I’m offline! But I wrote this BEFORE I went offline, as a PLAN. Enjoy it now! Whilst I am not here!
“Naughty schoolgirl” is a concept that has been so porned out that it barely exists anymore. “Naughty schoolgirl”, someone will say to you, and your mind will reply “augmented woman in her late twenties wearing a bandeau “skirt”, fake tan, and white shirt tied so tightly I fear she may suffocate (on the shirt OR the cock you’re implicitly permitted to stick in her, come to think)”.
You know what? That sucks. Schoolgirls deserve to own their own sub-genres.
When I was a school-going girl and a Guide, in my early teens, my troupe picked the theme “St Trinians” for the parade we were in. We all wore rolled-up skirts, and tied up shirts, and ties tied around our heads or inappropriately loose. We wore knee-socks and fishnets and carried hockey sticks, and most of us had never heard of St Trinians before. This was the movie-verse St Trinians. Not nu-movies. The 50s-60s-1980 movies. I wore bunches.
It felt powerful and silly and fun, and I didn’t feel like I was giving anyone the right to touch me or fantasize about me or show me their genitals. I didn’t feel fake, I felt permitted to try out ‘loose’, in a socially permissive and/or “so in control of the situation that I don’t have to be in constant overwhelming control of myself” way rather than the hurrhurrvagina way.
Ronald Searle’s original St Trinians cartoons or comic strips, by the way, are really really good. You should read them.
Actually at the end of said parade, at the fair, a grown-up man I sort of knew (I think he was someone’s dad? maybe someone who knew someone I knew?) said to me, “Oh, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on”. I don’t know if he meant “those dress-up clothes” or if he was purposefully implying he had seen me naked, but either way I felt like I wanted to punch him in the fucking face. Because whichever he meant, his words suggested that he might have seen me undressed, and I thought: how dare you do that to me. I did not want to hear about sex, in any way, from any guy. Especially an adult. Especially in such a brusque way. Especially when I was wearing an outfit I knew, vaguely, was sometimes used to mean “slutty!”.
If you don’t get this, or if you feel inclined to say I was asking for it, maybe imagine that you’re wearing an outfit you really like and often air, and then you get a CC’d-to-all-your-friends email showing someone who looks kind of like you, wearing that exact outfit, having something done to them that you’d never want done to you. Or imagine that you move to a new place, where you discover that your name is the same word as the locals use to mean “worthless” or “fucking disgusting” or “fart” or “incest”.
I didn’t punch him, I looked hard at the nearest non-human object very hard and pretended I hadn’t heard. I had no power there.
That was probably about ten years ago, and “naughty schoolgirl” has really gained momentum as a thing since then. What are real school girls going to do, when their forays into rule-breaking and cheekiness and physicality and their own relationship to their own sexuality* are already telegraphed, loud and clear, in town centers and internet side-bar ads and on tv and in magazines (I hate you, Nuts and Cosmo and your ilk) and in the general consciousness, as being a message of “yes, you may fuck”?
*No. Just because someone is exploring themselves and the power or effect they may or may not potentially have (and if they like or are comfortable with it or not), it does not give you permission to be a leering douche. If someone is dressed “sexy”, it does not mean you get to say HAY BABY, I SEE YOU HAVE SEXUAL CAPACITIES!!. Act as normally as you can towards them, and that will tell them what they want to know. Be respectful. Don’t assume that they want anything from you. Especially? Especially if they are or might be underaged. Gee whiz.
I started thinking about this because of this picture in the paper:
It’s Hit-Girl, from the film Kick Ass,which I do not think I would enjoy. I don’t like the comic and I can’t get behind eleven year old murderers played for awsums. I do have a soft spot for Nic Cage though. THEY’RE IN MY EYES!. She’s played by Chloe Moretz, who was born in 1997 (and who’s gonna be in the (actually really positive-sounding) re-make of Let the Right One In. Go Chloe!). So she’s twelve or thirteen in this picture. Do you see the differences, between Hit-Girl here and the average current “naughty schoolgirl”? Yes. Yes, you do.
This picture reminded me of another comicbook (as you wish, Stan Lee!) depiction of a schoolgirl gone wrong. Here’s Jenny, 15, from Grant Morisson’s excellent (excellent!) book The Invisibles. She appears on two pages as far as I can tell (does she return? I haven’t read every volume), and she’s pretty darn enjoyable, as a character.
Okay so I said above that I can’t get behind killer kids, true – but forgive me my over-generalising. Hit-Girl’s essentially a real-world fictional kid, albeit a highly skilled one, and she’s gonna have to live with being a people-chopper for the rest of her real-world fictional life. Jenny’s metafictionally one of the last survivors in a post-apocolyptic Enemies Exist world, born of a psychically well-protected mind being tortured. That changes things up. Am I a hypocrite? Bollocks.
