Sexuality and Independence for Teenagers: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? By Joyce Carol Oates

Sexuality and Independence for Teenagers: Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? By Joyce Carol Oates

Parents encounter a problem controlling their children, especially during and after adolescence as they grow into adulthood (Ewen 12). At this time, they interact may people, both in daily life and on social media. The encounter and interaction expose them to numerous challenges, some of which they may not handle. Most teenagers become resistant to the advice of their parents, making most parents worried about the whereabouts, activities, and safety of their children. Where are you going, where have you been? Oates explores the resistivity of children and other issues that surround the development of children.

The story explores a fifteen years old girl, Connie, who is obsessed with her appearance and spends a long time in front of the mirror, admiring herself. Her mother criticizes her behavior while encouraging her to be neat and responsible like her twenty-four-year-old sister, June (Marys 114). According to her parents, June is responsible because she does savings to help her parents and exhibits maturity in most things that she does. Like most fathers, Connie’s father is preoccupied with work and does not have time to talk to his daughters. The way her mother constantly nags makes Connie with that her mother would be dead. Therefore, it is clear that many children misinterpret the intentions of their parents for trouble.

Connie struggles to get attention from men through her appearance and personality of a mature woman. Like many upcoming girls, she confuses the attention she gets from boys for the desire to pursue her sexually. She is anxious about experiencing the life of a mature adult despite her age. For instance, she listens to love and romantic songs of the pop culture and spends her time thinking about the boys she interacts with (Marys 118). However, her encounter with Arnold who violently takes her to adulthood makes her realize the reality of being a mature woman. It dawns on her that there is a significant difference between the childlike fantasy and the reality of what being a mature woman she aspires means. Her encounter with Arnold changes the way she perceives the world.

Many youths struggle for independence from their parents. They perceive advice by their parents as prying on them and advice against different issues as restrictions towards freedom of living their lives the way they want. In the story, Connie continues to struggle for independence to become sexually attractive and engage in sexual activity with different men. As much as she depends on adults for social care as she and her friends are driven to the movie theatre by her father’s friend. She continues to fight against her family such as her mother and sister, which is the life she knows. However, her struggle ends up with a brutal outcome. After pretending to be a mature woman, Arnold treats her as such and introduces her to confusions, doubts, and fears that may accompany any adult in the journey to maturity, with her search pointing to a permanent end.

Oates also presents sexuality from a dimension that synchs with the society today. The awareness of sexuality crops in with a lot of uncertainties during adolescence (Baumrind 124). In the story, Connie represents an adolescent protagonist who is preoccupied with her attractiveness and readiness to be sexually admired by men. On the other hand, Arnold, a significantly older man represents a sexual predator with the motive of deflowering her at her tender age while taking advantage of her innocence. The story represents the repressive attitude of mainstreaming sexuality in society today which jeopardized the sense of self by women and link sexual violence to women. For instance, Connie thinks that being attractive by making her hair, dressing seductively, and admiring herself in the mirror is all that is required to make men sexually attractive. On the other hand, Arnold’s interaction with her tends to take advantage of her innocence to introduce her to sexual life, by even declaring to be her lover while Connie does not know what a lover is in the first place.

Violence is part of society today. Most people like Connie live under the illusion that aspects of life such as love and romance occur in real life like they are depicted arts (Music). However, Oates comes out to prove that the society we are living in contains metaphysical violence, vested in people that appear to be friendly. For instance, she deliberately gives Arnold a second name, Friend, which is directly opposite of what he represents in the story. Arnold threatens Connie, making her give in to his demands and ends up perpetrating sexual violence towards Connie, who trusted him as a friend.

Oates shows that a family is essential in regulating the behavior of children and their upbringing. Growing up in a nuclear family with a working dad and a stay at home mum, the family shows a lot of concern on the activities of the young Connie. Women in the family appear at odds with each other because Connie feels disturbed with her mom’s nagging behavior, even wishing she could be dead. Also, her father’s preoccupation with work reduces the chances of her developing meaningful relationships with a male figure (Baumrind 128). For that reason, she falls prey to stranger male figures like Arnold after longing for such a relationship. For that, Oates partially blames Connie’s father of ignorance of his responsibility as a male figure in the family, considering that she does not have a brother.

On the other hand, parents need to choose the right way to guide and control their growing children. As much as Connie’s mother constantly complained about Connie and nagged her whenever she would be admiring herself in the mirror, becoming violent with her only made her try to do whatever she could behind her mother’s back. If the relationship between her and her mother would better, she could have possibly sought for advice when making some decisions (Popov 253). However, being at odds with her mother made her independently make decisions and struggle to outsmart her mother, thus falling prey to sexual predators like Arnold.

In conclusion, it is the responsibility of parents to guide and advise their children when making essential decisions in life.  Both parents need to cooperate in the upbringing of children because they have a specific role to play. Also, parents cannot effectively control children when they are not on good terms with them. Sexual awareness and expectations like the case of Connie are inevitable as children grow through adolescence, and parents should anticipate different responses from their children. For that, the relationship they build with them determines whether teenagers would feel free to talk about their challenges and expectations before making their decisions.



Work Cited

Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction to Literature. , 2017. Print

Ewen, Monique. “‘What A Girl Wants, What A Girl Needs’: Father-Daughter Intimacies in Therapeutic Literature and Teen Film.” (2012).

Popov, Leonid M., and Ruth A. Ilesanmi. “Parent-child relationship: Peculiarities and outcome.” Review of European studies 7.5 (2015): 253.

Baumrind, Diana. “Effective Parenting During the Early Adolescent Transition Adolescence and Adolescents in Transition.” Family Transitions. Routledge, 2013. 123-176.