There is something profoundly wrong with our society here.  Listen to my teenage daughters, and they will tell you tales that will make your hair stand up on end.  From the age of 12, your success is determined by the number of boys you have “pulled”.  Whilst at this age, pulling may only involve kissing, by the time they are fourteen the activity has escalated through blow jobs to full sex.  All of it indulged in through a mist of alcohol, and often taking place in alleyways or parks.  In London the alcohol is supplemented by weed.  Girls go to school nurses to arrange contraception, morning after pills and then to deal with unwanted pregnancies.  The police and a local church pick up limp paralytic dummies that were earlier bright girls.  Vomiting, their makeup spread over their cheeks, this is supposed to be what they wanted.  Numbed. 

Boys are cool if they have had sex.  I suppose it was ever thus.  They announce, aged thirteen, that this summer they are going to get laid.  And they will, because there will be some willing girl, with a tossed over fringe and a Jack Wills T shirt who will have so far lost herself that she somehow concludes that a blow job will bring her more than it brought Monica Lewinsky.  She concedes all her power, hands it over.

The cohort that I know most about are privileged girls being privately educated, at single sex girls’ schools, at co-educational day and boarding schools.  Those being educated in all girls schools lag behind a bit, and more escape the pressure to conform with the male fantasy of easy availability.   Sometimes, waiting for my daughters after school, I watch these girls in their identical uniforms and free.  Free to be who they want to be, free to excel at Maths and Science, free to play musical instruments and sing in choirs.  Free to run about like the children they are.  Free, just for a few hours, from the relentless pressure to conform. 

For at mixed schools the pressure is relentless.  You are either popular and sexualised, or geeky and a failure.  But when did it become cool at fourteen to announce on Facebook that you’ve lost your virginity?  Why do you think you only look attractive when you are pouting your glossy lips into a camera through black windowframes?  Why do you need to be a hollow object for rampant teenage boys, sexual on the outside and empty inside?  When did it become cool for a girl to greet her friend with “Yo, bitch!”.

I despair sometimes.  All I can do is to try to help my own daughters steer a path through the sprawling, intoxicated bodies.  My daughter tells me the behaviour is “normal”, by which she means that most girls do it.  We talked about whether “normal” is “desirable”, and I reflected afterwards that perhaps they wanted to tell me about these things because they are as shocked as I am and it helps to hear my reaction which supports their uncertain resistance to this way of being.

We talked about the children (yes, children) having no place to go to meet up.  But providing a meeting place is not the solution, they say, because it needs to be a meeting place where the girls can drink to excess and then give the boys what they want, and what adult is going to tolerate that?

Perhaps things are not much different than when I was growing up in a small market town of 3,000 or so people.  The Sea Scout Master used to arrange monthly discos in the Sea Scout hut.  They were sordid affairs, looking back.  Mattresses were arranged around the walls, and by the end of the night the floor was swimming in beer.  There was a group of girls in my class who were much more desirable than me, and they circulated amongst the coolest boys.  I hung around at the side – and part of me would have loved to have been as popular and accepted as these girls who were taller with longer hair.  The discos were populated by the pupils of only two schools – the girls grammar school and the local private school for boys which allowed in a trickle of girls insufficient to meet the voracious demands of the boys.  One or two interlopers were allowed in from the secondary modern school, and almost every disco was temporarily interrupted when two boys from a notoriously troublesome family tried to gain admission and were refused and violence broke out as they tried to force their way in.  Tribal.  It wasn’t long before one brother was dead of an overdose and the other banged up in prison.

Inevitably that trickle of girls were on hand to satisfy the boys.  And now, thirty years later, I can see, in the women those girls became and whom I’ve known for that long, the hunger and twisted thinking that pulled them towards those too-early sexual experiences.  Boys are sexually attracted to me: I am OK.

It didn’t stop there, though.  Believing what they did, believing what others wanted them to believe, they needed to insist on their view being held by all of us.  The rest of us were left to wrestle with the opposite view which they imposed on us.  Boys are not sexually attracted to me: I am not OK.  I am only fourteen or fifteen.

Much of what happens now would not happen without alcohol.  You need alcohol to remove the sobriety that knows that this is deeply damaging and futile behaviour.  But alcohol is only the drug of choice used to numb the unhappiness that is the root cause.  Take away the alcohol, and the girls would have to look clearly at what they are doing, but they’d still have the hole inside.

This, from the Guardian today.

The government yesterday faced fresh calls to increase the price of alcohol, after research showed young people in the UK reported some of the highest levels of teenage binge drinking, drunkenness and alcohol-related problems in Europe.

British girls aged 15 and 16 are binge drinking more than their male classmates, with fresh evidence that their behaviour is contributing towards high rates of teenage alcohol-related accidents and unprotected sex. Yet British teenagers were the most likely to claim that they expected “positive consequences” from drinking, such as “forgetting my problems”.

The European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (Espad) is the most detailed international study of its kind, covering teenagers’ drinking, smoking and drug-taking habits in 32 European countries. The UK sample involved 2,179 teenagers: 1,004 boys and 1,175 girls.

The study was carried out in 2007 by the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol. Professor Martin Plant, who led the exercise, said: “The UK retains its unenviable position in relation to binge drinking, intoxication and alcohol-related problems amongst teenagers. This problem is both serious and chronic. I hope that the government will prioritise policies that are effective to reduce heavy drinking and alcohol-related disorder and health problems amongst young people.”

Read the rest here.

[and more: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/jan/29/teenage-drinking-plan; http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/mar/27/binge-drinking-teenagers]

The debate about whether single sex education is better for girls will rage long after my daughters have benefitted from it.  I am not persuaded by arguments that mixed education reflects the real world and, it follows, is therefore preferable.  School is not the sum total of a child’s experience.  Children belong to families.  Girls have brothers, fathers, grandfathers, cousins and their families are friends with other families with sons.  Girls take part in activities and sports outside school alongside boys.  This outside world is the real world.  Expecting schools to provide all the education – academic, religious, social, emotional – absolves parents and our wider society of responsibilities which belong to all of us, not just those paid to teach. We may be keeping our daughters safer by educating them apart from boys, and helping them create less traumatic and more respectful histories for themselves, and we may be fortunate to have the means to do that.  It may be our small gesture of rebellion against the standards those who do not have their interests at heart would wish to impose on them.  Perhaps I should do more.

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