that ” children born to unmarried women fare far worse on every measurable variable than children raised in intact families.” (61) Progressive feminism also creates an overly PC culture, especially at schools and universities, which prevents from addressing real issues for girls. It encourages a highly sexualized culture where the messages on TV, movies, and music actively promote sex outside of marriage and deviant sexual behavior, all without showing the real  the  consequences. The end result is the our daughters, left without fathers, mothers, or role models, have nowhere to learn important character traits like self-control, humility, or self-worth that is disconnected from sexuality.

Bennett sums up her attack by concluding:

“The left wing of the feminist movement has played a major role both in advocating the policy changes that caused a shift toward single parenthood and in oppressing discussion of its consequences … While the evidence of the ill effects of single parenthood becomes more obvious, feminists grow more aggressive in their attack not only on the proponents of marriage but on marriage itself.” (58)

So what can be done?

Having diagnosed the problem, Bennett addresses what can be done. In a series of chapters with titles such as “What Mothers and Sisters Can Do” and “What Fathers and Brothers Can Do” Bennett shows how daughters can be protected from much of the danger around them.

If the problem is the breakdown of the family and the culture Bennett sees the solution in rebuilding the family and the culture. She stresses the importance of healthy marriages, connected families, and parents who live out the values they teach in the home. In regards to culture Bennett encourages schools and universities to put policies in place which protect young women and she encourages universities especially to challenge the alcohol driven “hook-up” culture.

Bennett also places a lot of value in peer groups. In fact, the Best Friends program, as the name implies, focused on helping teenage girls protect each other by forming constructive groups of friends.

Finally, Bennett praises the place of faith in the life of young women. She quotes one study which says that “those who are deeply involved in religion report better mental health, in fact, they do drastically better than their non churchgoing peers who are twice as likely to be depressed, the times more likely to rate themselves as emotionally below par, and seven times more likely to feel overwhelmed” (201).

Conclusion

This book matches the reality that I see every week with the youth who attend our After School program. Those young women (and men) who have difficult or fractured home lives are the most likely to be facing emotional problems or engage in risky and/or self-inflicted behavior. Those who come from stable homes tend to fare far better. The erosion of culture (I feel like an cranky old man just saying those words!) has led to a moral relativism which does these girls no favors. Many are simply lost. They are not “liberated.” They are enslaved.

This book is a wake-up call. Perhaps more apt, it is an alarm. But, it also leaves you with a sense of hope.

I really only have two critiques. First, I like structure and sometimes the book felt a little unstructured. She tended to jump around a bit more than I like. Second, as I said before, the chip on her shoulder is evident. This makes her combative and I think it might make her an easier target for critics. I get the sense that this book was written for a base that already agrees with her (like me) but that for some, her not-so-conciliatory tone will cause some to turn off their ears before they get to the meat of her argument. Ultimately, Bennett’s tone will either be seen as a positive or a negative, depending on your point of view.

Ultimately, this is a book I will pass along. The first place it’s going to is the wife of our youth pastor who is a mentor for a lot of “daughters in danger.” But I hope it moves on from there. If you have a daughter, as I do, or you’re in a position to work with young women, I recommend this book to you.

I received this book free from the publisher through the Book Look Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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