By Mahpharah Khan
“I’m weird. I’m a weirdo. I don’t fit in, and I don’t want to fit in.”
The “I’m not like other girls” epidemic has unfortunately reached young women for quite some time now. This phenomenon states that some women are better than other women because their personalities, outfits and indie music taste isn’t like how other women portray themselves online. This is a laughable notion because these ‘‘different’’ women think normal activities, such as sleeping and eating habits, is what sets them apart from the mainstream media.
It’s supposed to seem “relatable” and “quirky.” OK.
Stephanie Perkins manages to encapsulate misogyny and girl-on-girl hate all in one book. Anna and the French Kiss follows Anna, who is sent to an American boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school. Her only personality trait is that she likes movies and wants to be a film critic. While there, she meets Étienne and they are immediately attracted to each other. They are held back from being together for one reason: Étienne has a girlfriend.
This does not hold them back, however. They emotionally and physically cheat, and receive no repercussions for their actions simply because everyone can see how “special” their love is. They are soulmates and this means that all is forgiven even though they hurt others in the process.
Sounds like any teen romance film — ever.
Throughout the novel, Perkins conveys that because Anna is not like the other girls and because she is pure — in other words, a virgin — she is more deserving than those who are not. This notion links purity with morality, which is a toxic message to send to teenage girls who are the target audience for her books.
Because there has been a rapid increase in social media since the book’s release in 2010, it is even more dangerous for girls to adopt this mindset because the media is extremely accessible now. Teenage girls are impressionable and if an author who is way older, tells them they will only get what they want if they are pure, it will damage their view of themselves and their relationships with others. This encourages the idea that sex is bad, virginity is good. This stems from the misogynistic notion that sex is only valuable to produce children, when in fact, it is much more than that.
Perkins heavily implies that Étienne and his girlfriend, Ellie, have sex. However, when Étienne hears a rumor about Anna having sex with another guy, he is nervous and it clearly bothers him although he and Anna are not together. When Anna finally tells Étienne that the rumor isn’t true, he breathes a sigh of relief, conveying that it would have been a problem if the rumor had been proven true. Perkins’ message is clear: it was OK for Étienne to have sex, but not for Anna. This detail is rooted in misogyny, and it shows to teenage girls that they will win the affections of the boy they like simply because they are pure.
This message is not only detrimental to girls and women but to boys and men as well.
Perkins confirms to the majority of men they are right; women need to stay pure until they are married or with their soulmate as is suggested with Anna and Étienne. When men hear that women have had sex, it suddenly threatens their masculinity, which propels them to call women sluts, “thots” or dirty. Men will even get angry, which signifies their insecurity with their own masculinity, and how they always have to assert power with the topics associated with sex. Who are men supposed to have sex with if women are supposed to stay pure?
This is why women aren’t exaggerating when we say we are afraid of men; when we act as an independent being while embracing our sexuality, we are ridiculed and abused for it.
Étienne’s behavior can also be linked to how men prefer women are virgins and have been “untouched.” This thrills and excites them because it satisfies their sick desire of “taking” their virginity and being the only one who has touched them. This also perpetuates the stereotype that men are experienced and women are not.
In reality, experience tends to be equal among the sexes, and men’s stereotypes are just ignorant.
Abigail Azadian is a senior English language arts major at SUNY Plattsburgh. She suggests that in order for this narrative to end, there must be a shift in the language we use.
“The language makes it a conquering thing. Someone is taking something from you or you’re losing something. That whole mindset makes it possessive, like a conquest or a game and whoever wins gets the toxic masculinity trophy,” Azadian said.
There is a scene where Anna and Étienne sleep together in her bed, but they do not have sex. They still sleep together, despite knowing about Étienne’s girlfriend. Anna says:
“I must be a masochist to keep putting myself in these situations. I need help. I need to see a shrink or be locked in a padded cell or straightjacketed or something.”
One cannot entirely blame Anna for her feelings at this moment. You can’t control who you are attracted to, but you can control your actions, however hard it may be.
Anna associates pain and sickness with the feelings of desire and love — this is not love; rather, it is infatuation. Anna and Étienne abandon all conscience and continue to cross the line although they are fully aware their behavior is inappropriate.
Christine Seifert discusses the problems with how virginity is explored in young adult literature in her book, “Virginity in Young Adult Literature After Twilight.” She mentions the image of love associated with pain, as not only Anna does but many other characters in young adult literature.
“Tempting themselves in highly charged sexual situations but not being able to give in to the desire is a form of erotic pain. Readers vicariously experience this masochism. Readers might easily link masochism with romance, a problematic equation for teens who are just learning sexual scripts,” Seifert said.
Another example of this is when Étienne is drunk:
“His face is buried between my thighs. Under favorable circumstances, this would be quite exciting.”
They want to fully give in to their desire, but are unable to because of Ellie. They continue to tempt themselves, believing that it is appropriate to act in such ways. They act like Ellie does not exist even though she seems to be their only obstacle. They do not care about her anyway, and it is extremely cruel and irresponsible to keep her in the shadows about the nature of their relationship.
Cheating has always been abhorrent, but it has reached new levels with growing technology. Men and women are able to hide their sneaking around more, but at the same time it is easy to find evidence that one’s significant other may be cheating. Technology adds another layer of distrust if one has a history with cheating because it adds to the manipulation — people and situations can be easily fabricated or deleted.
Seifert also notes:
“Feminist scholar Jessica Valenti calls America’s obsession with abstinence “the purity myth,” a cultural idealogy that conflates passivity — the act of not having sex — with superior morality. As Valenti argues, ‘you can be vapid, stupid, and unethical, but so long as you’ve never had sex, you’re a ‘good’ (i.e. ‘moral’) girl and therefore worthy of praise.”
Anna certainly is vapid, stupid and unethical, but she is still painted as a moral character despite her severe errors in judgement. We, as the reader, are supposed to feel bad for her and we are supposed to root for her even though all of her actions say otherwise.
Étienne basically insults Ellie by calling her “nothing” compared to Anna, which perpetuates the “I’m not like the other girls” narrative. Why does he have to put down another girl in order to fully convey his true feelings to Anna?
Why do men find their confidence in belittling other women? Because they can’t find it anywhere else.
“I think you can read anything as long as you have a critical lens,” Azadian says. “If girls have never thought deeply about the idea, then it could be a good book for them to learn from it.”
The problem with “Anna and the French Kiss” lies with the fact that it is seen as a quirky and cute young adult teen romance, despite the cheating that takes place. If girls should read this book, they need to be aware of how this story perpetuates certain misogynistic notions. “Anna and the French Kiss” serves as an example of what authors should not include in their young teen romances.
A cliche narrative.