Our popular culture is characterized in no small part by its hostility to innocence. Innocence, especially sexual innocence, is derided as somehow being the province of the stupid, the backward, the lost and rejected. Sexual innocence, it is assumed, is exclusively the result of being unattractive. Everywhere we see the notion that sexual innocence is a burden people should look to shed the moment they are able, and that the only possible reason one would delay escaping such a burden is if she is so ugly absolutely nobody would deign to touch her.
One casualty of the war against innocence has been the girl-next-door. For years, the girl-next-door was the archetype of both sexual restraint and sexual availability. Restrained by her chaste character, available because she slept just across the fence.
She was the kind of cute, stable, together girl a guy could marry and build a decent life with. She’s dead now, killed off and replaced by that neighbor girl throwing some bikini pics up on her Insta and sexting her boyfriend at three a.m.
One of the most attractive and valuable archetypes, the pretty girl next door who has grown up into a lovely woman with stable and sincere values is a well-appreciated incarnation. She presents as a marriageable resource, a dependable and delightful partner, a woman who embodies the cultural roots that bring stability and joy.
This happy presence is rooted in a calm and authentic adherence to those cultural underpinnings. Her embodiment of those values, those ways of living and the traditions of the culture are the vehicle of its perpetuation and survival. It provides her with security, with shelter, with a framework of life and living that empowers her to be contented and happy.
If the girl next door is one of the most “attractive and valuable archetypes”, why are there so few of them? If a large cluster of men desire these women, why is finding them such a trial? If there is demand for women like this, why is the supply so limited?
A few reasons. First, women themselves have had quite a hand in dispensing with the girl-next-door. As opportunities arose for women to indulge their sexual curiosity, as opportunities increased for them to work and achieve greater levels of material success, many leaped at the chance. As a result, the girl-next-door with her modest sweater sets and pleasant attitude faded into American memory. But, others have already explored this reality more fully than I can do here.
I want here simply to point out the way that our popular culture had a hand in killing her off as well. To the degree that the girl-next-door archetype represented the path to character, monogamy, and a traditional family, she made herself the enemy of those who desired to move our culture in an opposite, more destructive direction.
Beginning in the 1960’s, popular images of women began to leave the girl-next-door behind. The best kind of woman, the most adventurous and attractive, were all more Pussy Galore than the girl-next-door. They asserted themselves. They had an impact on the world. They prioritized career before family. They had lots of sex with, well, whoever.
The pop culture assault on the girl-next-door reached a crescendo in the early 2000’s when this movie was released. In it, the girl next door turns out to be, who could have guessed, a porn star with a heart of gold. To get a sense of the values of the film, you can watch this vulgar clip if you really want to.
Around the same time, a reality series focusing on the lives of a bunch of Playboy Playmates debuted on E! It’s title? Why, “The Girls Next Door” obviously.
Entertainments like these sought consciously to send the message that the girl-next-door was really no different than any run of the mill sexual professional. The goal of such productions was to obliterate whatever remained of the idea that the girl-next-door represented an ideal worth aspiring to. They succeeded. In the place where the girl-next-door once stood, the porn star now stands as the highest archetype a woman can incarnate.
Since the early 2000’s with the increasing democratization of media, young women have mostly taken over the process of stamping out in themselves any remaining traces of what the girl-next-door represented. Just take a look at what pops up on Flickr when you search for “girl next door.” Many young women, girls even, appear beyond eager to prove they aren’t sitting home waiting to be noticed. They are out there on Tinder making it clear what they represent: the opposite of everything the girl-next-stood for.
The loss of the girl next door has impoverished us all. When we lost her, we didn’t just lose a girl in a sundress rocking barefoot in a porch swing, we lost a vital feminine embodiment of the traditional family. All we can do now is give permission to the young women we know to seek to revive her. We can tell them that it’s really OK to be innocent, to cherish that innocence, that it is OK to be the girl next door.
We can tell them not to fear going unnoticed, that because the girl-next-door is an archetype of what so many people desire, someone always notices her. Besides, in a culture of porn star aesthetics and brazen sexuality, her chances of standing out are greater than ever.