Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Today, rather serious-minded

Wendz’s post today decided me. For various reasons, not least Dandelion's question as to whether I think young people now have it harder than in the past (still a post in draft Dandelion, sorry, I should just post it and be damned), this incident has been in my mind. I haven't told anyone until now and still know that I'm breaking a confidence and hope that, by changing a few unimportant details, anonymity is preserved.

It was just before Christmas, two years ago. My young friend, the daughter of friends too, was thirteen. We chatted sometimes online, and for the couple of days, I had known that something was on her mind. Delicately, I asked what was the matter. A pause. "Oh, nothing really. Just a stupid pregnancy scare, it's all right now."

Thirteen, remember. We 'talked' for probably a couple of hours. I asked if she was sure she wasn't pregnant, no she wasn't, but had convinced herself she couldn't be. I asked what had happened.

She had visited a friend's house, and a number of other teenagers were there. The parents were out and the kids were drinking. She had got off with a sixteen-year-old boy from school, lots of them were kissing, it got heavier... I was asking personal questions I wasn't comfortable with, with a child who was not my own, but she wanted to confide and I wanted her to face it, acknowledge it to herself and (I hoped) practice telling an adult. He was putting his fingers inside her, then he got semen on his fingers and put them back in her.

I did wonder if she was letting imagination take her here, so asked some specific questions. The answers rang true. Simple, descriptive, how it felt.

I told her that it was not likely she was pregnant from what she had said, but if she was anxious then it was not too late for the morning-after pill. I asked her to talk to her parents or, if she felt she couldn't, to go to the school nurse. A weekly drop-in clinic had recently started, for advice, chat or whatever was needed for students who did not want to go to the doctor. She said that she had been able to cope with writing it down, but talking, face to face, was impossible.

I felt in a real quandary. I knew that I should not keep it secret, but it was such a delicate position that telling her parents could do more harm than good. Breaking her trust would be seen as a betrayal and I hoped that telling me would be the first step to taking responsibility for her actions.

I advised her again to tell a nurse and to talk to her parents. I told her that she must not risk drinking alcohol away from home. With her parents' permission, it was all right at home as she would learn how it affects her. It alters judgement, so that one does not realise one is going too far until it is really hard to stop, and this goes for the boy as well as the girl. Boys are obsessed with sex, I told her, they can't help it. He knew well that he should stop, and it was appalling that he hadn't - and illegal, too, he was guilty of assault, at least - but her judgment was impaired too. She hadn't asked him to stop. I asked if she felt she loved him? No, she liked him but that was all. Afterwards, he'd walked her home, held her hand, been really sweet to her.

I still don't know if I should have done more. She did promise to take my advice, and also to consider talking to her parents. I was going away in a week's time, to spend three weeks in India, and Christmas was in between - at least, I knew, she would be busy with family things for the holidays and she promised to email me if she needed to talk. What I did not do was raise the subject of contraception at all. I strongly felt that this could encourage her to think that it was all right, that I might be condoning this happening again.

So, why did this happen to this child, with loving, united parents, who was cared for and treasured? I'm afraid that I think that it was because she had been encouraged to grow up too fast. She takes acting and dancing classes, she is poised, attractive and outgoing but, actually, it's a cover for quite low self-esteem, common to most teenage girls. She is smiling, charming, eager to please. She wears, and wore even then, very short skirts, low-cut cropped tops, makeup, had an expensive haircut - you might know she was thirteen, but you would still take her for sixteen or more. She does not dress tartily, but quite provocatively. Her mother, as far as I'd ever seen, wanted to be her friend and encouraged her. She loved having an attractive, popular daughter. Her father, a kind man, imposed the household rules but assumed that if his wife approved the clothes, they must be all right.

A while later, I asked if things were okay. She told me they were, but didn't take it further. Later again, her father and I had a chat. She had confided in him and his wife. They had talked it through and (he wasn't specific) agreed some sort of ground rules - largely, this seems to consist of her being honest. Also, she has stopped drinking, even at home. She still dresses the same way, but I guess this becomes less outrageous as she gets older. She has, at present, an elaborately dyed and layered hairstyle that is, actually, very attractive but must have cost a fortune and is way OTT for a fifteen-year-old.

I think it is a shame that she was encouraged, in various ways, to behave beyond her years or her capability to control. Her nice, polite, middle class background made it harder - if she was tougher, streetwise, assertive, she would have been more able, perhaps, to tell the boy to shove off and not abuse her. She is not alone, I know other girls like her. She has so many material things and, thank goodness, she seems to be coping with things reasonably well now, for which I credit her father. But the modern age does these children no favours at all.

