September 29th, 2009

"Don't worry, you're not on it."

Fans of “My So-Called Life,” the early-nineties high school drama and cult classic, will recognize the scene in the above clip that starts around 3:48. When Angela, Claire Danes’s character and the central figure of the show, finds out that a list has been made of the attractive sophomore girls in her high school, she feels envious and excluded. Her friend Rayanne screams, “Do you love it??” when she finds out she has the “most slut potential,” and although Angela claims to be offended by the list, we know as viewers (who were once teenagers) that her jealousy outweighs her indignation, or at least that the two reactions are profoundly mixed up.

This week, the New York Times’s “Week in Review” featured a piece by Tina Kelley on girl-on-girl bullying in a New Jersey high school, where a “slut list” circulated on Facebook. The article quotes Rosalind Wiseman, author of the 2002 book on adolescent girls, Queen Bees and Wannabes, who has had to write a new edition of her book because “There was not enough information on hazing, technology and the more graphic sexual stuff.” In general, the article makes the argument that bullying among young women is increasingly attached to sexuality, and that a girl’s social status rises in direct proportion to her degree of promiscuity.

Girl-on-girl bullying is quite a hot topic these days, maybe since “Mean Girls” came out, or maybe since “Gossip Girl” took off. And no one would argue that the age at which a girl becomes cognizant of her sexuality and its power has gone way down in the past decade. But it seems silly to act as if women, old and young, haven’t always been forced to see each other through the eyes of their male peers. “So the whiff of sexual prowess actually raises the status of girls on the forbidden list among their high school peers. It’s a celebration of machismo, but for girls only,” says Kelley about the Jersey slut list. Not only is this old news, it isn’t that simple. Angela Chase wanted to make it onto her high school’s list, but she was also outraged that it was allowed to exist in the first place. No doubt a lot of these Jersey girls would identify.

When the Cool Get Hazed [NYT, 9/26/09]

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