Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: What Sixteen Is

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  • giovanni tiso,

    I don't know that comparing us to them is entirely useful, Giovanni. Simply because they lived somewhat different lives.

    Oh, I agree, completely. Her oldest sister was twelve when her mother died and she brought up five younger siblings. Who all lived, which in those days was extraordinary. Later my gran had a neighbour who couldn't remember if she had had fifteen or sixteen children. I'd have to check with my mum, but I think that no more than three or four made it to adulthood, or survived the war at any rate. Life was so cheap, and kids so fragile. Remembering those days and all those early deaths, she used to say "oh, but they were little", with a sort of a shrug - life became more precious once you were out of the woods of early childhood, just the opposite of now.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7315 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart,

    I'm not a great believer in things being they way they are just because that's how they have always been.

    I tend to think of that mindset (traditional = good) as being closely related to the "natural = good" mindset, and equally as fallacious. You also need to watch out for people who claim "we've always done it that way" when "that way" is an invention of the last couple of generations (see: housewives.)

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

  • tussock,

    16? Shit, all I did was school, books, and writing. Though plenty of the locals there did rather too much drunk driving, amoungst all the other drugs; they were all pretty lucky to only loose a few cars to it.

    Older generations, yea. One great grandfather of mine ran away from his alcoholic father in England all the way to NZ at 16, working on tourist boats, and never contacted his family again. A grandfather at 14 disappeared to work at sea for six years after his father confiscated the money he'd made skinning rabbits ("You live under my roof, it's my money", and the logical consequence). There's no record of what they experienced around that age though, other than that they both learned to fight properly, with the throws and locks and so on.

    Kids? No. Definitely not. Oh, and this idea of forcing people to stay in school until they're 18 is nuts, just as an aside. Make far more sense to me to give them equal workers rights, wages, benefits, the vote, and so on. Let them participate in society already.

    Since Nov 2006 • 337 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Stunning story, Emma, and well told, with the inanimate-object-o-nyms adding a welcome touch of surrealism :-)

    Since we're dancing like Tze Ming is watching, can I bring the feminism, a little bit? I'm trying to imagine the scenario with the genders reversed, and I just can't. Your story reminds me of another one that did not turn out so well, and I still recall the mother of the dead girl asking, in an anguished, but rhetorical sort of way, How is it that a young man comes to think he owns a young woman, that he would rather kill her than think of anyone else touching her?

    And while I can think of tons of reasons you never told anyone -- the brain is not a rational organ when it is threatened, and peer groups so often trump personal welfare in those teen years, and denial is not just a river in Egypt but sometimes a potent survival strategy -- I also can't help wondering whether hindsight had given you any more insight into why you did not tell? Who or what was more worthy of protection at the time than your own good self, and perhaps the next girl he wanted but did not get?

    Sorry, not meaning to second-guess you and how you understand your ghastly experience, just wondering if there is more that can be said and understood here on the subject of young men, young women, and casual threats (and irreversible acts) of violence.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1408 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca,

    just wondering if there is more that can be said and understood here on the subject of young men, young women, and casual threats (and irreversible acts) of violence.

    Animal Kingdom?Survival of the fittest?Animals often remove the weak . Humans seem pretty good at all this as well. Although not as common, there is situations like the Manson murders committed by women.Considered to be on the extreme end of the spectrum.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 5690 posts Report Reply

  • B Jones,

    A girl I went to school with was killed by her boyfriend, not long after they left school. On my sixteenth birthday, I discovered how a friend had been abused by a family member. I'd found out about another by the time I was 18. These were not the mean streets - I went to a decile 10 school, and they were superficially nice families.

    Young people have it rough in that they deal with some of the worst things life has to throw at people, at a time where they don't always have the resources and skills to deal with it most appropriately. And the way that roughness is distributed is really really gendered.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 724 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    Scuse me while I just make myself comfortable on Jolisa's couch here :)

    Obviously memory is a fallible thing, and I shall try to answer these questions with as much honesty and as little super-imposed hindsight as I can.

    I believe the main reason I didn't tell anyone was that it was over. It was done with and I had no wish to drag it all out again. That and, well, the unremarkableness of the event. I can imagine telling this story to my 'best friend' at the time and her getting to the end and saying 'so?'

    Also I felt a real desire to not make the situation any worse. Least said and all that. I can't imagine what my mother would have said given her own history, but I genuinely didn't want to upset her.

    How is it that a young man comes to think he owns a young woman, that he would rather kill her than think of anyone else touching her?

    I have seen this mindset in operation, both in my father and the homicidally crazy girlfriend of one of my closest friends. It wasn't the case with Table though, he'd have shared me rather than given me up.

