Musings of an Inappropriate Woman

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Ask Rachel: Life is not determined by who is “winning” at 19.

Georgia writes: Hi Rachel, I was wondering if you could give me some advice? You interviewed me two ago for The Sex Myth. Now I’m 19 and studying journalism at uni. But I’m struggling. It seems like my classmates all command attention while I shrink away into a corner. I don’t think they are necessarily better than me, but I constantly worry that I’m not good enough. I just feel like I’m not achieving enough. My marks are average and I feel like my writing skills are too. It’s just really plaguing my mind with all this self-doubt, and I worry that I won’t be able to survive in such a competitive industry. I know I’m young and uni is a different environment, but I was hoping you had some words of wisdom or something? Thanks for taking the time to read this.


Hi Georgia. If I could tell you one thing, it would be this: the trajectory of your life is not determined by who is “winning” at 19. It’s not determined by who is best at 25, 30 or 50 either, because the truth is that being “the best” is an illusive and temporary state. But it is especially not determined by where you are when you are 19.

When I was 19, I was shy enough that I had a crush on a guy for a year and managed to speak about fifteen words to him in that time. I didn’t know how to write a cover letter, because no one in my family had ever had the kind of job that had required them to write one. I wasn’t totally hopeless: I got good grades, started conversations with strangers in lecture theatres (I’m still friends with several people I tried that with to this day), and was just starting to strike up the courage to put myself forward for the things I wanted to do. But I don’t think most people would have looked at me and said, “That girl over there is going to be a shining success.”

It takes most people time to figure things out. And at 19, you’ve got plenty of time to do that.

So here’s my thought. Use this time you have at university to figure out what you like and what you’re good at. Stick your hand up for things. Get involved in clubs and societies. Start writing for - or running - the student paper. Apply to do work experience everywhere, and keep showing up after your tenure has ended if you have to (that’s how a couple of my uni friends got their jobs in TV). Make a podcast. Volunteer for a cause you care about. Contact someone who is running an event that interests you and offer to help them organise it. Force yourself to speak in public, even if it terrifies you, because if you do it enough, someday it won’t scare you anymore. Start talking to the kids in your class who intimidate you and realise they’re just as confused as you are. Even if they’re really good at pretending they’re not.

I say all this because the only way I have ever known to reliably build confidence is to throw myself into the deep end, and realise each time to my surprise I do in fact know how to swim. Confidence isn’t about believing that you can do everything already. It’s about trusting that even when you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll have the wits to figure it out.

And another thought: sometimes it’s nice to be in an environment where you’re average. It doesn’t have to mean that you are failing, it can just mean that you are surrounded by bright, capable people who are doing interesting things. I feel pretty “average” compared to some of the writers my age in New York, but I find that exciting, not intimidating. It doesn’t make me bad. To the contrary: it forces me to be better.

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Re: book. I know I'm a little older and I don't know where your characters are, but it's mostly gchat, texting, whatsapp, and snapchat I use these days. My best friend lives in another state and we write letters to each other all the time (which is even more dated than talking on the phone) but it's surprisingly intimate to see the words we each took the time to write to one another. However, when we need to have a really serious discussion, like when a mutual friend was raped, we use the phone.

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Thanks, Kate. And big thanks to everyone who has responded to my post about this. You all have really different experiences, which leads me to believe that teenagers still do use the phone for D&Ms (maybe less for plain old talking crap?), they just use other mediums too. And hey, I used IM and SMS back in the day too. No Snapchat, though. Not even now.

It still feels like there is something very adolescent about these long, meandering phone calls. Like it belongs to that time of life when your life is deeply enmeshed with those of your friends, and you’re all trying to work through things you haven’t yet gotten your head around – so there is so much to say. But maybe you also don’t yet have the freedom to actually just go hang out with your friends whenever the emotional urge calls, so the phone (WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc…) is where a lot of the big stuff plays out.

PS My characters are in Northern California.

