Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Certain Type of Girl

There's a certain type of girl that I observe frequently, and with increasing distress. I'll describe a recent encounter.

A couple of weeks ago, I took my five-year-old nephew to Arctic Circle, a fast-food restaurant near my home in a suburb south of Salt Lake City. He was enjoying the indoor playground; I was sipping a diet Coke and admiring him. A mom and her kids showed up, joining another mom and her kids who were already there. They greeted each other warmly. The combined children ranged in ages from about two to thirteen.

One girl in particular caught my eye. She was seven or eight, and very attractive. She was tall and slim. Her Northern European skin had a healthy glow, as did her waist-length blond hair. I gathered (from overheard conversations) that Mom had spent all morning crimping said hair, and it cascaded past the girl's shoulders like an expensive wedding veil. Pinned atop her head was a huge lime-green daisy.

Her outfit reminded me of a more wholesome version of something I've seen in the Victoria's Secret summer catalog. Her denim shorts were a modest above-knee length, but were skin tight, emphasizing the curve of her backside, and her rounded thighs. Her white eyelet top had one-inch straps, a fitted bodice, and a gathered skirt that fell smock-like to just below her waist. She looked adorable.

I didn't tell her she looked adorable, but everyone else did. Friends and strangers admired her pretty hair, her pretty blouse. I think it's unlikely that a day goes by that she doesn't hear the words "You're a beautiful girl" from a grandparent, a neighbor, a piano teacher, an ice-cream man. I'd bet my eight-month emergency fund that she's adept at learning, at memorizing, at reading aloud. Perhaps not yet--but soon--she'll be joining Mom at yoga class, and perhaps they'll hold demanding poses side-by-side on the family-room floor during next season's "American Idol."

I was enjoying my Coke and keeping an eye on my nephew, when the girl approached the play structure. She climbed the stairs, grabbed onto each side of the padded entrance, and froze. Her back was to me, but she turned her head slightly, to verify that--yes--she was preventing another child from entering.

Her favorite prey (perhaps her only prey) is a boy, slightly smaller or younger than herself. Someone who's not going to shove her face-first into the structure, to land clumsily on the vinyl-covered padding. Someone who's not going to say, "You're blocking the entrance. Move immediately, or I'll summon an employee, and have you removed from the premises." But someone who will cower slightly, unsure how to proceed, because he wants access to the playground, but he doesn't want to be perceived as a bully.

My nephew turned to me for guidance, a nervous smile on his face. He had one foot on the ground, and one foot on the stairs. The girl held her position, and an ugly sneer began to form on her flawless face.

In two strides, I was there. "Move aside, sweetheart," I said in an unfriendly tone. Upon getting caught, her sneer changed quickly to a sheepish grin. She shrugged, and climbed down. It was clear that she wasn't interested in the playground equipment, but only in preventing others from enjoying it. I admit to wanting to slap her.

Her meal arrived, and she sat down to eat, immediately complaining because she wanted ketchup instead of fry sauce, and she wanted a corn dog instead of mini corn dogs. Her mother apologized, and jumped up to fix the order. I watched the girl, thinking about what this might look like in adulthood.

In the late nineties, in Dallas, I had a neighbor named Tiffany. She was in her mid-twenties, and newly (if not happily) married. She confided to me that she didn't want sex (ever again!), but that she very much wanted men to want to have sex with her. She wanted men to crave her...keenly, desperately, endlessly, futilely. Her clothes, her makeup, her hair, her hairlessness, her augmentation, her brief foray into stripping...were all designed to make men want her. What brought Tiffany pleasure was the frequent opportunity to reject advances. "My degree of pleasure is commensurate with a man's degree of disappointment when I reject him," she once said. (She didn't really say that, but that's what she meant.)

Now--God knows--I've never been one to reject advances, but I'm sure there have been times when I've cared more about decreasing the share of others, rather than increasing my own share (and, to my shame, I usually direct this tendency toward women, rather than men). I wonder: If I had a friend who was a single woman, and I had the opportunity to introduce her to a man--a potential mate--and that man was superior in any (or every) way to my man (unlikely, but for the sake of argument)...would I do so? Would I tell her about a job opportunity, if it was better than my job? Would I tell her about a compliment that was paid her, if it highlighted a strength of hers, and a weakness of mine?

I don't know if men share this unpleasant tendency. Based on my narrow experience, I think that most men are focused on getting more, rather than ensuring that others get less. This is borne out to some degree by my experience (you guessed it) at the indoor playground.

A week later, we returned to Arctic Circle. There were three girls playing when we arrived; they were a year or two older than my nephew. I watched as he approached them...as he made it clear that he was available to join their playgroup. (Other moms send text messages or read "Twilight" while their children play, but my eyes never leave him. He's absolutely compelling.) Soon, he joined me at the table. "They don't want to play with me," he reported. "That's okay," I said. But the next time he climbed to the top of the play structure, and approached the slide entrance, the prettiest of the three girls blocked his way. (Her name was Adriana. Maybe her parents have HBO, and admired the attractive junkie on Sunday nights.) I wiped the fry sauce from my fingertips, crossed the room, and looked up at them. "Let him pass," I told her. She smiled at me broadly, revealing perfect teeth, and pirouetted away.

I do my best, but the over-sized and confrontational aunt isn't the best deterrent to this type of girl. The best deterrent is the slightly older child, either male or female, who cares more about seeking his or her own pleasure, and less about contributing to another child's pain. I silently cheer when I see a nine- or ten-year-old kid enter the playground, especially if he or she possesses a little swagger.

On this day, my savior was a ten-year-old boy with uncombed hair and a cast on his right wrist. He had no desire to play with the clique of younger girls, and was intimidated not at all. He said "Sure!" when my nephew said "Wanna play?" They gathered additional playmates, and soon it was all about Rebel Fighters and Storm Troopers, with the ten-year-old boy as leader. They plowed past the three girls, scattering them. It wasn't long before the girls joined in (perhaps weary of sitting in a tight circle and passing judgment).

All the kids got a little sweaty that day, and had a lot of fun. There were friendly farewells as groups of kids left with their parents. "Bye, Adriana!" my nephew hollered. I stood, and dumped my fast-food trash. "Yeah...can't wait to meet up with you again in junior high," I said quietly.

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