    I believe his problem, being a lower-class bloke with a very limited paradigm of acceptable male behaviour, was that he just didn't know how to cope with what he was feeling. In a very real sense, violence was the most acceptable way for him to react to the situation. It was what was expected. If we want to stop this kind of thing happening then perhaps what we need is a new generation of sissy men for whom it is permissible to go to bed with a tub of ice-cream and cry when your girlfriend dumps you.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4285 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Of course. A young woman. Not technically a child.

    Without wishing to unnecessarily divert this excellent discussion of a great piece of autobiographical writing, am I the only one who read the above and thought of a Britney Spears song?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17917 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    am I the only one who read the above and thought of a Britney Spears song?

    Until now, it was just you and Danielle. Until now.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4285 posts Report Reply

  • Kerry Weston,

    what we need is a new generation of sissy men for whom it is permissible to go to bed with a tub of ice-cream and cry when your girlfriend dumps you.

    Indeed. It's hard to gauge whether that has been/is happening to a greater extent now. My boys and their friends seem more comfortable with their emotions & expressing them, but I don't get to mix with many other young men, so i dunno whether it's just their own group?

    I also think that the not telling about things that happen is also about accepting responsibility for your own life - you got into that mess and you got out, somehow. The fact you got out in one piece means you handled it. Maybe not the way yr parents & family would, but your way.

    The way society divvies up who is "good" and who is "bad" also makes a difference? It's much harder to speak up when perpetrators of vileness are in the "good' and/or powerful camp. And as the Veitch affair shows, such things can become huge, spreading stains. When all you want to do is get past it and get on with life.

    Manawatu • Since Jan 2008 • 494 posts Report Reply

  • Shep Cheyenne,

    By age 12 we'ld house a refugee/over stayer from Indonesia for 6 months (some still think he was a govt plant into the Catholic Workers Movement), by 14 a girl in my family home had been sexually abused by the elderly neighbour his wife compensating each time by bringing over a pudding (name suppressed and no prison time on conviction), by 16 my teacher had sexually abused class mates after we drew our home layouts for TD & I'ld had an OD on possibly laced marijuana, attended a student/demolition party with a metre long joint (3 guys had to hold it) and the cops raided 3 times (I left after the 1st raid), I'ld taken part in little school/gang brawls ala Flaxmere/Hastings, by 18 a surf club mate (23yrs) was shot dead by her estranged husband.

    I don't see that much has changed in 20yrs for the negitive, in fact I think we have a more open and safer society.

    Since Oct 2007 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Aidan,

    It may be illegal, but signal blockers are available (this is a reputable site, they will deliver what you pay for).

    Canberra, Australia • Since Feb 2007 • 136 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    It's hard to gauge whether that has been/is happening to a greater extent now. My boys and their friends seem more comfortable with their emotions & expressing them, but I don't get to mix with many other young men, so i dunno whether it's just their own group?

    Indeed, I find this very hard to judge. Not only have I got older, but I've also changed class. When people talk about how less masculine behaviour is so totally acceptable for men now, I can't help but wonder how often they deal with non-middle-class men. I can't imagine any of the guys I went to school with happily accepting one of their peers staying home to mind the kids while his partner went to work. Nor can I envisage them raising their sons to be more gentle and in touch with their feelings.

    My son has good male role models and likes quiet nerdy activities. My brothers think he's a jessie and have tried several times to give him socket sets and stuff in the hope that this will tough him up a bit.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4285 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    My son has good male role models and likes quiet nerdy activities. My brothers think he's a jessie and have tried several times to give him socket sets and stuff in the hope that this will tough him up a bit.

    My older boy is quite similar and seems to gravitate towards gentle, smart men. I have a step-brother-in-almost-law who is much more of an unreconstructed blokey bloke (though still reasonable middle classish) and I notice he'll take a "harden up" attitude with his three-year-old over things we'll still gentle the six-year-old through

    My theory about parenting (which has yet to be tested on a teenager) is that if you treat them gently with lots of love and support in the early years they will have a good, secure base to explore the world from as they get older.

    My mother's approach to having a teenager was to more-or-less expect a certain amount of experimental behaviour therefore the best way for me to rebel was to confound her expectations and very rarely put a foot out of line. I did do some dumb stuff but it was very small beans compared to many of the tales here.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 690 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    A bit OT but since Rob H brought it up...did the Postie Underworld never teach you about bike pumps? I was a postie at Sockburn (did the Riccarton Road run mainly) and Greymouth at the end of 1960s & early '70s...one of the first things I learned was
    a) take your government-issue bike pump & remove the connection tube;
    b) fill both bottom & top openings with lead (use the lead seals from postbags and remember not to breathe when you melt 'em;)
    c) understand that dogs *can* estimate the length of an object swung at them but
    d)you suddenly have a weapon about 20cm longer than they expect connecting with their snouts-

    hey, if your bike *did* develop a puncture, a mere pump wasnt going to get you anywhere...