The thing here, is that these are two internally enormous, badass, power-reaching characters who know how to do what they’re doing and who don’t do just what they’re told (or what we as viewers know they’re societally told), who are nevertheless currently encapsulated by the school uniform. They don’t fit, level-one semiotically; it’s still understood that school uniform means “be good”. That’s why school uniform, and the “schoolgirl” part of “naughty schoolgirl” matter: the goodness is there to be subverted. Whether you’re talking sex-play, or violence, or anything else.
>>Other objections aside, it is SO LAZY and missing-of-the-point to turn the school uniform into full-on erotic decoration. If you make it into a straight-up string-stripper outfit, you lose the reason you were interested in the first place! You lose the character, you lose the realness, you lose the honesty. All you’re left with is “isn’t screwing hot?”, which, wow. Fascinating.< <
Jenny and Hit-Girl’s skirts are short, and we can see Jenny’s knickers, and knee-socks have enough cultural-sexual baggage already that they can mean ‘saucy’ by themselves – these outfits aren’t completely unsexualised or unsensualised. Like I mentioned, we tied up our school shirts and rolled up our skirts in the Guides parade (we rolled up our skirts in school – that’s a pretty culture-wide experience). I’m not arguing for the sterilisation of teens, image-wise or biologically!
I think that the photo of Hit-Girl is a good one, and I can dig those two pages of Jenny in Invisibles. Not in any way because I want to exploit them sexually, but because I can sympathise and empathise with these pictures. That’s a lot of what fiction is for, I think – more than just entertainment and escape. It’s not quite identification – it’s understanding what characters, as constructs before/as well as people, mean; Hit-Girl here and Jenny are about bursting out of your chrysalis – saying YEAH FUCK THAT, WHATEVER! and going really, really fast at your own discretion. Being aware of the body that you’re in, what it can do and what it means to you. Feeling that anybody who wants to appropriate any of that can go blow away to nowhere. They’re about moments of realisation that you’re god of your own damn universe, and you make the rules for you.
It’s easy to see how those sorts of thoughts can segue (for teens or between consenting adults interacting with this sort of imagery) into “let’s do it”. They don’t have to, but they can, and that’s fine! That’s nice, even! Know yourself, enjoy yourself, use symbols that you like or that speak to you (I’m not assuming I need to give permission here, I’m just hopefully making it clear that I’m not trying to somehow deny you permission to do what you want in private. I don’t want to know about what you do in private (or public, if it’s shaggin’)).
But these feelings, grown organically, are too necessary and vital to have them publicly and almost overwhelmingly equated with misogynistic, performative, no-strings intercourse.
‘Sex’, a lot of people seem to forget to remember, is not about what platonic-I can do for platonic-you. It’s not simply about places to put penises or things in vaginas. First of all, it is about what platonic-I can do for platonic-me, and basically, the rest of the world has no rights to that.
It just thinks it does.
It’s Fanning’s movie: You can taste the ex–child actor’s relish for playing “jailbait.” But can she be ogled in good conscience [since she's fifteen]? The taste is sweet and sour. — David Edelstein, NYMag.com, on The Runaways
No, Jerkface, she can’t. But you can empathise, or sympathise, or just allow her to enjoy it without trying to make it all about you. EMPATHY AND SYMPATHY. Do you speak them?
Lady Gaga says she’s decided “to be single at this point in my life because I don’t have the time to get to know anybody. And you know what? It’s OK. Even Lady Gaga can be celibate.” — Lady Gaga via Margaret @ jezebel.com, via The Star
I kind of like Lady Gaga, maybe. Her costumes are often sexually coded, and then she outright says to her fans “it’s okay not to have sex if you don’t feel like it, no matter how you feel like dressing”. Anti-rape culture. That kind of stuff needs to be said.
So that’s what I think about “naughty schoolgirls”. That people should leave them alone, for goodness’ sake, and let the real ones be able to think that they (re-)invented the trope. Because you know what? If they did, they did.
“People think that our images were dictated to us by men, and that’s not the case,” she says. “It’s not like [our producer] Kim Fowley sat down and said, ‘Cherie, you’re gonna wear a corset. And Lita, you’re gonna wear shorts onstage.’ We would have laughed! Nobody told us what to wear. People like to think that that’s the case because if teenage girls are being sexual” – her voice drips with sarcasm – “obviously men have something to do with it.” — Joan Jett to the LA Times (via Jezebel! Natch!)