18 comments:

Wendz said...

It must have been very hard for her to tell her parents. So good of you to encourage her to do that. I would have cringed facing my Dad about something like that.

I find the world a scary place when I think of my boys growing up. Part of me is so glad they are in a little village school and are still fairly innocent, childish and protected.

Another part of me wonders how they will cope at high school if they havn't learnt to be street-wise. Although they are boys - not girls who are so vulnerable - I still worry about them hitting their teens.

So much to teach them.

Z said...

They have a good relationship, Wendz and they are very caring. But I had, before, thought that they were worryingly complacent.

Dandelion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dandelion said...

I'm not so sure that this is a sign of the times. Men and boys have always been like they are about girls and women, it's just a bit more public these days.

My own teens, some twenty years ago, were a catalogue of this type of thing, including being raped one time (please don't tell my mum).

When you want to be liked, and when you've been taught to be polite, and when male attention is considered a mark of one's value (teenage culture really enforces and rewards active heterosexuality), and when boys are so pushy and feel so entitled, it can be very hard to tell people to shove off effectively, if at all. It's a minefield out there if you're 'nicely' brought up.

And it's really not about how you dress, or if you "look 16" or not -it's about being utterly disempowered just in time to be thrown to the dogs.

I've always thought I'd be utterly embarrassed if I ever had a daughter, to have to explain to her the type of world I'd brought her into. I'd be ashamed. How can you mother and protect a daughter when you're just as vulnerable to it yourself? Wendz said it.

I think it's great that this girl was able to 'talk' to you about it - that's one good thing about the internet - it can put you in touch with sources of support and information that would have been out of reach 'in my day'.

martina said...

You definitely did the right thing. I totally agree with the suggestive way some girls dress these days. My parents would have killed me if I had worn tight, revealing clothing...hey they would be mad if I ever did-even now as a middle aged adult!
Why do some boys think it is cool to wear overlarge baggy jeans so their underwear shows and the hem of the jeans bags up about 3 in. at their ankles?

Z said...

Dandelion, I don't know if 'please don't tell my mum' was meant ironically.

I know, what you say is true. And anyone, whatever age and however dressed, can be raped. But it still seems to me that girls are being 'thrown to the dogs' by their parents, who encourage themselves to sexualise themselves without, it seems, realising the consequences.

I think that my friends have dealt with their daughter skilfully, in that she has not been left with a feeling of guilt and they have somehow managed to steer the line, since this incident, between over-protectiveness and under-protectiveness and this has been done by an agreement for trust and honesty. But they, the mother in particular (just how naive WAS that woman?) happily bought her clothes and encouraged behaviour that made this incident almost inevitable.

And your teens, darling - remember, I'm a generation older than you. I grieve for you too. It started when I was in my teens, although I was far too square to get involved, and has got far more worrying ever since.

Martina - some of them get it so wrong, too. What I love is to see a lad on a windy day battling to walk while one baggy jeans leg wraps itself round the other.

Dandelion said...

Well, z, I agree with you about the sexualisation of girls at an ever younger age, but I just don't think it's right to say that the clothes have anything justifiable to do with experiences like those you describe. Especially given Wendz's point that we're all vulnerable whatever our age or how we dress.

I think blaming it on dressing "provocatively" takes the responsibilty for his actions/desires off the male, which is just wrong.

The answer is not to force one's daugther to dress like a nun, (ie train her even more to be some biddable puppet) but about her attitude, and giving her confidence to set her own boundaries effectively, and perhaps not set so much store by male attention. That's something that a lot of mothers get wrong, in fact, actively undermine for the sake of raising a 'nice' polite daughter, and perhaps because they'd rather not acknowledge the hideous gauntlet of sexual advance that can be expected. Even at thirteen.

ps No, I really meant it. Please don't tell my mum. She'd be heart-broken. :-)

Dandelion said...

pps I blame the mothers of sons.

Z said...

I think that what Wendz said on her post, to which I linked, says what I think, very well. It's all very well saying that anyone should be able to dress however they like and behave how they want to, but the reality is that people respond to the messages they receive.

Of course she should not be shrouded and cloistered, I did not say that. But do you like to see pre-pubescent girls wearing skimpy little crop tops emblazoned with 'sexy minx'? Are you actually surprised, when young girls and women go out wearing very little, get bladdered and go down an alleyway with a lad they have just met, that some of them get raped? They are not asking to be raped. They are not to blame. But they are not taking responsibility for their own safety either.

