How do coincidences become facts?
On the same weekend that we learned another of Donald Trump’s moves — “Just grab her by the pussy,” I am also reading the Peggy Orienstein’s new book Girls and Sex, and then I watch the fifth episode of the third season of the BBC series Shetland. This all on the same weekend I size up my coming-of-age son, back to back, and realize I have about one inch left to savour before he is officially taller, and bigger than me.
If we need another coincidence to make the analogy fit, I’ve got one: It so happens that three oddly unrelated things happened on this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. I am thankful for…This weekend I give thanks… These sorts of conversations starters that we prep our young children to help inculcate connecting, acceptance, and engagement with the wider world. And thankfully, I live in Canada, so this isn’t some sort of convenient global analogy.
Somehow that one inch between my son and I symbolizes the distance between the world where he is my son, and part of my family, and when I officially share him with the world. This isn’t pure analogy. By the time he leaves home, he may have outsized me for potentially the better part of a decade. But. Once he’s bigger than me, somehow it feels that he’s part of the wider world. And although Republicans are running away in droves, into this same world my son grows into, perplexingly, there remains the chance that a misogynist could be voted President of the United States.
Rewind. I was addressing a coincidence here. In episode five of Season 3 of Shetland, DI Alison Macintosh, “Tosh,” goes under cover in Glasgow to investigate a lead from murder the island of Shetland, where the show is predominantly set. Instead of waiting for a delayed plane, Tosh is wooed by a handsome young guy at the airport bar to leave and go somewhere. Perhaps she was thinking she was off duty, perhaps she still following her leads, however this adds up, we don’t know, and we don’t get to watch this scene (As Ann Cleeves wrote, it’s so unusual for tv not to take the excuse to graphically show sexual violence against women). The next scene is a tight shot of her walking barefoot, on Scottish cobble-stoned streets, in a metered, slow stride; the one that tells that terrible events have taken place.
Fastforward. Unspeakable events, or terrible events? I toss up the vernacular as I write this. And here I see that I’m falling into my own hole. Those events shouldn’t be unspeakable. But our culture expects them to be unspoken. And that’s a problem.
Girls and Sex is a brave look at the changing relationship between girls and sexual freedom. Depending if you have girls, you can peg it to a number of years that it is away. And then if you have boy/s, it’s that nubmer of years away from feeling like you need to help engender proactivity, and stressing not about its problems, but about contributing to the problem. And then for everyone else, kids or not, we are left with a hyper-sexualized culture of young people, evident on many billboards and advertising campaigns.
Play. With two younger girls and one eldest boy, I’m edgy heading into my next decade. Please forward all correspondence from this decade to the name “basketcase.” When I read books like Girls and Sex, I’m reading it for clues and ideas both of preventing the problem and helping to find a solution. It’s hard to narrow down the salient points to one or two, but somewhere between listening to how young (sometimes 14year-old) girls rationalize hook-up culture, fifty percent of teenage boys consume porn on a regular basis, and then the backlash of the “purity vowed” young girls who now consider blow jobs and “an exception to the rule” and despite their relative autonomy and liberation, report reportedly that this fellatio is “part of their job,” and potentially they do it so that “nothing else bad happens.”
Well, when Tosh left the airport bar, I doubt she was trying to “do her job,” as a DI, going undercover. Slow down, this is just a television show. It’s one episode of a fictional character. This isn’t real, get a grip.
Pause. There is part of this episode I don’t want to remain fiction. You see, in this episode, the boss of Tosh, DI Jimmy Perez, declines to hook up with another woman whom he is clearly hot for, because, he explains with tears full of eyes, he was affected by some terrible events at his office, and “it’s not [his] story, [he’s] a bystander, but it’s got to do with the way that men treat women.” Meaning, that he can’t get it on with this woman because he’s distrubed and upset by the rape of his colleague. And so he doesn’t feel like having sex. ‘Magine. Even on tv this can happen.
In another scene, Tosh confronts an older male colleague to admit that she’s “not right” because it was “more than just the bag over my head, Billy.” The next shot is of Billy welling up with tears, and then clenching his fist. And then he says, “Tosh, I’m so sorry. I’d like to hug you now,” but she shakes her head, and says, “Sorry Billy, I just can’t,” and she turns and walks out the door. Tosh gets to name her emotions, and then call the shots. Then she gets to be uncomfortable and provide boundaries.
A third memorable scene was when a male friend of hers kept writing her get-better-notes and sending them with his sketches. She goes to his house to splay incoherent phrases about not wanting nice things, and how dare he ‘draw’ her. And then she slumps into a chair and falls asleep, exhausted. The male friend gets a blanket to put over her. The next shot is a long shot where you can see him making tea for her in the kitchen, and then cautiously side-stepping in the room where she sleeps, and shyly says “Here’s some tea for ya, I’ll be in the next room’” and then shimmys out of the room in side steps. Camera stays on her as she has her eyes closed, mascara dried on her cheeks. She is the focus of the episode, and she’s allowed to be broken.
Is it fiction that a friend would not ask questions but just make tea and provide care? Is it ficiton that a friendly colleague wouldn’t just barrel in for a hug, but would ask first, and observe her request? Is it fiction that a man would turn down the obvious potential for sex because he was disturbed by violent sexual images of his friend and junior?
These may or may not be facts, after all what I’m talking about is television. But my beef is that so rarely does fiction rarely portrays these sorts of facts that they remain fictions.
Reading Girls and Sex, as a mother and middle-aged woman, is no less than completly shocking. That we now live in a world where hook-up culture often starts between the ages of 13 and 16; and although 17 is the average age for loss-of-virginity for America, it’s not a-typical for it to happen much younger. That porn is as consumable as Pokémon Go for teenage boys and the effects of this are being felt by our teenage girls and how they are expected to perform.
I think we need these emerging facts to start writing new fictions. Ones that allow without coincidence for the woman’s, or even girls’, voices and emotions to be the through-line of the plot. And then watch a plot line unravel with a feminist perspective that allows for empowerment.