There’s nothing funny about actual “Mean Girls”

Mean girls suck. Actually, mean people suck, but I’m going to focus on the concept of the “mean girl”, since that’s what most relevant to the situation at hand. To get into it I need to set the stage, so I’m going to roll the clock back to my time in second grade (around 1980).

I was transferred to a new school so I could be part of a “Gifted & Talented” program, one of those accelerated learning programs that public schools in my area offered for kids who tested out of the standard curriculum. I didn’t know anyone there, but the rest of the kids had been together for several years. It’s not like I was some kind of novelty; the other kids mostly just ignored me those first few days. Only one girl took any interest in me, and we became fast friends–a deep friendship that continued for many years.

Some of the other girls, however, were assholes. It’s not like it was everybody, but a select group of A-groupers who were thinner and prettier than everyone else decided that I would be an easy target for their bullying. They’d be nice to me when they wanted to see how I solved a math problem, but otherwise they’d tease me for being fat, for being ugly, for being different from them. It was classic herd rejection.

It took years for me to be comfortable enough in my own skin that I was willing to look past what those early interactions did to my self-esteem. And there was no small part of me that sighed with relief when I saw that my daughter was an improvement on the model by leaps and bounds; she’s just this gorgeous, athletic, smart, funny, kind, and effortlessly cool kid. I figured things would be easier for her.

And yet, I spent a good bit of time up past her bedtime chatting with her last night about the mean girls that she’s encountering. Some are budding juvenile delinquents–not so much for lack of intelligence but for complete lack of discipline and manners. Some are from the classic “mean girl mold”, like telling anyone who’ll listen “I hate {dd}” and stage whispering about dd with her mean girl clique. Some are veritable human tofu: they take on the personality and aspect of those around them, regardless of whether they’re good or bad influences.

It’s sad and frustrating on so many levels. I want to protect dd from the pain that I went through, to have her rise above it and not feel rejected by those who choose to pick on her. I’m incredibly sad that some girls that I’ve known for years, that I’ve taken into my home at times or that I’ve spent time around, are treating her so horribly now. And I know that I can’t go to the parents and ask them why their kids are being such assholes to my kid, because it’s not my place to tell them so. (And they may be aware of the behavior and just don’t care, although I’d like to hope that’s not true.)

When I talked with dd about all of this mess, I asked her to see these kids for who they really are. The tofu girl may still be the nice girl that I’d like to think she is. But when her personality and actions change depending upon who’s she’s around, who’s the real her? The *mean* girl and the juvie-hall candidate-in-training are the ones I’ve told dd just to avoid. I’ve encouraged her to play with the kids that are nice, to find and make those safe spaces away from the kids that treat her like crap. That pushes her outside of her comfort zone which requires risking further rejection by attempting to go and play with someone new.

And I know that everyone thinks their kids are the cutest in the land, but seriously my girl is gorgeous. As in: when I look at her, I’m amazed that she’s my kid. That’s why it was a painful conversation, listening to her to tell me how ugly her face is, how much she hates the color of her skin, how few kids she feels comfortable playing with because of all the cliques and divisions that exist even at the 4th grade level. It hurts because she has natural advantages I didn’t (like her stunning beauty and her athleticism) and she’s still being subjected to this bullshit.

Maybe this is part of growing up, helping you develop a thicker skin and build your self-confidence…or maybe it’s just a shitty part of society that we really need to get past. Maybe one of these days we finally will. It just can’t come soon enough.

In defense of Taylor Swift

My first exposure to Taylor Swift was a few years ago, when dd and her BFF were captured on cameraphone video performing “Love Story” at day care. Suddenly, dd was obsessed with Taylor Swift and we HAD to have her CD’s and we HAD to have them on repeat. All. The. Time. It was around this time that I saw La Swift herself on the MTV Video Music Awards, performing “You Belong With Me” in the subway and on the streets of New York City – the year that she was famously interrupted by Kanye West as she came up to accept an award.

Over the course of the next few years, Taylor Swift became part of the heavy rotation in both our cars, since she was kid-safe alternative to dh’s favored metal and a musical alternative to my standard in the car (NPR). Our ds soon became so enamored of her singing that he memorized words and titles for his favorite songs, often throwing hideous fits in the car if we didn’t let him hear the end of a particular tune.

