Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes And The Myth Of The Slut

The high school years can be difficult for any teen-ager, but for those girls who suddenly find themselves branded as the school "slut" they can be almost unbearable.

Emily White explores this phenomenon and its lasting negative effects in her new book Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes And The Myth Of The Slut. She visits The Early Show to talk about what she hopes readers take away from her book.

Read an excerpt from the Introduction:

Maybe this story begins in Portland, Oregon, in the fall of 1980, when Anna Thomas enters Washington High as a freshman. She's one unit in a shipment of 750 freshman girls. She's one name on a list.

Washington is a public school with a population of about five thousand students, mostly upper-middle-class white kids, except for those bused in from minority neighborhoods, or the random few who, through some accident of zoning, have ended up among kids of a different economic tribe. Anna's presence at Washington is part of this accident of zoning. Though she lives with her mom in an apartment in the same zip code as the rich kids, she is by no means a rich kid. She can't afford the clothes most girls at Washington wear. She wears the knockoff versions of designer jeans and she eats government-assisted lunches. In the midst of a predominantly white student body she's half Filipina. She's exotic: her skin vibrates with the color of another world. Add to this the fact that her breasts have developed much quicker than most girls', that her mom is a waitress, that she doesn't have many girlfriends, and Anna's presence is a recipe for scandal.

Kids start spreading rumors about Anna on the first day of school, and by winter she's infamous. She is now called Anna Wanna. Anna wants every guy she can touch, Anna will do anything, Anna is the biggest slut ever born.

The rumors surrounding Anna are as elaborate and meticulous as fairy tales. Reliable sources claim she has lain down with boys or men in an infinite number of places: graveyards, the empty lot where kids throw keggers on weekends, some guy's basement, some guy's car. Ask her to go into a closet or a bathroom and pull her shirt off and she'll do it -- she'll pull herself apart at the slightest provocation. She'll lie on her back saying, "I love you," no matter who the guy is or where he has come from.

According to what everyone says and writes on the walls, Anna is a monster of desire, a freak of nature, an aberration. No one knows her very well, but the idea of her takes up a lot of space. When she walks down the hall, a murmur takes shape, irrepressible in the throats of all the kids. Sometimes one distinct voice emerges, shouting over the tide of whispers: "Whore! Anna Wanna is a whore!"

For the most part Anna keeps her cool. She continues her progress through the hall, staring straight ahead. Occasionally she swirls around, yells, "Fuck you," and then there's the inevitable comeback: "I already fucked you!" After a confrontation like this her face reddens, and she looks as if she's on the verge -- as if at any moment she might dissolve, her feet might curl up, like the witch killed by the flying house in The Wizard of Oz.

From where I sit her hair seems darker than midnight. I am part of the same army of freshman girls Anna belongs to, but unlike Anna I'm not the kind of girl who attracts attention. Even when you look right at me, it's easy to look past me. I'm a well-behaved, unobtrusive goody-goody: on the honor roll but not too high up, involved in a Save the Whales club, one or two friends, pushing every symptom of rage or desire or wild ambition down past the throat, down past the heart, all the way down into my guts.

I watch Anna swirl around and battle the catcalls and the predators; I find it difficult to take my eyes off her. Maybe because of my particular kind of invisibility, I become fascinated by Anna's infamy -- the stories of sex and abandon and inappropriate kisses. When she's absent, which is often, school is far more boring than usual.

Long after high school has ended, I still dream about her. Like a kid obsessed in the hallway, I can't let go of the question of Anna and her true nature. Through the lens of memory, she becomes representative of a more generalized sense of chaos -- moments when the good, orderly world you thought you knew falls away and a cruel reality begins to manifest itself. Anna and the rumors surrounding her seem to hold a clue to the past: Why did we want to talk this way? Why did we so effortlessly and automatically create a "slut," almost as if she were creating us? And why did we need to banish certain girls, push them out beyond the pale?

Sometimes, in those conversations about high school that people in their twenties and thirties engage in more and more frequently, I'd bring up the question of the slut. Invariably, my Anna stories would be countered by stories of other versions of her: other girls whose alleged insatiable sexual appetites scandalized their school, girls whose bodies had no boundaries.

Excerpted from Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut by Emily White, Copyright © 2002. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster Trade. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Featured