Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Mean, Mean Girl: Lessons Learnt

Two weeks ago was the tenth anniversary of Mean Girls, a film which defined my late teenage years. I remember seeing it in the cinema and laughing out loud at the aptness of the observations and admiring Tina Fey's fearless humour. I don't remember anyone saying vagina in a teen movie before. Lohan was pre-rehab and Rachel McAdams had yet to be obsessed over by Ryan Gosling (who was he), no one knew Amanda Seyfried could sing. 

At our final school "prom"  when some friends and I were escaping from the five boys that had turned up (#allgirlsschoolproblems) and having a cheeky cigarette on a bench outside, I remember a girl from our year coming up to my two friends and I and saying after a while "You guys are kind of like the mean girls". 

I took this as a massive compliment. Who wouldn't want to be likened to those sophisticated American, follicly-gifted stuff of teenage dreams. In fact I don't think she was trying to mean.. And I don't think I was that much of a bitch at school. The truth though is that I loved been likened to attractive and popular girls, because despite my above-average conscience for a teenager, those things are what I strived for. I would have a very different attitude if someone said that to me now. I just don't want to be a Mean Girl any more, however much I might try and get down with the youth by talking about "ma bitches", on social media.

In reality, my generation learnt and in some cases (age 28), could still learn a lot from the truths of Mean Girls and this is perhaps why, it has stood the test of time unlike so many other "teen movies".

Here are the lessons that I learned:

1) "Calling somebody else fat won't make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn't make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George's life definitely didn't make me any happier. All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you."

An early lesson for me... in fact one that, without sounding sanctimonious, I never really needed to learn. Perhaps this was because between the ages of 13-15, I was a full-blown geek/loser. I liked to read, I liked to do well at school revelling in the praise and the As. 

Reaping the usual teasing from this, I knew I never wanted to make anyone else feel like that. Why would berating and bullying others make you feel better about yourself. It is a quick fix that leaves one sick and regretful and possibly more insecure once the buzz wears off. This however is still a common tactic employed by the world over and the media in particular, mostly towards women. 

We need to solve our own internal problems, not try to drag others down to the lowness we may be feeling inside.

2) "Janis: [reading list the major cliques in high school] You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, J.V. jocks, Asian nerds, Cool Asians, Varsity jocks Unfriendly black hotties, Girls who eat their feelings, Girls who don't eat anything, Desperate wannabes, Burnouts, Sexually active band geeks,
[a picture of herself and Damian come on screen]
Janis: the greatest people you will ever meet, and the worst. Beware of the plastics."

There are always cliques, though perhaps less pronounced than at the archetypal movie-version of an American high school and there are always mean girls.

Just remember, the only person who can really define you is yourself. Some people are always going to place a ring around your neck and label you as "xxxx", whether that is good or bad, but you know the truth. Avoid the mean girls if you can, but more importantly, respect who you are and what you stand for and you'll be fine. 

3) "Ex-boyfriends are off-limits to friends. That’s just, like, the rules of feminism.” 

Interesting definition of feminism aside, this is about honesty when it comes to men and women. Relationship are hard enough without worrying that one of your "friends" is going to make it harder. Having said that I don't believe that if you have let some one go to fly off into the universe without any issues that you should ban them from any relationships with your friends or acquaintances. However we should always be mindful of others and honest from the beginning. This way drama and hurt is usually avoided.

If you have no interest in someone anymore, don't stop them from being happy with another. On the otherside, don't assume someone is fine with you moving in on their ex without asking them. Basically this is another treat others how you would like to be treated, respect people. Weirdness will pass.
4) "There are two kinds of evil people in this world. Those who do evil stuff and those who see evil stuff being done and don’t try to stop it.”

I was not brave as a teenager, I struggled enough to stand up for myself, having been haunted by a few years of being branded a geek, so when I eventually emerged from it, my whole being burned to be popular and accepted and so I avoided any confrontation. I was never the bully, but sometimes I ignored "mean girl" behaviour from people I was dying to impress. Nowadays this won't sit with me and I'm actually far more likely to defend someone treating another badly than myself even if that means saying something uncomfortable to somebody I love.Essentially this is also a selfish behaviour as I feel restless and upset if somebody I know is behaving in a way that I feel is cruel or unfair to another.

This is not an excuse to barge into anyone's business mind you, in a busybody fashion a la half the cast of Made in Chelsea, it is merely about listening to yourself and speaking up for what you know is right. This happens at work, in our social groups and in world issues. 

Note the famous Martin Niemöller quote re: the ride of Nazism and the German intellectuals who ignored so much:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me--and there was no one left to speak for me.

God Mean Girls is so intellectual.

5) "On Wednesdays we wear pink"

Don't ever feel you should wear something just because everyone else does. With my sizeable arse, I should never have worn Bolts (that's a noughties reference - they are basically massive men's mechanic jeans which one would tie chains to) for example. Nowadays I stick to this... eg you will never see me in a drop waist dress, no matter how pretty they are... They are made for the more boyish of figure ;) 

6) "I know having a boyfriend might seem like the only thing important to you right now, but you don't have to dumb yourself down in order for a guy to like you." 

As a teenager, I really couldn't talk to men (boys!) at all, I'd simply smile and stay quiet until I'd had enough cheap white wine that I might pluck up the courage to flutter my eyelashes enough that one might tongue me for an hour before I had to catch the last train home.

I'd like to think that at the ripe old age I am now, that everyone should know this, but I'm not so sure. I couldn't act "dumb blonde" anyway these days as I'm far too loud and opinonated and I couldn't shut up enought for a man who wanted a pretty ornament.

I also often refer to this article Give it up Giggly by the talented Sam Leith in Tatler, he writes:

"They are appealing to a masculinity that finds the prospect of female independence scary. The personality she contrives to display is all about him: she's there to adore him, to be completed by him, to orbit him like a giggling pink satellite...Yet, as I say, simpering still works on feeble-minded men. So, ladies, if that's the sort of man you hope to hook, knock yourselves out." 

Personally, I don't want a feeble-minded man and I'd rather be alone forever than act dumb to score one of them.

7)  "Well, I don't know who wrote this book, but you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores."

I didn't comprehend the importance of this as a teenager. Calling someone a slut was a term of enderament or a jealous dig at someone who had probably had sex a couple of times when you were still a virgin. Again the all-girls boarding school didn't allow for any real "sluts".

Now I understand it as really being about the way that the entire world views women and trying to alter this with our own language. We shouldn't slut-shame or judge others or use derogatory language just because we may be having a jealous moment. If we do not know or care about the person involved then there's no need and we have no right to judge, if it is an acquaintance or god forbid a friend that we are calling this... we ought to accept that they are allowed to live their live however makes them happy even if we do not agree. And who makes you queen of the world. If they are not happy we should try to help them be happy. Walking around calling other women sluts, whores, bitches etc just affirms the ages-old female stereotypes that we work hard everyday to dispel. Think about it.

8) Don't let the haters stop you from doing your thang."

Aside from the fact that Kevin G is a complete cult figure for the mean girl generation, along with the legendary Glen Coco, this final quote could be the most important. 
Teenagers are so led by disapproval, insecurity and the crowd mentaility. You have to learn that in life, not everyone is going to approve of you or help you or like you. Accept that. There will be those who criticise and mock and sabotage, get over it and get on with your path. Don't be a hater yourself either, don't be jealous or bitter or condescending.. move forward with your own life.
There will always be mean girls in the world.. and the ones that won't change will just get older and meaner and more bitter, so just breathe and ignore. You'll get further and be happier than they ever will.

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