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May Flash Roundup

Being A Girl in Someone Else’s Story

In workshop, writing a girl protagonist was difficult. We just don’t like her, I heard a lot about perfectly ordinary women who were maybe a little bit selfish, a little obtuse. There’s something about her, I heard about girls who got into cars with boys, about girls who could be kind of mean to their moms, we just can’t put our finger on it.

Now, in my own creative writing classes, I teach a whole unit on anti-heroes. Walter White, Batman, Iron Man, Deadpool. Is he rich? Does he give a fuck about what you think? Does he kill people? Awesome. Usually, it takes my students a couple of days to realize who gets to be bad. Is he rich? Is he white? Is he straight? Is he male? Then, we talk about the villains of their Disney childhoods. Is she fat? Does she want power? Is he a feminine-coded man? They nod, they get it, but it doesn’t help when we read stories by Carmen Maria Machado, Akwaeke Emezi, and Nnedi Okorafor. Why didn’t she know better? They ask. There’s something about her…

In flash, I’m obsessed with pieces that tackle girlhood, womanhood, and its many variations as a whole. In “What We Call the Dead Girl” by Christina Tudor, published in Flash Frog, the trope of woman-as-murder-victim (and here, who gets to be a victim is still prescribed by class and race) is explored. The piece says, “The dead girl once lived on Beach Drive in a suburban neighborhood surrounded by oak trees, and she would die on Victory Street one town over. The dead girl came from a good family with a backyard that stretched out wide. The dead girl was once a Girl Scout until she quit, leaving a voicemail for the troop leader on a Tuesday evening. The dead girl had a body everybody noticed, their eyes burning into her skin, even the girls couldn’t look away…”

The dead girl here is a specific type of girl. The kind of girl who needs to be punished for being too grown up too young. She’s the girl at the beginning of every Criminal Minds episode, cringing in the shadows, covered in tears and snot. There’s always a man with a knife or a gun or just with two hands. In this piece, “The dead girl was doing drugs with a man twice her age…” The story embodies the voice of a disapproving suburb – telling themselves that it’s the girl’s fault for dying. In that way, they make themselves feel safer. This complicated girl is allowed to make mistakes, do bad things, and take risks because she gets punished for it in the end.

In “Two Final Girl Micros” by Meghan Phillips, published in No Contact Mag, the trope of the last girl standing at the end of a horror movie is explored. “In the Town Where All the Final Girls Live” also assumes the voice of a collective – a society that tells girls what they need to do and be in order to avoid violence and pain. The threat is always there. The piece says, “There are other men standing behind bushes and crouched next to car fenders and lurking lurking lurking under window sills at dusk.” We know what the men want to do to the final girls – we’ve seen this movie one hundred times. In “The Final Girl Takes Her Driver’s Test” the micro begins with a nod to this trope, “The last time she was alone in a car with a man he had tried to kill her.” After that kind of violence, how is a final girl ever supposed to learn how to parallel park? How can any of us girls pay attention to anything besides our own fear?

In all three of these short pieces, the girls aren’t characters so much as ideas. They are stand-ins for the kind of violence we watch play out in the media. Girls love shows about girls getting murdered. When I assigned sonnets to my creative writing students, I got three different poems of love addressed to Dr. Spencer Reid. This is the kind of media that keeps us on our toes. It tells us what to watch out for and who not to be. If we go everywhere with a friend, lock all our doors, don’t ever get drunk, carry our keys like spikes between our fingers, maybe he’ll murder the other girl. Because these stories are about society and its expectations and constraints, there’s a flatness to all of the dead girls, all the final girls, the banality of their girl-ness – their lack of agency, of individuality, and their lack of choice.

“Red Giant” by Justine Teu, published in perhappened, tackles the subject of girlhood from the girl’s point of view. A girl and her friends are doomed to live life after life, attached and disconnected from their reincarnated soulmates. The girl at the center of the story is alone. She doesn’t have a true love waiting to save her. In this way, Teu tackles the idea of what a girl should be in a different kind of narrative – love vs. violence – and what happens when events don’t line up to put the girl in a proper story. Bereft of the typical romance plotline, the girl has to figure out who she is on her own. For a while, she tries to scar her body as fake proof of lifetime-spanning love. By hurting herself, she hopes to create the kind of narrative her peers expect from her. In one memorable exchange, she says:

“With one such lover, their first time meeting in a new lifetime, she pulled her skirt up to her bare ass and showed him a bite mark on her right cheek. “From the time we were both passengers on the Titanic,” she said, hoping he’d recall.

              The lover, already naked and ready in bed, took one look at the mark and shrugged. “Right. Didn’t you bleed? I just hope me remembering doesn’t give you any wrong ideas. I thought we were just having fun.””

By the end of the piece, the girl has had many lifetimes to contemplate her single status, and she decides that she’s okay with who she is on her own. In the final scene, she has the chance to rope a new lover into a rote romantic storyline:

“I called the Song boy over. He leaned his lonely head against my shoulder, his mouth close and eager enough to my ear to bite it. But I didn’t ask him to mark me. I didn’t need him to devote himself with another pierced heart.

              “Can’t we just dance?” I asked the Song boy, who looked at me, frowning.

              “But aren’t you afraid of being alone?”        

              “No,” I said, which I wanted to mean never.”

She passes up the chance to pretend she’s the heroine of a romance, in favor of being the heroine of her own life. This piece lets the girl have the final say instead of the society around her – and it made me smile.

Deirdre Danklin holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins University. Her work can be found in The Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, The Nashville Review, and Hobart, among others. She lives in Baltimore with her husband and orange tabby cat.

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