Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Found: Mean Girls. Lost: Solution

My husband watched The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet two weeks back and was surprised to find these lightweights targeting the heavy problem of mean girls. The author of Tripping the Prom Queen was in the line-up as well as a psychologist and two self-proclaimed mean girls.

That got me searching for more books on this subject. Guess what? the story has already blown. Catty, conniving girls are out there. Amazon lists scores of books that target the phenomenon, and of course there's Lindsey Lohan's movie Mean Girls.

But is there a mean streak in all of us, one we're often too embarrassed to talk about? Maybe we wouldn't call it mean, just competitive or even better insecure. How do you react when you're insecure?

I'm going to begin plowing through this literature on the mean women out there to see if the solution has already been found. I want to see if Christian writers show us how to fight the urge to compare, claw and captivate in order to get ahead. Are we any more reformed than our secular friends? Do you think so?

How do other women react when they meet a woman who is totally "other" from them? The otherness could be in body, in interests, in relationship, in sexual orientation, in country, in family. It's perhaps easy to develop interest in a Florence Nightengale way, "Oh that poor pathetic thing, she needs HELP! " And then we reach out of pity which, for me anyways, too easily transmogrifies into patronizing, unhealthy mothering and setting ourselves above the poor darlings. Our pity becomes another way we prove we are better than they.

How do you get to know those who are different without resorting to patronage? Better, how do we learn from women who strike us as very different?


Gretchen said...

While reading your post I was reminded of a particularly low point in my Jr. High career. There was one girl in our group of friends that was.... gorgeous. She looked older than all of us, dressed artsy and cool and had perfect sultry green eyes and long honey colored hair. She was known for borrowing clothes and sometimes returning them with stains or some other blemish.
So....I decided to pay her back. blechhh. I borrowed her much loved "Phantom Of The Opera" t-shirt and another friend and I tortured it. We bleached it, tore it and completely ruined it (at my house). Then I brazenly walked down to her house and gave it back to her with the breezy explanation that it had been washed with some bleach. so, yeah.... sorry.
I cannot believe how mean and horrible I was. It still haunts me to this day!

Oh yeah, there was also a batch of exlax brownies that we brought to church youth group at one point.
Seriously, what makes girls so mean???

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

I’ve been wondering what makes girls so mean myself. Here’s the beginnings of my list:
1- insecurity
2- fear that there’s only one pie with limited slices and we need to eliminate any competition we can Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend” lyrics
3- of course that feeds envy and cruelty. Pussycat Dolls “Don’t Cha”
It’s been interesting in the last few months to note when I’m feeling cruel to women. I’ve been asking myself, “Okay, Jonalyn, what is the emotion that’s fueling this? It’s rarely rage or anger or impatience, usually it’s because I feel hurt by them and I want to teach them a lesson.
What do you think?

Grace said...

i got excited when i read your post. just last week i found myself wanting to destroy another female. i was at a gathering with a close group of friends and it was mentioned that this other girl was to be coming later. it immediately changed my mood and everyone there noticed. one guy asked why i got so quiet and all i could come up with was that i didn't like the girl who was to come. she showed up and i didn't give her the time of day, evern though she wanted to talk to me. later that evening as my boyfriend drove me home he asked why i let this girl's presence affect me so much and why i didn't like her. for me it was easy to answer, she threatened me in the fact that she was more out going, flirty, well indowed, flashy, ect and i didn't like her to be around him (my boyfriend that is). she was a "threat" to me in appearance and my relationship to philip (my boyfriend). he informed me that he knew to stay awway from her and wasn't at all interested or liked her type. i knew this full and well but i still felt threatened. we discussed this issue for a while and all i could say was it was a female thing to be so concerned and mean about it... i started to look into it more and research it in scripture. so far i have come up with little and so i would be interested to see what you find, or what books your find might address it. i've started a heavy study on the female and finding identity, based partially on findings from your book and personal study and struggles. this is one issue i hope to address in my study and photography thesis... any imput?

Dana said...

What is surprising to me is that "Mean Girls" are even seen in the preschol set. I had one little girl (named Faith no less) last year in my 3 year old class. Her best friend since birth was also in the class. We had one other little girl in the class. Faith would constantly say to the other little girl, "Lara is MY friend, not yours" or "You can't sit there bcause my best friend, Lara is sitting there." (You also have to imagine the hands on the hips as she is saying this!) She is back this year as a 4 year old and has grown up a lot. We have not seen any mean girl behavior...yet...I'm sure it'll rear it's nasty head though!!

Anonymous said...

Grace kinda hit the nail on the head for me... The biggest problem I have with some girls is their lack of respect for other girls... ie: Flirting with men that belong to other women. I'm not talking about women who unknowingly 'fall into' an improper relationship(though I'm DEFINITELY not condoning that either), but women who knowingly try to capture the attention of men. The kind of girls you would be concerned about if they were the same party as your bf (especially if you were not there)... A good example of this is in the movie The Last Kiss (2006).
-Mel (Rxy 25)

Robin said...

okay, I wrote a much longer piece and lost it (never hit back in a blog?) but maybe it's for the best. Bottom line, my theory is that meanness in women/girls mostly stems from insecurity. Whether we tend to be insecure innately or whether it's 99% outside influence, I don't know. As my self-confidence and assertiveness has grown over the years (I'm 44) so has my ability to be mean/condescending to other women BUT yet I very rarely am actually mean anymore, if ever. Like, it's been years! i see great opportunities once in awhile, but a little voice quickly says, "it's not necessary". I hadn't thought about that wording of my little voice before, - I guess it means, "not necessary to hurt another to feel better about yourself", or sometimes, "not necessary to get even, God sees all", maybe "not necessary to prove myself". When I was younger, I did some really mean things to other women that was totally motivated by my insecurities - too embarrassed still to 'fess up here!

darbygram said...

simply said: [fallen] human nature; female version

Gretchen said...

