Monday, May 16, 2011

Puberty: Another Word for Nothing Left to Live For?

Puberty is ugly, though of course, it's not phat to express how ugly, and teens are supposed to be "tuff," especially in front of their peers. But there ain't nothing gangsta about hormones raging, budding sexual identity, aloneness and the fear of being unlovely and unlovable. When I think about my junior high school days, from 7th-9th grades, in plain speech adults can understand, it sucked! And when I'm told it was easier "back in the day?" To that I say (evoking Stanley from Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire because it is soooo apt.)  Ha! Ha! Ha! (In case you don't realize, I am not laughing.)

If you mean "back in the day" of grandmothers and great grandmothers whose marriages were economically arranged for them in their early teens (my Italian grandmother's marriage was arranged) and they didn't have a choice, puberty still sucked. The point is even with our current instant access to information online, with all the chitter and chatter and friending networks and parental love and support this doesn't always help teen girls get through the angst of questions like "Am I like other girls my age?" when they already know the answer is a resounding, "No!" This is especially true if the framework has been set by other pubescent self-loathers, i.e. bullying, abused teen boys who are scared of their own sexual shadow and look to unload  their wrath on a sheepish target, a fat/overweight girl. Even if the girl is thin, if she has a feeble self-worth, the wolfish predator will smell her out and pounce. I know, been there, felt that. And I know from my experience teaching. I've taught and discussed this with my female students who have discussed feeling the alienation of American cultural beauty standards crushing them because males use such standards to manipulate for sex, for money, for car rides, you name it: and these are the thin ones. If they're overweight/fat, if they're resourceful, they resort to weapons of self-defense: humor, friendly personality, intellect, friendships with others perceived to be like them. But in the case of Haylee Fentress and Paige Moravetz from Minnesota, their only defense was suicide.

By now you've seen the videos and read the blogs. But there is some information you may not have been aware of. The Wisconsin Gazette noted that the two girls had been bullied about their "romantic" relationship. I wonder at the monstrosity of the bully/bullies who probably had questions about their own sexuality and spewed forth to quell their own "fearful" otherness, sliming them with choice slang words for lesbians currently being used by the teenage underground. ( Their parents, only knew about the other bullying elements, claiming the girls had been bullied about their weight and Haylee about her red hair, and since she was upset about her "big" nose some jocular fellow had probably hauled forth and verbally slammed it. However tragic and incomprehensible it may seem to me that Haylee and Paige took their lives, to them it made utterly logical sense to stop the horrific pain. For them "tuffing it out" wasn't a viable option. Love wasn't enough. How many other teens are out there at this very moment being pushed to the verge by their classmates? Girls take it out on themselves. Boys take it out on others, that is some boys. That's another post for another day. (It infuriates me that less reasoned, more aggressive males embrace machoism as a right and virtue, when it has been the cause of torture, maiming, killing and destruction throughout history.)

I am an adult. I do not float in the air above teens in junior high schools to watch their interactions. Neither do their parents. Only the teens know what is going on, and then there is a mile high wall of silence to climb to shout out the hurt and injustice of the humiliation of a damaged identity which is still being formed. The victim must also overcome the sense that he/she caused the abuse through his own fault. It reminds me of how rape was dealt with in the past; the woman "lured" the rapist and he had "no choice" but to fulfill his needs.

In educational settings oftentimes, teachers are out of the loop unless they can establish a rapport with their students. But they can't do it with every student. Many will "fall through the cracks." All schools public and private need mandated bullying policies and students should be able to report, like whistleblowers, without fear of retribution and further sliming by the bullies. Above all, the bullies need extensive counseling; as their disturbed personality left unchecked may come back to haunt society in the future with violent acts (  or their victims may gain revenge on their bullies, i.e. like in Columbine.

There is much to be said for parents learning how to teach their kids coping strategies, arming them with the weapons of warfare against the equally victimized victimizers. The Presidents' Conference on Bullying Prevention is a necessary first step. I also know that if I were given classes in analyzing the cultural media's standards of beauty using critical thinking to critique their basic underlying biased assumptions, this would have helped me and my peers by offering a leveling perspective, instead of arming any lurking wolves ready to sink their jaws into my fat flesh (which they did at various times until I managed to "Friend" them in my own way. But the pain and hurt remained for years). Teens must be actively taught and retaught critical thinking skills which reduce such assumptions to absurdity and remove their power as weapons for bullies.

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