Our Guide to Girlhood,
for the Curious Boys
I’ve been breaking a rule. I’ve been asking my male friends if they know about the book that baby girls get as soon as they are born and out of their mother’s womb. I guess their mothers never told them. Before we stop crying at the shocking newness of this world, in our tiny hands is placed The Girlhood Manual. We know how to read it; we’re born smarter, and we’re to mature faster, I promptly inform my male friends. By preschool we know to pretend to learn to read alongside them. We wouldn’t want them feeling inferior or resentful. I remember the look on each man’s face, as if the world has just been torn out from under them. Sometimes they wonder aloud why they never needed a manual to learn how to exist as a boy. But we learn how to be girls so fast that, before we are placed into our first crib in the hospital, we understand why our nametags are pink and theirs are blue. I usually tell boys that The Girlhood Manual goes something like this…
This is how you stay skinny, and this is how you don’t develop an eating disorder. This is how you always look your best, and this is how you don’t appear vain. This is how you love yourself. This is how you ensure you don’t love yourself too much. Remember that one, or people will hate you for it. This is how to make your mother proud! This is how you don’t become her. Staying close to your dad ensures self-respect. “Her poor father,” they will whisper if you embrace what’s yours. Your brother and your dad can sit. You get to answer your mother’s call. You wash and dry and wash and dry with her. Never ask why—people will look at you like you’re selfish and not like you’re trying to change the world. Ignore the calls on the street walking home from school. Ignore the texts he sends you late at night. This is how men talk to you when someone is there to hold them accountable. That is how men talk to you when no one is there to protect you. Make sure to still get married but don’t take his last name. It’s okay to not want kids, as long as you make sure to explain your decision to everyone. Feminism is all about choice. Hide your interests, feign others. A man won’t like you if you withhold sex, you prude. A man won’t respect you unless you wait until the third date, you whore. If you have a friend who is always mean to you, take it as a compliment. Rising above is feminine; forgive that bitch or assume the risk of becoming that bitch. Make sure you set your boundaries and state your feelings. This is how you do all of that without making them uncomfortable. Look at yourself through the eyes of other women. This is how you walk down the street. This is how you smile politely. This is how you go to class with a skirt on. This is how you interview for a job when you have children. This is how you go outside at night. This is how you say “no” without actually saying the word. This is how you kiss when you’re drunk. This is how you kiss when you’re in love. Make sure your friends know the difference, but he doesn’t. Make sure you don’t scare him away. Make sure you exist on Their terms. Be impossible. Do it effortlessly.
Alyson McVan is currently a senior at Miami University and majoring in creative writing. This is her debut creative nonfiction publication.