Monday, July 15, 2013

I Enjoyed Being a Girl - 1

The Devolution of ‘Girlhood’ 
from Gidget to Hannah Horvath

By the time I was 16, I was well-immersed in the new teen culture that had developed, in all its glory, by the 1950's.  I yakked all night on my Princess phone and collected 'Seventeen' magazines, envied Sandra Dee her freedom to ride the surf in Malibu with Moondoggie and wished I could be a cheerleader like my friend, Randi.  I had a couple of girlfriends whose mothers had started assembling their trousseaux, selecting silver and china patterns, storing them in large, carved wooden chests, that resembled coffins, at the foot of their beds.  

These were called "Hope Chests" and I did not have one.  Or any....

The social media of that era...chick flicks, novels and, of course, gossip, narrowed the possibilities for female empowerment by pronouncing that girls were either 'good' or 'nice'.  'Good girls' saw themselves as precious commodities who traded themselves for the best outcome, a large engagement ring and betrothal to a 'lovely boy' whose family status and/or professional path would determine their destiny.  

'Nice girls', on the other hand, had no thought of their future, lost their minds and 'went all the way', got 'knocked up' or 'ruined'.  Unmarried sex always led to disaster. 

Whenever I think I've dreamed up this entire peculiar scenario, I just revisit one of those great 60's film classics like, "Where the Boys Are," for a reality check.  In it, poor, sweet Yvette Mimieux tries to kill herself after she realizes that she's traded her virginity to a 'Yalie' to no avail, while Dolores Hart survives the battle of the sexes with George Hamilton, an admittedly weak opponent, but consider his role as a rich, very entitled boy named 'Ryder' (if you need a brick house to fall on you) who wears a suit to the beach and pilots his own yacht up and down the Intercoastal Waterway, symbolically speaking, so the temptation to yield is great, especially since 'Merritt' (I'm not making that up, either) has been practically expelled from college for questioning the value of virtue in her Sex Ed. class.  

She is a woman, torn!  

The struggle was so traumatic, that it drove Dolores into a nunnery within a couple of years!

Speaking of the dire consequences of even thinking about sex, try sitting through that 1962 classic, "Rome Adventure," wherein  Suzanne Pleshette plays a young teacher, NAMED PRUDENCE, who is asked to resign from a tony private girls' school for lending a student a book, not exactly on the curriculum.  ("Marjorie Morningstar", mayhaps?  No, it's a potboiler called, "Lovers Must Learn" but it doesn't tell us.... from whom?).  She heads off to Italy, alone, to the horror of her parents, to see if romance is all it's cracked up to be. 

We all know Italy is a much better place to look for love than New England.  

On a holiday with Troy Donahue, who just happens to be staying at the same 'villa', and in spite of many golden opportunities in tiny pensiones, with no separate rooms, she manages to stay pure for an entire road trip through Tuscany, holding out for marriage. She must wait till he tires of his older, more promiscuous mistress, played by no less a woman of the world than Angie Dickinson.

Of course, virtue being its own reward, he does.  

(In fact, Suzanne managed to marry Troy in real life, later that year, but since it only lasted a few months, she might have been well-advised to try him out first!)

Helen Gurley Brown had not yet let us in on the news that "good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere", so I didn’t see the stirrings of the sexual revolution around me, yet, but every once in a while, I’d read something seditious or meet someone rebellious who would get me wondering, in anticipation of the soon-to-be standard, “Is that all there is?”

Then, at 17, I read ‘The Feminine Mystique’.  My eyes popped open.  Perhaps there could be an alternative to the scenario stretching out before me: a few years of primping myself out to   aspiring dentists and accountants, holding back sexual favors for a frat pin and then, if I played my cards right, an engagement ring, wedding at the shul and a lifetime of catering to a spoiled prince…It might not be so inevitable after all!  

So, I became a feminist.  And so did many of my friends.

And, as they say…”Woman plans, God laughs” (but that is a story for another time).

No comments:

Post a Comment