The 2004 hit teen comedy Mean Girls and the bestselling book by Rosalind Wiseman upon which it is based, Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence, hit a powerful chord with audiences, exposing the painful world of adolescent girls who are too often tormented and bullied by their so-called friends and classmates.
Adults find it funny, commented Tina Fey in an interview about the movie, which she wrote and appeared in. Young people on the other hand find it much too close to their real experiences, she added.
Tina, I love your Sarah Palin impersonation but disagree with your fantasy that women outgrow the mean girls nightmare. Even if we are lucky enough to graduate from middle or high school relatively unscathed by bullies, we are likely to find those same mean girls popping up again and again.
From the time they are young, females are socialized to be good girls who are nice to one another. So rather than engaging in outright criticism, confrontation or competition like their male counterparts, girls and women often use rumors, innuendos, back-stabbing, exclusion, teasing and other passive-aggressive behaviors. Mean girls consistently make use of these approaches to bond with their friends and to jockey for status at the expense of other women.
Its common and normal for women and men to compare themselves to others based on looks, behavior, or social status. Thats how they define themselves and figure out what they want to become at various stages in life. But mean girls, who lack self-esteem and worry that theyll come up short in a side-by-side comparison, tend to pick on their more vulnerable sisters and degrade them in words and actions in order to achieve dominance and control.Even if a woman wasnt the one tagged it in the lunchroom, she probably knows someone else on a team, in the playground, at sleepaway camp, in a sorority house or a club who was excluded, teased and gossiped about by her friends.Young moms gang up on the one hapless mother who acts a bit different, is less polished, or who is simply new to the neighborhood and banish her from the Mommy and Me group or worse yet, exclude her daughter from birthday parties all the other kids in the grade are attending. Children are often victims of their friends mean moms who choose to buoy their own status through their kids friendships, setting the stage for the next generation of mean girls. Moms can help discourage this self-destructive behavior by teaching their daughters to communicate openly and to be assertive.
In the workplace, mean girls rear their heads too, in equally insidious ways. A woman may start or pass on a rumor that a female colleague is sleeping with her supervisor because shes jealous of her promotion or she may systematically keep another colleague out of the loop so shes deprived of the information she needs to succeed in her work.Reality TV has probably emboldened mean girls: Shows like Real Housewives make it socially acceptable for cliques of frenemies to undermine their friends in order to shine and get ahead. As women get caught up in the illusion of seeking to be perfect in every domain of their lives, its easier for outsiders to find an even longer list of imperfections to attack. So in a true fashion of so-called sisterhood, working moms dump on stay-at-home moms and vice versa. There is even a movie in development called Mean Moms. Turns out that in the end, mean girls dont really derive much pleasure by making the lives of other women miserable. The persistent behavior is repeated over and over with different women, eventually alienating the perpetrator even further from her female friends and colleagues.If you are the target of mean girls, usually led on by one Queen Bee, the best thing you can do is confront the leader in private, signaling you are aware of whats happening and arent willing to remain in the victim role. If the mean girl doesnt retrench, you probably need to drop her and her wannabees, and expand your circle of friends. If it happens in the workplace and you cant handle it on your own, you may need to call on help from a supervisor or HR.
Age is no barrier when it comes to one person being cast as the odd woman out, I wrote in my book, Best Friends Forever: Surviving A Breakup with Your Best Friend. I tell the story of a memorable episode of HBOs series The Sopranos, mobster Paulie Walnuts returns from prison and is shocked to find out that his mother has been excluded from the girls card table at Green Grove Nursing Home. Paulie complains to the director of the facility who responds, Nursing homes are like high schools with wheel chairs.Unfortunately, mean girls will always be around you. The trick is figuring out how to how to deal with them or how to avoid them.---About the Author:Irene S. Levine, PhD is a psychologist, award-winning journalist and author, and professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine. She has written hundreds of freelance articles that have appeared in such publications as Ladies Home Journal, Readers Digest, Self, AARP, Better Homes & Gardens, Health, Prevention, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and The Dallas Morning News.