In 1999, William Pollack published a book titled, Real Boys.This book, based on his interviews with adolescent boys, included a list of behaviors he referred to as the “Boy Code.” The Boy Code included boy-related norms like: (a) Stand on your own two feet, (b) never show emotion–except anger, and (c) separate from your mother and all things female ASAP.
When lecturing on feminist theory and therapy, I often include a short review of Pollack’s Boy Code and follow that with a discussion about what might be the American version of a Girl Code. Most years I offer students a few points if they’ll email me their personal rendition of a Girl Code.
The year, Ashley Marallo, M.S.W., who’s currently a doctoral student in our counselor education program sent me her amazing and poetic version of the Girl Code. With Ashley’s permission, here it is:
Be nurturing and passive and loyal. Above all else, sacrifice for others who need you to tend to them. Put your life on hold to be available at the moment they need you. Standby anxiously watching and waiting to be of use. It is why you are loved. Don’t forget you are nothing without me. But I will throw you a bone, the façade of real belonging, and you will be too scared to look for something better. Please me. Be desirable. Put on a show for me. Show me how much you care what I think. Don’t inhabit your body. Detach yourself so you see you through my eyes. Remove all your body hair. Look like a porn star. Be skinny, but still curvy. But eat! Take this and buy yourself something nice. By nice I mean Victoria’s Secret for you to parade around in later for me. Be sexual when I want you to be, anticipate my moods, take charge within the limits of the power I give you, make decisions. Make the right ones. You’re an idiot if you make the wrong one. Obviously you’re not paying attention. Be sorry. You’re so emotional. Crazy. Needy. Clingy. You need help. Need me. I’ll keep you safe. Then trust me and be vulnerable and I’ll make you feel weak and worthless. Be feminine but independent. Your ambition is so cute. So is your anger as long as it bends to mine. I’m not happy. Do something for me. Be responsible for my emotions. Feel bad about it. Come home. Read my mind. Control yourself. You’re like a child. Grow up. All you ever do is think about yourself. Prove yourself. Work harder than everyone else then I’ll approve. Be perfect. Look rested. Glow. Don’t wear too much makeup. You look like a slut. Why did you cut your hair that way? Be graceful. Be beautiful and make it look natural. Don’t cry. It makes your eyes puffy. No one wants to be around you when you are like this. Your job is to make men feel important and special. Your value depends on it. If they want you, go with them. That will give you power. You can make them lose control. Be mysterious and intriguing. Speak intellectually but not over their head. You don’t want them to feel inadequate. A specific level of smartness is sexy. Be fun. Be charming and alluring. Drink and show you can have a good time. But don’t get wasted or throw up. Maintain the precise amount of control over yourself at all times. Be sensitive. Absorb meanness. Forgive them. It’s nice of them to apologize. Don’t be too hard to handle, or too much work. They’ve had a hard day. Go be by yourself when you feel sad. Like the things I like. Look adorable in oversized football jerseys. Hang out with the guys. Let me show you off. Who’s that guy you were talking to at the bar? You probably want to fuck him. Take birth control pills so I don’t have to wear condoms. Get on top. Make out with girls. Watch the kids. If you make it to 17 without having your own, you are doing pretty good. Stay together for the kids. Let them be angry with you. It is your fault it didn’t work after all. If you had just tried harder. Everything’s fine. It’s all in your head. It’s always something. Make me a cup of tea. Avoid conflict. Smooth it over. Just say you’re sorry and it will be ok. Keep the family together. Use sexuality as a weapon. Just the right amount. Don’t talk about it. Lie about how many men you’ve slept with and the size of their penises. They don’t really want to know even when they ask. Make sure you lay down in just the right position that your belly looks flat and your hip bones protrude just enough to create a small shadow. Enjoy strip clubs. It makes you an edgy chic. Agonize over bathing suit season and buy something that costs twice as much as a shirt for a pile of strings half the size. And make sure it makes your boobs look perky. And by the way all women should be able to wear tube tops. Get a tan and pedicures. Our feet are supposed to be cute, small and smooth. Giggle at lewd comments. It’s a compliment. Be a doll. Orbit around your man. Create a nice home for him. Be his mother and his servant. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Be chaste enough to make him wait but marry him if he knocks you up. Continuously ask yourself whether you are an imposter and when you will be found out. Offer to pay but be ready to and hope he picks up the tab. Say thank you for everything you are given even if you earn it. Apologize for everything that goes wrong even if it’s not your fault. Perpetually wonder if you are good enough, not knowing what you’re wondering you are good enough for.