I have just watched a child’s video on her youtube channel. Her theme is studying for exams and with her dyed hair and scarily insecure eyes, she enacts charades of procrastination, masturbation and other weird things ending in -tion. I have watched a full thirty seconds before feeling uncomfortably like I was colluding in some weird form of self abuse.
It is only thirty three years ago that I was that age. Yes, that is a lifetime, but also, in the scheme of things, it wasn’t that long ago. We would do the skits she is doing in that video, to each other, while lying in beanbags in the sixth form common room, or on the floor of a bedroom or in a park. She is doing it in front of a phone camera, by herself, in order to entertain people she has never met, who I guess, she feels as a pressure – a Gloria Swanson-style imagined audience of people mad for her.
I was trying to understand her. She seems scared. She seems desperate. She seems sad. She has that quaver in her voice – when we stand in front of an audience, or we’ve been called out by a parent for lying. She looks happy. I think: what are her parents thinking? I mean – allowing her to have a youtube channel, allowing this amount of time to be spent on something as strange and nuts. I am thinking of writing in the comments: ‘Read a book!’
I have just watched the thirty seconds of this because…she is a girl who has just started a rumour about one of my girls. My girl is strong. My girl achieves. She is brave. She is cool. She walks through the world in charge of her life and confident in her choices. She is private. She has a core group of friends who she protects and who protect her. She has a cool boyfriend. They both wear black to parties, but come home early from said parties to read piles of Asterix books and eat sausage rolls in bed.
When she tells me about the rumour (and it is unpleasant), I become Medieval in my outlook. I don’t know who the girl is, but I want to go round there and take my flip flop off and slap her round the chops. I want to challenge her to a dual. I want to…but my girl says – ‘I don’t bloody care’. It occurs to me that I am outraged for the wrong reasons. Of course, there is the potential hurt my girl might feel – that’s bringing out the tigress stuff. But what outrages me more is the insidiousness of the accusation.
Teenagers are essentially Victorian in their morals. And when I say Victorian, I mean with the hypocrisy that that implies. They sleep around, take the drugs, do the worst things, but are then the first to point the finger, start the rumour, besmirch a good name. The rumour about my girl is that she was ‘seeing’ a boy when he was going out with the youtuber. It’s not true. Of course it’s not. She was at home, studying. She was working on speeches for her role as Deputy Head Girl. She was sleeping mostly. She only started partying once exams were over. And even then, it was with her boyfriend. But the thing is – what does it matter?
It matters to me. Here’s why. When I was seventeen, I kissed someone else’s boyfriend at a party. It was a terrible thing to do, I guess. They had only been going out for a few weeks – and I made a play for him because I fancied him. That was the bottom line. I thought that my attraction to him was just as valid as a boy’s attraction to a girl. I was wrong. Somehow, by making my feelings known and kissing him, I was now a slut. He was truly gentlemanlike and said it was all his fault. It was he who had kissed me. Lovely Nick. But it wasn’t. I kissed him. Because I wanted to. The Monday morning, after the Saturday night, was hell. I still remember the walk in to school and Sarah, his girlfriend, surrounded by all her friends by the lockers. One of them called me a slut to my face. We did things more honestly back then. It blew over within a matter of days, thanks to Nick stepping up and being a good boyfriend.
I find the whole 17 year old maelstrom tiresome. I find it outrageous – it is girls who get it in the neck, as always. There is an unsaid morality that girls are to blame – why? Because girls should be pure? Because girls should know better? It’s Victorian in its outlook all right.
But watching the girl this morning, I realised that we all have a responsibility to defuse it. My girl is right – not caring about it all is the best way. But we can do more. We can decide not to fuel the fire. We can decide to actively put it out. Encourage our daughters to be their best person. As mothers – we can be kind and decent and set the example of being our best person too. Open our homes up to all the teens and ask them to lie on the grass here and talk to each other.
Realise that just because it’s there, you don’t have to watch the youtube video. You can be kind. You can be in the world. You can simply be elsewhere, enjoying life.