I have not taken responsibility off the boy. He assaulted her. He knew her age - that is, they were at the same school and he knew she could not have been more than fourteen. If she had been over sixteen, there would still have been no excuse for assault, but in fact, at no time did she say 'no'. Indeed, she told me that it felt good. Because she was under age, she was not legally able to give her consent, so her willingness was irrelevant. However, he did keep enough control to stop short of full sexual intercourse. This does not excuse him, but he is not the same as a deliberate rapist.

I set the responsibility at the door of the parents - why leave fathers out? - of sons and of daughters too. We must teach our children to behave responsibly, to respect each other and themselves.

dharmabum said...

i would tend to agree with u when u say that the times don't help kids - no they don't.

in my immediate society, and i say this coz i been involved with a lot of children in schools oevr the past 3 years, i find children to be in a perpetual dilemma. for, the adults seem to have twin standrads. they say one thing, and do another. somewhere subconsciously, children begin losing faith in adults. and i am talking about normal, 'good' people.

like say, every kid is told not to lie. then there are times when the kids gets the phone and there is somebody asking for daddy, and very casually, the child is asked to say that dad is not at home. conflict.

add to it the media - what with all the fasion and music all around, children today are beginning to think drinking and partying and wild unrestrained sex with multiple partners is 'cool'...

the modern age - is really is scary to me, more so when i think of the kids to come.

but i am glad the girl in question found a caring, responsible adult she could confide in :) really happy!

The Boy said...

To go back to your earlier question, do kids have it harder, I think some things have changed, relaxed, that make it harder.

Looking back at my own life, yes I was a shy lad, but I wasn't unknowledgable or inactive. I also had a lot of far more outgoing friends. None of us, none, would have every thought of getting active with a girl 3-4 years younger. If it was seen going on at a party it would have been jumped on. Period.

Yet I know in talking to friends with teenagers, this age divide seems to have vanished. Older boys seem to take it as a challenge to go out with far younger girls. Thats a relaxation in morals thats just got to be turned around.

I also fervently agree with you Z, that fathers have an equal responsibility to mothers for both boys and girls.

Imperatrix said...

Chiming in late, but I have to say I agree with Dandelion. I am a mother of a 12.5-year-old daughter, so your story was chilling. But there is *no way* that the way a woman/girl dresses should give a male of any age an excuse to rape.

There was a famous case in the US in the 1970s about a woman who was gang-raped in a bar, on a pool table, and the excuse all the men gave was, "she was dressed like a whore." It didn't cut it then, and it shouldn't cut it now.

Let's remember that the reason women wear hijab in conservative Muslim countries is because of the religious doctrine that the devil is in the women, and if a man sees a woman uncovered, then he would be tempted (implying it's not his fault).

I also agree that boys need to learn that no means no. After a kiss, during foreplay, and even after penetration. There's no bullshit I hate worse than someone saying they "couldn't stop" at some point (just think of what would happen if one's 4 year old comes in the bedroom crying with a fever in the middle of intercourse... of *course* one can stop at any time.

I also agree that pop culture today is all about glorifying sex, but this "comment" is becoming a hijacked blog post, so I'll stop.

Imperatrix said...

sorry -- also wanted to say, I think you handled the situation well.

Dandelion said...

"the reality is that people respond to the messages they receive"

Well, yes, I'd agree with this. What I don't agree with is that the tightness or skimpiness of girls' clothing constitutes any kind of general message concerning their sexual availability. That certain men choose to read one into it should be their responsibility.

Otherwise, you'd have to argue that if I wear green, I'm giving a come-on to every green-fetishist out there. I mean, if you're right, I'm giving them a clear message, aren't I?. But I refuse to be made responsible for other people's desires. If men in the street think that the way I dress has anything to do with whether I'm 'fair game' to them, then they have to be disabused of this notion.

Also, you may not be the same as me, but when I do wish to be sexual with someone, it's usually person-specific, and private. To interpret my style of dress as a general public come-on to all and sundry is a)inaccurate (in the case of most women, I think), and b) pretty offensive, because it puts me in a rather vulnerable position. So I must object to it, even if it does seem to be rather an uphill struggle, when even other women think it's understandable for men to put responsibility for their sex thoughts onto me. Women and girls should not have to mitigate for men's sexuality.

