The sexual soundtrack in his head is not playing love songs. The words are dirty. The beat is hard. Imagine the Rolling Stones putting Penthouse to music, and you have his sexual voice as women seldom hear it. Women like to think the man who talks this way is a composite of every sweaty, grimy, high-school-dropout character who ever grunted his way through a B-movie. Wrong.
He is everyman.
- Susan Crain Bakos
1964 (Kindergarten) --
The bell had rung for end of recess and all the kids were lined up outside the doors of their classrooms waiting to be let back in. This was the modern wing, and each classroom door let out directly to the playground so the kids wouldn't be walking down the hallways.
The teasing had started out as heckling from the first graders, who were sing-songing that the kindergarteners were all a bunch of babies. Then Mrs. Pratt had opened the door to let the first graders in and while the kindergarten class waited for Miss Thompson to open their door -- the red one at the far end of the line -- Billy Butler started chanting sing-song insults against the girls.
"Girls are oh so nice and neat Squeaky clean and icky sweet Just like something good to eat And doo doo comes out from their seat"
Clea Sherwood was filled with outrage. Those first graders had been in kindergarten last year themselves, and what did this boy think came out of his seat? "Girls are better than boys", she yelled at Billy.
"Clea's oh so nice and neat...", he chanted back, making the lyric personal.
"Girls are better than you, you have your pee pee in front because you pee all day, you pee in your pants", she ad libbed.
Unfortunately, Miss Thompson had come up the path from behind, instead of from within the classroom, and had overheard.
"Billy, you have to behave if you're going to come to school, and we don't use language like that here. If you keep on acting that way, you will get in trouble, and you wouldn't want me to tell your parents what you said, would you?"
Billy had his eyes down.
"And you!", continued Miss Thompson, turning to Clea. "I'm surprised at you. If your mother heard you speaking that way...what would she do, Clea?"
Clea had her eyes down, too.
"If you don't think you can behave like a little lady, don't forget that you can get in trouble just like the boys, and I'm not kidding. If I catch you talking dirty you'll end up getting your mouth washed out with soap."
1998 (Clea's Kitchen) --
Clea puts her cup back down into the saucer, scowling for a moment at the small ring of spilled tea; she lifts the cup again and runs the napkin around the saucer and replaces the cup again. "So even as early as that," she continues, "you learn that if you're a girl, you can't get away with the same range of behaviors as the boys. They are always rejoicing, showing off what they can get away with, and...well, I was, oh...you know, the boys weren't going to get the better of me, right? But I'd get into deeper trouble for doing less, and it wasn't like I started it."
I grin; yeah, that's Clea, all right! I tease, "Listen to you: 'Well, he started it!' C'mon, no elementary school teacher would accept that rationale."
Clea glares indignantly. "Well, it's true."
"Seriously, though", I continue, "I can understand how to the girls...that you'd see us as free in a way that you were not, less constrained and all that. But I wasn't trying to say that girls are not oppressed, or that we boys had it worse than you did. I'm just saying you seem to assume we were picking up the same lessons, that we're free and you aren't, but that's just not how it looks when you're the boy."
Clea rolls her eyes.
1967 (Third Grade) --
The big nasty spit wad that went splat down low against the leg of Allan's desk might have been intended for him, which would not have been unusual, but it might also have been a badly aimed retaliation for something that had been fired back that way a few moments before. After considering turning around and glaring at whoever might be tormenting him, he decided to ignore it in hopes that it had nothing to do with him, and went back to reading his Hardy Boys book.
Behind him, Rupert is telling Tony a dirty joke - "...so he tells the farmer that if he puts a cork in the pig's bee-hind, up his shit hole, it will be the biggest in the fair, so he does, and the pig gets bigger and bigger every day..."
Grace is whispering something to Patty. Clea catches Patty glancing at her but Patty breaks eye contact, turning a conspiratorial face back to Grace.
"...so the pig won first prize. Now the farmer says, 'Well, who's gonna pull the plug?' And this ree-tard down the block says he'll do it for a quarter. So he..."
A girl named Deena who is sitting on Allan's right glares momentarily at Rupert with a flash of disgust. Allan, who is seriously stuck on his wonderful intellect, admires Deena, who he thinks is also very smart. Funny, how mainly only girls have any brains.
