Don’t you think I know
Exactly where I stand
This world is forcing me
To hold your hand
‘Cause I’m just a girl, little ol’ me
Don’t let me out of your sight…

—No Doubt, Just a Girl, 1996

Keep to the Path and You Will Come to No Harm

Examining transgression as the motivating force in the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Eve in the Garden of Eden, and Alice in Wonderland.

Willful Transgression: Into the Wild World

Discussing the runaway girl, by looking at Dorothy Gale – as a runaway in “The Wizard of Oz” and as a victim of psychiatry in the 1997 film version of Baum’s books, “Return to Oz” – and Iris Steensma, the 12-year-old child prostitute in “Taxi Driver.”

Fabulous Monsters

Age of consent laws and precocious sexual development in girls.

The Enchanter and The Enchanted

Looking at Lolita, in her many incarnations, from the innocent victim of Nabokov’s first rendering, in The Enchanter, to the nymphet of Lolita and the sexually precocious seductress in the films by Stanley Kubrick and Adrian Lynne.  Also mentioned: Lo’s Diary by Pia Pera and Amy Fisher, the real-life “Long Island Lolita.”

Death and the Maiden

Proserpine abducted by Hades. Connie in Joyce Carol Oates’s “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?”  Played by Laura Dern in “Smooth Talk.”  The Pied Piper of Tucson.

From Victim to Accomplice

Tracing the character of the good girl who runs off with her bad boy lover for a life of violence and murder, from real-life Caril Ann Fugate (Charles Starkweather’s 14-year-old girlfriend who joined him on a killing spree through the Midwest in 1958; Starkweather was nineteen at the time, Caril Ann was fourteen; once apprehended, he was electrocuted for his crimes and Fugate was sentenced to life, but released on parole after 18 years in prison) to Holly Sargis (played by Sissy Spacek in Terrance Malick’s 1973 film “Badlands”) to Juliette Lewis’s Mallory Knox in Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone’s 1994 version of the same story in “Natural Born Killers.”

Rebels and Criminals

“When I’m good, I’m very good. When I’m bad, I’m better.”  – Mae West

 Nature or nurture – what turns a good girl bad?  Examining good girls and bad girls.  The good good girl who is young enough to still be good, innocent and pure, i.e. sexless.  The bad good girl, a good girl who has been led astray – usually by a bad boyfriend.  The good bad girl, a bad girl with a heart of gold.  And the bad bad girl, who is rotten to the core.

“The Rules”: profile of a psychopath or proper etiquette for a girl?  Comparing Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider’s “rules” (“Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right”) to Dr. R. Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist, including “Glib and superficial charm; Grandiose sense of self-worth; Pathological lying; Conning and manipulativeness; Shallow affect; Parasitic lifestyle…,” and so on.

“What would you give me for a basket of dead lovebirds?” Little Rhoda Penmark in “The Bad Seed” – the charming 9-year-old girl whose apparently perfect manners mask a genetically engineered mini-murderess.  (1954 novel by William March, 1954 Broadway play by Maxwell Anderson, 1956 film introducing Patti McCormack as Rhoda, and 1985 remake for TV with Carrie Wells, Blair Brown, and Keith Carradine.)

“Brian Howe had no mother, so he won’t be missed.”  Mary Bell, the clever and pretty 11-year-old English girl who strangled two little boys (ages 3 and 4) with her bare hands in 1968 and carved her initials into the belly of one.

19-year-old Leslie Van Houten, who in 1969 was the youngest of Charlie Manson’s female followers.  After stabbing Rosemary LaBianca 16 times in the back, she was convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

16-year-old Brenda Spencer who, in 1979, grabbed her father’s gun and opened fire on her school from a house across the street, injuring eight students and killing the school’s principal and custodian. When later asked why she’d gone on the shooting spree, she responded, “I don’t like Mondays.” The punk band Boomtown Rats recorded their song of the same name that year, and it was covered by Tori Amos in 2001.

