Friday, October 19, 2012

On Slutshaming, High School and Why People Are Mean

This post was originally written as a comment for Brenna Yovanoff’s post entitled “The One About How Girls Treat Each Other (Sort Of).” If you want to better understand the story I reference in the 18th paragraph, read Brenna’s post first.

Paragraphs in italics are the questions asked by Brenna at the end of her post.

Have you or your friends ever run up against bullying or harassment? Did you feel like you didn’t know what to do? Or did you just do the first thing that came to mind? Did you do nothing? Something calculating? Mean? Something you wish you had done differently?

There was a near-fight in my Homeroom on Wednesday morning. This white kid – he’s probably a druggie, but in the very least, he’s meaner than a snake – came into homeroom this morning almost raging. He was terrifying. He’s a scary kid anyway, but this was truly frightening. (We’ll call him A.) Then a slacker-jock-disrespectful black boy came in the room (we’ll call him J) and A went BALLISTIC. He started bitching at J that the administration was being racist because while he, A, got detention for calling J a swearword, J, who did the same, got off scot-free because he’s black.

J started yelling (he has no volume other than yelling) at A across the room that he, J, didn’t get in trouble because he just called A a “bitch” after A called him a [insert the n-word here. Yes, he actually said it].

Our usually rowdy homeroom got really really scarily quiet. Our homeroom teacher, a really sweet, energetic, close-to-retirement-but-not-uncaring English teacher, who was on the phone, quickly hung up and tried to reason with the boys as they stalked towards each other. She’s had problems controlling both of them before, and she tried to talk to them for maybe ten seconds before she ran next door to get the coach who teaches History.

Thank God he came in when he did, because J and A were almost nose to nose, and I think they were about to slug it out. Coach came in and pulled the two out into the hall to hear their stories, and all of us in the room still breathed a collective sigh of relief.

It was very very scary.


I have run into bullying many times, but only realized it in retrospect. I have the wonderful combination of poor hearing, lack of understanding of sarcasm, and a thick thick skin, so if I’m bullied, I rarely notice. I notice when people are needlessly picking on others, and I try to stop them, but sometimes, I’m just stuck.

Like in my Economics class, there’s a boy, D, who I have known through Sunday School since kindergarten. I have never liked him because he’s cocky and annoying. However, a group of boys tease him mercilessly in this class. (About stupid things, but mostly about the fact that D’s family has lots of money, and D went to a private school before coming to our public HS. (These kids teasing him aren’t poor, for the most part. We live in a ridiculously, annoyingly affluent area.))

They also take his backpack, and either hide it or turtle it. (Do you know what turtling is? It’s where they flip your whole backpack inside out and then zip it back up with your stuff inside.) I don’t like D, but he just wants to belong, and the others torture him for it. Sometimes my sense of justice wins out and I tell them to stop, but I’m “just a girl” – and their leader’s enemy since fourth grade, to boot. Then their teasing focuses on me until I stare their a**hole leader dead in the eyes until he’s so uncomfortable that he walks away. But I can’t always come to D’s rescue. He’s eighteen freaking years old; he should know how to defend himself. And always being the rescuer – of everyone – is KILLING me. I can’t handle the stress here.

Also, anyone who has any thoughts about the unsettling tendency for girls to attack each other in ways that revolve around the having or not-having of sex, please feel free to share in the comments, because these thoughts—I want to hear them.

Obviously you’re aware of this, but it bears repeating: Teen girls are mean. I try not to judge people (and I definitely don’t torture them) about whether or not they’ve done stuff, just because *I* don’t want to be judged for that either. And most of the time, out loud, I succeed. But in my head, oh God in my head I’m so mean about this. Probably this is due to the fact that my friend group is comprised mostly of brilliant, slightly (read: really) off-the-wall girls who aren’t exactly what most boys want in high school. So we don’t generally get dates, let alone have sex.

But I know girls who have, and I don’t really treat them differently. I just think of them differently. I wonder, were they prepared for it? Do they think it was worth it? And, the question I never ask, because it’s shameful: Was it fun? (Also, I’m such a nosy-butt pragmatist that I want to ask technical questions, like, who bought the condoms, how did you hide that from your parents, where did you do it, WHEN did you do it, etc. etc.)(I also do this to people when I find out they’ve been kissed for the first time by their Significant Other. “I’m CURIOUS,” I tell them. “Is that really such a crime?” I want to know as many different takes on the same thing as possible. If I’m going to write, I need to know what it’s like to date in high school, because it’s looking like that will never happen for me.)(Also, I just want to know EVERYTHING, just to know it.)

Girls attack each other out of jealousy and out of fear. People won’t attack you if you can redirect them to a new target. Also, there’s this worrying trend of addressing people by slurs and renaming it as a term of endearment. I got called a slut and a whore in art today, not in malice. It’s just how one of my classmates (female) talks. We, as girls, are told by our parents to be responsible about having sex. We are told by our school that having sex in high school and before marriage is immoral (I live in Alabama). My Health class didn’t even COVER sex or STDs. All we talked about was stalking and schizophrenia. And we are told by the characters on TV that having sex at our age is normal. If you aren’t having sex, well then, you’re behind.

But in the halls… oh, in the halls, if you’re a girl and you’ve had sex without being in a super-long relationship – and sometimes even then! – you are dirty. You are worthless. You are Going to Hell. If you’re a boy and you’ve done the same, you’re awesome, you’re cool, you’re expected to move on. The double standard is ridiculous, and sad. Sex is normal and natural, and who the hell cares as long as you and your partner are responsible about it and prepared for it?

