We’ve had a few more additions to Lessons for Girls in the past week, which I would like to highlight here. First, Tiffany at Disclosures of a Dirty Feminist reminds us in lesson #9 that ”You can say no.” She writes, “[w]e have been brought up to be caretakers, but that doesn’t mean we are solely responsible for making sure that the world runs smoothly and that everyone gets exactly what they want.” And guess what happens when she says no? “[N]othing. My friends . . . .find it completely normal. They weren’t even aware, most of the time, that I was feeling overworked, stressed, or like a lot was being demanded of me.” Yes–your real friends will understand. Users are the only ones who will be angry. (And remember Lesson Number One, girls: It’s okay to make other people angry.) Pretty wise for a nineteen year-old, Tiffany!
Minnesota Matron, in her lesson #10 ”Don’t peak early,” writes about one Deirdre G., “superstar of the 10th grade” whose life sadly was stalled immediately thereafter. She warns, “[r]ely on your physical appearance for life’s goodies—recognition, success, confidence, achievement — and you will find yourself washed up against that shore of age, without recourse. A well-fueled brain and sense of justice constitute a much stronger lifeboat: they can carry you for decades.”
I had a Deirdre G. in my life too, only her name was Stephanie. Stephanie was smart, petite, cute, charming, and her parents were rich. She had a fashionable name, a fashionable wardrobe, and her parents gave her a brand-new 1984 Mustang convertible for her Sweet Sixteen. Stephanie had parachute pants in 1982, when they were $50 a pair and $50 was a lot of money. She was Jewish, and since most of my friends were Jewish, I wanted to be Jewish too. Did I mention that she was a cheerleader who looked a lot like Toni Basil in her video for “Mickey,” which came out the fall of our Freshman year? (I didn’t envy her that, but I admired her ability to live up to the full S.S.H.S. stereotype of the female ideal.) I was cute, if I may say so about my high school self, but totally unfashionable: an old-fashioned name, and instead of cheerleading, I was in marching band, debate, and the school newspaper. (I know! I might as well have played Dungeons and Dragons, too. I liked these activities, even as I realized that they were tragically unhip.) Also, I drove my parents’ 1980 light blue Chevrolet Caprice Classic station wagon, which they generously shared with me, but which wasn’t nearly as cool as a brand-new Mustang convertible.
Once when I was back home from college for a visit, I heard that Stephanie’s parents had packed up their large, impressive house in the middle of the night and left town, leaving no forwarding address and only rumors of criminal investigations in their wake. It was the neighborhood scandal of the season. Apparently, Stephanie’s parents weren’t actually as rich as they wanted everyone to think they were. I really hope that their financial troubles didn’t mean that Stephanie had to leave college–she was really smart and cared about academic success, so I expect that she has probably done well in life, in spite of whatever financial difficulties her family had twenty years ago.
This isn’t so much a “don’t peak early” lesson as it is a warning not to idealize the lives of others. Everyone has problems, and no one’s life is perfect, no matter what kind of face she presents to the rest of the world.