by Kathy Dobie
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Mar 1st 2005
In The Only Girl in the Car,
her memoir of her early adolescence, Kathy Dobie writes about her decision to
lose her virginity and her bad choices as older boys and men used her. Her
family lived in Connecticut, near New Haven and her father worked for Yale University.
She had a younger sister and two older brothers. Her brother Bill got into
trouble and ran away from home several times, apparently falling in with the
wrong sort of friends. One of the central unanswered questions of Dobie's
story is what leads her to take such risks and go against everything that her
parents believe. Her family seems normal and relatively untroubled, so she is
not acting out some problem at home. She was a strong student, and had
received excellent grades in the years before. None of her girl friends took
the same sorts of risks as she does, and in fact they distanced themselves from
her when they learn of her behavior, so they did not lead her to bad behavior.
Dobie's own words do not shed much light on her actions. She says that she
swooned with pleasure at boys' touch, but she seemed intent on her course of
action before any boy had even touched her. She was not dominated by one
particular personality, but instead moved from man to man to boy to boy in a
short space of time, showing a lot of independence. Yet she also acquiesced to
their requests even when she knew that it would not make her happy at all.
Dobie briefly describes her childhood
and then in slightly more detail her sexual thoughts and talk with friends as
she entered puberty. They suggest she was possibly a little advanced for her
age, but she was just one of several who played the same games, and none of the
others even followed her lead when she started having sex. It almost seems
that one day she made a decision to have sex out of the blue, chose the male to
do it, and followed through on her plan. It is disturbing how this decision
comes out of the blue and as if there was nothing anyone could have ever done
to get her to be different. The first two people she was with were men in
their thirties and forties. She moved onto boys a little closer to her own
age. She describes this period of her life as a storm, a "storm of boys,
fingers, tongues, dirty words, whispered hotly in my ear, then shouted at my
face," and maybe it makes sense to think of this as a random natural
phenomenon. It is almost as if Dobie were struck by lightning.
Her period of active sexuality lasted
a few months, until one night she had sex with four males in the same car, and
got such a bad reputation that no one will speak to her, and she became totally
isolated from any of her former friends. On that final night, she agreed to
the sex, but she did not want it; she experienced it as close to being raped,
and it was horrible for her. At that point, she turned her life around, and
could reflect on what her short-lived promiscuity meant for the rest of her
life. She longed to leave town and avoid her reputation as a slut. She
remained close to her sister and focused again on her schoolwork. She became a
devotee of Ayn Rand, which is appropriate enough for a teenage rebel. More
significantly, she found her talent as a writer and did well enough to
eventually got into NYU, and settled into life in the big city.
The Only Girl in the Car is a short memoir, but still it manages to explore the meanings of sex
for young women, and it does it well. Dobie has a strong command of language
and she conveys her feelings well. In her telling, it does not make much
difference why she became so intent to have sex, because what was important
were the thrill of her discovering her power over men and the consequences of
her actions through the ways her peers treated her. Obviously, the label of
"slut" has as much power now as it ever did to isolate and hurt young
women. Dobie explains not just her relationships with men but also the support
of her siblings during this time of her life, which was so important for her.
A memoir like this captures the small details of a life and the significance of
early sexual experiences in ways that cannot be found in sociological studies
© 2005 Christian
Perring. All rights reserved.
Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities
Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also
editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on
philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.