Mean Girls: A True Story

This post might overlap a little with some of the other topics already discussed, but I really wanted to share one of my recent experiences.

As an extra-curricular, I volunteer for about an hour every Thursday at one of the local elementary schools in a grade 6/7 split-class. It’s in an area where most of the children come from lower income families. Needless to say, so of the kids don’t have the luxuries of someone of middle-upper class. Not only does this include brand name clothes, but unfortunately confidence as well.

My story is from one afternoon’s volunteering session. As I walk into the classroom, I notice that one of the girls had her head down on her desk and was disengaged from the lesson. Once the teacher was done explaining the exercise, she came over to me and asked if I could partner with Ashley* for the activity and keep her company. Of course, I did what I was told without question.

Walking up to Ashley, I could tell she wasn’t having the best of days. I asked her if she wanted to be my partner. She responded with resistance. After a few minutes talking with her and building that trust, she eventually complied.

We left the classroom to work without the distraction of others and to have a little privacy. I figured she probably didn’t want to do the activity right away, so I tried to spark conversation. Initially, she was shy and didn’t share much. By the end of the afternoon, we were talking as if we were best friends.

I learned that she was a lot like me. Her parents divorced at an early age. Her dad spoils her rotten even if it’s giving up everything he has. She has younger siblings that annoy her.  She’s a “tomboy.” And her best friend is a boy.

She finds it frustrating how other girls in her class give her a hard time about the last two points. Ashley, admittedly, hates participating in the drama and gossip like the other girls. She’d rather play sports. As a result, she is bullied because she does not fit the norms of what society deems to be appropriate activities for girls.

Similarly, her best friend, Jake*, receives the same criticism from his other guy friends. The other boys pressure him by saying, “Why do you hang out with her? Come play with us!” Sometimes he gives in, sometimes he doesn’t. The other boys tease him for being a compassionate and caring friend to Ashley. After all, boys aren’t supposed to show emotion, right?

The dynamics on the playground support society’s pressures to conform to socialized gender roles. What I witnessed that afternoon was shockingly similar to scenes from Mean Girls. There are defined groups within the class, which are organized into an unspoken social hierarchy. Ashley and Jake remind me of the characters Janis and Damian from the movie. They are confident in their own skin, but are ridiculed by those with greater social influence.

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Similar to the creation of the hierarchy in Mean Girls, those with “power” were girls and boys who fit hegemonic masculine and emphasized feminine roles. In addition, these groups were also white and of upper class (relative to those at the school). These invisible privileges have been used to exert power over those with less social influence. Those who deviate from what is perceived to be normal are bullied and put down by others. It is disheartening to see that Mean Girls, a movie that exaggerates every high school stereotype, is influencing and reinforcing power differences at a young age.

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However, there is hope in the younger generations. Those like Ashley and Jake are comfortable expressing themselves and are not afraid to speak up. Although one might be pressured to conform to social expectations, like Kady from Mean Girls, happiness is found when one is confident enough to be comfortable in their own skin.

* Names changed to keep identities confidential. 

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6 Responses to Mean Girls: A True Story

  1. Really interesting post, Pink Panther. I think at one point or another, regardless of socioeconomic level, we’ve all experienced pressure to conform to social expectations as children. Likely we don’t even remember what it is we’ve done, but it seems to me when I look at my younger brother in elementary school it’s all about conformity, and anyone who doesn’t ‘fit in’ gets bullied. I don’t agree with your point that higher socioeconomic levels breed confidence, but perhaps that wasn’t what you intended in the first place. Regardless I’m wondering whether you think a school that has a large homogeneous population is more or less prone to bullying? I remember a friend of mine who went to an almost exclusively Asian school and she said she’d NEVER experienced bullying. In fact, when it was taught at her school her peers and her thought it was something that never happened, and going on from that to other schools she was shocked that bullying actually did exist. I’m wondering how many other children have grown up like this, and what exactly was the level of conformity at this school of hers, high or low. But maybe I’m thinking too deeply on this. 🙂

  2. chairmanmeeeow says:

    I came across a similar situation recently! I was Skyping with my friend last week and she told me that her little brother is constantly bullied at school for having a female best friend. Apparently he comes home crying at least once a week because of boys teasing him and calling him “gay”. He doesn’t give in to the scrutiny cast upon him by his peers, and continues to be best friends with this little girl, but ends up paying the ultimate price of having low self-esteem and being completely outcast by his male peers.

    Friskywhiskers, I personally don’t believe that a school with a relatively homogenous population is more or less prone to bullying. Kids (and adults too!) will always find differences among each other regardless of race, sex/gender, or class, and there will always be the few children who choose to highlight them. Even if a school is largely homogenous, say a single-sex private school in a wealthy area, there are always some people who do not completely conform to the demographic that is represented at large. In this case, it is likely that the widely represented body would see the differences between themselves and the ‘other’ more clearly, and bullying would prevail.

    I also thought the point raised about socioeconomic status within the post by Pink Panther and the comment by Friskywhiskers was interesting. I also highly disagree that being of the upper class breeds confidence, and actually think it can come with endless complications related to self-esteem. Does anyone think that higher social status can be correlated to higher confidence? If so, why?