"...the first man says, 'I was standing a mile away and I got covered to the top of my boots in shit! And the second man says, 'Well, I was standing a half mile away and I got covered up to my armpits in shit! So the third man says, 'Well I was standing 200 yards away and just before I got completely covered in shit, the last thing I seen was that stupid ree-tard trying to put the plug back in!"
Clea and Deena lock eyes for a moment. Clea rolls her eyes while flicking a glance behind her, thinking, God that Rupert is as dumb and as gross as a pig himself.
Deena gathers her books and quietly moves to a different desk across the room.
The teacher, Mrs. Morrison, comes in with a filmstrip case in her hands, which she puts on her desk. She announces a spelling test and has all the kids clear off their desks. She calls the spelling words. Greg scowls at the word he wrote, puts an x through it and tries again. Allan wishes they would have harder words, this is boring. Between words he goes back to reading the Hardy Boys, which is still open on his knees below desk level. Grace chews her pencil, sounding out a word before writing it down.
The teacher loads the filmstrip projector and kills the lights. As the white spot shines above the kids' heads, Rupert lifts his arms up and makes hand-puppets in the light beam. Mrs. Morrison gets annoyed and snaps at him; he smirks.
Soon it is time to file out for lunch. First anyone who needs to go to the bathroom is given the opportunity.
Tony pushes the boys' bathroom door open and walks to a urinal. Greg comes in behind him. "What is it today? Barbecued barf again?" Tony says something indistinguishable and snickers.
Allan stares at the graffiti written on the stall door. Fuck. Shit. Piss. Fuck you. This is the second stall from the end; the first one he opened was clogged with a toilet paper roll stuffed into it. He flushes and leaves. Greg chirps in falsetto as he does: "It's pansy man! Super-Fairy!"
Soon everyone is on line waiting for the signal to go into the cafeteria. Mrs. Morrison indicates that the girls' line may now go in, the boys' line to follow, as usual.
The lead time of "ladies first" isn't helping Grace any; she takes one look at what has been handed her and states that she can't eat this barf, and turns in the whole tray to the return window, keeping only the milk carton. Soon people are gathering at tables. Some teachers implement assigned seating but Mrs. Morrison lets her class choose their seats, so friends sit with friends.
After eating, students may go outside for recess. The playground is noisy, full of shouting and calling out. The boys have the larger open field area, to play sports, and there is a kickball game in progess. The girls are in a smaller area playing in hopscotch squares, or jumping rope and chanting songs nearby. Ellen and Grace are turning a rope and taunting in time with the rope that one of their classmates is getting married to one of the boys in the class, that they've been seen kissing and soon will be having babies together. They are gleefully giggly about it.
Clea, however, is running off by herself out on the perimeter of the playground; she pretends she is a bird, a falcon, an eagle, swooping over the grass, stretching her arms out as she runs.
The playground monitor, who today is one of the fourth grade teachers, has to stop a fight between Greg and Tony, and they will have to stay after school as punishment. She also apparently speaks to Mrs. Morrison about Clea, because when Clea comes back to the classroom after recess, Mrs. Morrison wants to know why she doesn't play with the other girls and tells her she doesn't need to be off on the far edges of the playground. Oh God, thinks Clea, I'm not bothering anybody, why can't people just leave me alone?
Allan is late getting in to class after lunch and recess. Patty cut in front of him in line and he argued with her, and the assistant principal came over to see what the commotion was all about. Patty and Allan both claimed to have gotten in line first. The assistant principal told Patty she could go on in, and held Allan until everyone else had gone in, saying, "I doubt that that little lady would have any reason to tell lies."
Late afternoon: study time. Mrs. Morrison has to leave the room for awhile and puts Deena in charge of marking down anyone who misbehaves in her absence. Clea thinks, "God, she's such a total teacher's pet. I'd hate to be like that. 'Oh, I'm just so miss goody-goody.' Still, at least she's fair. Some of these girls would let their friends get away with stuff and they are out to get the people they don't like." Allan, furious with the injustice of it all because Patty did cut in front of him, is also glad it is Deena this time-sometimes Mrs. Morrison picks Patty, even-but she never picks him, or any other boy.
