Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Guest post: About a girl

This is a guest post from Stef. It is cross-posted at her own blog, A Touch of the Crazy.

I think I need to stop reading the newspapers, it really isn't good for my blood pressure. First we had the Prime Minister talking about which women he'd like to fuck with a man who broke his partners back, which was followed up not by a 'me too' rather than 'Don't be a dick John' from the the male leader of the opposition. Now we have a radio station running a 'win a wife' competition in which the winner gets an all expenses paid trip to the Ukraine to choose a wife from the candidates carefully selected by an online matchmaking service.

While you are picking your jaw up off the floor I'm going to off on tangent for a minute.

On a friends blog I was recently schooled for a rather lazy and inane comment by a young teenager.

I say this without any fear of embarrassment because damn that girl, no fuck it, that young woman was impressive to the point of scary. Her arguments were clear and well reasoned but what impressed me the most was that she had this air of confidence that she had. This teenager wasn't going to take any shit from anyone, least of all me, a person twice her age. I wish I could have been like her at 13. And perhaps I was. I looked at her blog which at the moment is chronicling her adventures of starting high school. Rather than being forlorn at the prospect of impending doom she is so excited about the possibilities for the future. She thinks anything is possible and I hope for her that they are. As a bonus she loves the Gilmore Girls, which as a person who spent Christmas re-watching the entire series for possibly the 500th time I say HELLZ YEAH.

I'm not going to link to her. Not because I don't think she is wonderful, she is, but because I really, really don't want to her to read what I am about to say.

In the next few years there will be people that will go out of their way to crush everything I think is so amazing about this girl right out of her.

She'll start being judged on her appearance, fuck that's probably already started. She's probably been told she's too short, too tall, her breasts aren't big enough, her hair is the wrong colour and that makes her ugly. Everyone knows men don't like ugly women. Good girls are beautiful.

She's probably already been asked if she is sure wants to eat *insert bad food item here* because she'll get fat. Everyone knows men don't like fat women. Good girls are skinny.

She's probably been called a swot or a nerd because she is smart. Everyone knows men don't like smart women. Good girls know that they aren't smarter than men.

At some point she'll stand her ground on an issue and will be called a bitch. Everyone knows men don't like women who disagree with them. Good girls nod and smile to keep the peace.

At some point she'll have sex with a person she likes and get called a slut. Everyone knows men don't like women who take charge of her sexuality. Good girls wait to be chosen by a man.

At some point she'll be walking, running or just existing in public and will get told she has nice tits or a cute ass. Everyone knows that men are just being 'normal.' Good girls secretly like this kind of attention and the ones who don't get it are just jealous.

At some point she'll get passed over for a job or paid a little less. Everyone knows that women just want to stay home with the babies. Good girls are just good mothers in training.

At some point she might have babies and continue her career but is breaking under the strain of trying to combine a career with motherhood. Everyone knows women do the housework and child-rearing, that's what good mothers do.

At some point she might not have children but instead be leader of country. Everyone knows that there must be something secretly wrong with women who don't have children. It must mean she's ugly, fat, stupid, a bitch, a slut, a lesbian, a bad mother or, crime of all crimes, unfuckable.

I want to tell this teenager that they are wrong. I want to tell her what is in her head and the content of her character are far more important than what is on the outside that she can have a happy and fulfilling life and still be her.

But I'm going to have scream over the thousands of incidents, both big and little, which are telling her that her worth as an individual is derived solely by how many men want to have sex her and how many babies she manages to have.

Because in order for the guys, whether they be the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition, a radio station or the boys in her class, to 'have a bit of fun' or a 'joke around' someone needs to be the punchline, and that punchline (both literal and figurative) is her. The girl daring to be different, daring to be smart and most importantly willing to tell others when she disagrees with them.

Damn it, I want to go back to the time I was that girl. Before I had been schooled in the art of being a good girl.


A Nonny Moose said...

Oh Deborah, absolutely absolutely agree, so bittersweet. I wish I could tell a younger me what I know now, or to at least listen to and believe in the power of That Woman There.

