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Girls will be boys
November 19, 2002
by Tresa McBee

Girls, I understand the confusion. The messages are absolutely mixed.

Over here, the message is to wear almost nothing and exploit your femaleness to get what you want, usually some well-oiled fellow who can't keep his hands off you.

Over there, the message is that looks only matter in a society run by oppression-seeking men, so love your body anyway and go forth and conquer, preferably in sensible shoes and no makeup.

And way over yonder, the message is that equality means losing all differences between men and women, so if you can't beat 'em, become one.

What's a girl to do? Act like a boy.

Huh? Exactly. It's confusing.

It also means that girls are behaving in ways we used to associate with boys. We already know that violent crime is increasing among girls, even as juvenile crime has been decreasing. Now girls are becoming the aggressors in relationships. And it's freaking boys out. I noticed the trend myself among some in the younger set, particularly relating to sex. The casual attitude exhibited by some younger women is -- dare I sound so completely out of the loop and hopelessly old-fashioned? -- shocking.

Apparently, female-as-serious-aggressor is happening all over. A recent New York Times article referred to such a young woman as a "macho girl." My term is considerably less polite, so let's stick with that one.

A macho girl has attitude. She doesn't wait for the phone to ring. She dials the cell phone first. She smokes and drinks as much as the next guy. And sex? Give it to me now, pal. Have you heard, we're equal, so the horizontal tango can be just as meaningless to me as I've been told it's been to you all these years. And oral sex? No biggie. It's not even really sex. What's your name?

"The teenage boys I see often say the girls push them for sex and expect them to ask them for sex and will bring it up if the boys don't ask," a counselor who sees teenagers tells the Times.

Another, a psychologist, says, "One of the ways we learn about relationships is by being in them and seeing them at work. Today, kids come home from school and the parents or parent might not be home. They watch MTV and talk shows and cruise the Internet, and that is where they are learning about relationships."

And don't forget Britney (poor gal, sorry to cite you yet again) and Christina (ditto) and the take-what-you-want-sister lyrics of any number of fleshy videos and the TV characters who grab a guy, literally, before discarding him and lamenting that good guys are hard to find. Add boomer parents who believe befriending children will ensure they wonÕt be disliked and unhip like their own parents, and itÕs a lot for young women to navigate.

As one 17-year-old girl told the Times, no one stays home full time anymore and women are no longer forced to wear skirts. "We are empowered, and we can do whatever we want," she says.

Well, yes, you can. But if the message you've learned is summed up by the freedom not to wear a skirt and the unstated bias that staying home with children is somehow less, then the message needs to be updated.

Understand where I'm going. A long time ago, before I arrived and well before today's teenagers existed, wearing pants like one of the guys was no small battle. Katharine Hepburn caused a ruckus by insisting on wearing her tailored pants, and Mary Tyler Moore scandalized the suits with her capris. Full-time mothers dealt with an unequal balance at home, and women who trailblazed into the work force encountered sexism in all forms. And there's no question that assertive women today face challenges an equally assertive man would never face. It's called a double standard, and it thrives. But demanding equal opportunity, pay and treatment on the way to accomplishing our goals doesn't mean we must become men. Teaching girls that it does denies the marvelous dance that exists between genders. It negates a woman's innate power to civilize, to exert influence, to control the direction of relationships.

See, that's what those teenage girls demanding sex from bewildered boys don't get. In our quest for gender neutrality, no one likes to talk about this much, but there's something about the thrill of the chase, the back-and-forth, that dance, where, ultimately, the girl is in control.

It's not always easy. And there are risks. But girls have the potential for much, according to the direction we set. Without having to pounce first.

Copyright, Northwest Arkansas Times. Tresa McBee writes for the Northwest Arkansas Times and can be reached at tresam@nwarktimes.com.

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