After two weeks devising work with young women attending summer camp in Maine in 2017, I have some new thoughts on girlhood. The 4th and 5th graders fought to the death for single solo lines and the high schoolers refused to perform. I want to know what happens to girls in middle school. I want to know why one girl started most scenes with "I should have listened to my mother. I hate you." I want to know if she thought that was funny, or if it's all she could think of. I want to know if that's still a joke in her mediasphere or if her family is old school and watches black and white TV. Or if her mother really should have listened to her mother. I want to know why the 2nd graders wanted to do all their own original choreography and the 9th graders wanted to be set like china for dinner.
I want to know what it is about a secret, whispered between two teens, that makes even me want to know the juice. And I want to always remember what it feels like to be the third girl they beckon in and the fourth girl they don't.
Smidge and I were in a corner of the gym before Poms practice vowing to tell each other our crushes. We each spoke a boy's name (same boy) and screamlaughed, intoxicated in our good taste. We skipped around the three-point line singing The Sound of Music. It didn't matter we were in "competition." We weren't. We were in 8th grade. When "going out" didn't mean going anywhere. It was how we showed our loyalty and our love, these private passings.
It had been this way a long time. I didn't fully trust my best friend because she would never admit to loving her obvious affection-target. She was my favorite person, but I watched her carefully. In fourth grade someone said she didn't have any crushes. "But you have to," we pressed. "But I don't," she insisted. I can't remember if I really didn't believe her or if I just didn't want to, but we pushed until she practically yelled, "OKAY FINE IF I HAVE TO, I LIKE ____ HAMPSTER!" There was a boy in our class named _____ Hampson. In her total distress she had misspoke.
Later, once we had boyfriends, the new secrets were about us. Who said what about who to who and who retold. We ate our own tails in gossip and serious nods. I see a past of closed mouths and deep deep treasures of family darkness. I see wives of important men with tight lips. I see a future where a lack of bragging saves our butts. Where female generals refuse to disclose and never lose. But to prepare, first, girls need better secrets.