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Girls On Boys
A father engages his 3 teenage daughters on the opposite sex and lives to tell about it. Mostly.

By David Laskin

Attention daughters. Emily, Sarah and Alice, front and center please. This is your father speaking. We need to talk - or should I say communicate? - on a subject of vital importance to the survival of humankind. I'm talking about...

Okay, you can stop rolling your eyes now. I'll say the dreaded word again: Boys. These bulky blundering aliens who happen to account for half our species, not to mention your dear old dad. You kids and I have been living in close quarters for a total of 42 years now - 13 for each of you formidable twins Sarah and Alice and 16, whoa, for Emily - and I still don't really know what you make of my gender. Back in the old pre-adolescent days, if memory serves, your favorite boy-related adjective was "yucky." Over the years that has evolved into horrible, mean, stupid, annoying, sexist. Though haven't I been hearing a few kinder, gentler terms tossed in of late - like funny, crazy, even - gasp - nice?

So what's the true inside story? Come on, spill it. What goes on in your heads and hearts these days when you think about boys? Are boys okay after all? Or do you think there are just a few sterling exceptions (like me) to the swinish rule?

Take it Sarah:
It really depends on who you're talking about. Some haven't outgrown their third grade behavior and still find it cool to insult girls every chance they get. But there are an occasional few who realize that girls aren't as bad as they thought. I guess the same goes for girls.

Boys can be nice, and definitely funny, plus they do cooler things than girls (as in, no makeup). In fact, most of my friends are boys. I'll give you one criticism, though, just for kicks. Here's what boys are not good for: say I call up a friend and say "I've been feeling really down lately." A typical girl response is "Want to talk about it?" (Duh, that's why I called.) A typical boy response is "Dude, that sucks. Gotta go."

In general, boys are stupid, blundering, self-loving PIGS. Only 5% of the time are they funny, nice, and 1% of the time interesting. In case you're male, that means that 94% of the time you suck! So, you want to break the barrier of my sexist stereotype? Men, boys, and male babies, listen closely: Don't categorize my fellow females into one group like I just did to you.

Dad again:
Much food for thought here. Right off the bat I'd say I'm VERY glad I am not 13 and in the same class as you, Alice, since you clearly have some serious "issues" with boys. And I know, from long hard experience, that when something gets you annoyed, you get REALLY annoyed. So duck and cover, you self-loving male PIGS! Girl power! Still, I'm glad you raised the subject of "stereotypes," and that you acknowledge that stereotypes cut both ways. Maybe fighting fire with fire is not the best approach in this old battle - but then again, what do I know?

Now let me change gears for a moment. What about all this sex role stuff - you know, Barbie and Ken. Hunter and gatherer. Do you think this is all so much - well, garbage? Do you think boys try to force it down your throats? Will your generation finally get rid of this?

There are some boys who tend to be nicer to girls depending on what they're wearing. But they do have a Dr. Barbie now which is sort of switching roles from the old days which was Ken was Mr. Macho and Barbie as ditz. I think some people in my generation will get rid of it, but not our entire generation. It's still going to be around because people's families are that way and kids imitate what their parents do.

This will never go away. I'm definitely not a girly girl, and anyone can see that, but I still have to deal with people thinking girls can't lift heavy stuff, run a long way, etc. You, as a parent of three girls, have pretty much gotten away from that kind of attitude. But, face it, adolescent boys are stronger than adolescent girls. That's just the way the world works. However, what people don't realize is that it doesn't mean girls can't be strong at all. It also doesn't help me personally that I am just barely 5 feet tall. I admit that it's hard to see anyone who weighs 95 pounds as strong. Still, I wish people would realize that I actually can do as much strenuous activity as most other people.

I really don't know what you're talking about.

Okay, now brace yourselves. As Salt-N-Pepa so memorably said, Let's talk about sex. Is this even a remotely appropriate subject for a dad and his teenage daughters to be blathering about on the Net? Maybe not. But what the hell - nobody knows who you are in cyberspace anyway. So let's talk about it. I know, even though I'm technically not supposed to, that you are all biologically mature. So, is sex an issue yet? Are you curious? Scared? Do you talk about "it" with friends? Are you totally embarrassed? Do you wish I would shut my big mouth and mind my own business?

Well, I personally do not think it's an issue in my school, but, I know it is in my friend's school (but her school is about 600 kids bigger than mine). I don't know why it's an issue in that school but it is. There are rumors that people in 7th grade have "done it" but there's nothing like that in my school. You know, from what I've seen, those rumors could easily be a reality, but that is so far off from where the kids in my school are at - we're not even close to that stuff. My school is more like this little village where everyone knows each other.

I think boys like to pretend that sex is really cool and they would all like to do it, but I don't think that's reality because if you start talking to a boy about his dick size he's going to get really embarrassed. Boys think talking to girls about their breast size is okay and funny but I personally don't like it. And it's not something I want to talk about to them and they don't realize it until I start talking to them about their own bodies.

Well, I'm definitely not going to be having sex any time soon, at least I hope not. But as for talking about it with friends, of course everyone does. It's usually jokes - not about who you want to do it with, but stupid jokes. People invent weird ways of doing it, stuff like that. I think it's a totally appropriate subject that people should not be afraid about because if it wasn't for sex our society would be wiped out eventually. I think it's sort of like drugs - an issue like that. Everyone is curious, not saying that they do it, but they're curious; but with drugs even if you're curious about trying it doesn't mean you're going to. But for sex, most likely you're going to eventually do it, but as long as you're smart hopefully nothing is going to go wrong.

