Confession: I was a mean girl.
At the time I didn’t think of myself as mean. I just wanted to be liked, and not made fun of, and fit in with the other kids. So when I decided that my elementary school best friend was not cool enough for my new middle school friends, I didn’t think twice about telling her I didn’t want to be her friend anymore. I know it may seem like I was a b*tch, but that’s only because I was acting like one.
Unfortunately I didn’t feel truly horrible about what I had done until I got to high school and was in a class with my former friend (who by that time had her own friends and was doing just fine without my two-faced self by her side). Seeing how uncomfortable she was around me and how much fun she had with her new friends made me remember how much fun she had been and realize that I had done a horrible thing.
Before you write me off as Regina George, consider that I wasn’t the only mean girl in my school. I remember being sick one day in 8th grade, and then returning to school the next day to discover that all my friends had decided that when I got back to school they wouldn’t be my friend anymore. I remember riding the bus home listening to my former best friends talking about what a loser I was in the seat behind me. My middle school nicknames were Chicken Butt, which is not as salacious as it sounds-I fell down the stairs and landed on my butt-middle schoolers aren’t known for their creativity, and Fatso. My high school nickname was “Quasi” (as in Quasimodo).
I bet many of you have similar horror stories from school. I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of girls and how vicious we can be lately, both as a woman and as the mother to 2 girls. One of my many, many fears I had when my daughter entered kindergarten was that she would be the victim of the gossipy, passive-aggressive bullying that girls can inflict. Personally, I hoped that those days would die upon my high school graduation, but lately I’ve discovered that some mean girls stay mean . Don’t believe me? Check any mommy message board, and type “breastfeeding” or “formula feeding” in the search box. Even this website saw some pretty mean comments from other women to a mom who wrote about her choice to formula feed. I recently posted on my running club’s Facebook page asking for other stay at home moms to start a running meetup, and one girl wrote “LOL! Stay at home mom problems!” and then started another post making fun of mine.
So what is the deal with girls? Why are we so mean and what can we do about it? For a lot of women, anger and backstabbing comes from jealousy, which can be caused by insecurity. That was the case for me, former mean girl, who was so insecure that she was willing to do anything to feel liked. As moms, I think a lot of us feel insecure about our childrearing decisions: whether or not to nurse, to share a bed or not, to give pacifiers or not, to stay at home or go to work, to turn the carseat around at 12 months or do extended rear facing. Somehow all those insecurities make us want to lash out at other moms who make different choices. We think that putting down others will reinforce the decisions that we have made. We feel insecure about our new-mom bodies so we snarkily roll our eyes at the women in bikinis at the neighborhood pool. It’s important that we work on developing a healthy self-esteem, and help our daughters to do the same.
“Bullying” has become a pervasive topic in the news in the past few years. As many of us unfortunately are well aware, girls bully in a much different way than boys. While boys are more likely to be physically aggressive, girls are more likely to gossip, steal boyfriends, and spread rumors, all hallmarks of what pyschologists call “relational aggression.” Other signs of relational aggression include eye rolling, ignoring, forming exclusive cliques, teasing (see The Ophelia Project).
Relational aggression is commonplace and standard in female friendships, from preschool to adulthood. As I was editing this post, my kindergartner came home and told me Cady doesn’t want to be friends with Gretchen anymore because Gretchen is also friends with Karen (names changed to protect the innocent). This type of insisting that your friends can’t be friends with anyone else is one of the early signs of female bullying.
The website suggests enhancing your daughter’s emotional intelligence to prevent her from becoming a female bully. This can be as simple as pointing out vicious acts and discussing how these hurt the victim. Other tips include avoiding pushing them towards cliques, discussing the dangers of gossip and backstabbing, and monitoring her Internet and cell phone use to be sure that she is not participating in any kind of cyberbullying.
Although women can be mean and vicious, there are so many benefits to having female friends.
I love my husband, but there have been countless times in my life where I needed to talk to another woman. When I couldn’t figure out how to breastfeed, when I couldn’t get the baby to sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time, when I was 3 months postpartum but still looked 6 months pregnant; I turned to my girlfriends for help. My girlfriends helped me figure out what the heck to do with a breast pump and assuaged my guilt over sleep training my 5 month old. There’s nothing better than going for a run and chatting with girlfriends so much that you don’t even notice the miles. Women are great at listening without giving advice, and just letting the other vent.
When we continually cut other women down, we miss out on the wonderful parts of having girlfriends.
In summation, I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy.
(How many Mean Girls quotes can I hide in this post? The limit does not exist.)
Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher, PhD
Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and the New Realities of Girl World by Rosalind Wiseman
Little Girls Can be Mean: Four Steps to Bully-Proof Girls in the Early Grades by Michelle Anthony, M.A., PhD and Reyna Lindhert, PhD