Deena lives up to her reputation for fairness: Grace is in trouble, having been seen passing notes. Mrs. Morrison has a chalk circle and the names of people who are in trouble get written there. If you get 3 checks, or one serious offense like Greg and Tony did for fighting, you have to stay after school. Grace's name goes in the circle. There is silence except for the buzzing of the overhead fluorescents. The afternoon drags. Someone slides a piece of notebook paper on the floor past Allan's desk. Mrs. Morrison does not notice, apparently. Allan looks down, idly curious, and reads it without picking it up: a cartoon of Mrs. Morrison showing her body leaking pee and milk with crude captions about her titties and her pussy. Bruce's foot surreptitiously snags the paper and pulls it forward. Now Mrs. Morrison pounces, and after giving Allan and Bruce her tired angry teacher look, tears the cartoon up and adds Allan's and Bruce's name to the in-trouble circle. Allan is incoherent with outrage.
1998 (Clea's Kitchen) --
Clea laughs, shaking her head. "Yeah, OK. You did get your share of it, I guess. God, I'd forgotten how crude those boys were at that age. And they'd pick on you and the teachers would treat you like any other boy, that's true enough. But that's an individual matter, I mean, ...sure, I got into special trouble because I was a, whatever you call it, tomboy, tomgirl, but you see, all the girls were oppressed, the conforming ones more than me, even, at least I fought back."
"I'll say you did", I laugh. "No, you're missing the point, though. Nothing more was expected of us. Girls were these civilized well-thought-of people. Girls are good, you know, it wasn't just obedience and surrender, they took pride in it, and were respected for it, and respected themselves for it, it wasn't like they were only behaving in a mature fashion out of fear of the consequences. But for a boy to be good, it was out of fear of the consequences. No one thought we were ever good, you know, on purpose. The other boys treated me as a sissy, like I was weak. I wasn't, of course, I was competing with the girls. But what were the other boys doing? Rebelling. Treasuring what is bad and filthy and disgusting to the teachers and adults. Because it is bad. Rolling in it. And so much of it had to do with body parts and body functions...at that age, it seemed like everyone was toilet-obsessed...possibly because that was a topic area that adults were leery about hearing us talk about. Not that being prudishly ashamed of your body would be better, but there was this gleeful spirit of "Eww, isn't this so wonderfully gross and dirty". And a few years later they were talking and thinking about sex in the same way. You think they were crude then? You should hear them talk about sex in all-male company now."
"You're right about the body parts and body functions thing", Clea nodded. "By junior high, boys were always trying to embarrass us by being explicit and calling attention to body parts and body functions. And of course, damned if they were going to make me self-conscious. I remember asking to go to the bathroom and this...guy...said something about maybe I needed to put in a tampon. So at first, I'm, like, feeling like I'm going to blush, then I'm mad, so I just nod and say to the teacher, yeah, I need to put in a tampon. So then, honest to God, the teacher - naturally, my luck, the teacher is male, of course - says something about I need to be more careful planning, can you believe it? - so I say, well, actually, I like the way it feels when it runs down my legs, so I don't usually use them, but then I started feeling sorry for your nice clean floors..."
I am suddenly laughing so hard tears are in my eyes and tea is coming out my nose.
Clea continues, "So, you were saying, that boys feel deprived of a chance to feel...good, like proper well-mannered citizens?"
"Well, yeah, but more important, I think, is, we thought the girls thought they were better than us, better people, nicer, and so on, and furthermore we thought everyone else pretty much agreed with them that they were. I mean, yeah, sure, boys would behave badly and get away with it, but it's like no one expected any better of us, we're just boys, you know?"
"Interesting you should put it that way", Clea muses. "That's almost exactly how I think most girls feel that the world views girls in junior high classes. Former straight A students doing nose dives all over the place and everyone just shrugs, they're just girls, no one expects them to do any better."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. It's like, suddenly, instead of girls and everything associated with girls being valued, all of a sudden the world decides boys are...well, not 'good', exactly, but..."
"You don't think the world thinks it is good to be a boy? Seriously!?"
"That's not what I mean! You're confusing two different senses of 'good'...hold on, now..."
"Go on", Clea gestures expansively, amused. "I'm listening."
"...OK...we started off, you talking about how girls are more constrained by not being able to get away with things, and we talked about how they get approved of for being 'good'. That's what I mean. What I was saying earlier about kids is that the kids themselves think this way of being, of being obedient and good citizens and doing what the grownups expect you to do, is morally better, or at least more valued by grownups. Now, it's not like the boys are suddenly the ones being obedient and doing what the grownups want, 'cause they're not, but it's like the grownups aren't valuing that stuff any more, not very much, and the good girls and that kind of 'goodness' doesn't count for much any more..."
