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The 21st Century Twelve-Year-Old Girl
How this article came to be (There had to be a story.)
This article is dedicated to “Girls Rule,” a pair of twelve year old girls who contacted me through my website. Their big argument with me was that my book, This Bird Flew Away, is not just suitable for women eighteen and over, but is just as suitable for them. The first question to fly off my fingers – after 'how did you get a copy of my manuscript?' – was 'does your mother know you’re writing to me?' She did, and although she will remain nameless in this article, she was one of my advance readers.
“I would suggest that any mother of an adolescent girl share this book. Not only did my daughter completely relate to Bria, her adventures and her trials, but the rape scene was so well written and showed us the fear, pain and confusion of the poor girl, it gave us the perfect opportunity to discuss rape, the dangers we face and all the attendant issues. For this I thank you"
And that’s how it began, my roller coaster ride with “Girls Rule", and a guided exploration of the world of the 21st century twelve-year-old girls.
“At twelve girls are still children. They act like children, talk like children and think like children. And they are helpless like children. You grossly misrepresent the abilities of twelve year old girls, and portray them as older than their years. It is stories such as yours that destroy childhood as a time of innocence. No twelve year old should have to think about this stuff.” – a comment left on the Your Story page of my website.
In response to this comment, I wrote an article for my blog site “Yours Sincerely, Lynda,”in which I highlighted twelve-year-old girls in the news, around the world. This commenter may think girls of twelve are helpless children, but the world does not.
"We loved your blog The Truth About Twelve Year Old Girls. We are not 'children' and we have plenty of abilities… My mom and I talked about the rape scene, and I wanted to tell you that you did a great job of explaining her feelings without giving a lot of detail. So you know, it is a really good story for younger girls too. Bria was so cool, so strong and honest. I felt like she was how I'd like to be. We girls can and do understand these things. I don't think there is anyone my age that doesn't know about sex and rape and what can happen in the world. Would you write some more about girls of 12 or 13 in the news? We, I mean my friend and me really liked that." – the first comment left by “Girls Rule” on my website.
What twelve-year-old-girls face
Even though I’m
getting on in years – I can see sixty without squinting – unlike most 'mature' adults, I’ve never had a
blind spot when it came to twelve-year-old girls: who they are and what they
are capable of. I don't see them as young children, nor quite as young women.Twelve is never land.
The term 'girl' no longer seems adequate -- yet they are not adolescents. Some seem to be twelve-going-on-six, and others twelve-going-on-thirty. And even more disturbing, we can see all ages in between in the same girl in the space of half an hour. One thing is sure: they are complicated.
No, I never look at a girl of twelve and see 'just a kid.'
Thirty years of child protection work can do that. I've seen girls at their most vulnerable, and at their most admirable – seriously. Twelve appears to be a risky age. I’d say close to half the girls I came into professional contact with over the years were first victimized at the age of twelve.
Why is that?
Is it that particular stage of metamorphosis common to many girls of twelve, that budding into womanhood, the incipient curves, the promise of what is to come… the allure of the girl/woman? Is that it? Having escaped until puberty from the attentions of those who prey on children, the girls now seem to be at risk from those that like a touch of womanliness in their young prey. So it seems…
77% of all rape victims are under the age of eighteen. According to National Victim Services; of which 33% are between 13 - 18, 30% are aged 11 or 12 and 17% are under age 10. 14% of victims are older than 18 but under 30. Only 6% of victims are over 30.
So, if there were 90,427 reported rapes in the U.S. in 2007, that would mean 30% or 30,142 girls of 11 or 12 years of age were raped --- or would it? Law enforcement estimates only 1 in 6 rapes are reported overall, and the rate of reporting drops the younger the victims.
We seem to have a terrible blind spot when it comes to this age group of girls. We have some strange need to see them as innocent little girls, and we do our best to keep them as we want them to be... and fail. Instead of preparing our girls to deal with the world we've made for them, we extend our own denial over them -- and leave them defenseless.
I think 12 year old girls are possibly the highest-at-risk group of females out there.
Do we underestimate girls of this age?
I think we do. Certainly, “Girls Rule” think we do. I challenged them to find some online stories about girls they felt were important to their peers, and to give me an interview where they could express their opinions and why they picked this particular story.
