What Girls Really Learn In High School

Girls learn to be small. To be thinner, quieter, sexless but sexy, willing and more apologetic. More observational, deservedly outcasted and silenced because they’re crazy and disregarded because they’re not. They learn to be beautiful because they fit into one tiny definition of what that means. Loved because they reduced themselves to a life of appeasing others.

They learn that gay men are cute best friends to throw on their arms like accessories and lesbians are disgusting butch dykes. That man tears are sexy and woman tears are crazy. That teenagers are in and of themselves deranged, as their aunts nudge their mothers grinning, “good luck with those teenage years,” as if it’s a time of blossoming to be ordained as such, not embraced. As though letting the reigns loose will always result in complete anarchy. As though defiant girls who want to think and act and be for themselves is the ultimate evil, the most deserved use of our energy.

They’re taught that sex is scarier and more disgusting when done between two consenting adults and deserves more attention than sex trafficking does because which do they learn about more? That their all-loving and forgiving God will banish them if they don’t feel they belong in a hetero-normative family, though, how can you blame them, as they watch their parents trying to escape it by any means.

They learn that the mean girls deserve the title of “mean,” because they aren’t taught to stop and realize that they are hurting too. Maybe more than they can even comprehend. Because they’re the ones acting out on it. That they have unhappy families and burgeoning waistlines and uncertainties about whether or not they’ll ever be good enough to love, just like anybody else.

They learn that people should be boxed into groups, delineated into who is who and made worthy only by those names. Those belittling names. Names they’ll spend the rest of their lives trying to prove to themselves that they’re not. Weird and antisocial and fat and ugly and stupid and lesbian and disgusting and slutty and whorish and annoying.

Those are all names I’ve been called.

And their teachers and guidance counselors and parents, bless their hearts, want to help, but it’s always done with the foundational understanding that they should be guiding them to behave when what they really need is someone to run wild along with them until they find themselves at the far reaches of where their lives push them. They need friends and mentors more than they need disciplinarians. They need truth rather than convoluted lies intended to trick them into behaving. Behaving, which means, to be what other people think is ideal. Become small for them.

Girls are only supposed to be small.

They are taught that though they should acknowledge the ripe fire inside them, the one that wants to be fed with exploration of their bodies and of others, of what it means to be who they are and where their limits lie… that they should resist their urge to defy convention. Because nobody tells them how to explore life with strength and duration and honesty and fearlessness and self-respect and reverence for the sanctity of their beings. And they only sometimes acknowledge that they will explore regardless. 

They learn that they need classes on history and math more than they need to know about their rights and lack-there-of. That learning about the benefits of abstinence is enough to keep them safe. And they aren’t taught that feelings do not make them crazy, therapy isn’t shameful, that they’re probably more normal than they think and more unique than they can understand, that their short skirts don’t account for why that guy did that weird thing they didn’t want them to way back when and that they are not just the summation of what they can do for other people, though that’s what people will expect regardless.

Girls are taught to be small and rise in hatred when they need to be big and rise in love. For themselves, for those who hurt them, for who they were and who they will be, in forgiveness for what was done and in remorse and honesty about the mistakes they’ve made, but with no apology about who they are.

Girls learn that there is a choice for every woman, and it’s whether or not they’re going to constrict themselves or expand themselves. Nobody teaches them that each woman doing so, one by one, will start a revolution. And maybe that’s the most important lesson of all. TC Mark

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