And with that, I became a woman. My transition from prepubescent girl to awkward young woman was pretty unique, and certainly memorable.
I’ll back up, just to set the scene.
I was at one of those awful-but-awesome middle school dances, where your parents drop you off and you find your circle of giggling girlfriends along the bleachers. When a slow song would come on, you’d snicker and snort your way over to a boy of your choice (or, hopefully, be approached by said boy) and then down the long-armed side-to-side shuffle that constituted a dance. You’d find several other “couples” doing the same thing and turn your attention to the girls, talking to them about anything other than the dance, and when the song ended, you’d walk back to your bleachers and start the whole thing over.
Back to the transition.
I don’t remember exactly what grade it was — 7th? 8th? — but I do remember the moment that two boys came up to me at that dance and uttered the phrase that would start a remarkable chain of events.
They said to me,
“Your breasts look like grapefruits”
and then started to laugh and point. They got up in my face and started pulling my hair and poking me in the sides.
Now, I had developed earlier than other girls, but I wasn’t a freak. I just had the beginning of breasts, and no clue what to do with them. So when those boys said what they said, and violated my space, I just reacted.
I pushed one of the boys so hard that he went flying through one of the wall-sized windows that made up the school foyer.
And then I froze. Glass was everywhere. People came running from all over the building. Teachers pulled us all aside and, yes, the police were called.
It was an accident. The boy was shocked, but fine. I hadn’t meant to push him into anything, just away from me.
And while I remember the incident clearly, I don’t totally remember the consequences. Was I punished at home or by the school? I’m not sure. Did the boys and I become friends after that? Don’t recall. I don’t even remember which of my classmates it was, although in hindsight, I truly believe they were just being prepubescent boys themselves — maybe even just trying to flirt.
What’s funny is that as much as this event changed my life and shaped me, I haven’t thought about it in years. But this weekend, I finished Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” on loan from my BFF Jackie who reviewed the book on her MomJovi blog (“Tina Fey, Call Me!“). The book was amazing — her voice, both as a woman and a comedienne, spoke to me. Her memories made me laugh.
But this passage really made me THINK:
When I was writing the movie Mean Girls—which hopefully is playing on TBS right now!—I went to a workshop taught by Rosalind Wiseman as part of my research. Rosalind wrote the nonfiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes that Mean Girls was based on, and she conducted a lot of self-esteem and bullying workshops with women and girls around the country. She did this particular exercise in a hotel ballroom in Washington, D.C. with about two hundred grown women, asking them to write down the moment they first “knew they were a woman.” Meaning, “When did you first feel like a grown woman and not a girl?”
We wrote down our answers and shared them, first in pairs, then in larger groups. The group of women was racially and economically diverse, but the answers had a very similar theme. Almost everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them. “I was walking home from ballet and a guy in a car yelled, ‘Lick me!’” “I was babysitting my younger cousins when a guy drove by and yelled, ‘Nice ass.’” There were pretty much zero examples like “I first knew I was a woman when my mother and father took me out to dinner to celebrate my success on the debate team.” It was mostly men yelling shit from cars. Are they a patrol sent out to let girls know they’ve crossed into puberty? If so, it’s working.
**Thanks to http://bibliofeminista.com/post/4643660732/excerpt-from-tina-feys-bossypants for the excerpt
My experience wasn’t nasty in the way that Tina’s describing. It was insensitive and childish, but I wasn’t assaulted or even made to feel negative about my body. For me, at a young age, it was just a sense that I was different, and it was because of my breasts.
Since then, of course, I’ve had much more disturbing things happen — men honking car horns when I cross the street; leering men staring at my chest at the mall (seriously, it’s almost a game now…how long until the guy makes eye contact?)…I know I’m not alone, and I can’t even say it bothers me. It makes me laugh, sort of wryly.
But is Tina via Rosalind right? Do we as a society teach our girls to recognize their womanhood through a series of body-conscious and “nasty” experiences? When did you first know you were a woman? (or, if you’re a man, when did you first sense a difference between you and your female friends? how did you react?)