HUNT COLUMN: Mean Girls Are Alive and…Well?

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, June 5, 2024

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This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the movie Mean Girls, a story of a high school clique, The Plastics, who rule (and terrorize) the campus until a newcomer brings them down several notches. It’s a comedy (mostly at the expense of the shallow and obnoxious mean girls themselves, thank goodness), but it zeroes in on timeless human failings.

Comedy queen Tina Fey’s screenplay was inspired by the 2002 book Queen Bees and Wannabees by Rosalind Wiseman, a guide for moms wanting to help their daughters navigate the social quagmires of adolescence.

This movie reminds me of a chapter from my teenage years. The graduating seventh grades from two elementary schools combined to become the eighth grade of our high school. I became fast friends with a girl from the other school. We “got” each other and had such fun together. A year later my bestie made a new friend with whom I didn’t have classes, but she brought the three of us together, and at first things were fine.

By sophomore year, however, I was souring on this circle, mainly because I could no longer deny that the third girl was just plain mean. For a while her jokes at the expense of others were entertaining. And as is likely to happen in a group of three, the two others formed a tighter bond. It didn’t take long for me to realize that they were undoubtedly snickering about me behind my back.

Though I was sad to lose my former best friend, I managed to extricate myself from this crew by year’s end. I felt lighter and realized I had plenty of other friends and activities. New, more mature friendships abounded in college, although I could name a mean girl or two that I had to be around during that time as well.  However, my self-esteem and world view had grown to the point that I didn’t agonize over the behavior of those individuals.

My mother’s advice about meanies was that they were either jealous or had low self-esteem, and being nasty to others somehow made them feel better about themselves. I’ve often passed this advice along to other young women, including my daughters.

Indeed, the new member of The Plastics eventually pointed out to the others that “Calling someone else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone else stupid doesn’t make you any smarter…All you can do in life is try to solve the problem in front of you.”

The Plastics circulated a scrapbook they called “The Burn Book.” In this book they wrote insults, mean-spirited criticisms, and flat-out lies about the kids and staff in the school. That’s a sick sort of “fun.”  It occurs to me that Facebook can often become a Burn Book with a much wider audience than a high school student body. I don’t interact with too many teenagers there, but I’ve noticed that grown mean girls (and guys) of all ages freely dispense poison pellets, frequently with no evidence to back them up. Just this morning I saw a comment from a woman older than I whom I considered a friend some years back. In essence, she called one of our public officials stupid, friendless, and uncaring. Having known this official for many years, I can assure you that he is none of those things.

I don’t claim to be a saint who never says critical things about others, sometimes with no firsthand experience at all. But I try very hard to share those thoughts only with my closest confidantes, not hurtfully broadcast them online. Grown-ups should strive to, as St. Paul said, “put away childish things.” Let’s tackle problems with ideas and a willingness to get involved, not with ad hominem, which is a weak form of argument and never fixes anything.