Amy Fisher, also known as the “Long Island Lolita,” a disturbed teenager who in 1992 came under the influence of 35-year-old Joey Buttafuoco and tried to kill his wife.  Her story was so irresistibly lurid that all three major television networks rushed a TV movie into production.  Two of the movies even aired on the same night.  The 1993 version, “The Amy Fisher Story,” starred Drew Barrymore as Amy Fisher.

Savage Girls

Girls so wild they’re hardly human at all.  Examining notions of the child as primitive, as embodying a natural form reaching back to an earlier and more authentic stage of the species: the child as savage, noble but raw.  Related uneasily to this model was the idea of natural depravity, a savagery altogether ignoble, especially when it showed up in girls.

The Bacchae, hordes of girls from classical mythology who flock to worship Bacchus, the god of wine, revelry, and the primal forces of nature. They leave their homes, as if enchanted, to seek him out in the woods, and they let themselves go into wild, uninhibited worship of the god.

 Memmie le Blanc, the 10-year-old savage girl of Champagne, France, who was first sighted near the village of Songi one September evening in 1731.  She emerged from the woods, armed with a club, in search of water.  Her feet were bare, but she wore a scanty dress of rags and skins, and a gourd leaf on her hair.  Her face and hands were black, but when she was washed she turned out to be fair-skinned, with blue eyes.  She was reeducated and eventually able to tell the story of how she had been carried off from her home when she was seven or eight years old.  She was put on board a large ship and taken on a voyage to a warm country where she was sold into slavery.  Eventually she was able to escape to the forest, from whence she would later emerge.

The more than 200 “Savage Girls” of the Mitchellville Girls Reform School in Mitchellville, Iowa, who, on an October Sunday in 1899, rioted from dusk until dawn the following morning, reveling in their moment of freedom, dancing, drinking, and destroying nearly everything in sight.  These rebellious girls ranged in age from 7 to 18 and had been incarcerated for “crimes” that violated gender expectations,” such as promiscuousness and “general incorrigibility.”

The Delphos Wolf Girl, a 10-year-old child with blond, matted hair and wearing tattered red clothing who was seen running through vines and bushes in a wooded district on the northwest edge of Delphos, a small town in Kansas.

Genie, another wild child, this time from a modern version of the woods – an attic in a Los Angeles suburb where she had been imprisoned, without human contact, until she was discovered in 1970 at age thirteen.  Genie was a sensation who attracted attention that turned into fascination that turned into love – until Genie was dropped by the scientists and abandoned to foster parents, one of whom beat her for vomiting, because she was no longer adorable, wouldn’t smile or open her mouth for fear of being beaten.

Nell, Jodie Foster’s wild child in the 1995 film of the same name.  The psychologist, played by Liam Nieson, who studies her in her natural habitat, shows her his penis in the moonlight so that she will no longer be afraid of men.

Regan McNeil, vomit-spewing, head-spinning, lewd and crude 12-year-old possessed by a demon in The Exorcist.  Her story was told first in the best-selling 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty (who based his version on a supposedly true case of possession, of a 14-year-old Mount Rainier, Maryland boy who had been freed by a Catholic priest of possession by the devil through the ancient ritual of exorcism) and later made into one of the highest grossing movies of all time, by William Friedkin.  The Exorcist is truly a modern-day cultural phenomenon,  a household word that instantly generates dark images of uncontrollable horror.

The Five Acts of the Lost Girl Narrative

In fact, Regan’s story of possession follows almost exactly the Five Acts of the Lost Girl Narrative.  Her transgression comes when she plays with a Ouija board and contacts “Captain Howdy,” the demon in disguise who will soon come to inhabit her soul.  Her abduction comes in the form of a demonic possession.  Her disappearance is what sends her mother out for help, when Regan stops being the little girl she always was and seems to have disappeared, replaced by someone else altogether.  The possessing demon keeps her in captivity inside her own body – at one point her cry for help reaches the surface, when the words “Help Me!” appear in red welts on her belly.  Happily, however, there is no death, not for Regan anyway, as the demon leaves her and she’s still just a kid, who remembers nothing of what happened to her.

We might compare this narrative with what actually happens to a girl, as she comes of age, growing up out of her girlhood to become someone else, a woman in the world.  First she has transgressed, next she will be carried away.