Three stories picked from the internet as being relevant to twelve-year-old girls, by twelve-year-old girls
MSN coverage of this story
- Sexting bullying cited in teen girls suicide - TODAY People - TODAYshow.com
"Girls Rule" inform me that the news reportage in this story is out of touch with the reality of today's girls. They say they personally know of twenty girls who have 'sexted' whereas this story claims 9% of all girls of this age group have
This is one: The Death of Hope
A girl named Hope, a middle school student, hanged herself in her bedroom in August, two weeks after returning to school. She had just turned thirteen. A few days before, she’d forwarded a nude photo of herself to a boy she like, a practice known as sexting. Soon, the nude photo circulated from cell phone to cell phone, not only at her middle school, but at nearby high schools. School authorities became aware of it and suspended her for the first week of school. When she came back, her friends had to surround her as she moved from class to class to try and defend her, while others yelled insults such as ‘whore’ and ‘slut.’ A week later, teacher sent Hope to a school counselor because she noticed Hope had been cutting herself. The counselor had her sign a ‘no-harm’ contract. (Where she promises to talk to someone if she thinks she might hurt herself.) The next day, Hope was dead.
Why do you think she killed herself, Girls Rule?
“It was the shaming stuff others did to her that made her kill herself. It wasn’t that she sent the photograph to the boy, it was how her classmates and the adults around her acted. And anyway – she probably thought that boy would keep it for himself, not send it out to everyone like a complete jerk.”
So you think the boy is to blame for sending the photo on to others?
“Yeay – duh! It’s not like she told them it would be okay, so what they did was the same as touching or kissing without permission, like. And then the whole school calling her a slut. On top of all that, everyone is saying that what her classmates did to her was her own fault.”
Wasn’t it her own fault?
“Well, it was kind of stupid to send the photo in the first place, but lots of kids do it. We know girls that do. I don’t think that just because you send a nude photograph to another person, you’re a slut, a whore, need to be kicked out of school and deserve whatever is coming to you. It’s kind of dumb, but really did she deserve all that? They should have punished the ones who called her names – they bullied her.”
Why did you pick this story?
"We know girls who do this, and it's not smart, obviously. Sending someone a nude picture of yourself is risky. You can't trust the boys to keep private things private, or to see you did it out of trust. They want to brag and make themselves look big and they don't care they are breaking your trust. It's maybe more wrong for the boys to send the pictures all over than it is for you to send it to him in the first place. Just plain wrong, but the world only comes down on the girl. Do you notice that? And then we thought further. If you do this, you never know where your picture will end up, Maybe some perv on the internet will be drooling over you. Do you like that idea? It's a stupid thing to do."
It is very clear to me that “Girls Rule” have a very good sense of what is wrong with this picture. Apparently, the adults at this school felt it more important to punish a girl for overt sexuality than to protect her. Those that chased her, taunted her, harassed her and made her life a living hell face no consequences. What about the boy who acted in a non-consensual manner and forwarded her love-token to the population at large? No – no one else is to blame here but one shattered young girl.
Here is the second: The "Rape" of Dakota Fanning
The well-known child actress Dakota Fanning, now 14 but 12 at the time, came under a lot of fire for her decision to play the role of Lewellen, a rape victim in 1950’s rural south in the "Southern Gothic" movie Hounddog. I hadn’t heard of this film before “Girls Rule” brought it to my attention, but I downloaded it and watched it. It is a remarkable, artistic work about a twelve-year-old girl, her fantasy life centered around Elvis, and the distorted perceptions of her sexuality as seen by an older male, who acts out his own lust. Tempting her with tickets to see Elvis, he asks her to sing and dance Elvis's hit, Hounddog for him -- naked.
Public opinion became so heated over the rape scene, distributors pulled it from many theatres.
Lasting less than a minute, the whole scene is predominated
by close-ups of Dakota's face and darkness. We can also see one hand and one of
her feet as she stumbles down, but when the teenage boy actually rapes her, the
camera switches angles and only her whimpers and 'Stop it' are heard. See it yourself, below.
“People were attacking my family and me, and that's where it got too far. Pretty much everybody who talked about it attacked my mother, which I did not appreciate. That was extremely uncalled for and hurtful,” Dakota said during a press conference after the screening. The actress also revealed that the whole madness was 100 percent gratuitous because filming the rape scene was just like shooting for any other one.
“I know my mom would take me to see it. You have to prepare your children for things that happen in the world. Everything isn't rosy,” Dakota said, adding that hadn't she starred in the movie, she would have gone to see it either way.
The infamous scene
Dakota's wonderful performance
You girls brought me this story; did you see the movie?
"Yes, we did. We rented it and watched it with our Moms and one Grandma, all together. After, we talked about it, because the Moms wanted to know we understood everything. As if we wouldn't!!!"
What did you think of Dakota's performance?
"She was terrific. Here she was living with her mean Grandma because her Mom was too out of it to look after them and her Dad was gone, and all she wanted was to sing like Elvis. Like she wanted to run away into her day-dreams. She was so real. The background was kind of creepy and we didn't understand about the times, though Grandma did and explained about how things were different between the races then."
What was your reaction to the rape scene?
