my last month as a teenage girl



The teenage girl palette is blood and guts and chocolate cake. She wears her heart on her cheek, spikes and chains and charms on her wrists. She breathes condensation onto the windows of buses, draws hearts with arrows through them on the neon-lit glass, paints strange colours on her face. She grows up too soon. She doesn't know what the world wants from her. She wants to die. She imagines whole worlds inside her body. With scraped knees and bloody elbows, the teenage girl imagines and creates herself. Hands clasped, rosary necklace from New Look, glitter nail varnish, rose quartz. The teenage girl is a witch, an enchantress, a sorceress. The teenage girl is magic.


Remember how we used to party up all night
Sneaking out and looking for a taste of real life
Drinking in the small town firelight
(Pabst Blue Ribbon on ice) {x}



It's not surprising that most teenage girls are in love with witches. All that power and almost a decade of ritual - the getting ready in front of the lipsticked mirror, the practising your smile for hours, the fires and woodsmoke and dancing. Thirteen and doing a spell on our flat roof, read straight out of a YA vampire novel. Nineteen and doing a spell in my garden, paying my own rent, asking the moon to release me from my compilation of traumas. The teenage girl is heavily invested in her own power. She knows exactly what the right shade of lipstick, the right tilt of the head can do.




Carrie (1976)

But the flipside of power is pain. If you google "teen girl ritual" you get an assortment of make-up tutorials and real-life rape stories. The position of the teenage girl, best shown in horror films, is as a receptacle of trauma but also as someone capable of violent retribution. For Carrie, the pain inflicted upon her by bullies and an abusive mother is turned into raw, destructive, telekinetic power, and yet the audience retains their sympathy for her:

"Although the camerawork of Carrie repeatedly invites us to take the perspective of Carrie's sadistic tormentors, the majority position throughout, and certainly the position that prevails in the final phase, is Carrie's own. (It seems clear on the face of it that involvement in her revenge at the end is contingent on an earlier involvement with her pain.)" - Carol Clover, Men, Women and Chainsaws

This same phenomenon, achieved by more ways than camerawork, is central to the slasher film. While the audience at first urges on the killer (why watch a slasher film if you don't want to see some murder?), by the end of their film their sympathy has moved to the sole survivor, almost always a woman, usually a teenager, the Final Girl. "She is the one who encounters the mutilated bodies of her friends and perceives the full extent of the preceding horror and of her own peril; who is chased, cornered, wounded; who we see scream, stagger, fall, rise, and scream again." (Carol Clover again; I refuse to footnote on this blog.)

The teenage girl, like the victim-hero of horror, must suffer to survive. Her power, her ability to recreate herself and the world around her, her incredible capacity for creativity: all are grounded in the perverse difficulties of female adolescence. Like Katniss with her PTSD, the characters in the Craft with their bullies and suicide attempts and dysfunctional families, the uncomfortable R-rated realism of Nikki Reed's semi-autobiographical Thirteen, like Sansa Stark and the completely disproportionate violence done to her: she must be hurt before she can fight back.









More terrifying than girlhood, however, is the prospect of a looming adult womanhood (just three weeks away, for me) and an entirely new narrative, a whole host of new demands. Being a fuck up is kind of the teenage girl's natural state. Being mentally ill is so much a "teenage thing" that girls often get severe mental illnesses brushed off; even queerness - the ultimate deviation in adult women - can be tolerated in girls (everyone goes through "that phase"). The girl is free to fail - provided she gets back on the right track by the time she's a woman.

There is an absolute sense of failure in reaching adult womanhood as a traumatised, asexual, almost genderless wreck. The adult woman is meant to be self-possessed and sexual. She's meant to buy expensive lingerie. She's not meant to be a person who can barely pee without panicking, who cringes at the mention of sex, who dissociates in the shower. I'm not alone in this feeling:



As Halberstam wrote, "failure is something queers do and have always done exceptionally well." To reject adult womanhood, and to therefore embrace the unproductive state of childish girlhood, is an act which queers the boundaries of existence under capitalism. To reject womanhood as it's constructed is to reject an ethos of productivity and consumerism, to turn "you can have it all" into "we don't want any of it". It can also be a rejection of the pathway to heterosexual bliss that women in their early twenties are meant to start working on: the healthy sex life, the stable long-term relationship, marriage and children. To be creative and happy while embodying an identity which is, to psychotherapists and businessmen, "regressive" and "disturbed", allows for the possibility that the proper way of life is not inevitable; that alternatives are not only possible, but also more fun.

There is so much difficulty trying to live in identities curated by patriarchy. There is so much trauma in trying to fulfil these roles. Girlhood and womanhood both follow narratives that are, by and large, written and policed by men. And yet: girlhood remains a state of resistance, power and possibility - an alternative to the fixedness of both adulthood and womanhood and a state which, recreated in our own images, provides an identity entirely our own.

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