"Well", Clea sighs, "this 'girls-as-good-citizens' thing...I'm gonna have to think about that. I mean, maybe that is how it looks to the boys, I never really thought about it that way. What you see...or saw...as teachers and other adults approving of us..." Clea pauses a moment and sips her tea contemplatively. She continues, "...they weren't approving of us for successfully taking risks and trying to accomplish things. They weren't hopping up and down excitedly saying, 'Oh, what clever girls you are'. We got praised for being passive...for being obedient, like you said...not going outside the boundaries, not risking disapproval. The boys...OK, maybe the boys weren't being told that they are mature and good, and most boys...(we agree on this, right?) ...at that age are immature brats and not exactly good candidates for that kind of drooling over, but they get called on for answers more than the girls do, and when the boys get good grades everyone acts like they're genuises. When the girls do well, it's because we're so disciplined and study so hard."
1972 (Eighth Grade) --
It is fourth period and Clea is out early, having turned in her test, and is eating her sack lunch alone. There are three climbable-looking trees off behind where the buses park, and although the water really comes from a drainage ditch, the area it flows through here is full of stones and it looks like a natural creek bed. Lots of kids go down there to smoke pot. Clea is having a conversation with herself about what she would do if a boy tried to make her do things she didn't want to do out here alone like this. Hit him whack in the nose. Kick him in the nuts, hard. I can hit as hard as a boy. But they gang up. The dumb ones, all together in a doofy band seeing who can be the dumbest. She chews her sandwich.
The other kids are streaming out of various doors as fourth period is over, and mainly head towards the cafeteria. Deena has her book bag over one shoulder and is trying to stuff a folded mimeographed page into it without taking it off, but it slips out of her hands. She curses softly and kneels down to retrieve it. "Nice view!", Rupert comments, gesturing to her, attracting the attention of Tony and Ellen and some others nearby, "Hey, if I drop this pencil will you pick it up for me?" Deena has an instant of visualizing her top lifting away from her chest and everyone looking down her shirt, and blushes. Well, I sure wasn't doing it on purpose, she thinks. She glances at Ellen. Maybe Ellen would make it easy for boys to look down her shirt. Or maybe she wouldn't. Ellen likes to act and talk like she would do a lot of things, hardly talks about anything else, but she always dares or prods other girls to do things--it's like "you do it"--so maybe she doesn't do anything herself. Well, maybe she likes Rupert. Well, she is welcome to him.
The stream of people crowd into the cafeteria, which is a noisy den of a place. Looks like there was a food fight earlier, there are fragments of food and puddles around two of the tables, and pats of butter stuck to the ceiling. Allan is in line wishing he could eat in a quieter place with people that acted more grown up than that. A few people ahead of him in line, Billy is sexually teasing Grace in front of people they both hang out with all the time. Billy says "Green light" and starts moving his hand slowly up her leg until Grace says "red light". Grace doesn't stop him right away and giggles before saying "red light", but she always sort of pulls away when she says it, and he starts over a moment later back down just above her knee again. Allan thinks it would feel very exciting to run a hand up a girl's leg as far as she'd let him, and that it would be a lot of fun teasing like they are...but how do you know when a girl wants to play that kind of game? Girls are always complaining that boys only want one thing, and everyone knows how crude it is to start putting your hands on a girl if she isn't interested.
Grace says "red light" and the hand stops but does not retreat until she flinches back. Her giggle sounds brittle and fake to her own ears. The implicit dare is, will she let the hand stay? Billy, no doubt, would like that. Maybe the others would think she was cool if she did. Her friend Ellen would sure love to hear about it, Ellen is always telling her she is boring because she never does anything. She hopes everyone will keep thinking it is funny just the way it is, with her pulling back and Billy starting over. Does he really like me? I wonder if touching my legs gives him a boner. Ellen says boys always get boners when they touch girls' skin.
Allan watches Grace's face and listens to the sound of her giggle and thinks how totally dumb she sounds. In fact, he has seen her in class when the teacher calls on her, not only not knowing the answer or understanding the question, but acting like she is proud of being that dumb. She acts like she is too dumb to know how to keep her clothes on if those boys start unbuttoning things.