"She was pretty stupid to take off her clothes and sing, but Mom said she was innocent and didn't understand what could happen. Still, it's hard to believe a girl of twelve wouldn't know. Maybe she just wanted those tickets so bad, she didn't care until it was too late. Grandma said times were different then and a girl didn't know as much so young as today. But still, we thought how she got raped was kind of lame, like the scene could have had a better lead up. The rape scene was sad and Dakota's acting was really great. You could see how scared she was and how hurt, but there was nothing to get so mad over. Why everyone made such a fuss is a mystery. We see worse stuff on TV every day. Is it because the actress is twelve?"
Why did you pick this particular story?
"We didn't pick it because of the movie itself, but because of the reaction to it. We both think the controversy was stupid. Like we said, we see worse stuff on TV all the time, way worse. Like on Law and Order SVU, which is on at all hours of the day, they don't show the actual rapes but the stories around them are always so twisted, but that's okay... It's okay for us to see people getting killed or beaten or pretend raped twenty times a night, but not a story about a real girl in a real situation. A story that shows the reality that many girls face isn't okay. Don't you think that's stupid?
And all the criticism given to Dakota is just plain wrong. I read in one of her interviews that she wanted to do this part to 'portray the pain and misery hundred of thousands of girls face in real life.' It was her choice and we are proud of her for doing this. Way to go Dakota!
And look at her other movies. Now this is what we don't understand. As a tiny girl she played a part where she got sucked into a TV by demons. She was one of the few human survivors of an alien attack on earth where she saw machines sucking out all the blood from humans. She's been right next to people who got killed. It goes on and on. Violence, creepy stuff, demons and all that are okay, but when she does a film that shows the reality faced by lots of girls our age, she is attacked. We think that's really dumb. It makes no sense at all."
I have nothing to add to "Girls Rule's" very rational take on this situation. Nothing at all.
Real ads from real girls' magazines, online and paper
Story Number Three: Rachel Says "Don't buy that."
Rachel, age 12, recently posted an article on New Moon Girls, a website for girls in the age group of eleven to fourteen (I estimate) protesting the clothes marketed to girls and how they are marketed.Writes Rachel:
“When you walk into the girl's section of any store and in America, you see the same thing- stereotypes, negative messages, and false images of girls. Shirts with little pink rhinestones, super-short shorts, skin-tight tank tops, Abercrombie "cute butt sweatpants" and clothes with words and phrases on them like "I know I'm cute", "If You Knew My Mother You Would Understand", and "My Favorite Subject is You." The most sickening thing about all this, is these clothes are not only found in the junior's section but are sold to children as young as three. Three year olds can be spotted sporting shorts that say, "Little Girl; Big Attitude", "Princess- It's not just a name, it's a life style.”
Most girls feel pressured to dress a certain way, or act a certain way, just because they think it's "cool". If they want to be popular, girls think they have to act inappropriately, or wear clothes, that send bad messages.”
I couldn’t agree more. But my old lady opinion doesn’t count for anything – though I feel the same way about women’s clothing, especially shoes (practical comfort, please.) What I found most interesting were some of the comments made by readers.
"The thing that scares me the most is that how 'sexy' girl's clothing is has been rising constantly for decades now. I honestly feel that there is something to be said for pioneer dresses, or at least articles of clothing that do not show large amounts of stomach and cleavage." – Molly, 12
"I once saw a T-shirt at the mall that said, "Who needs brains when you've got these?" I mean, how sexist is that? Also, all the shirts you see at K-mart that has things like "Texting is my Life" written on them. I just can't see the point!" – Piano Girl, 13
"I don't like it when you wear clothing that doesn't fit in or isn't in style(and you get made fun of)."— Bailey, 12
" ... Girls these days are walking advertisements. We have the names of companies written all over our clothes!" – Sophia, 10
"Most things in girl's clothing today are very revealing. Young girls' shorts today are very, well, short. Also, shirts and tops for girls are low cut, and I just don't find it too attractive..." - Guinevere, 13
"What scares me most is that a lot of it is see-through and revealing. How scary is that, that girls feel pretty by showing off too much?" - Jen, 11
"Stop inappropriate clothes from taking over and choking out good normal clothes that are comfy and practical!" -- Shashai, 11
Rachel recommends girls read the book, Packaging Girlhood, by Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown. There girls will learn how: "Marketers do a lot of research to know how to get our attention and make us worry about all the ways we aren't quite good enough. They hope to make girls feel anxious about not being cool, sexy or popular enough, because an anxious girl is more likely to buy anything that promises results. Their promises are hollow, of course, because no product can change your life, or make people like you.”
Finally, she exhorts girls everywhere:
“So, girls, rise up! Together, we can all create a positive image for girls and women everywhere! Feel good about standing up and saying, with confidence, "I'm NOT buying THAT!"
Honestly, aren't all of you, like me, blown away by the sense these girls portray?