Also, this pervasive idea that the boy should (will?) save the girl—what is that? Because believe me, Delilah needed very little saving, but it still took Eerie wandering over to defuse the situation, which even now gives me this very frustrated feeling about who is allowed to be In Charge of Things.

Evolutionarily, males are wired to protect their harem. And if it’s a rogue female stirring up trouble, it’s her male’s job to get her under control. If she doesn’t have a male, she needs one as protection from being absorbed into a harem controlled by a male who wants to punish her for her transgressions.

Ugh, just TYPING that makes me sick.

Both genders, all people, want to be in control of their lives. It’s a struggle all people must go through. And part of that is control (of some sort) over your partner. Whether that manifests itself as a protective instinct, possessiveness, trust, or whatever depends on the people involved. If your partner is attacked, that is, by an extension, an attack on you, and you want to make sure that you and your partner are not attacked again. A singleton attack is far more dangerous than a partnered attack, because then the two will want to protect each other. The appearance of Eerie in Brenna’s story showed Jackal and Twitch that SOMEONE valued Delilah, and if they hurt her, they would have to deal with Eerie and his cohort as well, which presumably was a more threatening gang than Brenna, Little Sister Yovanoff, Delilah, and Gypsy were.

And also, I want to believe that none of what I just described in this post ever even happens anymore, but I don’t really think that’s true. So, I want to hear from you guys. About all of it.

When it’s you, you don’t want to say anything for fear of being labeled a bitch. But if you say nothing, you’re a wimp (or worse words). There is truly no way to win. People will judge you whatever you say or do, and you just have to go on your way.

(Many thanks to Emily for proofing this post for me.)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: Origin by Jessica Khoury

I was so excited to read Origin that I pre-ordered it. I'd never read anything of Jessica Khoury's before (this is her debut), and I took a leap of faith. However, that leap paid off.

I got to meet Jessica at this year's Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, Georgia. (Decatur is a suburb of Atlanta.) Unfortunately, the book festival took place the weekend before Origin's pub date. But due to the staff of Little Shop of Stories, there were early copies available to festival attendees.

After a quick negotiation with my mother regarding cost, she allowed me to buy one of the early copies, and I started reading it before Jessica's panel began. Each of the authors on the panel could have easily had their own event, so it felt like it was only a few minutes later when we were queuing up for the signing portion.

I got to talk to Jessica very briefly about how I was liking Origin thus far, and after she signed my book, she posed for a picture. (Also, at the risk of sounding totally creepy, her little sisters were hanging around, and they are ADORABLE.)
From left: me, Z, and Sister, with Jessica in front of us.

I finished Origin the next day, and I was AMAZED at how much I loved it. (I think half the reason I love it so much is because there are no sequels.) Pia was such a good representation of a teenager -- despite the fact that she's more than human -- and besides that, she was smart and powerful and emotionally strong.

Most of what I predicted while reading Origin didn't happen, and for that I was glad.I've mentioned before how much I like to be surprised while reading, which definitely happened during my reading of this book.

It's so hard for me to satisfactorily tell people why I love Origin, without throwing major spoilers all over the place, but I think it boils down to these three points:
  • Pia is a fully realized, fallible, flawed narrator.
  • Origin tells its own story -- it's a standalone, and relies on nothing else. It has to be complete, or it falls apart.
  • The plot has dribbles of both sci-fi and fantasy, without being so enmeshed in either as to alienate casual readers.
I wish I had thought to get an extra copy signed so I could do a giveaway... but I didn't. So I'll just have to tell you (very VERY enthusiastically) to go buy your own copy or check it out of your local library. Oh, and follow Jessica on Pinterest, because she has awesome pins. (That's actually how I found out about her book, but that's another story.)

Description from jacket flap:

The jungle hides a girl who cannot die.

Pia has grown up in a secret laboratory hidden deep in the Amazon rain forest. She was raised by a team of scientists who have created her to be the start of a new immortal race. But on the night of her seventeenth birthday, Pia discovers a hole in the electric fence that surrounds her sterile home--and sneaks outside the compound for the first time in her life.

Free in the jungle, Pia meets Eio, a boy from a nearby village. Together, they embark on a race against time to discover the truth about Pia's origin--a truth with deadly consequences that will change their lives forever.
Origin is a beautifully told, shocking new way to look at an age-old desire: to live forever, no matter the cost.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Why Trilogies Are Not My Favorite

You guys, I really don't like trilogies. I make an effort to finish every series I start, but if it's a trilogy, odds are, I'll never finish all three.I can finish five-book series, even if I have to wait each year for a new one. I can finish duets, sextets, septologies, but not trilogies.

Recently, I was trying to figure out why this is true, and though I didn't come to a definitive answer, I think it has something to do with the fact that trilogies are very formulaic. I don't like reading a series when I can already peg the twist while reading book 1. I read to be surprised, and trilogies rarely surprise me, often because they're set up for maximum delivery of punches and execution of archetypes.

I guess it's not trilogies that I don't like, just the ones I've read recently. I want more books out there to be maximum-impact standalones. (I'll talk about this more on Thursday.)

I don't like it when I can guess the twists. I need to be kept intrigued and off-guard the whole time I'm reading, otherwise I'll become incredibly bored. I need a book that takes the tropes and twists them so ingeniously that the hints are there -- they're just so well-hidden as to be unnoticeable.