By the time Allan has acquired his tray and found a seat, other people who had fourth period lunch have finished eating and some are arriving early for fifth period classes. Deena has just finished and deposited her tray in the dirty dish line, and is now in E wing, unhappily staring at her math score on the final. Mr. Steuben has given her a B-, and Deena has been an Honor Roll student since first grade and always has straight A's, up until now, and this score will ruin that. On two of the questions, her calculations were correct but she didn't properly label the answers, and Mr. Steuben didn't give her any credit. He refuses to do so now, stating that he hates it when people come begging for a few technical points here and there, and if she'd followed instructions and studied harder and so on...Deena is crying now, explaining that she can't take home a report card without an A in math, and what can she do to make it up somehow, but Mr. Steuben shrugs and says maybe she will do better next semester.
Coincidentally, Clea is also confronting a math teacher, Ms. Alvarez, not because she has not done well on her test but because at the bottom of the test, where teachers make their recommendations for which math track students should be placed in for next year's Freshman Math, Ms. Alvarez has marked Clea down for "Math III", the next-to-highest. Clea is not a straight A student, but always holds her own ground in class and on tests, and feels like she is being treated as if she were unable to keep up, which just isn't so. Alvarez doesn't defend her decision, but says Clea should try the Math III track for a semester and if she still feels like moving up, she can if she has done well. "How about I try Math IV for a semester and if I have problems with it, I can move down to III?", Clea persists. Ms. Alvarez looks at her sharply, "I have watched you coast, and I believe there are people who prefer to struggle and people who prefer to coast. Are you so sure you want to struggle?" Clea is angry and frustrated: "I haven't had to struggle. Look, believe it or not, I can study, OK?? ....if I have to, I mean. I...don't think it will be a problem." To Clea's surprise, Ms. Alvarez acquiesces and marks out the III and pens in a IV and initials it. "Good luck", she says. She has a small smile, like some kind of secret. Somehow this annoys Clea, too. She takes the paper and folds it carefully and briskly, slips it between the pages of her math textbook, slaps it closed, nods, and stalks off down the hall.
She passes Deena, who is crying. Deena crying? Clea glances. She thinks of saying something. It's awkward. Some of the other girls, Ellen and Patty ('Patrice', she calls herself now) and Grace and their friends, recently made fun of the two of them for being sexually ignorant, pronouncing them the finalists in a Sexual Purity Contest. Deena had tried to ignore them while Clea had tried to argue and somehow it came out sounding like Clea was saying she wasn't at all like Deena, which wasn't how she meant it. Also, maybe Deena doesn't like me anyhow. I think Deena is OK. Deena glances momentarily, a split-second of eye contact, then away. There is a moment during which Clea almost goes over to her, but then it has been too many seconds of standing there feeling awkward, so she continues down the hall.
Fifth period, and for some lucky 8th grade Advanced Science students, it is sex education day. Everyone gets a day of sex education in 8th grade Science (which is Biology for everyone), but the bigger classes are split up into boys and girls, but the Advanced class is small enough they aren't going to split it up. Grace is bubbling with giggly excitement. She could already tell you all about mitosis versus meiosis and haploid chromosomes and fallopian tubes and progesterone cycles and testosterone in boys (!!), but they are supposed to talk about something besides plumbing today. The people in the rows next to her are not surprised at her mood. After all, Grace is the one who said she knew what "masturbation" was and asked if anyone else knew. Mr. Teuten comes in, admits that the part of the film about the male body always makes him embarrassed in front of the girls in the class and he is always more comfortable when it moves on to the female body, teases the class about wanting to major in this subject, then dims the lights and turns on the film projector. Grace gets her wish, after a lot of the body-plumbing stuff. The film narrator talks about how girls are put in this predicament where they either have to say yes or no. About how boys will say they will suffer from "blue balls". About how boys will say "if you love me you will". About how girls have the right to say "no". About how it is not good for girls to say "yes" just to please someone else. There is a warning about date rape and the importance for boys to respect a girl's "no" and to report it if a boy won't take "no" for an answer, and you get the impression that the only reason a girl would ever have sex is because some guy pushed it on her. Behind her, there is the sound of snickering as Tony whispers that Grace never behaves that way. Tony himself wonders if Grace likes it. If any girl likes it. Or if only boys like it. He hopes Grace likes it, and that other girls do too. Not that he's done anything YET. He thinks: "I won't be a jerk or anything but they like it if you let them know you're interested." Jerry whispers back that Grace is a slut and a charter member of the kennel club she is such a dog. Grace hears enough of this to feel total horror: "Oh my god do people think I'm a slut, and I haven't done anything??"
