This is unfortunately, a true story, written in October of 1985, while the writer was 17.
Dedicated to Jason Filardi and John Hughes.
“The Double – Edged Sword”
“Come on Claire, tell us, have you ever done it?”,
Claire hedges, not wanting to answer, yet mesmerized by the mounting peer pressure.
“You can tell us,” chant the other four, “we’re your friends.”
Allison separates herself from the all too eager group, and pauses, “it’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it Claire; you’re a Prude or a Tease if you don’t, and a Slut if you do!”
Above is an excerpt from the teenage movie, “The Breakfast Club”, released in the summer of 1985. However short this scene was, its underlying theme implanted a tiny seed in the back of my mind. Personal experiences and subsequent relationships with males seemed to nourish this little idea, as would water and sunshine to a young flower. The whole concept of a double-edged sword troubled me, and led to a good deal of unanswered questions. Just how do the young women of modern society fall prey to these evil-categorizing vultures? I have to come to believe that one simple date with a boy nowadays tosses a girl on either side: the Prudes and Teases on one, and the Sluts on the other. There are no compromises, no in-betweens, either she does or she doesn’t. Unfortunately, these labels yield one conclusion: the girl never wins!
During my time in high school, a typical pattern uneasily developed when I was meeting a lot of new guys. I had the usual overload of female and male friends, and we all indulged in prescribed activities: parties, concerts, cook-outs, beach outings,and road trips. I thought it was of small importance when a male “friend” asked me to go with him to a party. I thought this guy was a nice person, and enjoyed the easy-going friendship that we shared. Well…..it seems that the moment I stepped into his car, he thinks that my previous “friendly” conversation meant a little more, as he begins to make his move. If I say “No”, I risk losing his friendship and proceed to get labelled a “Prude” (or a “Tease” if I accidentally excited the poor adolescent and failed to carry out his idea of a good time). Should I say “Yes”, however, I not only risk creating a bad reputation for myself as a “Slut”, but our previous friendship is destroyed as egos, reputations, whispers, and rumors are whipped around in a swirl of high school confusion. So, what started as an innocent ride to Susie’s party threatens to become a nightmare of labels and categories.
Example number one emerged from a conversation with a sincere male friend of mine. He mentioned another friend of mine, and ended with, “You know, Michelle, Mark always thought you were a prude, kind of square.” I replied, “You must be mistaken, Mark gave me a few rides, here and there. Sure he’s a nice guy, but he didn’t hint around or make a move towards me. How could he think I was a prude?” My friend only answered with, “That’s exactly it….he feels you weren’t receptive to his signals.” “Oh really”, I said dryly, “Next time I’ll know not to say, ‘Gee, Thanks for the ride Mark’, but I’ll instead throw off all my clothes the second I jump in the car to show my appreciation.”
The irony in this silliness with Mark led to my dismayed reaction in example number two with Matthew. He and I shared a few high school classes. One day, a conversation with yet another male friend revealed this interesting rumor. “Michelle, you know Matthew always thought you were a tease”, said my friend. I groaned silently. “Now really, how did he form this judgment?”, I questioned. “Well, I dunno, the way you acted…. the way you made him feel….the things you said….”, my friend trailed off. I replied, “How wonderful that I have this control and influence over Matthew.”
I was beginning to feel resentful of the ignorant labelling that guys seem obsessed with, as if it were some tribal ritual. Since I could not realistically change the situation, anger led to helplessness. A distressing example number three arose during a reminiscence of my sophomore year, when I had befriended several senior guys, known as “The Men”. (note to my young self, this is a hint and a half for your ass). It seems one of the guys, Jon, supposedly my friend, took it upon himself to spread these incredible (and completely untrue) rumors of he and I having a consuming love affair. When I learned how he implicitly labelled me a “Slut”, I was shocked and amazed. This was the limit!
How could three boys paint such vivid extremes of me, and thus allow me to unwittingly fall into these despicable category traps. I am not going to analyze some psychological process, nor explain the boys’ incessant stories: I am sure that even in primitive cave dwellings, the first vestiges of “locker room talk” were taking form. There are no real satisfying solutions to what I believe is an injustice towards young women. I refuse to start some Anti-Label Crusade; an ignorant guy will think of a new stereotype for me, the “Frustrated.”
Claire screams out to the group before her, “No! I never did it.”
Me too Claire, me too. I could not trust any boy in high school. Eighties, baby, they were interesting!
In hindsight, I am glad that I had a very protective Italian father, who scared everyone away. It’s true! He always told me, “Once you lose your reputation, you can never get it back”. Thank you to Scary Larry, Stormin’ Norman, and Captain Stubing for keeping my idealism intact!