Is Rachel Hills a One Direction fan? If so, thoughts on "fangirling" when you're not a "girl" anymore? ...Oh, p.s.: I fangirl about your writing ❤.

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Haha, kind of. I think they are adorable, and I like the very modern, laid back, self-effacing masculinity they embody. They seem like they would be fun to hang out with. Also: when I was 17, my friend Kate and I designed our perfect boyband which was pretty much One Direction manifest, so that’s pretty cool.

And it doesn’t hurt that Louis is the spitting image of the boy I had a crush on in my final year of high school, or that Mr Musings refers to Liam as “the one who looks like me” (er, him). And one of my friends made me One Direction cupcakes for my birthday party this year, after I wrote this article. So, I guess that’s a yes?

As for fangirling in general, I think at its heart it’s an expression of joy and appreciation. Of finding something you connect with and embracing it wholeheartedly. And while it may (and probably should) take a different form as an adult than it did when you were fifteen, I think it’s nice to tap into that youthful enthusiasm when it hits us.

One Direction don’t inspire quite that level of devotion in me (they’re more a passing interest), but Dair on the other hand? A million times yes.

(And thank you!)

Related: On One Direction and Teenage Bonding
Four episodes to go 

Hi! Could you recommend me some books that deal with intersectionality in feminism? Thanks in advance :)

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Good question! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Ain’t I A Woman? by bell hooks
Talkin’ Up To The White Woman by Aileen Moreton-Robinson (she guest lectured a session in one of my undergraduate courses, and was confronting and amazing)
Feminism For Real ed Jessica Yee 
Colonize This: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism ed Daisy Hernandez 
Women of Color and Feminism by Maythee Robbs 
Daughters of Suburbia: Growing Up White, Middle Class and Female by Lorraine Kenny 
And Finally We Meet: Intersections and Intersectionality Among Feminist Activists, Academics and Students ed Alice E. Ginsberg 

Given how prominent intersectionality is in online debates around feminism, though, I feel like there is a need for another book I haven’t been able to find yet. Something bold, big picture, modern, accessible and challenging: a Big Idea argument book, rather than another anthology. (Anthologies are great for getting a mix of voices out there, but they tend to be quite piecemeal.) 

Flavia? Latoya? You care to do the honours? Or can anyone recommend an existing book that fits that bill?

Hey there, I participated in your interviews for your book as was wondering what was happening with it and such? I hope it is going well and would like to know if or when something will be coming out? Take care, hope to hear from you soon

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Book is coming along well! I submitted at the end of March, now I’m working through edits, and I’m glad to say that my editor and I are very much on the same page (ahem). I can’t give you an exact publishing date right now, but I’m hoping mid-late 2014 (big publishers generally have at least a 9-12 month lead time on publishing once the manuscript is in final form). In the meantime, you can check out the TEDx talk I gave a few months back here, if you’re interested.

PS Now I’m trying to figure out who you are, based on your Tumblr.

Hey Rachel! This question seems a little too short for your Ask Rachel section. I was just curious, when you write do you try to think about how the readers will like it or do you just write what you want without thinking about anyone else? I write as if I'm writing a book to myself; would I like this as an anonymous reader? I was just curious about your perspective.

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Like most people who have come of age writing online (no? it’s just me?) I can’t help but think about how readers will respond to my work while I’m writing it.

I hear the voices of online commenters when I’m writing opinion pieces, and while writing my book, I was very conscious of the likely criticisms people are likely to make. That doesn’t mean that I change what I say, but it does mean that I am careful - sometimes too careful - about how I say it.

That said, I still value my own opinion of my work as much (often more) as I value other people’s. Like you, my aim is to publish work that I would want to read.

So, if I publish something I think is mediocre and other people like it, I’m happy with the result, but I still secretly think the work is mediocre. Or if I write something I think is really good (this, for example) and it falls like a tree in the forest that nobody hears, I still think it is awesome.