Life and My Box: Bad Girl Throws Up on the White Picket Fence

Kate Zahnleiter was raised by a single working mother and a television. She writes that “not a day goes by in which I’m unable to relate something which occurs in real life back to an episode of something I watched as a child, teenager or young adult.” In Life and My Box, Kate will be sharing the lessons she has learned from TV. First up, Dawson’s Creek (*~I DON’T WANNA WAIT~*):

Consider a conversation I overheard in the lunch room:

Mum 1: My son just told me he’s started having sex.

Mum 2: Oh dear. Are you worried?

Mum 1: That depends on what kind of girl he’s sleeping with.

Mum 2: Good point. And what kind is she?

Mum 1: Well I just flat out asked him—is this a nice, sensible girl you’ll be dating or is it a…you know…slut thing?

Me: Ahmmmmmm? (which is what I usually say when I’m about to insert myself into a conversation which has nothing to do with me and give my unasked-for opinion.)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that sensible and slutty are mutually exclusive qualities and that girls must be divided into such categories. In an episode of Mad Men, women are referred to as “Jackies” or “Marilyns.” In my day, the day of Dawson’s Creek, teenage girls were Joeys or Jens. I’d like to give some current examples but I won’t because I don’t know any because I am very old.

When I was sixteen, Dawson’s Creek taught me that I could be brunette and chaste and respected (Joey), with the offset being I’d also be poor and boring and sooooooo whiney. On the other hand I could be blonde and sexy and fun (Jen), but I’d be messed-up and never taken seriously, with guys always wanting their milk for free without any cow-purchasing whatsoever. This seemed to make total sense at the time, and my friends and I chose our hair dye accordingly.

“Don’t you think it’s a little harsh to refer to a teenage girl as a ‘slut thing’?” I asked.

“Not if it’s true,” Mum 1 replied. Because we all know how meaningless a young girl’s self-esteem is in the important quest for the truth.

Joey was a tomboy and was universally praised for this, because apparently it’s good for a girl to get as close to becoming a guy as she possibly can without actually having a penis. Joey only had male friends and was very serious all the time, and every boy she met fell in love with her (including Jack, who was totes gay). Meanwhile, Jen’s parents caught her having sex with a random guy in their bed in New York, and instead of chatting to her about it they sent her into sexile to live with her Christian grandma in Capeside. Jen then refers to herself as a slut or whore throughout the next few seasons—even though she never actually has sex with anyone else ever—and nobody contradicts her, because once a rampant slut always a rampant slut, right?

At the end of the series, Joey has to choose between two stand-up guys (yeah, I’m sticking by that statement. Joshua Jackson is objectively wonderful, and The Beek has an excellent sense of humour when it comes to that hilarious Crying Dawson meme) who have both loved her for about ten years beyond reason (seriously, beyond any reason. Joey Potter is really unpleasant, and shaking your head really quickly while you speak out of the side of your mouth is NOT acting, Katie Holmes) as well as her actual boyfriend who is rich and played by Jeremy freaking Sisto. Jen, however, gets knocked up, dumped, and has to give her baby daughter to her best friend to raise because oh no, she just died of the bad heart she apparently had her entire life, even though this is the first any of us has ever heard of it.

“I don’t believe in a ‘type’ of girl,” I told my colleagues, as I tell anybody who will listen—my friends, teenage step-sisters, that guy I met in the Valley a few weeks ago. “I don’t believe in the word ‘slut’.”

The concerned mothers looked at me and then each other, and I knew exactly what they were thinking.

“Well, then,” said Mum 1, and turned back to her bagel.

I thought about asking if her son was a Dawson or a Pacey, but I didn’t want to stoop to her level.

As fate would have it, Katie Holmes was recently cast as Jackie Kennedy in a TV miniseries (which was unfortunately axed because Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ex-wife didn’t like it) while Michelle Williams got the part of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. Because girls are Joeys and Jackies or Marylins and Jens. But then maybe there are girls who are all of those things together or those who are none at all, and maybe every time you reduce someone else to one word you reduce yourself.

When I was a teenager I was blonde and brunette, but then mostly a redhead because if I could choose to be Joey or Jen that also meant I could choose to be Dana Scully.

Lesson learned: don’t sleep with a co-worker’s son.

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