Saturday, July 4, 2009

Girlhood and Lost Innocence

Last night I was going through the archives at MommyWrites (You happy few who read this should all go read her stuff; she writes the sort of things I would write if I were cooler.) and came across this post, which led me to this article.

Now, I haven't read the Twilight books (I haven't even read Harry Potter yet; now I'm at least two pop culture phenomena behind. Oh well.) but I am a teenage girl (until November, anyway) so I feel I'm qualified to comment on teen girl psychology.

There are so many points in this article I'd like to pull out and discuss but there is one passage in particular that struck me:

As I write this, I am sitting on the guest-room bed of a close friend, and down the hall from me is the bedroom of the daughter of the house, a 12-year-old reader extraordinaire, a deep-sea diver of books. She was the fourth person through the doors of the Westwood Barnes & Noble the midnight that the series’ final volume, Breaking Dawn, went on sale, and she read it—a doorstop, a behemoth—in six hours, and then turned back to page one as though it were the natural successor to the last page.

Posted on this girl’s door—above the fading sticker of a cheery panda hopping over a pink jump rope, and one of a strawberry and a lollipop (their low placement suggesting the highest reach of a very small child), and to the right of an oval-shaped decal bearing the single, angry imperative STOP GLOBAL WARMING—is a small, black, square-shaped sticker that reads My Heart Belongs to Edward. In the middle is a photograph of a pair of shapely female hands proffering a red Valentine heart. Also taped to this girl’s closed door is a single piece of lined paper, on which she has written, in a carefully considered amalgam of block letters and swirly penmanship and eight different colors of crayon:

Edward’s Fan Club You may only enter if you know the password


Years and years ago, when I was a young girl pressing myself into novels and baking my mother pretty birthday cakes, and writing down the 10 reasons I should be allowed to purchase and wear to the eighth-grade dance a pair of L’eggs panty hose, I knew that password. But one night a few years after that dance, I walked into a bedroom at a party and saw something I shouldn’t have, and a couple of months after that I unwisely accepted a ride to the beach from a boy I hardly knew, and then I was a college girl carrying a copy of Hartt’s History of Renaissance Art across campus and wondering whether I should take out a loan and go to graduate school, and somewhere along the way—not precisely on the day I got my first prescription for birth control, and not exactly on the afternoon I realized I had fallen out of love with one boy and had every right to take up with another—somewhere along the way, I lost the code.

I read that, and I felt...misplaced, almost. Or perhaps divided would be a better word. There is a part of me that understands all the tired skepticism of the coed who knows that guys can be jerks sometimes and girls get their hearts broken more often than not. (In all fairness, girls can be jerks sometimes too, but that's beside the point at the moment...)

Yet at the same time...I still have the code. I can still pick up a story about a bewildered adolescent girl just starting to discover boys and feel for her, deeply, because I still don't know the answers to most of those questions she asks about boys and relationships and grown-up things like that.

Maybe someday I'm going to lose even that last fragile hold on innocence. After all, someday I'm going to get married and then men (in the form of one particular man) will become rather less mysterious, right? And then perhaps I will suddenly realize whatever it is that all these grown-up women have realized.

And yet, and yet...another small quote from the article:

In Prep, the heroine wants something so fundamental to the emotional needs of girls that I find it almost heartbreaking: she wants to know that the boy she loves, and with whom she has shared her body, loves her and will put no other girl in her place.

We all want that. Some of us want it in a sort of desperate way after we've already given the boy everything we have to give. Some of us lack the desperation but still have the need to have someone tell us that there are guys out there who are worth waiting for. We're not waiting because if we don't it will be gross and he will leave us. We're waiting because if we do it will be wonderful and he will love us forever.

Can God have given us all this desire and not meant for us to have some way to fulfill it? Ninety-nine times out of a hundred we mess it up, because we're fallen humans; or the guy messes it up because he's fallen too. But maybe once in a blue moon we who give all the passion in our girlish souls to trying to get it right actually make it. Maybe that is the fulfillment of everything the dreamy teenage girl in us ever imagined. Maybe growing up doesn't have to mean being disillusioned.

To put it another way: maybe all those dreams are a beautiful but fragile flower, and ninety-nine times out of a hundred that gets crushed and destroyed, but sometimes it's protected and left to grow so that what you get in the end is its fruit--not as pretty as the flower but still whole, and sweet.


wisewit said...

As a confirmed cynic and, very nearly, a confirmed bachelor (I haven't given up yet, but I'm getting old. Don't ask how old!), I am, maybe, the last person who should be commenting on this, but something in it rang a chord with me.

I have by now seen many, many idealistic teenage girl romantics. Sure, they are often unrealistic, but there is a vitality to them that seems to make the whole world come alive around them. Then they "grow up," and it's as if some part of them died. I have a hard time believing that that is a good thing. There has to be a way for a teen girl to stop being naive without turning cynical.

The Sojourner said...

There has to be a way for a teen girl to stop being naive without turning cynical.


Em said...

I'm no longer even in the realm of "teenage girlhood", but I know exactly what you mean, and I too feel like I might still be in tune with the "code". (Or at least as much in tune with it as my tomboy self has ever let me!)

At the same time, I feel quite adult too. Sometimes I feel like I've lost a lot of innocence just by living so long. I certainly don't always look at the world with the same childish curiosity that I used to -- now I sometimes wish I could "unlearn" things the world has tried to teach me. Without having to engage in anything, just being a bystander is wearying. I hope it hasn't made me too cynical.

Melanie B said...

I think part of the problem is we live in an age where society at large makes no effort to protect the innocence of children much less of teenage girls. A society in which most people think that innocence=naivite is not really very capable of helping adolescent girls navigate the difficult transition from girlhood to womanhood.

The Sojourner said...


Indeed. And even parents who are trying to help their daughters navigate have a harder time than they used to, I think--culture throws up a lot of shoals and sandbars and things of that sort that make navigating perilous for even the experienced.

Also, a note, just so I have my terms straight for everyone: defines naive as both "marked by unaffected simplicity" and "deficient in worldly wisdom or informed judgement." It defines innocent as "free from guilt or sin especially through lack of knowledge of evil" or "lacking or reflecting a lack of sophistication, guile, or self-consciousness."

Most teenage girls are unquestionably naive (they have some very simplistic if not misinformed views of what romantic love is, for one), and most of them should be, at least until 16 or 17. (In my mind; I'm sure someone could argue for older or younger.)

The question I pose in my post is whether it's possible to lose the ignorance of being naive without losing the unaffected simplicity. Or, in other words, whether it is possible to remain innocent while ceasing to be naive.

Or am I asking too much out of the world? Does all knowledge come from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, such that one cannot learn good without also learning evil and thereby destroying innocence according to its primary definition?

Theocentrica said...

I could say a lot about this. I'd better not.

God help all who have never been naive and have always embraced the wisdom of conscious innocence and real love.
God help those who abandon it.