  3. snicklefritz66 says:

    Friskywhiskers, I don’t ever think there is a point of thinking too deeply about bullying and it’s roots! I think the comments about school of a homogeneous population are very interesting. Especially the comment about the predominantly Asian school.
    I think that children, like many adults, can find differences among their peers. Differences will always be seen, however its a matter of educating children against bullying and of the harms that it inflicts. However, I think in a homogeneous environment, such as a school, it may be that there is less bullying seen, on account of differences lying within a general range, as opposed to varying extremes.
    I think that a higher social status can definitely be correlated with a higher confidence level (although not defining confidence level). If an individual has a higher social status, it is likely (if a student) that this person has many friends, is involved in school, popular, etc. All of these things encourage confidence in young people, as well as people of any age. If an individual feels supported, like one does with many friends, a popular social standing at school and support felt by peers also a part of same school activities, then it is likely one will feel confident. It is easy to feel confident when you are liked. It isn’t easy to feel confident when you aren’t like.
    The idea that social status defines confidence is bogus, however, it does encourage it. In our society, if one is seen as popular or with a higher social status, it is assumed that this person is confident because, why wouldn’t they be? Society places ample amount of emphasis on the thoughts/actions of other people affecting one’s own personal happiness and confidence, which in turn fuels the idea that confidence is dependent upon social status.
    I don’t think that higher social status make for a more confident person, however, with society’s ideals, it rings true that if you are popular, you should be confident.

    • chairmanmeeeow says:

      I see where you are coming from regarding the link between upper-class individuals and self-confidence, and I agree with this in the scenario of a ‘perfect world’. In a world without complications, someone with more money should technically have a higher standard of living and also have more support in achieving their ultimate life goals. Unfortunately, there are many things that can affect the overall self-confidence of those in the upper class just as they do the working class, such as broken families or chronic disease.

      Additionally, what about the idea of conspicuous consumption? Many people engage in this to appear to be of a higher socio-economic status in order to acquire and/or maintain their status in society. How do you differentiate between these individuals and those who are really of the upper class in a school setting? Does self-confidence differ between the truly upper-class and those engaging in conspicuous consumption to appear to be of the upper-class?

  4. pinkpanther2287 says:

    Wow I did not expect to get such great responses from all of you! It’s awesome!

    To clarify, maybe I didn’t explain myself well enough: I didn’t intend for it to come across as a generalization that people of high socioeconomic status have confidence. I think what i was trying to get at was that the way this group is portrayed in the media. Using Mean Girls as an example, Regina, Gretchen, and Karen (the “plastics”) all come from wealthy families. Coincidently, these girls are also the most “popular” girls in school. Regardless whether they are actually liked or feared by their peers, they still hold “power” over the student body. This stereotype is seen throughout most movies and TV shows for children (and adults): Camp Rock, Cinderella, High School Musical (the list goes on). From an early age, kids are exposed to this socially constructed hierarchy. In my example at the elementary school, it was my interpretation of the situation. It was as if Ashley and Jake’s story was from a Mean Girls scene. These kids had no shame in bullying – it was as if what was portrayed in movies is social proof in justifying their behaviour.

    This is why I feel this genders course is so valuable. As mentioned in tutorial today, it is important to acknowledge one’s privilege and realize that everyone’s experiences and perspectives are different. Regardless of one’s privileges or prejudices, the realization that everyone SHOULD be treated equally is what matters. Some privileges (like race) cannot be changed, but our perspectives on how we view others can. This genders course is important in the sense that it challenges our current ways of thinking and exposes us to the realities in society. It teaches us to recognize these patterns in the media and acknowledge they are there, but know that by interpreting the messages in media at face value can be hurtful to others. In grade 6 or 7, the capacity to understand that not everything in media is right can be a little difficult to wrap your head around. I know I certainly didn’t pick out gender, race, sexuality, and class themes when I was that young.

    As for the comment regarding bullying in a homogeneous school, it’s interesting that your friends, friskywhiskers, hadn’t experienced bullying. If the school is homogenized, I don’t think everyone is as lucky. At one of the elementary schools I attended, a vast majority of the students came from families of European descent. Although cultures and traditions vary, the there are common values and beliefs shared throughout the European culture. Despite a very homogenized group of students, bullying still existed. However, I do believe that some of the “reasons” why people bully others are mitigated within homogenized group, simply for the like-mindedness and greater understanding of the others’ perspectives based on similar experiences.

    • crazyforcats9 says:

      I believe this post sparked such a reaction as it is filled with topics that as young women are very “close to home” for each of us. I couldn’t agree more with the fact that this course is so valuable in expressing the importance of acknowledging other peoples positionality in our everyday lives. When my little sister who is in grade nine comes to me with stories about how she sees her peers at school reacting to situations in a certain way (such as the little girl being bullied for being a tomboy) that she doesn’t understand, I now know how to explain to her that she cant expect everyone to see the world the way she does. Prior to this course, I never would have been able to do so.

      She recently came to me beyond upset that a peer of hers has been bullied for being gay; her school was similarly showing that being socially ‘deviate’ is hard on adolescents. She has been around our gay neighbour her whole life, so through her positionality, she knows being gay should not change the way you act around a person. With my knowledge of this course I was able to explain to her that her peers positionally is not the same as hers, so, they will not have the same views and experiences on homosexuality as she does. Nor can she expect them to.

      I completely agree with your opinion that many highschoolers have “no shame in bullying” and that “it was as if what was portrayed in movies is social proof in justifying their behaviour”. I hope that society and popular media will move away from this negative light in movies (such as Mean Girls) and look towards expressing the concept of acknowledging other peoples positionally in TV or movies instead. My sister benefited greatly… imagine the change we would see in groups of students if even a few of them were more enlightened on the concept?

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