Sixth period boys' gym class is over, time to head for the showers. Allan hates P.E., physical education. Rupert, Billy and Tony a few gym-lockers away from him: "Two tits and a cunt, ha, ha, ha, Susie Sparkman. Unhook her bra strap and grab ahold. Watch 'em bounce when she walks. I'd like to get into her pants. God I'd love to prong that. Hey, girls' track wants to wear jock straps. You mean jockettes, ha, ha, ha." Rupert holds a tightly rolled towel between his legs like a giant phallus, everyone laughs, ha ha ha. Grace will, what a slut, should put a Coke bottle up there instead, or how about a banana from my lunch, ha, ha, ha.
Allan just wants to get out of the locker room as fast as possible, yecch, I think I'm going to throw up. Speaking to Allan, a question from Billy, "Hey, Allan dude, do you want to suck Ellen's tits?" (I should answer?, wonders Allan. Is it better to ignore them, or try to think of a clever response?) Too late. "No", says Tony, "He sucks something else." Allan's mind screams: "Oh, great! Leave me alone, let me out of here. I hate P.E. I hate them...why do I have to be in their presence in jockland twice a day with my pants down. Shower. Dress up in jock clothes. Will they throw my underwear in the toilet again? Pick a fight? The coach is not exactly on my side. They call me names: 'Faggot'!" (By now, Billy and Rupert are joking about something else now, and Allan dresses in silence as quickly as possible). Allan continues thinking, "I know what 'faggot' means now. I asked the school counselor. I'm not the least bit worried about them really being, you know, turned on by me or anything, but they might do something gross just to humiliate me which is how they talk aobut sex...well, if anyone ever tries to touch me with theirs or mess with mine, I'll show them why dogs shouldn't corner an alley cat. I don't fight for fun. I'll crush someone's larynx. I'll ream someone's eyes out, and I do mean out, and if anybody tries to make me do what they were talking about, he'll never pee standing up again!"
An hour later, end of the day on campus, D wing is the hallway from hell and Clea must walk it. God I hate them, her mind screams. Billy and Bruce and a bunch of other creepazoids lounging on radiators. Billy Butler, Billy fucking Buttwipe after all these years. "Cleee-a, hey pussy pussy pussy". "You fucking bitch, come here and let me teach you how it's done, ya wanna?" Ha ha ha. Billy is taunting. Bruce is the angry one. "Hey, you a dyke or something, you don't like boys, is that right?" Clea sees pure red, can't put names to all the hostile male faces. Billy, Bruce, that's Tony over there, another guy named Bill, is that guy named Jack? "Hey Clea, I got some catnip right down here", Billy is gesturing at his crotch. Now or never. Now or never. Can't ever cry not ever. If they make it so I can't walk down this hallway they'll make it so I can't ever go anywhere ever again. I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you will you please just leave me leave me leave me alone. Fear. What will they do. I hate you for making me afraid. Clea walks rapidly past Billy before calling back over her shoulder, "You need catnip 'cause you don't have anything else in there, Billyboy". Clea wants to yell something at Bruce too, but what? No way to say I like boys that way without it being open fucking season. Not like he means it anyway. Damn them, damn them, damn them. I'm not ashamed of it, I'm not!!! Need to think what to say next time. Clea continues walking with long rapid businesslike furious strides. Grabs the door handle, yanks it open, propels herself inside, seething, Clea is in a truly vile mood. Slams down in seat, ignores varous stares from others already seated. Others come in. Geography and Social Studies class. Belatedly realizes she needs to pee. Raises hand. "Mr. Anderson, I need to go to the bathroom." A boy Clea doesn't even know says something about maybe she's got her period. Wrong day. The resultant exchange gets Clea a mandatory referral to the Guidance Counselor.
So now Clea and Allan are sitting in the waiting area to see the Guidance Counselor. Allan is there because he wants someone to talk to about the things people are calling him, and because he is tired of being hated and left out of absolutely everything. The counselor is about to advise Allan to try to join in more, especially when it comes out that Allan wants a girlfriend. Even Allan recognizes that no girl is likely to have the opportunity to hook up with him if he is cut off from every crowd in school. Clea, on the other hand, has been sent here. She is "acting out". Disrespectful of teachers. Some concerns about how she is failing to adjust to junior high. Allan is petulant and resentful, yet scraped raw. Clea is still angry but starting to feel a certain glow, it felt good what she said and how she said it. Allan and Clea exchange glances, each feel something that causes them to nod, a mutual acknowledgment. Allan wants to know Clea. Clea wonders a lot of things about Allan. Neither says anything. Anything you say could be flirtatious, let you in for that stuff. We sit in silence until one is called, not to speak in any real way for years and years.