Okay, "Girls Rule" what are your feelings about Rachel's post, and the comments made by other girls around the nation?
"We talked about this and our first feeling was one of relief, so glad to find out other girls feel the same way. Most of the clothes pushed on us are ridiculous, and we don't like them. And the magazines!!!! Where do they think we live? The clothes in them are so stupid and we would never dress like that for any reason. We go to school and thankfully, in our school we wear uniforms. We feel sorry for girls that don't, really sorry. Nowhere in life would either of us have a need for outfits like that, and when we do get dressed up, we don't want to show our bellies and our chests, or our legs all the way up to you know what. We want clothes that cover us. So, Rachel's post was great, and we both agree with her one hundred percent."
What are your thoughts on the quotes from the book Packaging Girlhood, and the marketing concepts Rachel describes?
"The idea that the marketers deliberately make girls feel bad about themselves, about how they look, about their size, their sex appeal and all that, just to make them buy stuff that won't help. More like they would feel worse. Because did you notice, all the clothes and the pictures of girls are really thin and really gorgeous. We're not thin. And maybe we're cute but not gorgeous. How often do you see natural looking girls in magazines?"
Did you like the website,' New Moon Girls', and if so, what did you like about it?
"Yes, we like it. It's so sensible. It's cool that so many girls from so many places can come together and discuss things like how we feel about the stupid clothes we feel we have to wear. Once you realize that other girls are the same, it becomes much easier to be comfortable with yourself. So New Moon Girls is a good place for girls to go and talk about things -- all kinds of things."
- New Moon Girls Online - A safe online community and magazine by girls, for girls
New Moon Girls is an inspirational magazine and online for girls age 8 and up to engage in self-discovery, creativity, and community. Magazine, Beautiful Girls, Body & Feelings, Games, Poetry, Discussions, Sharing, Friendship.
Why did you pick this particular story?
"Is there any girl out there who hasn't felt weirded out by how the world portray us? We're too young for this and too old for that. On the one hand, the world gets mad at a girl actress who wants to play a role that shows a real girl in real trouble, and then, on the other, turns around and wants us to dress like pole dancers. Yes Mom, we know what that is, too. We're surrounded by sex every day, and in every way, and we're not supposed to think about it, act on it or talk about it, but we can dress as though we're selling it.Rachel's post and the comments from all the other girls were just what we needed to hear. We're not alone in being mixed up by all this."
No, they are certainly not alone. I don't have the heart to tell them that their confusion is shared not only by other girls, but by women of all ages
Thanks "Girls Rule" for educating us.
I'd like to thank "Girls Rule" and their mothers who supported every minute of this interview. Thanks girls, all of you.
I asked "Girls Rule" if they had anything else to say. Of course, they did.
"Thank you, Lynda, for allowing us to share our thoughts with the world. It's not easy, when you're twelve or thirteen, to get others to listen to you. We really enjoyed getting to know you and sharing our thoughts with you. It has been a wonderful experience."
For me, even more I think.
I asked the Mothers if they wanted to comment.
"Thank you very much for allowing our daughters an opportunity to express themselves in an adult forum. Not only was it a growth experience for them, it was for us as well. This exercise has brought us closer to our daughters, and allowed us to know them better. Some of this knowledge has come as a surprise, I admit. It woke us up to the fact our little girls are growing up and faster than we thought, and perhaps in ways we'd rather they didn't, But that fear is helped now we've learn how sensible they can be. I hope this helps more mothers and daughters become closer."
And my thanks to all you readers as well.
Lynda M. Martin
"The difference between a smart person and a wise person is that a smart person knows what to say and a wise person knows whether or not to say it." -- Quote found on the wall of a recreation center office in Berkeley, California and later attributed to Olivia, a twelve year old girl, a poet and a junior journalist who writes for several young adult online magazines. (2/12/02).
Related, but not....
And now, on behalf of the 50 million girls who live in poverty in the midst of wealth, I've added a video clip.
Hope you like it.
Are we living in a third world nation? asked hubber liambean who pointed me to this video
No liambean, it is not a third world country, though that difference is moot if you're impoverished and American. But then, they are not your daughters -- so why worry about it? Taking care of others might be socialism, and we can't have that! And the country's too bankrupt from waging two wars, and paying other countries not to pollute, to do anything for the poor at home, don't you know? Besides, this is the USofA, and if they live in poverty, it must be their own fault. All men are created equal after all, and here in the land of the free, if you can't make it, it's because you're lazy, or made really bad life decisions and you're not worthy of help.... The government will, though, send billions to some backwater hellhole to buy the questionable loyalty of those that couldn't be a threat if they tried. The population at home is best cared for by private charity -- oh, they're not? Yeah, I know times are tough. But who cares anyway? It's only a bunch of girls.