Jewish World Review June 1, 2004 / 12 Sivan, 5764

Felice Cohen

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Consumer Reports

Sticks and stones | It was one of those surreal New York City moments — middle of the night, strange place and you're hanging with a really famous person. After a recent Janis Ian concert, I stayed to ask questions. Before I knew it, Ms. Rock Icon herself invited me into her dressing room.

Standing in the small, cigarette-scented room, I watched her remove contacts, change into tan sneakers and drop cigarette ashes into a leftover Coffee Coolatta. It was easy to relax in her presence, as I'd done many times with her music.

Janis Ian's fan base has recently gotten a boost. The current movie "Mean Girls" has a character named after her, and her song "At Seventeen" is on the soundtrack. After a concert, a bunch of young girls approached her and asked, "When is Janis Ian coming out?"

"Who do you think I am?" Janis Ian replied.

"You're the opening act," they said, making Janis Ian, already petite, feel even smaller.

The movie "Mean Girls," reaching millions of teenagers, sends a message about the harshness of name-calling. I saw the teen flick and enjoyed it, despite being brought back to high school, with its memories of cliques, bouts of low self-esteem and agonizing about which table to sit at in the lunchroom.

After the movie, I went to the restroom. Four girls, all about 12, were examining their heavily made-up reflections in the mirror. One, wearing a pink tube top, asked the others, "How does this top make me look?" Another replied, "Like a slut." Reality was imitating art before my popcorn was even digested.

One thing we know mean girls do well is call other girls names. But when using the term "slut," what are they saying? It's bad enough when males say it, marking women as second class citizens, but for females to say it about other women — even in jest — puts us all down. By definition, "slut" means "prostitute." Is that really a pencil-thin 12-year-old in a tube top? When these young girls dress in revealing attire, do they want to be considered sluts or are they just rebelling? "Mean Girls" attempts to explain the wrong messages those clothes send, but not everyone it was meant to reach, got it.

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"Excuse me," I said to the girls in the restroom. "Have you seen 'Mean Girls'?"

"We're seeing it now," the Tube Top responded.

"You need to listen closely," I said.

"We've already seen it," said another. "We're seeing it again." They'd seen it!

And they're still calling each other sluts?

"Why use the word slut?" I asked them, my question falling on diamond-studded deaf ears. It was too late; the girls had already dismissed me. But I didn't give up. No 12-year-old was sending me back to the cafeteria. "I hung out with the real Janis Ian last night," I said, trying to impress them. "You know, from the movie." Leaving the theater I made a mental note to email my new friend. Janis will be happy to hear she won't be sitting alone at lunch.

Comment on JWR contributor Felice Cohen's column by clicking here.


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04/16/04: Stories to be told
03/31/04: Shades of gray
03/23/04: Rejoice, ‘preppy’ is back
03/16/04: Taking a bad shot

© 2004, Felice Cohen