Clea's Kitchen (1998) --
"So there was no way for us to rebel", Clea says, putting her teacup down with an emphatic clunk. "The grownups wanted us to be obedient little vestal-virgins and stay inside shrunken little boundaries they laid out for us, and aspire to less and less. To be bad was to be sexual or wild, and if you were one you were considered to be the other, and to be sexual was to be sexual on boys' terms, those were the only terms anyone knew, which was to be a victim or some kind of prey if you were a girl."
"Yeah, it's like boys were rebelling all along and treasuring what the grownups said was bad, which by that time included sex...boys had laid claim to rebellion and it was boy territory. The girls and girl-pride were all connected with being good citizens instead, and to try to rebel against what was expected by adults was like admitting defeat and that gives the boys dominance. Like being rowdy and free, and also sex and body stuff, is all something they invented, although the way they talked about it, it sounded like shit and farting and other gross 4th-grade bodily preoccupations."
"Well, that wasn't true for me, I was always rowdy and free and to hell with what anyone thought, and they still...it was still horrible for me. As a girl. As a female. You think I was this super-tough chick, I know, but you don't know how frightened I was, or how much they did hold me in check. And I still don't walk through empty parking lots alone if I can help it, and that isn't the old once-upon-a-time Clea." Clea gets up to refill her cup. "Well...last fall I had to, there was this crowd of 7 or 8 men hovering, and I just strode right through them and stared them in the face, any who were looking at me, until they looked away. Other women ask me how I do it and I don't know how to explain. But I don't like it, and I don't do it unless I really have to."
I grin for a moment: yes, this is still Clea! "Clea, I know it wasn't true for you, but you paid the price, right? Same as I did. Our identities weren't anywhere near as hung up in what the rest of your sex and my sex was going through. We caught a lot of hell for being different, but we saw a lot of the mainstream hell from slightly outside. Personally, I think the boys were more fucked up from early on, having to throw so much of themselves, their feelings and all, into a trash can and embrace all that...fecal material. Shit, literally. And sex gets bathed in their shit. Girls get it worse in junior high, puberty and all that, and since sex involves boys they get bathed in that shit too."
"Well, I don't know as how boys 'have it worse' at any age, but this whole thing about how boys think girls have it better and think we are better than boys at a young age... you know, adult men so often complain very bitterly that we think we're 'too good' for them...I tend to think of it as a 'line', and another way to make women feel guilty, 'oh gee I've hurt a man's feelings', but the anger is real. Comes off them like heat off an oven. So maybe you're on to something there."
"Yeah, deep hurts, ancient severe inferiority complexes, and most guys...it's not like they 'won't talk about it', it's more like it was all so long ago, I don't think most guys remember who they were before the rebellion thing, when they first started going around saying and pretending and eventually believing, 'yeah, I'm bad'.
"OK...I'm not much of a fan of "Equal Rants for Men", but I guess I have to admit this is different."
We solemnly clink teacups together, then drink.
Notes and References
I don't really know any "proper" way of handing references for something like this. You don't do references with fiction, but it is customary to do so with theory, and this is fiction in form only, that's just the medium I used this time to craft theory with. So I decided to list relevant work here at the end, with notes, instead of placing links or footnotes or citations in the text itself.
1. The concept that girls are good to get approval for being good girls, while boys are good out of fear of the consequences is my own, so I don't have any specific reference on this theory. I first wrote of this in 1982 and even alluded to it in my incoherent writings of 1980. While discussing it with a clinical psychologist around 1983 or so, I learned that this is an observation that others have made as well--she referred to it as "positive reinforcement" versus "negative reinforcement"--but she did not mention any specific sources. The psychosexual implications of this gendered difference as discussed here are my own.
