No Girl Left Behind
Lots of emails and discussions about not only the current Hot Mess plot line, but also my about my post which tied current sexting trends together with peer pressure and the entertainment industry (we do personally answer as many emails as we can!). A lot of readers made a lot of great points about bullying, sexting, girl-on-girl violence (and yes, emotional violence still counts as violence), and the role that popular culture and electronics have to play in all of the above.
The truth is, we’re not talking about easy black or white subjects. These things are all tied together in complex, subtle ways, and for most of us a lot of these attitudes and fears that we have start to form at a very, very young age. Luckily Jodi Wing, author of the groundbreaking book, The Art of Social War, reminded me about an essay she wrote that really sheds some light on the subject and put it in a very different context:
No Girl Left Behind:
Hollywood, and more specifically the entertainment industry, is a battlefield of a very specific sort. There is a logic to the work and corresponding social life here, but it is a logic that would be illogical anywhere else (except for maybe that other famed ‘company town,’ Washington DC.) It is a terrain filled with very unusual freedoms, restrictions and advantages, and I wrote 100,000 words about them all in my debut novel, The Art of Social War (HarperCollins). In fact, I was interviewed by my esteemed friend Diana Falzone multiple times, for the satire is based on Sun Tzu’s Art of War, and is essentially about (I like to say) Very Bad Behavior & Girl-on-Girl Crime.
The Art of Social War (it’s on Amazone HERE!) is a dark comedy about a New York couple that relocates to Hollywood and lands in a high stakes social war with a hardcore film industry Overlord and his equally hardcore Hollywood-Wife-with-Tenure, a daunting creature indeed. The social and professional obstacles that our heroine, Stacey, and her husband Jamey (Overlord’s nemesis) encounter are high drama, and (I’d like to think) high comedy too… please check it out, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
And yet, an extremely curious thing happened on the way to publishing said fictitious, debut novel:
Readers– especially girls and women, of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds, by the by, started writing to me through my website [www.theartofsocialwar.com], to tell me how the book and its storyline resonated with them in a decidedly non-fictional manner: for while the details are satiric and Hollywood-specific, these enervating tales of interpersonal woe are universally relatable. Readers proceeded to tell me their real life ‘War Stories,’ as reported from their own ‘front lines of battle,’ issues that occurred in their everyday lives. And then, they’d ask my advice on how to resolve these conflicts, Sun-Tzu style. I very quickly discovered that by having employed The Art of War in the context of one modern woman’s life (my own), I was really writing about how to overcome Very Bad Behavior, how to resolve conflict, especially in what I call Girl World 2.0 (all the changeable emotions and drama that we thought we were done with in middle school, which is what I refer to as Girl World 1.0.)
Not so much, it would seem.
These widespread issues of Bad Behavior are everywhere, it seems—from reality TV to Facebook to Twitter and too much in our every day lives, so much so that I am exploring them further in my new, non-fiction book, “The Art of War Experiment: Prepare to Triumph & Become Invincible!” Using these War Stories—as well as humor and defragmented fairy tale expectation so hard-wired into us– the question I ask is, can we overcome our socialization, as girls and women, and benefit from the pertinent and actionable wisdom of Sun Tzu, especially regarding how to handle interpersonal conflict, confrontation and negotiation, to make effective, winning decisions?
I’d like to think we can.
Now, women are pretty much of two minds re other women: on one hand, we have an expectation of sisterhood and unity; on the other, we are extremely wary, due to past negative experiences. It was at just such an emotional crossroads (that tricky and all-too-familiar intersection of dread and excitement, I mean) that I attended a Variety- magazine sponsored luncheon, the theme of which was ‘The Power of Women.’
To my great delight, the event turned out to be a uniquely inspiring experience. As Sun Tzu might say, out of chaos (even the emotional, anxiety-ridden kind) can come opportunity: I had the great good fortune to be seated next to two fantastic women, Carla Sanger and Catherine Stringer, who run LA’s BEST, which is an after-school enrichment program for at-risk children in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD.) I will add more information on LA’s BEST below.
In any event, Catherine, Carla and I hit it off and Catherine told of me of a very progressive program that they had just instituted, called the Young Authors Club. She invited me to visit one of the schools, meet the kids and possibly get involved in mentoring the children as a visiting author…
The second Thursday in November was my first full afternoon, and as luck would have it, the class was comprised of all girls, twenty 8 – 10 year-olds. The experience was inspiring, overwhelming, wonderful, and so so humbling, all at once. I got a thousand hugs when I left.
It was a study in contrasts for me, leaving the bubble-world of Hollywood and my usual stomping grounds and fieldwork re social conflict in Girl World 2.0. This school—less than seven miles from my home and yet a seeming world away, zeroed in right to the heart of my particular social study: fieldwork pre-Girl World 1.0.
