I can remember it almost to the day. Mrs. Katz’s class, fifth grade. Libby Kaufman started it. “I have a crush on Matthew Goldman. He’s sooooo cute!”
“I know!” giggled another girl. I stared, dumbfounded. They had apparently had this conversation before.
“I want to go out with him,” Libby said. She was at once dreamy-eyed and intent.
“Who do you like?” she said, turning to me.
I paused. Her eyes narrowed.
“Jeremy Siegel.” It was, no doubt, the first name that popped into my head.
“Oh, yeah, but he’s so short! You’re so much taller than him!”
I smiled tensely. I had an answer. That was all that mattered. I was still in the game – and there was now, indeed, a game. That day, everything shifted. Libby had come to school Boy Crazy. And you were either with her, or you were against her.
Becoming Boy Crazy is a rite of passage that girls either endure or relish, depending on who and where they are in their development. For the girls who want status and acceptance, boy craziness isn’t a choice. It’s part of the Good Girl job description. Girls learn, earlier and earlier, that being cool is about crushing on and being liked by high status guys. It makes you seem older and more sophisticated. It gives you something the other girls don’t seem to have.
But Boy Craziness imposes suffocating rules about sexuality and desire on girls who may not be ready for either. It equates status with heterosexuality. It launches girls into a staggering array of media and products that reinforce, sell, and accessorize Boy Craziness. And it’s the first step in a series of expectations about proving one’s femininity that begin with Boy Craziness, and progress to sexual activity.
I worry about the girls who feel like they need to act Boy Crazy in order to be accepted. It’s unclear just how many of these girls are out there, but being Boy Crazy is too richly rewarded to be authentic in every girl who says she’s dying to go out with a particular boy. What it means to have a crush and “go out” is the most obvious indication that it’s rarely about genuine feeling; in elementary school, it’s about projecting an image and wearing a label. It’s being together in name more than anything, and having something to talk about with your friends.
I watch some of my sixth grade students look longingly at their Boy Crazy peers, who cluster and giggle at the far end of the classroom. These “outsiders” perceive, if not consciously, that the Boy Crazy girls are entitled to a bond; they belong to a club that makes them seem older and more sophisticated. I watched it happen in my class of seventh grade girls. I asked them to say how they were feeling (a regular exercise I do). I had been getting responses like “excited,” “anxious,” “hyper” or “frustrated.” This time, the southwest corner began twittering.
“I’m hysterical and lovestruck,” said one. The girls around her laughed knowingly. A few more copped to being “lovestruck.” It was as if they had a secret or inside joke they shared, and in this one moment, they flaunted that to the rest of the girls, some of whom, I noticed, shifted uncomfortably in their seats. Even I felt weird about it.
This is one reason why Twilight is such a hit. If you think every girl who squealed in the movie theater was really wanting Edward, think again. Clutching a copy of Twilight (literacy benefits notwithstanding) is the latest Girl status accessory. Loving Edward on screen is not all that different from being Boy Crazy for the guys at your school.
This is how girls begin to dissociate from their feelings. They learn that the price of fitting in may be saying things they don’t mean – and telling themselves they feel things when they don’t. Here’s my advice to you:
- As a parent, it’s okay to question Boy Craziness. Let your daughter know that it’s okay if she’s not interested in guys, now or ever – and that, despite the appearance of everyone “suddenly” appearing to want to date, everyone comes to dating and sexuality on their own schedules.
- You don’t have to judge her for acting Boy Crazy if she feels she needs to go along with the group. But you can certainly give her space to explore that pressure at home. Ask your daughter what gives girls status, and how guys affect girls’ popularity.
- Teach her to think critically about what makes certain girls popular. Why are the more popular girls boy crazy, and the less popular girls seemingly uninterested in guys? What does she think about that? Who makes these rules, anyway?
Not long after I named my “crush” to Libby, she arranged for me to “French kiss” the boy in a fifth grade classroom after school. We did this by touching the tips of our tongues against each other for a split second, with Jeremy standing on a chair and a few other girls watching. I wish I could go back in time and say what I really thought to Libby. Do you remember becoming aware of Boy Craziness – or being Boy Crazy? Was it always real? Did you ever fake it?