I make no claims to be a psychologist or sociologist. But I do have 25 years of memories behind me, including many experiences and observations of what it is like to be a girl or woman in our culture.
Usually when I take off on a feminist topic I discuss what society at large does to dehumanize women and hold back women in various ways.
This time however, I think it’s time to tackle the Mean Girl culture that exists in varying levels of intensity among groups of girls.
What Mean Girl culture comes down to is an unending list of Unwritten Rules of Girl-dom. And let me tell you, they are heinous.
A small, non-comprehensive sampling of these rules:
A girl must not accept a compliment without insulting herself. (Language warning for link.)
Self-confidence is the equivalent of arrogance.
If a group of two or more girls has a crush on/has feelings for/is in love with the same guy, the girl who met him first has the claim, regardless of said guy’s own feelings.
If a friend is mad at someone, her girlfriends must hate that someone with great intensity, no questions asked.
Life is a competition, therefore one must not be happy at another’s successes.
Beauty equals power and with power there are no recriminations.
You are never good enough.
These rules might seem like a list of cynicism wrapped up in bitter reminisces of years gone by, but they unfortunately do exist. I’ve seen them inflicted on other girls. I’ve been the victim of them plenty of times. Young adult literature is full of stories that revolve around or include these rules and rules like them. And to break these rules… well that is when the cliched and demonized claws come out.
In the film Mean Girls, Gretchen admonishes Cady for having a crush on Regina’s ex-boyfriend Aaron, saying that she can’t like Regina’s ex-boyfriend because, “That’s just, like, the rules of feminism!”
But the thing is, feminism isn’t about girls putting constraints on girls, pitting woman against woman. Feminism is to empower women to conduct themselves however they want according to their own conscience, not according to peer pressure or overtly harmful little rules.
These unwritten rules that women and girls live by are truly anti-feminist. Instead of uniting women of every age, class, race, sexual orientation, etc., these rules serve to tear us apart and morph us into the bratty, solitary creatures the media is so fond of pretending we are.
And I really wish they would just go away. Really. What’s the point of holding years’ long grudges? What’s the point of insulting yourself? What’s the point of ending a friendship because your friend or friends didn’t follow the rules exactly as you thought they should have? What’s the point of turning friends against each other for pride and anger’s sake?
And in many cases, we are not united as women. We are not united when we nit-pick each other behind backs. We are not united when an affront to our ego is blown into a drama of war-like proportions. We are not united when we wear a mask of kindness and friendship but underneath long to grind our fists into another’s face.
There are people who think that women are inherently gossipy, cruel, and deceitful. These people are without a doubt wrong. I believe people in general are inherently good and loving. And that applies to women, too!!! (Because, you know. Women are people. That’s the radical idea that is feminism, right?)
But here’s another radical idea: How about we rebel against our culture of competition and gossip and rage–let’s reject it entirely–and unite as women.
Gloria Steinem in all her awesomeness has designed a series of bracelets, the proceeds from which benefit feminist.com. They read, “Imagine we are linked not ranked.” Can I have a “YES!”
We need to stop ranking each other. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others. We need to stop manipulating and gossipping and holding grudges and expecting each other to maintain a bizarre decorum based on insane rules!
Instead, let’s just be. Be the women we want to be without the constraints of weird social pressures. It really is time.