I was thirteen when my mother gave me Girl Stuff for Christmas. I remember looking at the bright blue cover and refusing to take a bar of it. The swirly pink writing and implication that I would be interested in anything girly was just downright offensive, thank-you-very-much. After all I was thirteen, well on my way to womanhood and fairly confident that I already knew everything there was to know about anything. It was only that night, huddled up in bed and certain no one could see the suppressed curiosity on my face, that I decided to take a look at what this “Kaz” lady was on about. It turns out, quite a bit actually. It was from Kaz that I learnt that toner doesn’t do anything except make your face sting, that the first time I had sex would be somewhat anticlimactic (heh), that only about two tablespoons of blood actually comes out during your period and that “there is such a thing as too perky”.
I was lucky to grow up in an open family where no topic was off the agenda, so whilst Kaz’s book was fun and informative, it certainly wasn’t shocking. For others, however, it was. Many parents don’t place an emphasis on health or sexual education when raising their children – some even assume it to be inappropriate. The unfortunate thing is that the girls who need the information in Girl Stuff most are probably unlikely to be given it (I always thought that was part of the trick of the over-the-top girly cover: to tempt conservative parents into buying a book that secretly pushed female empowerment). However, there is another group of people who have been left in the dark about safe sex, consent, positive body image and healthy relationships: boys. No doubt Kaz has been asked “where’s Boy Stuff?” more times than she can count. I don’t think it’s her duty to write a book about ‘Boy Stuff’ purely because she dared to write one for young women. I do, however, think it important to ask where boys are supposed to find this information.
Young men between the ages of 12 and 17 are among the largest consumers of online pornography. This means that pornography is many boys’ first encounter with sexuality – a worrying thought considering its commonplace subjugation and objectification of women. As for romantic relationships, I would be hesitant to want young men to learn how to be a good partner from popular film or television, where heteronormativity is rife and traditional power roles between men and women are pushed as the norm. If Kaz’s book taught me so much about healthy relationships, what I should expect from people and how to treat both myself and others with respect, surely it is vital that this same information is reaching young boys. I have always believed education to be the most crucial tool for transforming the world, and as a feminist (surprise!) I feel optimistic that men can challenge themselves and a culture of hegemonic masculinity.
At the moment, however, the necessary information they need to be great partners, exquisite lovers and just generally “nice guys” is lacking. Kaz’s book was one of those rare Christmas gifts that didn’t get lost or boring by March, one of those presents that didn’t end up hiding under a pile of accumulated crap in the corner of my room (to the left of the broken pink Furby and just above that bargain make-up kit from Aunty Debbie). It was brought out whenever a tricky situation arose, when I was bored and needed a giggle or when my friends were over and I would brag about how much I now knew about *whisper* sex. Kaz taught me what not to put up with in a relationship, but also what isn’t acceptable on my part. She taught me about not only safe sex but healthy and happy sex. She taught me that abusive relationships aren’t just when you’re being physically hurt but also when you’re being controlled or put down. Although my friends and I benefited greatly from Girl Stuff, consensual sex, healthy relationships, respect and diverse sexuality aren’t just topics for girls. It isn’t only up to girls to empower themselves with information to combat sexism, abusive relationships and assault, it’s up to men too. These things aren’t “Girl Stuff”, nor are they “Boy Stuff”… they’re just fucking important.