What is the creature we call “girl”?
The thing that – usually – grows into woman. Not-boy. Innocent and repugnant. Desired. Child. A family’s (a father’s) property. Catty and two-faced and not to be trusted. Shrieking too-emotional hordes. One of the most profitable target markets. Derided. Dismissed. Sad and scared and furious and giggling. A bundle of hormones and blood and a too-fast changing body. A body that is written upon, spoken about.
A body that, all-too-often, is denied its own voice.
Even when creators purposely write or make or act girls, the art’s reception focuses on anything but. When girls themselves make, it is viewed as trite or silly or vapid – or, it is not girlish, and then it is good. And oh, the things girls love?
If ever a group of girls – a single girl, even – dares to love something, dares to tell the world about that love, the thing that conjures it is instantly devalued in the world’s eyes. Girls, of course, have no taste. Girls love only prettiness and shine, and do not ever look for the dirt or guts underneath. They have no concept of quality.
And yet, even as girls glitter and flirt, even as they pose and primp and sigh, even as the world tells us that this is in fact all that they do, girls, too, are feared.
Girls are monsters.
Girls are perfect quiet ornaments, until the moment they are not. They are artifice, or they are terror. They are othered, made strange even from themselves. They bleed and scream and grow hair. They are violent. They hurt – in both ways that sentence can be read.
The world, it tells us, contains girls to hollow dollhood because if it does not, this is what happens. These are the only options.
That is what we are told. That is also what girls are told, about themselves and each other.
I was a girl, once. Some days I think I still am, that there is a part of me that will be forever-girl, and to lose her would be to lose a key to understanding, an entire shade of the rainbow.
As someone who was once-girl, who is maybe forever-girl, I know that what we are told is a lie. Quite probably you do, too.
Girls are grit and determination, are books and horses and chemistry sets as much as they are dreams and strategies and fears. Girls climb mountains. Girls lead medieval armies for God. Girls write daydreams in their diaries and letters to their governments. Girls cut their own hair. Girls campaign for human rights, for their future and all the futures that will come after. Girls love, and love, and love – each other, and themselves, and oh so many things that are sneered at for being objects of that love (unless, of course, what they love is a boy).
It’s no different in fiction. Even the strongest or most staid or most brilliant girls – even Buffy, and Jane, and Hermione – they are scoffed at, or ignored, or made out to be lesser than they are. Because girls in the real world look and see in them one bright shining piece of the huge kaleidoscope of what they are, and they fall in love; and because, anyways, they are just girls.
Some of the greatest creators in history – William Shakespeare, and the writer-compiler of the Thousand and One Nights, and Murasaki Shikibu, herself once a girl – have known and understood and valued the experience of girlhood, have made timeless works of art with girls at the centre. Most of the contemporary media phenomenons of recent years, be they pop groups or novel series or other, have been for and/or about, and powered by girls.
And yet, where is the criticism? Who holds Juliet up beside or even above Hamlet? What music critic admits, bald-faced and without the protection of irony, to loving One Direction or the Spice Girls? Who spends their time watching, thinking, writing about girls?
There are a few of us, almost if not all also- or once-girls. It’s a start.
So is this column.
Here’s the premise: every issue, I will choose a girl – a well-known one who is nonetheless talked around, like Sarah Williams, or one I wish to draw more attention to, like Ginger and her sister Brigitte – and I will write about her. About her, not about her story or her setting or her companions – unless they are important to the larger piece at hand, much like how girls are often treated when people write about media.
Fictional girls, girls from books and movies and tv and myth, and real girls, girls from history and music and life; all of them will show up here. I imagine we might begin to see some common lines drawn. I imagine we might notice that the girls I write about hold universes within themselves, that they are so much more than anyone says. I imagine, too, that they will turn out to be imperfect, confusing, sometimes ugly, utterly human things, despite all the stories of what it is that makes “girl”.
I imagine, in the end, that we will discover that “girls” are fascinating, and strange, and rather a lot like “us”.
Welcome to GIRLisms.
[images: The Virgin Suicides promo image, 1999. Rihanna as Medusa from GQ, 2013]