My youngest sister is 12 and she lives with my parents — obviously. This is scary for me because she is now around the age when most kids in Lloydminster, where my family lives, split into one of two groups: the shitty burnout kids who start drinking and smoking weed, and the kids who find religion and become Baptists. My sister went to church camp this summer, so we can already see in which direction she’s headed.
I don’t begrudge her religion. First of all, she’s 12 years old, and people at that age are far less cynical and more liable to believe in things than unhappy young adults like myself. Second of all, religion is a positive thing in a lot of people’s lives, especially when they try to navigate the unpleasant shit-pile that high school so often is and which she is quickly approaching.
But I was looking at a book she got recently as part of her newfound Christianity, and it scared me. At first it looked fine. It’s a little pink book with pretty script writing on the cover and it’s called Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood. Each page has a title and a little tip on how to live well and navigate puberty. Sounds pretty innocuous, right? Just girls rappin’ about makeup and boys and how scary it is when your first school dance comes up.
There are, I want to emphasize this, some good things in this book. Do your homework, be happy with how you look, etc. Some solid life tips for preteen girls that are also in keeping with being a good Christian. Then there’s some weird shit that I think is dumb and crazy, but not that terrible. Start tithing — donating, in layman’s terms — 10 per cent of your money to your church now so it becomes a habit. Whatever, but I guess, sure; if you want to do that, I don’t have a problem with it. St. Mary’s is really going to be grateful for the $25 a year you give them from your allowance.
But then there is some pernicious, cleverly worded advice that is fucking terrible. One page is titled “Flirting is False” and it tells girls not to lead boys into the “sin of lust,” like it’s women’s job not to make men horny. (Which is actually what a lot of people think, but those people are ridiculous. Men can be responsible for themselves just like women are. That’s what being a human entails.)
Another entry says it’s important to know how to cook at least one supper and one dessert so you will always be ready to “serve and impress,” like that’s the pinnacle of any girl’s existence. Not, like, a fulfilling life with friends and school or a job or whatever you want to do. Just being able to “serve and impress” other people at a moment’s notice with some killer quiche and an exquisitely crafted sponge cake. That is the sole purpose of your life, young lady, so get to it.
The one page that most blew my mind, which was similar to the aforementioned bit about flirting, was one that discussed dressing provocatively. It said that doing so will make boys lust for you (again, not a girl’s problem). At this point Girl Talk quotes the Bible’s book of Matthew, which says, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
This is the last sentence I read before my face turned red and steam shot out my ears, because no. Putting aside how fucking ridiculously horrific and wrong it is to blame the nation’s crusty socks on girls wearing modest V-necks, no, lust is not the same thing as adultery. Jesus Christ! It is definitely not the same thing!
Saying lust is the same as adultery is like saying that being angry is the same as murdering someone. Like you go home from work thinking, “Boy, Carol said some dumb shit at work today. She just makes my blood boil every time she opens her mouth,” and then the police arrest you because you murdered Carol by thinking that. Except as we all know, you didn’t. You did not become an actual astronaut when you went to Space Camp in fifth grade, and you did not magically kill someone by feeling angry at them.
A 14-year-old, hormone-soaked boy obsessed with catching glimpses of navels is so far removed from a fully-grown adult committing to another person, those are not even the same type of thing. One thing is an idea and the other is a deliberate action.
One is a tween still coming to terms with himself as a person and with the world around him. The other is a fully grown, adult person saying to another fully grown, adult person, “Yes. I love you and I will be with you and just you forever,” and then turning around two years later when shit gets boring and meeting a barista at the nearest Holiday Inn Express to fuck on his lunch break.
For a book that markets itself to teenaged and pre-teenaged girls, with an innocent script font for the title, Girl Talk contains some dark, intensely mature ideas. I don’t think my 12-year-old sister is old enough to be expected to take responsibility for her own romantic or lustful feelings, let alone someone else’s. I completely disagree with the tack this book takes, that girls are guilty of seducing and arousing boys and men even before they become fully mature women, and it worries me that books like this masquerade as innocent, mainstream advice books for kids.
In conclusion, fuck you, pink religion book. If you have your way you’re going to destroy my sister and her relationship toward sex and love, and I hate you for it.
Illustration: Samantha Braun/The Sheaf