Saturday, May 3, 2008

I had briefly entertained the notion of becoming president when I grew up. This was in sixth grade. I wanted to change the world. I was disgusted by what I saw on the news, but not defeated by it. I believed in myself.

It's weird what happens to girls at a certain point in their lives. One moment they're these tough little things, racing around, jabbering, excited about just waking up to see what else is new in the world. Everything just opening for them, it seems like. That was how I felt. And then suddenly I was Vile. I hated everyone. I never spoke in class. I gave up wanting to be president.

(from Violet & Claire by Francesca Lia Block)

All throughout high school I read the same few books by Francesca Lia Block. I often tell people that this woman's books got me through high school, which they did. She writes about girls and friendship between girls. She writes about daughters and mothers and fathers. She writes about being straight and being gay and being somewhere in between and being somewhere outside straight or gay and being fat and being anorexic and being young and being old (I notice a lot of it is about being these things and being white, though). Her books are so heartwrenchingly beautiful, and even when I'm rereading them for the second or third or tenth time I cry. I say her books got me through high school because high school was such a hard time for me like it is for everybody (everybody I know, anyway: my best friend got arrested twice when he was in high school for something he hadn't done, my guy friends had controlling girlfriends and it made them kind of misogynistic, a couple of friends had fathers who generally made their lives a living hell, one friend I don't talk to anymore was struggling with issues that her stepfather had given her, one friend had a mother who was emotionally abusive. The list goes on) and we all find something to cling to, something to get us through it. I didn't believe in the magic that Block always writes about, and I never thought that I would find it, but it was nice to think about. Nicer to think about than anything else in my life.

I read Dangerous Angels when I was in ninth grade. It took me years to really get it, because even though I got it, and I identified with it, this fucking culture still made me feel like I wasn't important, that girls aren't important, so although the books were about girls and how amazing and powerful they are, I still didn't absorb that message. And that - girls being important and valid and complex and real - is what she writes about. In high school I always said I never needed anyone else to know who I was and feel valuable, but I never believed it. I still don't. I am still not close to really understanding that concept, although I understand now that it was lost on me all those years ago.

There's been some internet drama lately that's really affected me, because in some of these writing communities I'm in, girls' writing is being trashed and just picked over with a fine-toothed comb and people are laughing like fucking hyenas about it, even though these girls are young (I'm talking pre-teen young) and couldn't possibly fucking deserve to be treated the way they're being treated (a note: I don't actually think anyone should be treated poorly and flamed because they're bad writers, and I don't think people deserve the abuse they get on the internet. The flimsy excuse used by most of the people who are assholes in these communities is that these people know what they're getting into when they get on the internet, but that's not the case for a child. It just isn't). And why does this have to happen to girls? They reach a certain age and all of a sudden all the potential is just squished right out of them, so they can either become ... what can they become? I don't want this train of thought to be derailed and become a diatribe about high school subcultures and cliques and shit, so I'll just leave this part of the discussion at this, because when I started thinking about this, I was thinking in terms of what girls could choose to be, and I boiled it down to this:

This all seems so obvious as I'm typing it. Obviously high school is much more multi-faceted than the portrayals of rigidly-defined cliques you'll see in stupid animated sitcoms or less-stupid movies (I'm looking at you, The Breakfast Club and Mean Girls - I love both of these movies, especially Mean Girls, but honestly, is this really an accurate portrayal of Anywhereville High School?), but I feel that girls essentially have a choice between being the popular girl here, who pleases everyone but herself and is rewarded for it, or they can be the girl trying to please herself only to be punished for it. In my overly-simplified list of options, it's down to Connie D'Amico or Meg Griffin for girls entering junior high and high school. Connie D'Amico, that stupid self-absorbed bitch (*snort, high-fives*) is, of course, verbally pwned by Brian Griffin here, 'cause she's a skank, you know? Meg isn't treated much better in the show, either, but you know that if you watch an episode or two of the show ( even has a fucking countdown entitled "Meg's Top 10 Most Humiliating Moments" for fuck's sake). So you're either Connie D'Amico or Meg Griffin, but either way you're still screwed. You can be the most popular girl in school or arguably the least popular, and either way the men around you are going to completely fucking devalue you and degrade you and make you cry and make you feel like you're absolutely nothing for their own amusement and self-aggrandizement.

Like I said, this all seems obvious. But it's been in my head for days now, especially because of the internet drama I mentioned. I've been thinking about why it goes wrong for girls, and why girls are the ones perpetuating all of this aggression against girls (Connie D'Amico often antagonizes Meg on Family Guy - who doesn't antagonize Meg? - and the people tearing young girls apart on the writing communities I mentioned are girls and young women). Patriarchy is a simple answer, but I want a solution.

