First published on Sunday the 2nd of July, 2017, this piece comes in at number 30 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2017.
Growing up as teenage girls isn’t easy. Trying to come to terms with our changing bodies, raging hormones, and finding our feet in the world… Then there’s the fact that we also have to contend with the teenage male version. And let’s face it. Teenage boys can be dicks.
When boys eventually grow up and become men, do they look back on themselves and their behaviour, especially towards the girls they knew, and want to give themselves an uppercut to the head?
I decided to find out by asking a group of male friends what would they tell their teenage selves if they had the chance to go back in time. And has their perspective on women changed with the benefit of hindsight?
“I was fairly shy and nervous around girls,” says Tim. “The result was that I tended to treat girls in the same was I would guys – as mates.”
Jason said much the same thing. “I lacked a wee bit of confidence around girls, so I tried overcompensating by being funny, and ended up as Mayor of ‘Friendzone’. At the time, I thought it was awful as so many guys were bragging about what they had done with whom, and I had no stories to share. I’ve come to realise that most of those stories were probably made up!”
The influence of mothers and sisters also played a significant role in how the men I spoke with viewed women.
Tim credits his solo parent mother and elder sister as being, “strong, independently minded but friendly and caring personalities, who influenced my feelings for, and the treatment of girls throughout my teenage years.”
Gary told me how he “was brought up in a matriarchy. Mum ruled the roost, and although I love her dearly, I was a little fearful of her, even as a teen. I had two older sisters who fed me spoonfuls of Pat Benetar, The Pretenders, ABBA, Rickee Lee Jones – lots of strong women with attitude. I had a real penchant for strong women on TV too. I remember kissing the screen when Wonder Woman was on.”
Will remembers he “was in an awful hurry to grow up and get amongst the hair and the adult relationships. I was 16 when I jumped into my first relationship with a girl I really knew nothing about, and had nothing in common with. I blame the TV I was watching at the time, which was all about relationships, who’s sleeping with who, who fancies who, and who’s going to be sleeping with who next. Plus all the cool guys had sweet sideburns or goatees. Shows like Melrose Place, and Beverly Hills 90210.”
Most of the men I spoke with agreed that the culture of male bravado was a common theme growing up.
“We have a culture of telling boys and men what it means to ‘be a man’,” Sam told me. “Look at how they’re portrayed on ads and in other media. They’re muscly, they like rugby, drink beer, spend time hanging with other blokes, have a really hot girlfriend who isn’t needy, wants sex whenever he does, and doesn’t talk about his emotions. And of course, a man should conquer as many women as he can, because then he’s the manliest of them all!”
Gary admits that he bought into that mentality when he was a teenager. “I must have dated fifty girls between the ages of 14 and 16 before losing my virginity. Sadly, I lacked any emotional connectivity portal, and all my relationships were hollow and meaningless. They were all based on what music you were into, and when it got too hard, I’d just think ‘I deserve more’ and move onto the next thing. I was terrible. I was so into that feeling I’d get when these gorgeous girls would want to be with me. It was ALL about how I felt. I don’t think I ever thought about how they felt. I always thought I was doing the right thing by finishing it when it would ‘go cold’ for me.”
The macho culture that most young men are exposed to can be incredibly damaging, especially for the young women who experience the effects of this mentality, Sam reckons.
“[Teenage girls] are the ones who are made to feel like they’re never be hot enough to be worthy, the ones who feel like they’re only being seen as an object for a man to fuck and nothing more, the ones who have been sexually harassed and/or who have been sexually assaulted by men who think their behaviour is just ‘boys being boys’. But you can’t get angry at young men for not knowing something they haven’t been taught. I was never taught this at school. Sex ed was all about STIs and condoms and don’t do it until you’re married and that’s it. Respect and consent was just assumed. But when the macho thing is being shoved down our throats from every angle, how is a teenage boy supposed to know anything different?”
So what advice would these men give their teenage selves with the perspective of experience and maturity?
“Settle down, relax, take a load off, be young, make friends with girls, spend time with your mates, and just enjoy being young. I finally learnt as an adult to date a girl you’d actually want to be friends with,” says Will.
Sam’s advice? “The only true criteria to being a ‘real man’ is to treat everyone with kindness, dignity and equal respect, and aside from that, whatever man you grow into is going to be a real man. Don’t buy into the macho bullshit that gets sold to us all the time.”
“I’ve come to realise that nice guys DON’T finish last, so relax and don’t try too hard. Women should be loved, valued, appreciated and respected, and should never accept anything less,” says Jason.
Tim’s advice to himself would be that, “it’s OK to be nervous around girls, and self-confidence will develop once you leave school and are exposed to the world and different types of girls. You need to listen and learn from them, treat them as equals, and respect them.”
“I realise now that all the girls I dated would never replace the missing piece of my mother’s love that I was searching for,” Gary admits. “I’ve learned to make myself available, approachable and encouraging to my kids in terms of all the things a teenager needs.”
To sum it up, Tim finishes with the advice that an elderly female family member gave him when he was fifteen.
“If you are genuinely kind and caring to girls you will always be in with a chance.”
Now who can argue with that gem?Support Villainesse