• March 2009
    S M T W T F S
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What The Girls Said

There is a hidden beauty in teaching adolescent girls.  I consider the 8 hours a day I spend amidst my 8th and 10th grade students a way of keeping my ear to the street.  My finger on the pulse of the young, the fiercely hip and clueless.  A recurring reminder of how we, as a nation, are simultaneously failing and succeeding in developing awkward, inappropriate girls into confident, powerful women.  I go to the girls often when I am confused about the world in which we force them to live and expect them to make sense of without our guidance.

In the midst of the first Twilight book, I had questions.  So, I went to the girls.  I was disturbed by the protagonist’s self deprecation and painstaking commitment to her vampire boyfriend.  I wanted to know why sweet, awkward little Bella responded to “warnings” her boyfriend, Edward, gave in the most bizarre ways.

I asked the girls, “So, you know that part when Edward says, ‘You should never be alone with me because I might end up killing you and sucking you of all your blood…by mistake’ why does Bella tell him how beautiful he is instead of running away like he tells her to?”

The girls spoke slowly as they patiently explained the way things were: Edward had low self esteem and thought he was really a bad guy when he wasn’t.  Yes, he could kill Bella, but that was exactly why he kept warning her so he WOULDN’T kill her.  He warned her because he loved her, you see.  And because he warned her and made sure they were never in a situation where he could kill her, then he was really a good guy.

I can be slow sometimes and this was one of those times.  I needed more clarification.  “But, I’m on page 300 and Bella has almost died like 3 or 4 times?”

But, one or two of those times EDWARD saved her, the girls reminded me.  

“Yes, but EDWARD was the reason she was almost killed in the first place.  How does his saving her from the near peril he caused her redeem him enough for her to keep hanging out with him?  He keeps telling her he might kill her!  Like every hundred pages or so.”

The girls were beginning to lose interest in helping me understand such an obvious concept.  He DID NOT kill her.  And he wouldn’t.  He loved her, for goodness sake.  One of them pointed out that not killing Bella was terribly difficult for Edward.  It took a lot of his energy not to react to the scent of her blood and gobble her up.  He had to struggle with it.  Therefore, Bella wasn’t the only one who suffered, you see.  

I didn’t.

Needless to say, when Chris Brown nearly killed the woman he loved and the picture of Rihanna’s bloodied, bruised face made its rounds on the internet, I went to the girls again.  I was confused.  I assumed they were, too.

I asked the girls to watch the follow up show Oprah was doing on the Chris-Brown-beating- Rihanna-like-she-was-a-grown-man-who-stole-something incident.  The next day, we sat in a circle and shared our thoughts about the show and the incident itself.

I got a lot of what I expected.  “I can’t believe she went back to him.”  “How could he do that to her?” “Well, if she forgives him, who are we to judge either of them?”  “Damn, what was she doing when he was hitting her like that?  I’d try to kill a dude who was beating me like I was some dog!”  (This last comment obviously came from a girl who has had the great fortune of not being locked in a seat belted torture chamber with her head half way out of the door of a speeding car as her boyfriend tried to push her onto the freeway…while punching her repeatedly as she flung about, trapped in her seat belt.  I’m happy for this young lady, actually.  She has lived a charmed life thus far.)

When I  saw the discussion turning into yet another round of useless retelling of gory facts, I brought things back to the statistic Oprah mentioned several times on her show.  One out of three teen girls will find herself in an abusive relationship.

Why do you think this is, I asked the girls.

The answers reminded me of all those times the girls tried to make me understand that Twilight was just a fictional story.  That I shouldn’t “get all o.d. and worried” because it wasn’t that serious.

The girls said:

1. A lot of teen girls REALLY want a boyfriend.

2. A lot of teen girls think boyfriends are not perfect and do stupid stuff all the time; this doesn’t mean you can’t at least try to work out problems in your relationship.

3. If your boyfriend is really, really sorry, then he might be worth the forgiveness you grant him.

4. Sometimes, the girls do pick, pick, pick at the boy just to make him mad.  “I’m not saying it’s right to hit a girl, but why you gon keep getting in his face when you know he has a problem with his temper?”

5. Sometimes, the boy has been through some messed up stuff and the girl understands that he is not a monster; he has his own stuff to deal with.  If she loves him enough, she’ll probably try to help him with those issues.

During our discussion, the phrase, “Sometimes you choose to forgive” came up several times. So, did the phrase, “I know he was wrong, but did you hear about what he went through when he was a kid?”  One or two girls admitted that if Chris Brown was really sorry and she was sure it wouldn’t happen again, she might go back to him, too.  But only if he was sincerely sorry for beating the shit out of her and threatening to kill her for calling the cops.

I asked another question: Why should Rihanna repeatedly sacrifice her dignity to save Chris Brown’s?  No one seemed to really get my question.  I elaborated by explaining that a man who subjects you to that level of violent torture is a man who probably has done and said several things before the seat belted torture chamber to take away your humanity.  To make you feel like you are worth less than the lint on his shirt.  Why should she expose herself to that in the hopes that he “heals his wounds?”

Most of the girls came around.  They swore that they would not let a man take away their dignity.  But in the back of the room, I heard one girl whisper to another: “Seriously, though, she HAD to have done something?  Why would she go back to him after he did that to her if she wasn’t at least a little bit at fault?”

How Life Works

I’ve had two conversations with friends that have been hanging out in the back of my mind for a while now.  Each had, at its root, a distinct topic and context; however, after I’d rolled the conversations over in my mind for a while, I realized that at the root of each conversation was the same theme.

