But you know what actually is pissing me off lately? The disdain our society has for teenage girls. I see it in our culture, in our writing, in our words, in our actions, and it manifests all along the spectrum, from annoying to hurtful to malicious. What pisses me off even more is that now that I'm technically an adult, now that I'm a few years removed from teenagedom, I'm supposed to be complicit in this. I'm expected to laugh and roll my eyes in agreement every time someone says something else demeaning about the realm of teenage girldom. And you know what? THAT ticks me off.
Recently, the extremely popular boy band One Direction released a concert documentary, surprisingly directed by Morgan Spurlock (of Supersize Me fame, and many other ground-breaking documentarian projects). When he was asked about the fanbase of the band, Spurlock defended the teenage girls who make up almost the entirety of the group by saying that the characterization of "rabid hordes" was unfair, comparing them to the men who paint their faces and scream in football stadiums.
Which, really, is entirely on point. Do men who scream about football get the same common disdain and disgust that girls who scream about boy bands receive? Nope. Absolutely not. They can put their suits on and go back to work come Monday and have the same respect they're always guaranteed, but teenage girls must be idiots for loving something so much they'd scream about it.
When I tell people that I write for a website called HelloGiggles, they generally have one of two responses: "Ohmygod, do you know Zooey Deschanel?" (answer: nope, but I'm a fan) or "Wowww, sounds like a website for teenage girls." Never mind that I usually preface it by saying I write for a women's website. In the past, when I've been faced with this second response, I'll usually sputter something about how we have a wide audience but the majority of our target demographic consists of twenty-something women like myself.
But I think I'm gonna have to form a new response for every time I hear that.
"So what if it is? Teenage girls are freaking AWESOME."
And they are, and I mean that with every fiber of my being.
I'm sick of things being dismissed as "girly," which has become a synonym for weak or stupid or dumb. I'm so ticked off every time casual conversation uses that as an easy out for comparison, or disdain. The undercurrent of popular opinion is that teenage girls are vapid, stupid, and easily dismissed. And I could tell you how wrong you are - haven't you heard of Malala by now? Don't you know how many adults in the critical upper echelons of society have been firmly won over by Tavi Genison and her readership of young girls? Or maybe you've read about the teenage girl who is converting algae into fuel, or the teenage girls who won their age categories in the Google Science Fair, or the teenage girl who created a phone charger that works in under thirty seconds. There are teenage girls who are world-changers, passionate, smart young people, and they will grow to be amazing adults.
But the issue is that even within the subset of culture that accepts and celebrates this, there is still an othering effect for the teenage girls that haven't proved that they are exceptions to the rule. To be accepted as okay, as worthy of some begrudging respect, teenage girls must go to extraordinary lengths to prove that they're not like the rest of them. They have to prove they're the opposite of the stereotypes held against their gender and age group. And that, frankly, is stupid.
I read a lot of Young Adult literature, both because I enjoy it, because I studied it academically (helloooo, 10,000 word senior thesis on YA heroines), and because I aspire to publish in it one day (hello, 60,000 word manuscript-in-progress). In this genre, there are a ton of New York Times bestsellers that feature strong, intelligent, flawed, human, teenage girls as their main protagonists. But the thing I notice in so many of these books is that to prove this one teenage girl's specialness, she is contrasted with a group of other girls, you know the kind, the regular kind of teenage girls. The ones that do nothing but giggle vapidly and worry about the latest fashions or which boys they can convince to hold their hand.
And like, yeah, sure, there are girls who exist like that, but I'm calling bullshit on this. I know a world full of women who were once teenage girls, and while they might tell you they have matured significantly since those years, we were not all idiots. This just isn't true. And it doesn't do us any favors to promote a film starring a young woman as a lead, but not portray strong female friendships, or to write a book in which only this one girl is okay, and use the easy stereotype of insipid idiot girls to prove that. It doesn't do us any favors when I laugh in agreement at someone's joke about teenage girldom.
While it's true that not all girls are the same, it's also true that not all girls are the same. What might look like one united clone front, screaming at a One Direction concert, actually consists of hundreds of individual persons, each with their own thoughts, ideas, and feelings. I was a teenage girl who scribbled in journals and submitted poetry to be published, and I was a teenage girl who also cried over boys. I bought into the lie that what made me special was not being like "all the other girls," but that wasn't true - because I was just like them, and that wasn't a bad thing. In many ways, I'm still like all those other girls. We may have graduated our teen years, but now the stereotype of the twenty-something girl is that she pines for a boyfriend, blogs her heart out on the internet, and takes way too many instagrams of her face. I do all those things. I don't think it makes me an idiot, and I don't think it means I don't deserve respect.
Teenage girls are a multi-hued, wonderfully varied age group, and I love them. They create, they dream, they laugh, they might get excited, they might get depressed, and they deserve to be treated like they matter. They are persons. They are different from one another in all the ways that humans can be, and they are the same in all the ways that matter. They aren't the butt of one universal joke. They aren't the worst thing to be compared to. I love the teenage girls who write me for advice on getting into college, and I love the teenage girls who tumblr about their fandoms all day long. People mock the pain that teenage girls face, but I remember when I felt like the biggest thing in my world was the boy I liked not liking me back, and I remember how devastating and real that was. There is time to grow and mature, and they will do that. But there's something beautiful about being able to lose yourself in the feeling of a moment, in the resurrection of believing that you really could do anything you wanted to; in the ability to love something so much that you cry just because; in the friendships that form, in the declarations of affections that come so easily so young.
I don't defend just the idea that there are some teenage girls who are not like the rest of them. I declare that no matter what - whether she likes One Direction or Bon Iver - teenage girls are wonderful, crazy, fun persons, and they're not stupid and they're not worth a second of your derision.
Teenage girls are, as a whole, nothing but awesome. And I'll stand by that statement from now til ever.