• March 2009
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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?”

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