When I was a kid, I wasn't exactly confident and I didn't really have the best friends that lots of little girls have, but I felt that my family loved me, and I knew that was pretty good. I was in love with Sailor Moon - this was when I was nine. I was so completely enamored of the idea of a girl superhero. Actually, it was five girl superheroes, and while there was a guy around every now and then, he wasn't the one saving the god damned universe, now, was he? Cartoons like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? had strong women and girls in them, but relationships between girls were mostly nonexistent; it wasn't like Sailor Moon, where a group of five girls saved the universe constantly and loved each other so much that they would (and sometimes did) die for each other. There are fewer girl-positive cartoons now (Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends is my favorite, and Goo is one of my favorite girl cartoon characters ever), and I can't think of any that show relationships between girls in the foreground - and I watch a lot of cartoons (yes, I am 21 years old). There are live-action shows for younger teenage girls that do show relationships between girls (iCarly seems as if it might have potential - because unlike, say, Hannah Montana or The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, the girls depicted are not wealthy or heiresses or whatever, and they're depicted doing something interesting [the concept that drives the show is the girls' video podcast] although the little bit I've watched makes the characters seem absolutely boy-crazy), but girls need exposure to that when they're younger, because girls need to not be something that girls hate. I hate hearing women my age saying that they don't have friendships with women, that most of their friends are men, because women are so catty, and they're such bitches, and I can't stand being around other women. I hate hearing that, because if you don't like other women, how do you feel about yourself, and who are you doing to turn to when the men around you degrade you and devalue you and make you cry? Another man? All he'll tell you, overtly or covertly, is that you deserved it, for whatever reason. Sure, Connie D'Amico has some tragic personal issues (side note: who wants to bet that the people she was giving handjobs to when she was twelve weren't other twelve-year-olds?), but she's such a cunt that it totally overshadows her deep-seated fears that no one will love her unless. She's castigated for engaging in the exact behavior that every male character on the show has engaged in. She is the painfully-thin supermodel on whom we blame the rise in eating disorders among girls and young women, while the men behind the scenes get virtually no mention at all. She deserves to feel like nothing.

This has been on my mind because I'm realizing that it's painful to be a girl. Because the girls in the writing communities I watch have found that writing is fun, that it's something they can do that they enjoy that doesn't cost any money, that they don't have to leave the house for, and that they can define completely on their own. Building a whole world of people and places is a satisfying feeling - just ask all the dudes who make lots of money doing it, huh? - and these young girls have found that. And then someone comes along who is older, and has nothing but horrible things to say about it, because the writing is bad and she deserves no fucking slack just because she's young. And then more people come, attracted to the smell of blood and fresh meat, and before you know it this thing that was so satisfying to her before becomes a source of shame and embarrassment. She stops writing. This happens offline, too, when people grab a girl's diary or the story she's been writing. People laugh. She's humiliated. At any rate, she learns not to write for pleasure again.

So I've been thinking about Francesca Lia Block, and why I never got that girls are important until it was way too late to help me avoid doing the things I did for love and attention when I was a girl. I've been thinking about girls and superheroes and writing and girls writing, and the more I think about it, the more frustrated I am with where I am now: broke and in college, no means to support myself or the million things I want to do. The idea that's been kicking around my head the most has been writing workshops for girls. Young girls, preteen and young teen girls, teenagers. I think about how cool it would have been and how it might have helped me if I had had access to that when I was a girl. I think about how cool and amazing girls can be, and how that's stunted when girls are basically brainwashed into being boy-crazy and girl-hating. Why didn't I ever have a girl-superhero-friend who I loved so much and who loved me so much that we would die for each other? Is it because I was shy and afraid of the other girls, or was it because I was too busy playing with the boys? Why was I playing with the boys?

Right now I am reading Violet & Claire, a book by Francesca Lia Block; I just finished another FLB book, Echo. These are not the books I read repeatedly in high school; those were Dangerous Angels, Girl Goddess #9, The Hanged Man, The Rose and the Beast, and Nymph. (The last one is a book of erotica - sssh!)


-M said...

I took an adolescent development class - I feel you know this because you proofread papers. I did a group project on a book called Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons, and it was about female aggression, how this causes girls to hate girls and all that jazz. She focuses a lot on how this is due to society and how girls are socialized to place so much value on relationships, yet we are socialized away from negative emotions and confrontation because they will supposedly ruin relationships, but they are actually natural parts of relationships. She also touches on how girls who don't shy away from these things are stereotyped as mean and bitchy, and she rambled about the contradictory cues we're receiving from every which way. The whole book is basically about how girls are screwed and damned if they do and damned if they don't. I think she intended for the book to be more positive and hopeful, but to me it just seemed...not. Briefly she mentions something along the lines of: How are women supposed to come together and overcome this society when they all end up hating each other? (That was massively paraphrased)

I think that's the point. I think the socialization of girls, and all of this crap that is unique to girls' development is just another method trickling down from the patriarchy to keep the bitches in line, so to speak. If girls all hate each other, then they can never be unified enough to make any significant progress. Simmons did not say this in her book, but it's what I took from it.

I also looked at some things from Carol Gilligan for my autobiographical paper of doom. Girls begin with a positive worldview and then basically society crushes them and most girls end up giving in and conforming to the expectations, I think this relates to that bit at the beginning of your post. I thought of it immediately when I read it. I also read something by someone more recently who expanded Gilligan's theory. Anyway...I can't remember who this latter person was, but the premise was that girls when they lose their positive worldview they also experience other "losses" that ultimately result in their "loss of voice", and this all ties back into female aggression, which ultimately gets back to keeping women submissive to the men.

Fuck society.

Also, I'm glad you also hate Family Guy. I can never seem to find the humor in any of it, and this baffles everyone around me...additionally, the animation is horrible.

-M said...

Oh yeah, Xena - my favorite show ever for many reasons - features amazingly positive relationships between women and strong women characters. I'm glad I watched it as a child.

Along with Sailor Moon.

katie said...

I chose to focus specifically on cartoons, because as far as I know, little girls still watch them. However, television series targeted toward older women don't really show many positive relationships between women much either these days. That's nothing new. And you're

And I used to love Family Guy, when I was like thirteen up until I first started college. Then I started really thinking about what I was watching and I began to get really pissed off. FEMINIST CONCERNS has made me stop enjoying other things as well; I don't consider it much of a loss, though.