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  • Writer's pictureHailo

In defense of the girlhood essays

& why teenage girls love Kafka

I’ve thought about eliza mclamb ‘s essay “Everyone's Writing Sounds the Same Now” — on the girlhood essay and the commodification of writing and the fact that no one has a new experience really (artists just kind of find a way to color things differently and be more honest than the average person) — a bit. I agree, but I just want to add a little note onto it.

I think it’s delightful that teenage girls and women reflecting on girlhood have a platform to do so now publicly with some sort of recognition, because boyhood and writing about boyhood has held so much reverence and respect in the literary world (and the world world) for… ever. So I like that the girls are getting a moment and I hope the moment will age into cultural acclaim and reverence. But I think we also have to be heavy-handed in making sure that it does. Like we have to actually appreciate the discourse and documentation around girlhood and be willing to take it in earnest. I think a good point of comparison is Tobias Wolff (who I have two books by on my shelf and even though I have not read them, I will!). His memoir (?) is called This Boy’s Life, right? He’s justifiably very well respected and was just given some sort of award. Now think about how we’d culturally accept (or reject) something called This Girl’s Life.

And as a point of comparison, let’s think of Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir. Britannica describes the book as:

In Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, de Beauvoir included travel stories, set pieces, metaphors, intimate portraits, philosophical musings, and desultory political comments as she described her early years, when she tried to “get other people interested in her soul.” The book enjoyed critical and popular success, in part because of its clear prose and its warmth and flashes of humour.

Trying to get others interested in your soul sounds a lot like the teenage years of existing as a girl/woman/some growing thing. Mary Pipher in Reviving Ophelia does a careful and wonderful job of depicting how strange and heartbreaking teenage years can be (even pre social media!). We have to be willing to take girlhood in earnest. To affirm that their souls are already interesting without their relationship to men or media or culture. And we have to do that with our own reflections on girlhood as well. We can’t let the commodification of girlhood taint how we feel about it ourselves.

“I’m just a girl.”

You were a girl. Take out the “just” and the ironic tone of it all. You were a girl. It’s fair to reflect on the nuances of that. Do it. Keep doing it.

Quote women writers more more (the call is coming from inside of the house, I know), even —especially— when they’re writing about something other than gender. (Reminds me of a point Victoria made on writing and identity in this) The institutions that build cannons and give out awards are made up of people, as are the courts and the law, which brings me to my next topic…

…We are reading The Trial by Kafka for book club (join w a paid subscription) and it’s so wonderful that teenage girls on the internet love Kafa because it makes so much sense. He writes about feeling angsty and strange in your bedroom in different surrealist ways. That was adolescence. Except we didn’t have to wake up as cockroaches to feel like our world had turned over, we had cliques that woke up and decided that they hated you one day. That was our trial.

Here is our presentation of how Kafka would use social media:

Sarah said that Kafka would definitely be a tumblr boy.

Hannah said Kafka would timidly share but not share his writing on his IG story like “Oh, I’ve been working on some things, lmk if you want to see it… ”

Serena said Kafka would be on Arena (tumblr if it was more intellectual).

I think Kafka would be on Kafka reddit, anonymously.

Join Book Club (through a paid sub) to participate. We meet on Tuesday evenings live, or you can participate by listening after and joining the discussion threads. The founding tiers will be invited to an irl version in New York at the end. It will be strange but delightful.


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