I’m a feminist. Unabashedly. Unashamedly. What that means to me – before anyone gets incensed and rolls their eyes – is that I believe in equality. I believe that women deserve equal rights and I know we’re still not getting them. I also have a lot of issues with gender-binary stereotypes, even though I spout them a lot because psychology still works through socially constructed ideas that are part of how we handle day-to-day situations.
What this all boils down to is that even in eighth grade, having just turned thirteen, I knew that I had just as much right to ask a boy out as he had the right to ask me out. Of course, the fact that I was a pudgy, tomboyish, glasses-wearing, musical-singing-during-recess-with-only-two-friends-I-had, good-grades-getting, aspiring-actor-whose-acting-teachers-didn’t-like-her, reading-obsessed, non-pop-cultured weirdo meant that I wasn’t really getting lots of offers. But there was this one boy, a reader who was in the same acting classes as I was. He was beautiful, and he was occasionally nice to me. Along with many other girls, I nursed a not-so-secret crush on him. Let’s call him Stag.
In Israel, when you’re in seventh and eighth grades, there are a ton of big parties, for Bat and Bar Mitzvahs. Families who have the money to spare or aren’t throwing big family-get-togethers for the occasion of their kids’ Jewish coming-of-age rent out halls and invite the kids’ grade for a big dance party. Tame stuff, but it was when I discovered that I loved dancing, and that I could mimic other people’s dance moves, and that it made me feel alive and sexy.
Seventh grade was the girls’ Bat Mitzvah parties. Eighth was the boys’. It so happened that another boy I had a little bit of a crush on through a big party too, a family and friend affair. There would be a bus to ferry us to the location. I had a new shirt, velvety purple with bits cut out for my shoulders, long-sleeved. It felt sexy, to my eighth grade self. A few days before the party, I decided I’d ask Stag to be my date.
My heard pounded all day long. I was shaking as I walked up to him. And asked. And he… said he’d think about it. I smiled, happy. I got a non-negative answer! I was a girl, who’d asked a boy out, and it wasn’t a no! He hadn’t laughed at me! Of course, the laughter will come in this saga, but not from him. No, he bruised my ego but just letting me wait, until I heard that he’d asked someone else out – had, in fact, forgotten that I’d asked him. I remember vaguely confronting him about it – saying something about how he owed me an answer, and him saying that he was taking someone else.
The story doesn’t quite end there, though. The boy whose party it was – let’s call him Opie – was a nice guy. I earned the nickname “Ilana Massage” from him, because I gave good massages. I got to touch him, and he made me cooler by association. He was the class clown. He liked me – he thought I was funny, and smart. I think, looking back, that he might have been gay and not known it yet. But he was nice to me. He wasn’t an asshole. He made fun of me occasionally in the way that kids in middle school do, but he didn’t exclude me from things. Stag, on the other hand, played favorites. He pretended to be all innocent-faced, but he switched camps to whoever treated him more like an idol.
Years later, Stag and I met in a military office, waiting to be interviewed for media-job postings. He had a broken leg from a ski trip. I was running a high fever. We weren’t at our best. I thought he looked familiar. But he recognized me and called my name. We chatted. He still looked good. He still made me nervous. But he remembered me. Who knows – maybe I’m still the only girl who’s ever asked him out, however unsuccessfully.