In high school, I was obsessed with Chuck Klosterman. I mean, I read his books multiple times, I underlined my favorite passages, and I wrote a letter that I thankfully never sent. But I always knew that, as a teenage girl, I wasn’t exactly his target audience. He spent a lot of time writing about music that came out before I was even born and television shows that were on when I was in kindergarten. I didn’t care, but I do remember one line that really stood out to me because it made me realize that I was definitely The Other when it came to his books. He was talking about hair metal (like usual) and he said something to the effect that hair metal’s decline was due, mostly, to teenage girls. Because once teenage girls start liking something, it’s over. It’s not cool anymore.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, because everything I’ve been reading seems to point back to that concept: the inherent uncoolness of the teenage girl. Take, for example, this amazing excerpt of an article by Tavi Gevinson, where she explains the all-encompassing awesomeness of Taylor Swift while also explaining why people seem to hate her so much: “Swifties see the characteristic at hand for what it is: writing. Her songs are her point of view, making it her job to blow up the most minor event into something that more accurately represents the way she experienced it. As Tay quoted Neruda in her Red liner notes, “Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” This is basic Nabokov shit, right? Everything hits harder in memory. Everything changes color.”
Basically, Taylor Swift’s writing about feelings. And who cares about feelings more than anyone else on earth? Teenage girls. And me. That’s why I read so much YA; YA isn’t ashamed of feelings, of all-consuming, dangerous, ridiculous, over-the-top love, and that’s the only kind of love I want to read about. T. Swift’s writing about teenage girl stuff and teenage girls love it, so naturally it isn’t cool. Even though, as Tavi notes, she’s writing about the same basic concepts as Nabokov and Neruda.
And then there’s this video from a super-smart gal named Subi:
My favorite quote: “People don’t wanna be compared to the teenage girl; the teenage girl is hated, teenage girls hate themselves. If you listen to a certain kind of music, or if you express your emotions in a certain kind of way, if you self harm, you write diaries, all those kind of activities are sort of laughed at and ridiculed because they’re associated with being a teenage girl. Even just things like being cripplingly self conscious or overly concerned with our appearance, that’s considered like a teenage girl thing and therefore its ridiculous, it’s stupid, it’s not relevant or legitimate, and you know, what we needed at that age was legitimization and respect and support but all we got was dismissal and “Oh, you’re such a teenage girl.”
When I first heard those words, I got a flash or recognition. Yes. That’s exactly it. That’s what Chuck Klosterman was talking about all those years ago–no one wants to be compared to a teenage girl.
And it’s still true now. Stuff that girls like (or even stuff that we, as women, liked when we were girls) is inherently vapid, while stuff that teenage boys like (action movies, for example) is held up as nostalgically cool. I mean, how many guys do I know who have long conversations about the movies they loved in junior high, and how many of them have tshirts for their favorite action movies? I hope you said ALL OF THEM, because that’s the correct answer. And that’s somehow okay, encouraged even. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be okay, but to pretend that Twilight is someone less legitimate than any given superhero film? Give me a break.
And don’t get me started on the guys who will begrudgingly admit that Mean Girls, a “teen girl” movie, was “actually” good. No shit, genius.
The same goes for teen girl books, which I know quite a bit about. YA is a genre that’s written primarily by women and read mostly by teen girls (or, okay, women like me). But do you know which YA books often gain the most respect? It shouldn’t be a surprise…the ones written by men! The ones featuring male characters!* Meanwhile, the books that I focus primarily on in my column (those by women, for girls) are seen as fluff. Kid stuff. Teenage girl books. And, oh horror of horrors, what could be worse than reading something intended for a dumb little teenage girl?
I remember, very clearly, what it was like to be a teenage girl. To always feel like my teenage girlness, the very fact of who I was, was undesirable, stupid, less than. To always feel like my opinion didn’t matter, to always feel like my very approval of something instantly lessened its cool quotient. To get constant warnings that my feelings were transient, that I everything I cared about would be no big deal at all when I “grew up” and got out into the “real world,” as if the world I was in was some sort of alternate reality where pain, embarrassment, heartbreak, and frustration didn’t count.
How do we expect girls to grow up to be strong leaders if we treat them like this? No, really. I’d love it if you could tell me. We constantly tell them their thoughts and feelings are unimportant, trivial, silly. We make sure they know that their interests are vapid and trite. We hate everything they love, on principle. How are they supposed to grow up to be writers, thinkers, artists, lawyers, doctors, or anything when they feel subhuman?
Being a teenage girl is exciting and awesome, but it’s also scary and terrible. I know because I was there. And the absolute last thing any girl needs at that age is to feel bad–as Subi says in her video, what girls at that age need is legitimization and support.
I’m not saying you have to like Taylor Swift. But I am saying that maybe you shouldn’t roll your eyes every time you come across something teenage girls like. They’re people too. Trust me.
*This is a big generalization, and I don’t mean to imply that I don’t enjoy/appreciate YA books by or about males. Some of my favorite YA books are dude-written!