I mean, if I misread, or misinterpret something you say, then it's for me to be corrected, wouldn't you say? Especially if there's an explicit and unequivocal law in place to preclude my particular misinterpreation of the message.

Surely no-one can argue that writing "come and fuck me" on a six- or even fifteen-year-old girl casts doubt on what she consents to? People (men) are reading what they want to read into these girls' behaviour - to present it as anything else is rather disingenuous.

I think we're all trying to gloss over the basic but uncomfortable truth that men and boys can be sexually attracted to 15- (and 13-) year old girls, in some cases even more so than to grown-up adult women. It's dodgy, but no-one wants to address it.

And I think we're also trying to gloss over the uncomfortable fact that teenage boys in particular tend to follow their penises. It doesn't matter if you're a good kind intelligent funny teenage girl, if a boy thinks that he could, then that's who he'll pay attention to. That is a big part of what drives these girls' behaviour.

That skimpiness is rewarded with attention and popularity kind of supports this notion. But it doesn't say anything more than that these girls want to be liked and accepted. If there wasn't a reward in it for them, they wouldn't feel the need to go down that route. If they feel they have to wear a "fuck-me" t-shirt to get anyone to pay attention to them, then that's very sad, but there is a good reason for it: boys' behaviour. Parents of boys have a lot to answer for.

What I think as women we find disturbing about these girls is that it only takes one to sell herself cheap and reap the rewards, and all the rest of us get devalued.

Z said...

Dandelion, you are right morally, but one of the duties of a parent to a girl child is to protect her. I believe that we have to acknowledge what happens in real life, as well as protest against it and try to change it.

The first time I've ever been close to taking offence at anything you have said is 'you may not be the same as me, but when I do wish to be sexual with someone, it's usually person-specific, and private." Come on, we're not getting personal here and that is borderline insulting and certainly hurtful.

We agree in respect of everything except the responsibility of a girl's parents to tell her not to dress and behave to drive adolescent boys wild with lust. You think it's up to the boy's parents and not the girl's, I think it's the responsibility of both of them, as well as the youngsters themselves. I think that making it the boy's fault only is to teach the girl that she is a potential victim who has no responsibility or control over her own safety.

There is no excuse for rape and I'm not letting males off the hook. I talked about one specific case and I can't say more than I have - she would already recognise herself, so would her parents and if I have any reason to suspect that anyone who knows them finds this blog, I would remove the whole post. I may, anyway, this has gone way further than I meant it to.

A child wearing a 'fuck me' t-shirt doesn't mean it. But, like it or not, it sexualises her. This girl didn't look like a child, she was slender with a well-developed bust and slim waist. She shows off her bum, her waist and her cleavage in her dress. I was already anxious about her. About this time, two people I knew with daughters of her age - 'working class' (I loathe class stereotypes and mention it only to point out that it was not on 'class' ground) - refused to let their girls out with her because they feared for their safety.

If a woman of 18 or over chooses to wear a short skirt or none at all, that is her business. But this was a child. She had no idea of the danger she was risking. She was happy to kiss the boy, to lie down with him, for them both to half-undress. She never said 'no'. He was still wrong. I am not letting him off the hook.

Imperatrix, you are right too, and I am sure that you are only too well aware of the problems of adolescence and will protect your twelve-year-old as well as you possibly can, whilst letting her have her freedom to grow and mature in her own way.

And thank you for your second comment - I'd like to make it very clear that I gave no suggestion whatsoever to the girl that she had led the boy on, dressed inappropriately or behaved badly. I put the blame squarely on him and pointed out the danger of alcohol in letting down inhibitions and fuzzing judgment.

Dear Dandelion, or anyone else, this is all I have to say. You are welcome to comment again, but I've done with the subject.

Dandelion said...

Dear z

That remark was tongue in cheek, I didn't mean it literally, and I certainly didn't mean to cast aspersions on anyone, least of all you. I'm sorry if you were offended, but that really wasn't how I meant it.

I actually do agree that it's the responsibility of both lots of parents - I just think teaching boys to not read sex messages where none exist feels like a higher priority for me. But I do think the notion that girls or women should have to hide their body shape because males might take their very body as a come-on is a bit dubious. That's all. I know I'm a lone voice in the wilderness on this one, but if I could change one thing in the world before I die, that would be it.

I'm sorry.

Z said...

You're not alone, you are right. I think you are idealist and I'm a pragmatist, that's all.
And no apology necessary, honey.
xx

Dandelion said...

Yes, I have been told that before :-) I can't help it.
Thanks z