As Sun Tzu would say, it is essential to understand the true nature of any conflict in order to begin to resolve it, and so where better to begin studying the whys and hows of Girl World then right at the very beginning?
On first look, all seemed fairly typical: the classroom was covered in multicolored-paper, alphabet letters and numbers and positivity-enforced messaging were everywhere. I mean: 9 is 9 is 9, right? The very young, soon-to-be Authors were seated at desks circled around the ‘Author’s Chair,’ a beaten up yet highly coveted director’s chair, in which a girl will sit and read her self-illustrated and bound-with-a-ribbon assignment aloud to the others, who then comment in a pre-determined, positivity-framed way: ‘I liked when you said that’ you liked pizza/were a good sister/could do your own hair,’ or ‘I wished that you had spoken louder,’ etc. Their pride of accomplishment upon completion was palpable.
After applauding through the cycle, Catherine and I spoke to the girls, who were thrilled to have such an appreciative audience.
Us: what’s the best part about being a girl?
Universal, immediate agreement: The clothes, hair accessories, sparkly things, shoes.
Us: what’s the worst part about being a girl?
A long pause, and then Robin, age 9, said:
Having to raise your baby all by yourself.
It was heartbreaking. Like she was proclaiming the inevitable; it was a foregone conclusion. And everyone nodded solemnly along with her.
Then the floodgates opened:
AnnaMarie, age 8: Miss Jodi, is there lots of drama and hitting at your house?
Beth, age 8: What do you do about the gangs? My sisters (ages 12 & 14) belong to one, and they get to wear purple on Thursdays…
Right here, this is where 9 is not 9. These little girls have so little expectation of anything, and yet there is a knowingness to them, like they ‘get’ the condition of ‘woman.’ Their eyes belie their years. They are internalizing the oppression and messaging they witness in their communities. It’s like they are teetering on a precipice—and they absolutely are: the precipice of adolescence. And boys and knives.
I was awe-struck. I wanted to rush in and pull them back, catch them one by one, before the cycle of statistics and oppression can begin anew.
The point of the Young Authors program is to educate and teach these girls to express themselves through words, to learn to be able to write and say what they think and know, what they can imagine and dream. It is liberating, powerful, and empowering. To learn how to use their VOICES—to advocate for themselves, to understand that they do indeed have choices, to stay in school at the very least and not join gangs. Most importantly, they need to learn about personal boundaries, and that they do have ultimate control over their own bodies…
I couldn’t help but think of Hans Andersen’s Little Mermaid, Ariel, who at too young an age sets her sights on a human prince and the earthly world and resolves to do anything just to be with him. She strikes a brutal deal with Ursula, the evil Sea Witch:
“But you must first pay me my dues,” said the witch. “You have the loveliest voice of all of the inhabitants of the deep, and you think to enchant him (the human prince) with it; but you must give over that voice to me. I must have the best of all you possess in exchange for my powerful potion.”
“But if you take away my voice,” said the Little Mermaid, “what shall I have left?”
“Your lovely form,” replied the witch. “Come put out your little tongue and let me cut it off for payment; then you shall be given the valuable potion.”
Essentially, the Little Mermaid gives up the very best of herself, that which made her unique and special: her tail and her voice, her SELF— in exchange for a false vision of adulthood that was premature and ultimately self-destructive.
R is for ‘Rude’
Robin had taken her turn in the Author’s Chair. The assignment was an acrostic exercise based on the girls’ names: R is for ‘resilient,’ O is for ‘observant.’
At the end of the day she told me, very upset, that a girl in a pink-striped skirt whispered snidely to her, ‘R is for Rude.’ Well! Robin was simmering, all right. Hostile nations have nothing on het-up pink-and-lavender, bedazzled little girls in escalation mode! We did in fact have a very calm and productive chat with Pink-stripe, and all together we managed to think of about twenty positive adjectives that start with R…
I’ve been visiting with the girls periodically over the last five months, and I have some very exciting news to share: not only will I continue to work with LA’s BEST to mentor this very special group, we are now developing a ‘next-step’ program, to pick-up where the excellent Young Authors leaves off. We will workshop The Art of War by writing a play together, with much of the content generated from the girls themselves. In a revolving way, I’d like them to role-play mean girl/victim socially aggressive behavior, and we will practice the assertion and strategic thinking skills necessary to resolve interpersonal conflicts in their everyday lives. And then, we will write about the empowering lessons learned.
I’m extremely enthusiastic and honored by the opportunity to help make a difference in these girls’ lives—and my own, too– through this actionable and empowering information. It will be a ‘real’ Art of War Experiment, and I will continue to post here throughout the period, on my and the girls’ progress.
Click for more information on LA’s BEST