On Adolescent Feminism

[This is an old personal essay from 2014.]

I was not a pretty thirteen-year-old. It drove my mother crazy, but I was the kind of thirteen-year-old who wore plaid bondage pants (with very little conception of what bondage really was) and a dog collar. I had a slightly girlier version of the early aughts screamo boy haircut, and I swore like a pint-sized sailor. In middle school, I was the girl who shoved boys around on the soccer field. I was not particularly feminine or demure. Sometime in seventh grade, my father told me he’d still love me if I were interested in girls–what a lovely show on a father’s part, and what a perfect summary of the kind of thirteen-year-old girl I was.

But I was into boys. I was crushing so hard on Stevo, the drummer from Sum41, that I knew in my heart of hearts that if he could just meet me one day, he’d take one look at me and know that we were meant to be together forever in love (creepy when you think about it, because I was thirteen, and he was definitely in his twenties). I had pictures of Mark Hoppus taped on every notebook I ever owned. I was so ready to be a Woman and have a Boyfriend like I saw in the Movies. I was probably still vaguely referring to the boy I had a crush on in my AIM profile, i.e. ~*~you wouldn’t even know it if you saw me BD~*~

My family went to a nearby waterpark one weekend, and of course I got to bring a friend, and of course there was only one option. My best friend at the time, S, shared all my bizarre affinities. We’d run around singing random lines from Chicago, we once watched the South Park movie 10 times in two days, we spent nearly every night over at one of our houses. If she’d been my size, we would have shared all of our clothing, too, but she was tall and slender to my short and athletic. I wish I could remember more of our crazy inside jokes. I wish I’d saved those awful drafts of fan fiction we both churned out.

We were floating around, yelling and being obnoxious, when these two boys floated over to us. I’ve seen thirty-year-old humans have no idea what to do when approached by the opposite sex, so, needless to say, us thirteen-year-olds were not adept. I’m sure S and I eyed them, maybe smiled, and went right on being weird and loud. I think some pleasantries were exchanged in this first meeting. “Hi.” “Hey.” Giggles ensued. We swam off and went down the water slide. It was thrilling, to be even be seen by boys, but I recall already sensing that this was not the kind of attention I wanted, that something was off here.

They eventually found us again, both parties sticking to the same routine. They approached, we deflected, giggling--but this time, the surface tension broke a bit. “What, are you two girlfriends?” Whichever of them that said it said it with such ridicule, I remember that. I don’t like conflict, I don’t think S did either, and regardless, what are two thirteen-year-old girls going to do when faced, maybe for the first time in their burgeoning adult lives, with that kind of misogyny? We rolled our eyes and wriggled off again. I hazily recall a cat-and-mouse game after that, us kicking our way around the pool in stifled protest, them trying every so often to reengage us. We were thirteen, uncomfortable in our skin, brand new to the world of sexual relationships, and this was not a great introduction.

I could feel it, bubbling somewhere under my surface, that white hot rage of being repeatedly cornered and subjugated. I didn’t like it, the blind confidence of the boys, their sneering, snickering aggression, in direct opposition to my quiet, passive avoidance, an instinct I couldn’t remember learning. And I could feel it pushing my limits, that sense of injustice, that animal instinct of fight or flight, and every time we ran I ground my jaw a little harder.

My family was ready to go, and S and I grabbed the cooler to roll out to the car before everyone else. We left the gates of the park, probably still obnoxiously yelling movie quotes (seriously that was, like, all we did), when I heard them behind us--the boys. I couldn’t believe they’d followed us out of the park. It seemed like blasphemy, like it was one thing to taunt us when we were all trapped in the same pool, when we were both on the safegrounds of the public space-–but to follow us out to the parking lot? Maybe it was a taste of that danger, the same one that makes me eye any man walking alone late at night to double-check that he’s not going to trail me once I pass him. Maybe I’d already pent up so much newfound anger at the way things were that there was nowhere to go but outward. Maybe I got my dad’s tendencies for mouthing off, his inability to fear--but only in halves, as is the nature of genes.

“Hey, come on, we just want to know if you two are girlfriends! Just tell us. Better yet, come back and make out!”

Next thing I knew, I’d dropped my end of the cooler, ice and sodas scattering across the pavement. I spun around and headed for them, courageously yelling at us from a good forty feet away. I was done widening the gap. I wanted to close it, wanted to scream at them, wanted to hit them, wanted to–-I don’t know. Flustered admonishments came pouring out of my mouth, phrases I didn’t even know I had nestled away in my thirteen-year-old brain. “How dare you! You’re the reason, you’re the problem, you don’t even know what kind of pressure women face all the time, and it’s comments like that, they’re the last thing we need from idiots like you!” I wish I could remember exactly what I yelled, or maybe I don’t, because it probably wasn’t very coherent. But I was there, in their faces, yelling, clearly upset, clearly offended. To make matters worse, their defensive response was, “Well you’re a crazy bitch!” But they were backing away. They were finally moving away from us. Maybe they were yelling nasty things as they went, but they were the ones running now.

I was shaking I was so mad. I still shake when I get that angry. It happens more often than it should.