But I'll never stop saying it to the young women I know now.

Deborah said...

Just so, A Nonny Moose. Stef has tapped into something so powerful here, that sense of all that could be that I had so strongly when I was about 12 or 13, before I suddenly realised just how much was wrong with me.

Blondie said...

Oh god, I wish I could go back too. Although not just to when I was 12 or 13.... it would have to be a lot younger than that.

Actually, to be honest, I can't remember a time when I wasn't aware of how I "had" to be thin, quiet, docile, agreeable, submissive to be accepted.... and how I was never quite good enough.

And even now..... there's still those who would tell me I'm bitter, ugly, unlovable. That I'm crazy if I get angry when I'm mistreated.

Funny how men don't get labelled that way.

Anonymous said...

I also don't want that girl to read this, because it's incredibly negative and she may be having a fantastic time, surrounded by happy helpful friends (you don't think her confidence sprang from nowhere do you?), why do you have to try and take her down like this?

Anonymous said...

Since she's not intended to read this, Anon (please get a handle as per commenting guidelines!) it's hardly about "taking her down".

I certainly felt that way when I was 13, and I was certainly surrounded by supportive family and friends - I don't know anyone in my peer group who had a home environment so explicitly supportive of strong outspoken feminist values.

But because I live in a western patriarchal society, the next ten years of my life were exactly as described in the post. To this day, after a lot of counselling and self-searching I am in a much better place, but I am still surrounded and infected by messages about not being too loud, not disagreeing, looking "good" where "good" is very specifically defined in terms of clothes and hair and makeup and smiling all the fucking time. I still end up sometimes in destructive hate-spirals of low self-esteem triggered by daring to eat chocolate when I feel like eating chocolate.

It is not negative to be frank and honest and upfront about the shitty messages thrown at young women in our society. Pretending they don't exist and closing our senses to reality in the hope that maybe this one girl will be the only girl in the history of the world to completely escape this crap IS negative because it minimizes and demeans the lived experience of every single woman I know.

stef said...

Even with incredibly supportive friends this girl still lives in our society which she will be entering on her own terms in the coming years. I went to a Girls' High school where you'd think I was largely immune to a lot of this stuff, but nope I've heard. There's multi billion dollar industry's out there to tell women they don't look right, their clothes are wrong. etc. Try flicking through the magazines aimed at the teenage girl. It's all there in its airbrushed glory.

As for the older stuff, take a look at the stuff that has been written about Julia Gillard and Helen Clark, the stuff said on the Radio where shock jocks demean women and then insult anyone who dares to go against it.

I hope this girl reads this post in about 2 or 3 years time and realizes that this post isn't about her, but every 12 year old girl.

Oubliette said...

Do these things still happen? Man, my college must have been totally badass. I mean, sure, I was self-conscious... I was a teenager. My impression is that all teenagers are, even the really pretty ones. But everyone I knew was smart. All my friends were awesome. All my friends were feminists, even the boys. Girls at my school were treated essentially equally to the boys, and I never felt at all annoyed or obliged to complain about anything. Everyone in my class was cool and celebrated the achievements of everyone else. College was awesome.

Within my group of friends and acquaintances at high school (which, now I think about it, was fairly large even though I personally was not "popular") equality of men and women was a given. Lack of equality in the school system, which I cannot recall an incidence of, would have resulted in discussions with teachers in the hopes of changing it.

Magazines were routinely criticised for their portrayal of women. Politics were regularly discussed, and a fair knowledge of such was expected regardless of gender. Intelligence and good marks were expected, even in subjects like physics and maths. Women's rights were assumed as a given, and any sign of them not being awarded was met with long periods of ranting from everyone I knew. We celebrated the reformed prostitution laws and the introduction of civil unions publicly, under the assumption that everyone else should be celebrating them too. We regularly lamented that we could not vote.

But I genuinely thought all modern high schools were like that. Seriously, it's like everyone else here lived in a parallel dimension or something. No one would have DARED tell any of us that we were too fat, too skinny, too weird because they would have been either laughed out of society or met with cold hostility. It simply did not happen.