What must it be like growing up female now? What must it feel like to be 14 today, growing up in a world where, rather than being limited to reading Judy Blume novels and More magazine’s “position of the fortnight”, slyly devoured in the WH Smith by the 260 bus stop, things like Rookie exist? Rookiemag.com is a site edited by Tavi Gevinson, the 15-year-old blogger who Lady Gaga called “the future of journalism”, and, as per, she was right.
They publish three times a day (after school, at dinnertime and before bed), things like “A guide to navigating the end of a friendship”, “Literally the best thing ever: Glitter”, and, my favourite, “How to look like you weren’t just crying in less than five minutes”. This speaks to me at 31 – I can only imagine its impact had I read this in my teens. At the recent TedxTeen event, Gevinson talked why she launched the site last year. “One thing that can be very alienating,” she said of current “empowering” female role models, “is that girls then think that to be feminists they have to live up to being perfectly consistent in their beliefs, never being insecure, never having doubts, having all the answers… And this is not true. And actually recognising all the contradictions I was feeling became easier once I realised that feminism was not a rulebook but a discussion, a conversation, a process.”
I am not nostalgic for those years when it felt like the braces on your teeth were an aching physical metaphor for life. A time when you couldn’t talk about feeling awkward and oily and different, because that would’ve meant admitting that, before then, you were faking normality, and fakery was the worst crime of all. Those normal girls who weren’t like us, who were in perfect control, their bodies contained. Who could talk to adults, and boys, and who didn’t pull their jumpers over their knuckles or hide behind their fringes. The girls in magazines, gambolling white-teethed along a beach. Gambolling wasn’t for us. We would definitely trip over our feet and someone would definitely laugh.
The world worries for teenage girls today. All the porny influences, the sexting, the surgery – all the saturated pink. But counteracting these pressures to conform are the voices like those on Rookie, ones that are non-prescriptive, enthusiastic, embarrassing, funny. Ones that, by unpicking the awkwardness of female adolescence and providing a place to talk about it, have helped feminism become almost fashionable. Today you don’t have to go searching for “your people” at libraries and record shops. They’re all there in your Wi-Fi, screaming about hair dye. The internet is the indie-club toilet of the universe. This is where young women can talk really noisily about who they fancy, compare tights’ deniers and learn that they don’t have to dress like strippers unless they really, really want to. That there are other people just like them who are also feeling angry and weird and like everything’s awful, and that, even alone in front of a computer, they can feel part of something. This is the other side of the internet’s menace, that bit that parents and the papers see. These are the ribbony networks of girldom that tie the web together – they are well-lit roads through the intimidating, dark bits.
Mine was the last generation to grow up without the internet at home – I wonder what we would be like if we’d had the whole web to play with. Instead of wandering through our teenage years with only Just 17 to teach us how to be, would we have stormed into adulthood with our eyes open, leading with our personalities? And what does it mean that for us our adolescence is still so present, that Rookie resonates so strongly, that a schoolgirl is one of the sanest, most articulate voices in the media today? Rather than having grown up, she makes me feel like I’ve just got really good at being 16.
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