Friend #1 (lets call her Marie) was trying to convince me to find my way back to the Seventh Day Adventist church in which we were both raised.  That isn’t really accurate, actually. I don’t want to paint Marie as an intolerant proselytizer who was trying at all costs to re-convert me.  After one of our trademark 2 hour-long phone conversations, we had somehow gotten on the topic of religion and she’d begun explaining why she strongly believed every word in the Bible to be the TRUTH and a direct edict from God.  I admitted what I had never had the vocabulary (or courage) to verbalize when we were good little Christian girls in Sabbath School: The Bible has kernels of truth in it that can provide guidance and order to many lives;  it is a document written by men who sincerely believed they were called by God to bring his word to fruition.  I, personally, am not so convinced of its divine inspiration.  I, personally, believe that the many sects of Christianity foolishly believe in its total ability to keep things “in order” a bit too much.

Marie and I went back and forth to no avail because what it all came down to was she chose to believe in Seventh Day Adventism and religion as a whole and I simply didn’t.  Marie is an intelligent, rational woman so she didn’t doom me to hell or patronize me by implying I was lost and she would try to help me be found.  Since we have a long friendship, this very heated debate didn’t end in a nasty tone at all.  As a matter of fact, it ended in an exhausted one because it was about 1 a.m when we both were like, “Damn.  I’m too old to be talking to you until all hours of the night.  We ain’t 13 no more.  Bye.”

What stands out in that lengthy conversation, though, was something Marie said.  When explaining why she believed so strongly in the Bible, she mentioned, “Each and every time I didn’t do what God said, I got nothing but pain.  Nothing but heartache.  I should have followed his word.”  When I offered that perhaps part of the beauty of being a human was encountering pain and making ridiculous mistakes so one learned from them and formulated a life path that made sense for her, Marie stood firm and insisted: “No…EVERY lesson I learned when I was not following Him, I wish I hadn’t.  The pain and heartache I caused myself was not necessary.”

What I heard underneath that: “If I remain a faithful Christian, I will exempt myself from pain.”

Friend #2 (let’s refer to her as Pam) and I were commiserating about what every single gal commiserates about: dating and the tedium and time involved in engaging in it, particularly in New York City.  Particularly, when you are in your 30’s.  The problem: We were encountering men who were charming, respectful and genuinely interested in us, just disinterested in  committing to anything remotely long term.  The usual scenario: He is happiest when I expect nothing more than what we’re doing now.

Pam seemed to have developed what she thought to be a fool proof plan to not “have my time wasted.”  She had implemented  into her dating lexicon the policy of not sleeping with a man until they were in a committed relationship.  She spoke of several men who didn’t like her plan and off handedly asserted: “Yeah, he didn’t want to go out anymore because I wasn’t sleeping with him after we dated for three months.  But, he didn’t want to even answer me directly when I asked him where he thought this was going.”  I had no problems with Pam’s no-sex-until-you’re-my-boyfriend rule.  I’ll be frank: I didn’t plan to follow her lead, but I could understand why she’d implemented this into her strategy of snagging a boyfriend.  I did innocently ask, though, “Well, what if EVERY man is not meant to be your boyfriend?  What if some of them are just meant to be temporary companions.  Not that you have to have sex with them, but just because you want to ultimately end up in a committed relationship, does that mean you can ONLY spend time with a man if it looks like he is THE ONE?”  Pam saw this as a waste of time and implied that I was a little immature if I could do that.  She seemed to insist that simply going out with a man (sex or no sex) who just wanted to show you a good time was a stage that women in our demographic should be over?  When women did that, they were putting themselves in danger of getting too wrapped up in the guy and then disappointed when he wouldn’t commit to something “real.”

She again stressed how that was wasting her time and much like Marie, made a statement that stayed with me: “So, he gets what he wants and I get to keep going out with him without a commitment?  And then when’s he through, he moves on.”  Underneath that, I heard: “I have developed a way to not get hurt or disappointed in matters of the heart.  If I just don’t have sex too soon, I won’t be disappointed by men so much. Thus, I will lessen the chance of painful heartache.”

Perhaps I am reading more into Pam and Marie’s belief system than they would like.  Or I could be completely misinterpreting them, but the subtext of both of their rationalizations seemed to be that if I do this, I will save myself from pain.

In my humble estimation, that is ridiculous.

Although life is a wonderful journey full of moments of triumph, it is also cluttered with unavoidable moments of sadness, distress, darkness.  Yes, we can make choices that lessen the dark moments, but the fact remains, pain is weaved into the very fabric of the human existence .  It is a natural and NECESSARY part of the human experience.  How can I explain to Marie that she can follow every rule – the Big 10 and the myriad number of minor ones – and she will still find herself nursing a wounded soul at some point in life?  She can be a faithful Christian, but the fact is…the world, like humans, is terribly flawed and she should expect to be disappointed/hurt/downtrodden even when everything she’s doing should lead to nothing but rewards.  

And Pam…I know there are many theories on how WOMEN can control and modify the behavior of men.  If women______, then men will___________.  If women don’t ________, then men won’t ___________.  While these theories sell millions of relationship books and may result in the rare woman modifying her particular male’s behavior to meet her needs, the simple truth is: If you plan on canoodling with those HUMAN men, there is a great likelihood that you will be hurt, disappointed, heartbroken regardless of how you have pain-proofed your encounters with them.  If you have sex with him too soon, there is a chance that you will be hurt.  If you hold out until he anoints you as “the one,” there is a great likelihood, you still will be hurt.  

How life works?  It is a marriage of joyous, exquisite moments that will bring tears to your eyes and cold, bleak moments that will reduce you to tears.

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