From the time I hit puberty I was harassed, leered at, and targeted for reasons I had no hope of understanding.
Let's see: There was the time I was 15 and, eying a career in broadcasting, did a Saturday ride-along with the local news team. The smirking, fratty 30-something male reporter told me a dirty joke; it ended with a punchline about a tiger and me laughing nervously. There was the middle-aged guy at the pool who would leer and talk at me the summer I was 16; his chest hair glistened in the sun, oily and fluffy as sheep wool. I giggled at him too.
Even further back, at 14, I remember the bald guy who walked up behind me on the sidewalk and slipped his hand under my shorts to cup my left ass cheek. I gasped and flushed hot with shame as if it had been my fault, which it had not. There was the swimming counselor at camp who described in excruciating detail other men's reactions to my 15-year-old body in a bathing suit. There was the aggressively smiley brunette scooper who asked me what I liked to do for fun every time she saw me, which was weekly because Ben & Jerry's was right by my therapist. To these last two, the swim counselor and the ice cream lesbian, I reacted with flat affect. I had no clue what they were doing.
Fuckweasels lived and breathed heavily and said disconcerting things, but we didn't quite know how to talk about them, and so we giggled, uncomfortable and angry and unable to explain how or why.
Innocence had little to do with my callowness. I was a careless teen slut, dumping my virginity on the bench seat of a Dodge Ram a few months into my sixteenth year, but carnal knowledge didn't translate to any kind of worldliness. The dudes I fucked were as wide-eyed as I. My hymen's breaking imparted no sudden understanding, no matter how many myths and fairytales suggested the opposite.
I had girlfriends, of course, but they knew as little as I did. Our shared cluelessness, crazed hormones, and upbringing in the Middle-of-Assfuck-Nowhere, Vermont, added up to bupkis, knowledge-wise. Part of the issue is that I came of age in the late 1970s—the idea of "sexual harassment" was born in 1975, and only in the last 40 years have the things that were always hanging in the air been assigned names. Four decades ago, there was no language for talking about the Great American Fuckweasel, that genus of human who preys upon young women. Fuckweasels lived and breathed heavily and said disconcerting things, but we didn't quite know how to talk about them, and so we giggled, uncomfortable and angry and unable to explain how or why. By "we," of course, I mean girls.
In 1979, I saw a movie that writ large my gawpishness and discomfort. It was Woody Allen's Manhattan, and it starred Mariel Hemingway, who was 17 when she made the film, just a year older than me. I even looked like her: We shared the same squoval face, the same high cheekbones, the same small eyes. Watching her in Woody Allen's film, I saw my own awkwardness, my own beauty, my own fragility, and my own inability to understand why men (and some women) morphed into fuckweasels in my presence.
I saw that clutch in Hemingway's heart when she shared the screen with Allen, which was all the time, as if her character, Tracy, didn't exist unless Allen's character, Isaac Davis, summoned her into existence. Tracy's apparitional existence, I suspect, is as telling as the fact that Tracy has no last name. To Allen, she's just a beautiful girl perched on the lintel of becoming a beautiful woman. Unlike Meryl Streep, who plays Allen's ex-wife in the film, Tracy poses no threat. She is all sugar and spice and willowy limbs. As befits a fantasy, she has no backstory.
I watched Manhattan and I could see that Hemingway couldn't comprehend why Allen is acting like a fuckweasel because she couldn't quite understand what a fuckweasel is—and this, at its essence, is the uncanny aspect of female adolescence. Men glom to you as if you're magic when in fact you're blood and guts and hormones and thoughts. Men (and some women) lose their ever-loving logic. They expect you to carry the weight of their desire when you can't even recognize that desire for what it is.
Implicit in the warnings to young girls in flower is the idea that leering, woolly-chested predators will always be lurking.
Society fetishizes the time when a chick is not a girl but not yet a woman; we imbue it with magic. Ponder for a moment the tales about girls on the cusp of womanhood: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, all of Jane Austen, Twilight, most novels marketed to young adults, and just about every show not about demon-hunting brothers on the CW.
These narratives mostly suggest that it's a perilous thing to be a girl, that there are only two ways for girlhood to end: joyfully and with procreative marriage, or tragically in painful death. But that dyad isn't any more real than the poison apple or the dwarves with the Protestant work ethic. More importantly, implicit in the warnings to young girls in flower is the idea that leering, woolly-chested predators will always be lurking at swimming pools, on public transportation, in whatever caves they dwell in. Fuckweasels gonna fuckweasel, these omissions suggest.
Here's one thing rarely mentioned in the literature: Women lose their innocence every day and get better for it. I can tell you exactly when it happened to me. I was 19, slinging pizzas at a horrid little solo-waitress restaurant, still a careless slut. My boss, the owner, would pin me against the wall, one hairy arm on either side of me, to tell me all the things he'd like to do to me. Many involved a Jacuzzi. All involved my "dirty young pussy."
I would giggle and duck out from under his arms because I needed the job and the money that came from it. I knew enough to recognize him as an unrepentant fuckweasel, but it took me most of the summer to realize that I wasn't responsible for his fuckweaselry, to recognize that I didn't have to remain passive, and to understand that I could stop it. Then, one Friday night, the restaurant packed to bursting, he said something—I don't recall what it was—and I looked at him, untied my apron, threw it on the counter, and walked out into that good night. He was fucked, and I was delighted.
It may last only four or five years, but it's a long, tortuous, snow-white road from girldom to womanhood. Loss of innocence is the least of it. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled wasn't convincing the world he was dead; it was making us confuse innocence with knowing our own true worth. This essential, weighted tidbit is what you need to know—this and knowing the fuckweasels when you see them, avoiding them when possible, and, when it's not, being able to disarm them with one, cold blow to their tiny, tinny, shrunken egos.
Chelsea G. Summers writes for Adult Magazine and many other publications. Follow her on Twitter.