Yes it's an issue (but I'm in high school. What did you expect?). Next question please.

Well, I guess I left the door open to that, but really, talk about major copout. On the other hand, if my parents tried to get me to talk about sex when I was 16, I would have hit the roof and/or died of embarrassment. So I'll let it go.

Okay let's cool it down a little bit. Let me turn the tables and talk about moi for a moment. My generation, to be precise. We thought we had it all figured out - the sexual revolution, free love, make love not war. Yeah right. Now look at us - well, need I say more? So what about you guys? Do you think your generation will be any different/better? Will you be cooler, less pressured, less embarrassed by sex? Or do you think that you will end up like us - preaching about protection, sniping at your kids for watching cute young things shake their tushes on MTV, and all that rot?

I don't know. I think our generation is a lot more into strong women and I think that can change some things because they have more power and maybe more choice of what they want to do. I think preaching about protection is actually a good thing and I think it's really helpful to have sex ed in school because how else are we going to find out about it? It seems like sex is this whole blown-up thing on tv because sex sells but really girls don't walk about in bikinis and boys don't walk around with their shirts off. I think as we progress, people in general might get smarter about sex and there might be fewer teen pregnancies because of our education.

I think our generation is getting a lot better about sex and talking about it because people are more aware of what can happen if you don't use a condom. Whereas in the 60s, people didn't know about STDs and stuff. So we've gotten better in that sense. But I haven't really had any experience in being pressured about sex mainly because it's not that big an issue in 7th grade. I think everyone should tell their kids about sex but they'll get the point if you just talk to them about it not remind them 10,000 times. As for watching music videos with girls shaking their butts, that doesn't make people want to have sex or anything. It's sex appeal and most people probably look at it as entertainment not a way to exploit people of the opposite sex.

I don't think our generation will really be any better because there aren't any new ideas concerning sex. Everyone is just divided into different camps. There is the feminist camp, the anti-feminist camp, the MTV camp, the hippie camp (although AIDS has pretty much put an end to free love). You get my point. There are most likely some good ideas out there, but they are not unifying a generation.

Finally, as your loving parent and the household representative of the other gender, I'd like to guide and enlighten you. Are there any mysteries about boys or sex you'd like me to explain? Questions that have been preying on your mind? What about things you'd like to enlighten me about? Misapprehensions you believe I'm laboring under? Issues you'd like to vent about? Here's your moment in the limelight...

This might sound kind of stupid but I think I actually do know a lot about boys - obviously not as much as they do. Some things I like to tell boys: don't go up to a girl and say "Is it that time of the month again?" Boys are allowed to get in a bad mood without some hormonal excuse but I feel I always have to be happy unless I want to have some boy bugging me about that kind of stuff. Maybe it's just boys my age, but it bugs the hell out of me. I hate when boys put on the "I'm so macho, I'm so strong, let me protect you, you little girl" act. UGGGGGGHHHHH. That bugs me. Around my age, that comes out during sports but boys are not stronger than me! Girls have gotten a lot more involved in sports over time but boys still have this thing in their head that they're better and stronger which they're not!

One more thing. Don't treat girls like prizes or benefits - don't treat us like objects because I don't appreciate getting comments like "Nice rack!" or "Nice ass!" If you want to tell me you like the way I look, tell me I look nice tonight. Boys may think it's cool, but I sure don't. Because I feel like I'm treated like some fish they caught. In conclusion, Sexist Society SUCKS BIG TIME!

First of all, there aren't really any questions about boys since I've had a "life skills" class for the last four years and I know pretty much everything I want to know. But I do have something I want to say. Some people think that girls have to shave their legs, wear makeup and tight clothes, and do their hair every morning. And they say boys have it so easy because they don't have to do all that stuff. But girls don't have to do any of it either if they don't want to. And anyway, if they haven't noticed, a lot of the boys, especially in my grade, tend to wear a lot of gel and that probably takes them a fair amount of time. Girls think they have to live up to an expectation set by men but I don't think that's true and some guys think the same thing about themselves. People should just do whatever makes them feel good, not what other people think they should do.

Err... sorry to be so uncooperative, but I don't really have any questions. After all, I'm in tenth grade and I think I know everything, right?

Dad one last time:
I don't want to brag or anything, but you kids are so damn cool. I really admire how open you are and how forcefully you express your opinions. Sexist society does suck, as Alice so eloquently puts it, and being outspoken and in-your-face about it is probably the best way to start changing things. I used to think I became a kind of honorary feminist by virtue of having three daughters, but I acknowledge that I still don't really "get" a lot of it.

Now, at the risk of sounding just like a boy, let me inject a note of levity at the end. None of us has said anything about "fun." For all their boorish insensitivity and macho swagger, boys can be a lot of fun to have around - believe me, I should know, having grown up with three brothers. I probably shouldn't be spreading this around, but sex can be fun too. Not so much to talk about, but --- you know. Being aware of sexism and the importance of protection is great, but I'd hate to see you kids get so serious about "gender issues" that the fun part disappears. My hope is that at least some people in your generation will put self-consciousness and hostility behind them - depoliticize and decommercialize sex. I think you three are well on your way. Let's keep in touch. It will be interesting to see what the future brings.

David Laskin is the author, most recently, of Partisans, Marriage and Betrayal among the New York Intellectuals (Simon & Schuster). He and his wife, Kathleen O'Neill, co-authors of The Little Girl Book (Ballantine), are raising three daughters in Seattle.

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