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Roger,

    My son has good male role models and likes quiet nerdy activities. My brothers think he's a jessie and have tried several times to give him socket sets and stuff in the hope that this will tough him up a bit.

    Until I had children I would never have believedf that two boys with the same genetics and the same background/environment could be SO completely different. Certainly I don't think that a socket set would change things ;-)

    Auckland • Since Jun 2007 • 171 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Hosking,

    A bit OT but since Rob H brought it up...did the Postie Underworld never teach you about bike pumps?

    We didn't have cycles at the time. Walked it...on days I had lectures I used to run. 12kms, with a load on. Wish I was that fit again...

    South Roseneath • Since Nov 2006 • 798 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    Until now, it was just you and Danielle.

    Sigh. Am I that predictable? :)

    (The 'Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman' clip belongs to that great 'going out into the desert to pose meaningfully in chaps or chaps-influenced pants' school of music videos, doesn't it?)

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3582 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    connecting with their snouts

    Plus, in Ponsonberry the dog-lovers would have crucified him..

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15706 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Since we're dancing like Tze Ming is watching

    .. and taking photos with her ever-present camera, no doubt. Smile. :)

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15706 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    Aue, I'd forgotten about bagluggers (there were very few in the South Island) but, on Riccarton Road, if I'd - the old term used to be'woodened' and 'pumped' never caught on - so,' clubbed' by any other name?- anyway, if I'd whacked a dog in that area, shopkeepers would've rushed out with lavish gifts...

    in the secret adjoining suburbs, it all was kept deathly silent.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Shep Cheyenne,

    Doing a paper round around Riccarton Rd & Blenheim Rd I was never chased by dogs, closer to where I lived there was a Corgi in Middlepark Rd that yapped away but was just the right height for a footstool or would make a nice pair of slippers.

    The scary thing for me was my Milk Run for Mr Miller Upper Riccarton/Wigram/Hornby/Socburn and running on Main South Rd (Start of State Highway 1) and having to contend for space with sheep trucks and trailers off to the works. Not to mention the shit and piss which dropped on me and the bottles.

    Since Oct 2007 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Until now, it was just you and Danielle.

    Sigh. Am I that predictable? :)

    (The 'Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman' clip belongs to that great 'going out into the desert to pose meaningfully in chaps or chaps-influenced pants' school of music videos, doesn't it?)

    I knew there was a cultural reference I was missing. Which brings me to ask, Russell, how one knows Britney Spears' songs so intimately?

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3112 posts Report Reply

  • RaggedJoe,

    Wow, just wow, very heavy indeed. At 16 I was drinking and getting up to mischief, but the only cross bows we knew about were on the movies.

    This post has been resonating in my head as we have seen our 16yr old daughter off to her first "big partay" this week. I collected her at midnight last night and was drip fed details of "comma'd" girls (1) and spewing boys (2).

    Also tales of weed being smoked and a group of drunk 16yr olds leaving the venue in search of inner city McD's at midnight.

    It is a very difficult line to tread, balancing the concerns with giving the opportunity for freedom to enjoy and make mistakes.

    I can remember being at a party in Epsom 30 years ago when the boot boys turned up outside and half the partgoers were suddenly looking for places to hide their knives before the cops came. Was quite a suprise to me that anyone even had a knife!

    So I guess society is no more violent now than then and the risks remain the same.

    Doesn't make it any easier from a parents perspective though, the in built worryometer was off the scale last night, when of course she was perfectly safe.

    City of Sales • Since Sep 2008 • 58 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole,

    That's a pretty dramatic incident, but sadly not that surprising. I have a recent ex who, at 18, has been an active (she doesn't accept the "once an addict, always an addict" line, but she still has the odd patch where she hungers for one or t'other) heroin and cocaine addict, had to drive a car at gunpoint before she'd even got her licence, had to drive away from a Russian Mafia house at speed with her dealer/friend hanging half out the door after he'd been thrown from a balcony onto another car, and experienced various other things that, when she's told me, have made my hair stand on end. She's also burying her diabetic, in-end-stage-renal-failure father by inches, and has been since she was 11.

    I was fortunate, and other than having my father die when I was 14 (which was hardly a picnic, but compared to my ex's experiences, or to this account of part of Emma's history, was a total walk in the park) I had a pretty blessed adolescence. I was in a good group of friends, who stuck with each other and helped deal with the less-pleasant elements of teenage life, and I just wasn't attracted to the kinds of activities that encourage trouble. "I was a pretty boring teenager," as I put it to a new flatmate last night, and when I see how it could've been I'm quite glad. Others from my school have extensive criminal histories, kids who're not far off starting high school themselves, and the usual other litany of sins.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3731 posts Report Reply

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