There were a few weeks in 2010 during which I could not get away from this ad. It was among a slew of such ads, including the similarly viral, “idk, my bff jill?” and many others. Although the kind of language parodied in this ad has now been assimilated into more mainstream slang (as per the trend of teenage girls standing as important linguistic innovators) everything about teenage girls and their culture remains the butt of jokes nationwide. In the above Allstate commercial, for example, Dean Winters mocks the “emotionally compromised” teenage girl who represents the kind of “mayhem” the advertised insurance might protect drivers against. He waves around a bedazzled flip phone (as was the fashion of the time) and in his gravelly man-voice talks about how the teen girl he’s portraying’s bff kissed the boy she likes and now they have a problem. This ad was widely regarded as hilarious, and the joke was teenage girls. The joke wasn’t even on teenage girls, it was teenage girls. For a man-voice to be speaking such unbelievable frivolities as jealousy and friendship was the punchline of this ad. Women and girls of all ages have it pretty rough in this patriarchy but we have a special category of misogyny for belittling, devaluing, and generally being terrible to teenage girls.
When I heard about the age change for sister missionaries, I was thrilled by the new energy for young women and their potential. At that point, I knew that I definitely wanted to serve a mission, even though it was a little ways off yet because I wanted to wait until I had graduated from college. In the time between that announcement and now, six weeks before I enter the MTC, I’ve come to realize with ever-increasing apprehension that most of the other sisters on my mission will be younger than me. Only about three years younger, but three really big years. Many of my companions will probably be moving out of their parents’ house for the first time. This realization has brought me a great deal of angst. I keep picturing perky, “conventional,” naive BYU types who I could never get along with. Upon reflection and lots of anxiety about spending time with people I supposedly have nothing in common with, I have come to realize that I’m suffering from some serious Girl Hate, which is taking the specific forms of Teenage Girl Hate and Not Like Other Girls Syndrome. I’ve outlined Teenage Girl Hate above a little bit and Claudia Gray gives a great discourse about Not Like Other Girls Syndrome on her blog, from which I’ll quote:
“It saddens me to see girls proudly declaring they’re not like other girls – especially when it’s 41,000 girls saying it in a chorus, never recognizing the contradiction. It’s taking a form of contempt for women – even a hatred for women – and internalizing it by saying, Yes, those girls are awful, but I’m special, I’m not like that, instead of stepping back and saying, This is a lie…
The real meaning of “I’m not like the other girls” is, I think, “I’m not the media’s image of what girls should be.” Well, very, very few of us are. Pop culture wants to tell us that we’re all shallow, backstabbing, appearance-obsessed shopaholics without a thought in our heads beyond cute boys and cuter handbags. It’s a lie – a flat-out lie – and we need to recognize it and say so instead of accepting that judgment as true for other girls, but not for you.”
(quoted from this excellent article)
I have been struggling with my own fictional Other Girl, this naive, boring BYU type who is totally different from me. The truth is that this girl doesn’t really exist. Sure, there are lots and lots of girls at BYU who love watching Frozen on a Friday night but only if they couldn’t get a date with David Archuleta and these girls might be my companions. However, the idea that those girls are any less interesting, smart, or cool than me is a girl-hating lie invented by the patriarchy. Watching Frozen all the time is a completely respectable life choice (and, come to think of it, probably has some great sisterhood-inspiring lessons about getting along with companions) and David Archuleta is legitimately adorable and I’m proud of the Mormon Girl Community for exploring their desires, which is usually a forbidden territory for young women. My anxiety about getting close with younger, more culturally stereotypical Mormon girls is all the way based in Girl Hate and is of no use to me.
My favorite remedy for Girl Hate is intensive Girl Love. And why shouldn’t I love girls? Girls are amazing. Remember who loved The Beatles before it was cool? It was teenage girls. Remember who popularized a way to convey facial expressions really efficiently using a keyboard, an innovation which continues to impress and delight me? It was teenage girls :). Remember who invented science fiction? A teenage girl, specifically Mary Shelley who started writing Frankenstein when she was 18. Teenage girls are given a really intense, challenging lot in life and I’m impressed that anyone survives it. Heck, I’m impressed that I survived it. And we did, and continue to survive teenage girlhood, an intense and deadly war zone, being rad, cute, deep, super smart and hardworking, caring a whole lot about almost everything, and always on the cultural cutting edge.
I also know that the slow and strange transition from Teenage Girlhood to Grown Womanhood all too well as I am reaching the Grown Womanhood end of it right now. It’s an amazing process, and being part of that journey as other people experience it is incredible. I especially know that having (even just slightly) older women supporting me through that process was central to my ability to survive it and the idea of being able to pay that support and mentorship forward even a little feels like an amazing honor. And, of course, the sharing of wisdom won’t be a one-way street at all. Before I enter a community where most of my peers are starting at 19 (whereas I’ll be an elderly 22) I need to learn that that everyone, especially the sisters I have been called to join ranks with has wisdom, knowledge, and life experience I don’t have. From my trainer to any greenies I may be partnered with, my companions will be a series of girls and women who have so much to teach me and so much to learn from me regardless of who is older in the mission or in real life. The young women I’ll be with will have things to teach me because, not despite, of their age. According to Zen Buddhist writer Shunryu Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” I’m officially committing to do my best to overcome my internalized Teenage Girl Hate and open up to the many possibilities my (slightly younger) fellow sisters will bring to the table.