Monday, February 11, 2013

Confessions of a (former) Mean Girl

I attended the screening event of Finding Kind hosted by Womentum yesterday. This documentary follows two girls as they try to understand the phenomenon of "girl world."

If you're a girl from North America, you know what "girl world" is. It starts somewhere in Jr. high and involves girls sneakily fighting to find their place on the totem pole -- all secretly vying for the top spot. It involves gossip, rumours, the ability to perfectly cut one another down with a look all while maintaining the image that girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. It's tougher than Survivor, where alliances  are created, trust is broken, and you never truly know if it's your day to be singled out for your flaws as you walk to school in the morning.

It's learning to play the game. Learning that if you are on one side of the fence, teasing another girl, you are not being teased. Learning that even if you are not doing the teasing, but quietly looking on, you are not being teased. Learning the right things to say and do, wear and watch to keep up. Learning to deal with these "mean girls" to prepare yourself for mean bosses, mean mother-in-laws, mean acquaintances.

This phenomenon has been glamorously documented in our culture. The hit movie "Mean Girls" mocks the movement, reality shows like The Hills and Jersey Shore highlight these moments, dramas like Gossip Girl profit from the hurt feelings and cattiness. This reflection of our society in media is in turn creates a society that starts to mimic "as seen on TV" moments. And the circle of life continues.

Watching the documentary yesterday, I felt a stir of sadness. And regret. And embarrassment.

Because I was a mean girl. And I started to think about those friends I stopped talking to, stopped returning phone calls, stopped asking them to hang out. About how I decided they didn't fit into my world anymore and so I severed the relationship.

I wish the movie had asked some of the mean girls why they do what they do. They talked a lot to girls who were victims, none really owing up to the fact that she too probably had played the game. I use sarcasm and wit as a coping mechanism. And sarcasm doesn't always transfer well, which means my way of making light of situations, most often hurt people's feelings. And I have always been able to bounce from friends to friends and circles to circles to suit where I was in life. It never occurred to me that the "best" friends I left behind may be hurting from my actions. Like relationships with boys, sometimes friend relationships don't work out anymore and you need to break up. Sometimes it might be because the relationship is toxic, but most likely it might just be that you are not on the same paths anymore. I can look back and I don't know if there is any specific moment that I felt singled out. When it was my turn for the group of girls I was friends with in Jr. High to exclude me, I was upset for a day, but found other girls to hang out with. I chalked it up to the other girls having the issue, not me!

In the panel discussion following the film, an audience member brought up the fascination she had with this mean girl phenomenon in our culture. She was originally from Kenya and was an early childhood educator in both countries. She couldn't understand the neediness that characterized the Canadian children she taught as it was completely different from the those children in Kenya. And this actually makes sense to me and may actually answer why I was a mean girl as well.

In my home, I was constantly reminded how special I was, how smart and beautiful, cute and talented, etc. etc. Consistently, positive attributes were reiterated to me, to help build my self esteem. So by the time I was put out into the world with my peers and we entered school, I was sure I was the most special, the most talented, the most beautiful. Except, my guess is all parents fawn over their spawn in this manner. And once we get into the real world, we can't all be the best. And so in order to survive this world, we start to secretly tell others that so-and-so is not that fantastic -- look at her shoes, her nose, the way she drew a tree. And we start to play the game in order to fulfill that prophecy our parents told us about being so special. Not realizing that we are actually cutting ourselves down, not just the other person. And because we have been playing this inner monologue for so many years, we now don't even realize that it starts the moment we see another person. Sizing her up on her clothes, her face, her weight -- trying to assure ourselves we are still the most special.

I'm a former mean girl. Some may say I am still  a mean girl. I still cut off relationships that I don't think are serving me well. I still have a horrible habit of gossiping. I still compare my positive attributes to others's negative attributes to feel better about myself. In yesterday's discussion the idea of "checking yourself" came up to stop the inner judgement that happens so naturally. This really hit home for me and I plan on taking that minute to "check myself."

I don't know if the world will ever be rid of mean girls, but it may be rid of at least one today. Because in this girl world it's most important to be kind. And it's time I start finding it.


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