Those ‘Mean Girls’ Of Our Childhood – Did Patriarchy Make Them This Way?

Mean girls are not born, but are products of a patriarchal society that gears girls towards pleasing men, and competing for their attention!

Mean girls are not born, but are products of a patriarchal society that gears girls towards pleasing men, and competing for their attention!

Being popular, fitting in, moving around in cliques,…are you thinking ‘mean girls’? What makes these girls behave in this manner? Dig a little deeper, and you;ll realize that much of this has to with the conditioning our society does, often subliminal, as these girls are growing up.

Let us look at a common scenario in high school.

The classroom door opened and in walked a girl. Her face was marked with acne and her hair, oily. She was on the plumper side and wore an unflattering loose kurti. The three other girls in the room looked up. And then, the whispers began, followed by giggles. The girl avoided them and sat on the opposite corner of the room, alone. My friend Rita* (name changed) endured this every day for two whole years of her life.

Mean behavior starts early. The clothes that kids wear and the accessories they are provided with create an indelible mark in little minds. Little girls tend to show off their pretty frocks, hairbands and colorful shoes. When they are complimented on these and do not learn how to interact well with kids who look different, they learn to look down upon kids who lack these seemingly ‘awesome’ qualities. Mean girls who naturally seek power start doing so from an early age.

Much of it has to do with the way girls are raised in Indian society. My aunt who met with an accident when she was 7 has always styled her hair with bangs, because her parents told her that nobody would marry a girl with a huge scar on her forehead! Girls are raised to conform to male chauvinistic views of the ‘decent girl’, and thus dress and act girly. Girls are conditioned to dress in a way which is pleasing to the eye and praised when they do so; short hair is literally considered ‘American’ in my family. Girls who are lauded for their clothes, their mannerisms and for looking like a ‘sone ki gudiya’ come to believe that this is what makes them cool.

This behavior is carried forward in school. As for Rita, she had always been shy and reserved. She had been mocked at, laughed at and ignored by many girls throughout most of her school life. There is a much larger implication of mean behavior, apart from hurt feelings. As Rita grew up, she slowly started to lose her confidence. She could not bring herself to walk to someone new in her class and start a conversation. She was worried that she would be stared at or mocked at. When we protest about men belittling women and bringing them down, why do we overlook this issue where a girl brings down another girl’s confidence, so early in life?

Ashish, a recent graduate recalls how his girl friends make fun of the ‘uncool’ girls. While he does not think that men are particularly bitchy or mean to these girls, he does accept that the ‘cool’ boys did always hang out with the popular girls. Rita confirmed my fears, “I always thought that the popular, cool guys were out of my league. If I liked one of them, I would never have the courage to go up to him and tell him that.”

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As I started high school, I was introduced to a whole new world, where how you dressed determined your popularity levels (the way you wore your tie, the way you braided your hair, the length of your skirt). While these girls wrote essays in Social Science class about equality and unfair practices against women, they failed to recognize unfairness and inequality they themselves were responsible for.

A high-school student Namitha says, “Some girls are just different. They are the cool kids. I am dark-skinned and I am never picked.” The girls who join these mean girls’ groups tend to imitate each other, in an effort to be cool and to hold on to the power that comes with being part of such groups. This can lead to disrespect towards other girls, mean gossip and in some cases, bullying (yes, girls bullying other girls is a thing).

At the work place, meanness and the fear of loss of power can also translate to girls being bitchy and jealous of others’ success. Aparna, a techie in Delhi says, “Some women find it hard to socialize well with everyone. When a new woman joins the team, for example, they do not befriend her if they feel that the new woman does not fit in. They don’t seem to care about the skills that the new woman brings with her that can be beneficial to the team. It’s hard enough that men don’t credit us for our talents, but women too?!”

When will little girls learn that it is possible to win admiration by being unique and by being smart, even if they don’t sport devil-may-care looks?

When will girls be appreciated for who they really are, instead of for following the rules of Indian patriarchal society?

When will little girls be praised for winning the race, for being great at cricket or for reciting math tables, instead of for their pretty hair, skin color and sweet voice?

If girls turn out to be mean to other girls and don’t treat them as their equals, how can they expect to ever find a fair playing ground with men? After all, women themselves don’t seem to think that all women deserve the same amount of respect! Mean girls are not setting any notable examples about equality.

Rita took several years to gain back her confidence, speak up boldly in meetings and confront strangers. As for me, I still cringe when I think about the day when a girl drew a mustache on my face at summer camp while I was asleep. But if I had a chance to do it all over again, I would learn to stand up for myself and be more assertive. In a way, I am thankful to all the mean girls I have heard about and met, because I can now instil confidence in my juniors, because I can teach my daughters to be strong, kind and respectful, and because I can teach them that a real woman need not pander to popularity.

Image source: YouTube

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