And so, this is their exposure to her: a pretty blonde girl with a sweet voice and an ability to make infectious pop with twang.

Our exposure to her – mine and dh’s – is far different. Of course, you can turn off the TV, ignore the magazines and newspapers, and generally try to shut yourself off from the world, but that’s unlikely to happen these days. So, what we see (in addition to the loveliness that draws in the kids like a siren’s song) is a girl who’s under fire for her penchant for high-profile serial monogamy. Apparently, it’s still fashionable to treat women (at any age) as though searching for love makes her some kind of harlot.

The public (through the media) gleefully chucks men like George Clooney on the shoulder, wink wink nod nod, about his long series of female companions, declaring him a “terminal bachelor” and always dropping hints about the low likelihood that his current flame will stay lit forever. But no one ever drags him over the coals for any of his relationships ending. It may be that he’s just that nice of a guy and his relationships just cool off over time, so it’s really nobody’s fault that he’s been in so many relationships over the years. But then why is it okay to get all over Taylor Swift for having had several high-profile relationships of her own? No one refers to her as a “terminal bachelorette”; they make jokes at her expense and warn their sons to stay away from her because she’ll write a song about their break-up.

Sure, La Swift has dated pop royalty and Hollywood stars – the “It” boys from both sides of the pond. So what is really driving all this bile? Is it because she writes her own songs? Because she plays her own music? Because she’s already dated more young, desirable men than many women can match in multiple lifetimes?

It really comes down to two things: Sexism and a Mean Girl Society.

Sexism: I can come up with more examples than Clooney to show that Swift is being targeted in a fashion that the public rarely ever targets men. The few men who get such treatment often are chastised for more than just their dating habits (like John Mayer, the singer/songwriter and former boyfriend of Swift’s, whose erratic and often self-indulgent behavior garnered more than his fair share of tabloid headlines). She gets called out when men with similar serial dating patterns are put on pedestals for their ability to acquire attractive stables of ex-girlfriends. When Kristen Stewart didĀ whatever it was that she did with Rupert Sanders, her “Snow White and the Huntsman” director, she was put through the meat grinder for cheating on her hot actor boyfriend, Robert Pattinson, and far less grist went into the mill over Sanders cheating on his wife Liberty Ross (the mother of his child). As my 3-1/2yo ds is fond of saying: “NO FAIRS!!!”

Mean Girl Society: La Swift has racked up quite the list of ex-boyfriends, and their total hotness quotient is usually measured in fairly high numbers. [Editor’s note: I’m not attracted to 99% of them, because several of them are nearly half my age, and their mileage is just too low for my personal taste.] She seems to haveĀ too much going for her. She’s pretty, she’s talented, she seems to be a genuinely nice person…and she dates all these cute guys. To all the people crying NO FAIRS in their own right, they feel like pulverizing her spirit publicly through tabloid stories and award show zingers is fine…but there’s a point at which you just need to lay off. She hasn’t done anything wrong, and probably the overwhelming majority of those taking pot shots would far rather be in her shoes.

Frankly, I shouldn’t even need to wag a finger at people for stuff like this. It’s just that I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that it’s okay to do this to someone else, and I certainly don’t want it to happen to either of them. Taylor Swift lives a remarkable life, I’m sure. She seems to be simultaneously all over the globe, recording, performing, talking, having her picture taken…ubiquitous. I can’t imagine the pressure she’s under when trying to maintain friendships, much less romantic relationships, when the demands of her current career probably keep her in constant motion. Having been her age (seemingly too long ago) and remembering what it was like balancing a simple enough day job with friends and dating options…I don’t know how I’d handle what she deals with. She’s probably doing the best she can. And if she isn’t, that’s NOBODY’S BUSINESS BUT HERS.

So let’s stop rooting against her. Sure, she’s talented. She’s pretty. She does seem to be a really nice person. Are those reasons to take cheap shots? Nope. So let’s just STOP, because the only joke right now is how pathetically she’s being treated by the media, and it’s not a damn bit funny.