Get your kit (barely) on and get out there!
Being a teenager means your world is awash with party fever right now. More than that, it’s awash with who’s going to ‘pull’ who and how much alcohol might be imbibed beneath the radar of party-pooper adults.
And if you ARE one of those party-pooper parents your world is even MORE awash with anxiety over the possible outcomes of that overpowering mix of fevered hope, desire and hormonally-induced fervour.
It’s 40 years ago now but I still remember the buzz of teen party time and the nervous anxiety about getting with the person you fancied and whether they might end up instead with someone else. There was also a deeper anxiety: what was expected of you? How far you should go? Was it slutty to let a boy feel your boobs, or for you to touch his dick?
The lunchtime conversations we girls had in the playground revolved around what we might do, what we’d like to do, and how far we had gone or would be prepared to go. Then we’d judge those who had confided in us about any sexual experience they’d had, declaring them ‘easy’, and agreeing that boys were “only interested in those ‘slags’ for one thing”.
It was this last memory that pulled me up short. My husband and I found ourselves warning The Fifteen-Year-Old that boys have two brains, the most powerful of which is located in their trousers. Part of me feels guilty about telling her this; the other part remembers my own experiences and conflicts and feels justified in giving her the heads-up that I did not receive.
Of course, our daughter knows that we also believe that there are lots of lovely boys out there but the truth is that any parent of a teen daughter ‘knows’ that any of those lovely boys can be capable of becoming a Donald Trump or one of his locker room mates at the first whiff of a few beers and the sight of a lass in a party frock.
I am also haunted by a Young Adults’ book I read over the summer: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill is set in a provincial Irish town, but it might be any small town in the UK. The key character, Emma, has just turned 18, guarding her ‘good girl’ reputation with fierce determination, but overnight both reputation and self-worth are trashed when she goes to a party dressed in not very much, flirts, and gets off her face on drink and drugs.
But it’s what happens after this that leads to her ruin: she’s raped by a group of local lads and dumped on her doorstep the next morning like a piece of meat. Her humiliation is doubled via social media.
It is extraordinary that one’s reaction to Emma is blurred: first because she is a bit of a superbitch and, secondly, because she blames herself for what happened. Was she asking for it? Perhaps her recklessness really DID cause all this.
Then you catch yourself. This young woman (a girl, really) was gang raped when she was unconscious. That’s wrong. End of. The people who did it should be named and shamed and punished.
However, in Asking for it Emma is held culpable both overtly and under whisper-cover by her family, friends and community. The lads who perpetrated the crime are sporty and popular. No one wants to see their nascent careers and lives go down the drain because of high spirits and an unfortunate incident. It would be so much better if Emma ‘kept her trap shut’ and didn’t press charges. So much easier for everyone to move on and forget about this embarrassing little hiccup.
The book has its faults, but my word: It is food for thought! its message and images have stayed with me much longer than many a literary classic I’ve read.
I grew up in an age when my friends and I were expected to be ‘good girls’, whilst young men ‘sowed their wild oats’. I was told to keep my hand on my ha’penny, the fist of a ruinous teen pregnancy shaken in my petrified face; I wonder if my brothers were equally terrified by possible pregnancies of girlfriends? Simultaneously, I was told to laugh off being labelled a ‘promising heifer’ (it was a farming community) by mature male family acquaintances. I was expected to dance with such men at functions even though it made me uncomfortable.
You just had to deal with the gropes and leers as if it were your fault for being young and attractive and outgoing. And I worry that we haven’t moved on much. Victim-blaming is alive and kicking.
I think of the young lass who was trashed on social media and sent death threats after a liaison with a Sunderland footballer in his mid-twenties. She was 15. The footballer continued to play for the club whilst on bail. He was finally sacked when he pleaded guilty to charges of child grooming and sexual activity with a minor. She’ll still be living with the ramifications.
I’m not suggesting that girls and young women should not be responsible for themselves and their own behaviour. Clearly, it’s ill-advised to get so ‘out of it’ that you don’t know what you’re doing, but it DOESN’T mean that you deserve to be taken advantage of sexually or any other way.
A girl who goes out with a dress up to her knickers and a cleavage reveal as deep as the Grand Canyon may not be clad in the way I’d choose, and probably should not be surprised if she atracts stares from both sexes, but she’s not asking for bad stuff to happen to her. If you go into a beautiful chocolate shop where all the wares are lush and tempting, you don’t just help yourself.
The ganggang rapefact is that we are sexual beings. We all have urges and desires and questions about our sexuality, never more so than during puberty and teenhood. We’re fascinated by our bodies and by other people’s bodies. It is unrealistic not to explore and vocalise this stuff. However, we seem to have developed a mode of communicating and educating that does not acknowledge the contradictory aspects of how we feel and how we express and act upon it.
The onus still seems to be on girls to protect boys from themselves; I heard a story about a school asking girls to wear white bras under their shirts so as not to distract male students and staff.
Sorry? Have these males not been educated well enough to be able to (excuse the phraseology!) rise above the hint of an essential undergarment worn correctly? If this is truly the case, it needs to be talked about openly in PHSE or whatever sex education is called these days – not with the girls, but with the boys. As does pack mentality. How often do we see or hear that something happened because a group of essentially ‘good lads’ got carried away?
Let the partying be jolly, intense and fun, I say But please, please, let’s open a dialogue with our youngsters – and particularly with our young men about the realities of what they’re thinking, feeling and experiencing.
And how they might deal with it without ruining anyone’s party. Especially their own.