May
31st 2009
Two more lessons for girls: you can say no, and don’t peak early

Posted under: childhood, Gender

tonibasilmickeyWe’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 StephanieStephanie 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.

14 Comments »

14 Responses to “Two more lessons for girls: you can say no, and don’t peak early”

  1. GayProf on 31 May 2009 at 10:04 am #

    It’s true — We shouldn’t idealize other people’s lives. Still, I would kinda like to dress like Toni Basil.

  2. Historiann on 31 May 2009 at 10:15 am #

    You could pull it off, GayProf, but the pigtails would take at least 18 months to 2 years of cultivation. (Unless you’ve starting growing out your luscious locks already.)

  3. Notorious Ph.D. on 31 May 2009 at 11:51 am #

    Re: not peaking early — At age 17, I (slightly overweight, awkward-looking, goodwill-dressing, secretly nerdy pothead) remarked to a friend that I had the body of a 40 year-old woman, so that at 40, I expected to be the smoking-hottest woman around.

    I’m 39 in a month, and right on schedule.

  4. Tenured Radical on 31 May 2009 at 11:58 am #

    GayProf could get a hair weave.

  5. Historiann on 31 May 2009 at 12:12 pm #

    Notorious: are you still smoking? (Pot?) Maybe smoking pot would have undercut my Tracy Flick-ish ways, but all I could muster was a few clove cigarettes when I was 15.

    TR: do you know what those things cost? Outrageous!

  6. Notorious Ph.D. on 31 May 2009 at 12:16 pm #

    H: I’m utterly, boringly substance-free these days (unless you count copious amounts of caffeine). But I regret nothing. As the Wife of Bath says:

    “But Lord Christ! When I do remember me
    Upon my youth and on my jollity,
    It tickles me about my heart’s deep root.
    To this day does my heart sing in salute
    That I have had my world in my own time.”

  7. Historiann on 31 May 2009 at 12:31 pm #

    Notorious–maybe “straight edge” but not boring! It’s good to be able to sing, after Edith Piaf, “Je ne regrette rien,” eh?

  8. nicolec on 31 May 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    I think there could be a nice tangential lesson here about being sexy at a young age. A lot of the clothing my 12-14 year old students wear is sexy and I’m disturbed by it. A friend of mine went shopping for her 5 year old and couldn’t find anything at that particular store that wasn’t sexy to a certain degree. We seem to be teaching them young to look hot- rather than to be comfortable and to have fun. I say look hot in your 20s and 30s (when you have the body, independence and income to maintain it).

  9. Historiann on 31 May 2009 at 7:27 pm #

    nicolec–I agree with you that little girls are sexualized in disturbing ways. (All of those tarty little T-shirts–who buys those things?!?) It’s creepy that we push that kind of gear on children and then refuse to talk to them frankly about sex.

    I’ve been very, very disappointed by Target on this score. (I wonder–was it Target where your friend couldn’t find anything?)

  10. nicolec on 31 May 2009 at 8:10 pm #

    It is!

  11. Indyanna on 31 May 2009 at 8:38 pm #

    Target just survived a campaign by a shareholder activist to dump management s board nominees in favor of a dissident ticket. They held the annual meeting in a store under construction in Waukesha, WI. They even let the rebel give a speech, which is more than most CEOs do when they control the microphone. But the effort got voted down.

    I don/t think the campaign was about tarty T shirt inventories in Aisle Five, however, just a call for management to raise the stock price with some tarty fiscal engineering.

  12. Bavardess on 31 May 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    Great, thanks for that – I’ve now been walking around all morning humming ‘Hey Micky you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind…”

    I also had a ‘Deirdre G’ in my class at school. It was kind of poignant to run into her 20 years later and find she’d become a rather bland (both in looks and in personality) woman who seemed already fed up with life in her late 30s. I, on the other hand, fervently believe my best years are still before me!

  13. Z on 01 Jun 2009 at 1:53 am #

    Have you seen that this has been picked up in Spain?

    http://unpadre.wordpress.com/2009/05/31/vade-mecum-feminista/

  14. nicolec on 01 Jun 2009 at 8:35 am #

    How cool! This is when I love the internets!

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