I really agree that it is just plain old sin nature with the female "mean girls" twist.
The reality is that with some maturity and grace women don't have to compete and compare. I believe that comparing and competing with other women comes from poor self worth and that's the reason it gets especially ugly around the teenage years. Girls haven't come to see who they are or where they belong and the insecurity manifests itself in ugly ugly ways. There are many women who haven't grown up, and the behavior continues into adulthood.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

This is in response to Grace.
I'd recommend reading Til We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. I think it's his master work. I'm re-reading it right now and it gets at much of the root of what women believe about themselves (often false stuff).

Cara Nilsen said...

OK, here's my two cents...well, with me it's more like a Susan B. Anthony Dollar.
My theory goes along with Jonalyn's beginnings of her "why are girls so mean" list:
"[is it] fear that there’s only one pie with limited slices and we need to eliminate any competition we can"
I would say yes. Maybe this seems like an insulting metaphor, but it's like in the animal kingdom when the lower pecking-order animals are vying for higher placement with the alpha animal in the group. Higher placement equals privilege and a better life due to a better standing with the alpha.
The "fear that there's only one pie with limited slices" is, in fact, true. There are a limited number of top positions that can exist in relation to the alpha creatures of our existence: men. We don't turn on men like we do on women because they are the ones we are trying to gain esteem with in the first place. It's other women that potentially stand in the way of that.
Men start life with a certain amount of standing just by being born as men. Women start at a lower social position and can only gain through social connection. This is why relationships with people are more important to women than they are to men. More hangs in the balance.
As for the question of how to properly respond to women who are different from us & how do we learn from them, I would say it would be through recognizing the underlying motivations that we can relate to and, in fact, have in common.
By the way, I'm not trying to shift the blame onto men for the mean girl stuff. I'm just saying it's a social consequence of inequality in the world--whoever it may be that holds more power. If we can learn to recognize the underlying reasons maybe we can change things for the better.
Am I off-base? What do you think?

Grace said...

thanks Jonalyn. i've read til we have faces before, but it has been several years. i'll reread it and see what insight Lewis might have.

Cara Nilsen said...

Here's a link to an article on the phenomenon of "frenemies" among women that I thought related:

Grace said...

i've posted a few of the first images for my photography project... it is all still a huge work in progress, but i would love your imput if you have the time.

Robbie said...

so, I got an email from you asking about this topic and was kinda confused, but thought I would share my two cents worth! In our lifegroup we are currently studying the book "Love and Respect". I don't agree with half of it, but the point is mainly that women react harshly (in the book, it talks about how a woman harshly reacts to men, but I think towards women also) when they feel unloved. So, possibly, women react to other women harshly for the fear that they will be loved less, because the other women could possibly get more love. Does that make any sense? So, that's my tid bit, but you might want to skim, and I do mean skim, that book to see.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

I think you're on to something in terms of meanness as a response out of insecurity or feeling unloved. I've heard many quote Love and Respect. I think it would be worth a look through. The biggest problem I have with what I've heard from that study is that it seems to pull an entire gender theory out of a few passages that aren't claiming to be a gender theory. Nowhere does it say that women want love more than respect or men want respect more than love. Even if men and women in today's world would say that, it's not clearly taught in Scripture.
I'd say that when we feel unloved, we tend to lash out. So perhaps the root of the "mean girls" problem is recognizing we are feeling unloved.

Robbie said...

Yes! That is what my problem with the book is!! It totally pulls a gender theory out of nothing! And the truth of the matter is that every emotion we have, we have to take it back, to "how did that make me feel?" before we react. It is always a choice of how to react.

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

I finally checked the frenemies site. Very nice article illustrating this problem. Notice how sultry the pics of these 2 women are. When I look at them I want to ask them "What are you doing?" It looks to me that they're using their bodies as a weapon to lure, not to invite people to get to know them. Again it's rooted in this insecurity or envy. I wonder if the women who have grown farther in security and contentment/serenity, have fewer frenemies?

Jonalyn Grace Fincher said...

Grace (Sav)
Wanted you to know that I enjoyed your photos. Keep it up, I want to see more! Also, a relevant quote for you from Till We Have Faces

Psyche is ashamed in the face of an immortal God and her sister Orual rebukes her
O:"Ashamed of what? Psyche, they hadn't stripped you naked or anything?"
P:"No,no. Ashamed of looking like a mortal--ashamed of being a mortal."
O:"But how could you help that?"
P:"Don't you think the things people are most ashamed of are the things they can't help?"
O: I thought of my ugliness and said nothing.
Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis

That, I believe is worth some exploration