2. The opening quote from Susan Crain Bakos comes from a book to women trying to make men and men's sexuality easier for women to comprehend. Bakos' observation is parallel with my own observation of the emotional tone and content of male sexuality, and other aspects of the masculinized personality, but whereas I attribute it to the "negative reinforcement" pattern, Bakos treats it as an unquestioned "difference between the sexes". It is in its own right a good description of the forms and manifestations of this "dirty" or "bad" thread that is the sexual masculine. Susan Crain Bakos, Dear Superlady of Sex . NY: St. Martin's Press 1990
3. A fiction book I remember from my childhood, Queenie Peavy, was about a tomboy-type girl and her adventures and misadventures. It ends, sadly and disappointingly, with her discarding her tomboyish ways and becoming demure and feminine. Robert Burch. Queenie Peavy. NY: Puffin Books 1966. The real-life incidence of this happening, of girls becoming feminized and losing their independence, sparkle, zest for life, academic excellence, and so forth is the theme of a recent nonfiction theory book, Reviving Ophelia, by Mary Pipher. Pipher's writes briefly but specifically about the female experience of the "positive reinforcement" half of the paradigm that I am working with in this piece--
"Analysis of classroom videos shows that boys receive more classroom attention and detailed instruction than girls. They are called on more often than girls and are asked more abstract, open-ended and complex questions. Boys are more likely to be praised for academics and intellectual work, while girls are more likely to be praised for their clothing, behaving properly and obeying rules. Boys are likely to be criticized for their behavior, while girls are criticized for intellectual inadequacy. The message to boys tends to be: 'You're smart, if you would just settle down and get to work'. The message to girls is often: 'Perhaps you're just not good at this. You've followed the rules and haven't succeeded.' "
Pipher's attention here is focused on the experience of girls and how adolescent girls are discouraged from excelling in school. Clea in my story, in portions of the kitchen-table dialog, is reiterating this viewpoint. Mary Pipher, PhD. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. NY: Ballantine Books 1994
4. Naomi Wolf's book Promiscuities addresses many themes which I feel mesh in important ways with the dichotomy between good / obedient and bad / rebellious. Like Pipher, she does not theorize about the implications for boys of being identified with the bad as well as the rebellious, but addresses the implications for girls of attempting to experience the rebellious only to be held in check by the specter of being identified with the bad. She also writes about the loss of physical freedom, of intimidation and the loss of open spaces, and I had Clea in her junior high experiences illustrate this both outdoors and in the hallways of the junior high, along with the theme of sexual harassment. Wolf writes compellingly about the double messages for girls regarding sexuality, especially the dichotomy between being sexy and being sexual. She also critiques the omnipresent view of sexual experience that assumes the initiative and the interest in sex will be and always is the boy's, to which girls either acquiesce or say no to, and in my story this theme appears in the sex education class section. Naomi Wolf. Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood. NY: Random House 1997
5. Meaningful references to to the boys' experience with the "positive / negative reinforcement" dichotomy, and with being identified with the "dirty" and the "bad" and how it shapes masculinity and masculine sexuality, are much harder to come by. There are some tangential writings such as Myriam Miedzian's Boys Will Be Boys and Mark Gerzon's A Choice of Heroes, which do delve into the psychosexual characteristics of masculinity as it affects boys themselves, but I did not feel that the things I wanted to say had been said here; and there is an impressive collection of writings about the deleterious effects of the masculine personality structure on men and why men could benefit from stepping outside of it or discarding it, including authors such as Herb Goldberg, Michael Kimmel, and Warren Farrell. These, however, seldom cast much light on the actual process of masculinization and how little boys are shaped into the psychosexual shape we call masculine. Myriam Miedzian. Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence. NY: Doubleday 1991; Mark Gerzon. A Choice of Heroes: The Changing Faces of American Manhood.
6. The explicit experiences of the boy who rejects identification with the "dirty" and the "bad", and/or wished to identify with the "good" and to attain the approval of adults, is also rarely addressed. However, the emotional content for older boys who took such a psychosexual developmental path is excellently addressed in the film Tea and Sympathy, and is also illustrated, if perhaps unintentionally so, in Pink Floyd's The Wall.
7. The explicit experiences of the girl who rejects identification with the "obedient" and is enthusiastically willing to be "bad", is seldom written of, either; the experience is treated as more "diffuse", with the implication that all females experience some of this, that patriarchy and conformity pressures push equally against all girls to discourage them in this. There are many books, films, etc., that mirror the basic events in Queenie Peavy, and far fewer that follow the experiences and the sense of self of the girl who refuses to make such an adjustment. It is commonly asserted that being a "tomboy" does not cast a girl into as isolating and defining a social experience as being a "sissy" does for a girl. The film The Rose is one of the better deployments of the completely unfeminized female at odds with and alienated by the sex role dichotomy between "good/obedient / bad/rebellious" and its psychosexual forms.