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May 31, 1999 e-mail e-mail to a friend in need



Dear Breakup Girl,

I'm thirteen and have had the same boyfriend, Greg, for five months. He's really sweet on the phone but when we get to school he blows me off. He's always flirting with all these other girls and when they ask about me he says, "Talia who?" I love him a lot and everything but in front of his boys it's "Let me see your tits!" or "Give me a kiss!" ALL THE TIME!!! Then five minutes later he'll walk right past me in the hallway and not say anything to me. School's almost over and he lives way over south and I live way over north and I'll never see him. What should I do???

-- Talia

Dear Talia,

Homework: go out and rent dumb old movies like "My Fair Lady" and "A Little Romance" and "Oklahoma!" I'm not saying that things will or should turn out exactly the same way in your life, but I will say that having boyfriends (girlfriends, whatever, whomever one dates) who sing on your street and row you under magic bridges and take out the surrey just for you, because you're you, is not too much to ask. It's not.

I understand that Greg's sweet to you on the phone and that you "love him a lot and everything." And I understand that you might like to see him this summer (because maybe, just maybe, you could have a few nice moments without the boys he's clearly trying pretty hard to impress). But Talia? Boyfriends -- though they are allowed to have flaws -- are not about taking what you can get. They're not about, like, "the good part." You may not have had a lot of boyfriends so far, which is fine, but maybe you don't have a basis for comparison, so let me tell you this: as you already sense, what G's doing at school and in front of his friends is Unacceptable Boyfriend Behavior. It overrules and outweighs -- and actually, kind of cancels out -- even Nightly Phone Sweetness. Have you talked to him about it? Have you told him that it bothers you? If you haven't, that's a problem, because I want you to date people, well, who don't act like this in the first place, but whom you feel comfortable talking to if something they do happens to cross a line for you. And if you have talked to him about it, and he's done nothing, that's a really big problem.

Talia, normal boyfriends are proud of you. They like to be identified with you, seen with you, out in the surrey or otherwise. But that pride comes out of respect. I'm not saying this guy doesn't respect you somewhere deep down, but what does it matter if he doesn't show it? He is just plain Not Allowed to use the T-word in your face, order you around, or ignore you. Boyfriends don't do that. That is not how it is, and that is not what you should settle for. I know he's probably shy and confused on the inside and trying to fit in on the outside, but a lot of guys who are shy and confused on the inside find other ways to fit in outside. I know a lot of people might say, "Hey, that's how boys are," but I know a lot of boys who'd be all, "Yo, I'm a boy, and I would never disrespect a girl like that."

So if I were you, Talia, I'd stay north for the summer. When you meet one of those "Yo, I'm a boy..." boys, who treats you with respect -- which I promise promise promise you will, so don't accept this as How It Is, from him, or anyone -- you'll say, "Greg who?"

Breakup Girl


Hey, everyone. Let me tell you what this is: Lousy Deal-Breaking Boyfriend Behavior.

Let me tell you what this is not (as far as I can tell): Sexual Harassment.

The Supreme Court ruled last week that public schools may be sued for failing to take action when harassment takes place in their halls. As Justice O'Connor stated for the majority, the harassing behavior "must be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies its victims the equal access to education" guaranteed by federal law in Title IX, which bars sex discrimination in any educational institution receiving federal dollars. (In a landmark 1993 AAUW / Louis Harris poll, students reported that harassment: made them not want to attend school or talk in class, affected their grades, etc.)

I want to remind you guys -- given this recent decision -- that harassment, as the court has clearly defined it, is not Girls Complaining. (Nor is it Boys, Gay Students, Goths, et. al. -- who are also subject to harassment -- Complaining.) It is not your average, incidental (though non- Breakup-Girl-endorsed) brastrap pulling, name-calling, turbo-flirting, etc. It is when all that stuff, heaped on particular person, becomes so bad that the only thing s/he learns at school is how to dodge the harasser-- and yet the school does not step in. Then, and only then, might charges -- against the school -- stick.

Meaning --? That you guys should

(a) not freak out. No, this ruling is not going to turn schools into some sort of puritanical police state. Don't worry, you can still be vulgar and hormonal! Arguably/ideally, now that the court has spelled out where schools are expected to step in ("severe, pervasive...."), they may be less inclined to bust you where they're not (Two Minutes in the Closet).

(b) speak up. That said, don't be afraid that school folks won't listen. Look, some big powerful grownups whom you actually study in U.S. History have told the school people they better. If the first one doesn't listen, try another. That's their job; it's the law.

(c) quit it. Hey, does Talia's boyfriend sound like any of you? Court, schmort -- let me tell you this: you do not look cool when you do stuff like that. You look like someone trying to look cool. Which is lamest of all. (Also: does Talia's boyfriend sound like someone who was just doing that right next to you? Let me tell you this: you do not look cool when you stand there and let stuff like that happen, either.)

(d) check out our poll on this topic.

Have some courage; have some respect. For others and yourself. Deserve and demand better. Allowing or perpetrating harassment (by any definition) will, ultimately, do nothing for your street cred, or your future career on, say, the Supreme Court. Oh, wait.



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