What if girls lifted girls?
Might everything be different?
This simple question has plagued me for a long, long time.
In high school, I was badly bullied by other girls. In repeat instances. I was threatened, physically harmed, and slut-shamed before I’d ever even “lost” my virginity. For two years of high school, I lived in a modicum of daily terror.
To this day, I honestly don’t know why.
Were they jealous?
Did I appear too self-confident or aloof?*
Was I unwittingly cruel to them first?
Did I play a role in my own torture? Did they, too, play a role in their own simultaneous pain?
You can read more about that if you’d like to know the specifics HERE.
Some of the girls who were cruelest to me are lovely, kind women now. Perhaps a few are not. One of them is dead. I wept, not celebrated, when I learned of this. Of course. Of course. It only cemented what I believe, my best guess as to why girl-on-girl cruelty perpetuates itself, decade after decade:
We were all suffering, and being cruel to me helped them avoid their own insecurities and pain.
But what is the source of those insecurities? What if WE — girls, women — had a LOT of power in reducing and undermining those insecurities and pain?
I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about Evan Rachel Wood these days, and her brutal, painful story. Maybe I read something that triggered the connection, about women blaming her, but I can’t stop thinking about the connection to my book JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME and what I was hoping to say by that story.
Let me first state unequivocally, that what happened to Wood and seemingly many others, is the fault of a man, of men, of a system of patriarchy and toxic masculinity, and what we continue to allow men to get away with. Period. End of story.
I know, I know. How is there an “and” after you said, “end of story?”
Because. Because two seemingly contradictory things can exist and be true at the same time. They can.
Whatever the book jacket for JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME says, to me, it is a story about girls judging girls, girls not standing up for girls, and what often happens when they don’t.
It’s about a story about an insecure, scared teen girl turning wholly to a boy who isn’t particularly good for her when her best friend deserts her.
When the other girls around her judge her and turn their backs. Kudos to the Booklist reviewer who got this in their review when they wrote, “Perfect for readers who love coming-of-age stories and who understand the value of female community.”
Yes. YES!!! That.
There is value — and, more than that, huge POWER — in the female community.
Girls need girls.
Women need women.
And too often we still fail to lift one another up and support one another.
I know this because I talk to teen girls all the time. They tell me how they are judged, bullied, deserted by other girls. I ask the question when I visit schools. We talk. Or they listen.
It’s always the same: Those who are bullied cast their eyes down.
Those who do the bullying cast their eyes away.
I see this over and over again. And I always implore them: “You don’t have to be friends, but support one another. You don’t have to hang out. Just don’t tear one another down.”
I don’t tell people what my book is about. That is up to the individual reader, of course. The book jacket says what it says. People will take from the story what they take. And very few even know the book exists.
But if you read it with your daughters, have a conversation.
If you read it with your students, have a conversation. If you want to have a conversation with me, we can also have one HERE.
I can’t help but think how our lives might be different in the face of this one simple change.
Because of my relationship with girls — because of the harm girls did to me in middle school and high school, and, yes, into college — I put all my efforts during those years into relationships with men: friendships and otherwise. Because. Because.
A self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.
My truth is, it took me well into my forties before I trusted women again, until I allowed myself to find any value in those relationships at all. To trust female friendship.
For sure, I am the better for it.
My female friends are beyond important to me. They lift and buoy me.
And I trust I am worthy of them in return.
I believe women’s lives — and our willingness to speak up in the face of bad relationships, and, yes, abuse — might be very different if girls and women learned to support one another better from an early age.
We still do not.
At least, too often, we do not.
I know this from personal experience. Still. To this day. And I believe our lives would be very different if we could.
p.s. Please note that JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME is upper YA/crossover to adult. The book contains language and sexual situations. * Yes, this is something someone told my dad once. Read that again. I appeared too self-confident and aloof. Those two things could not be further from the truth of how I felt.