I was born in 1987, which means the world wide web and I basically grew up together. While I was taking my first steps, the internet was becoming available on the very first commercial ISPs. We went through major growing pains together as it shrieked away, blocking everyone’s phone lines with dial-up right as I started growing boobs and hating my mom.
Really, I swear, the experiences were practically the same.
Back when AOL was still a thing and all the cool kids were chatting on AIM after school, I spent a good portion of my time in chat rooms. I was in what is now called the tweens (and back then was just early adolescence, I guess?) but I told everyone I was 17 because, to me, 17 was totally the coolest age you could possibly be. Duh.
And “17- year-old” me knew how to talk dirty.
“Cybering” with men and boys who weren’t part of my IRL communities, I was able to step outside the societal expectations of what is and isn’t okay for a teenage girl to think about, much less actually voice out loud. I could act out the new things I was learning about and interested in without any of the risks of pregnancy, STIs, or being shunned by my peers.
That last one is probably the biggest deal because, let’s be real, at that age I knew I wasn’t going to be doing anything that put me at risk for the first two. However, even showing an interest in sex, even kissing a boy in your teens opens a girl up to slut shaming that can stick with her right through the end of high school and do lifelong damage.
So I avoided all of that. I hung out online, learned the lingo, talked dirty. I felt desire and desired, that incomparable rush all teenage girls revel in. Those virtual rooms gave me the freedom to start fleshing out who I was as a sexual being, a gift that I will be forever grateful for.
Today, chat rooms have become as obsolete as the giant IBM computer, the AOL browser, and the dial-up connection I used to access them. As I watch teenage girls post videos on Youtube that tearily ask if they’re “hot or not;” as young women’s intimate photos and videos are published online without their permission and gang raped teenagers are re-victimized over and over when videos of their assaults are passed around on their peer’s cellphones, I can’t help bemoan the passing of those strange virtual places.
Where can a girl today find that kind of freedom?
Photo by g4ll4is via CC License on Flickr