The Mean Girl Experience

We all know them. We’ve all been cut by some scathing remark. We’ve all heard women putting each other down; the slut-shaming, the jealousy, the snide comments, and the whispers. We are our own worst enemy.

It’s been my experience that men don’t judge each other as harshly, if at all.

Swimming in the hotel pool last night, my daughter had her first “Mean Girl Experience.”

Now, she’s only 5, so she didn’t really understand that she was being snubbed and she wasn’t upset. But it got me to thinking. Is the Mean Girl trait something we’re born with? Is it some kind of evolutionary left-over and we just can’t help it? Do we learn to be bitchy to one another, or is it innate?

The two little girls who were so rude to my daughter were only a little older than she is. It wasn’t a big deal; Thing 3 was being her usual gregarious self and there were eye rolls and conspiratorial looks and then the, “We GET it, OKAY?” and they swam away laughing. She was just confused, if anything, and soon found another playmate.

But I was thinking, if it had been two little boys and one of my boys, the situation would have played out differently. They probably wouldn’t have even introduced themselves; they would’ve just started playing, or they wouldn’t. There wouldn’t have been any scoffing, any eye rolling, any mean looks, or a hateful tone of voice.

Those two little girls, maybe 6 years old, snubbed my daughter openly and cruelly for no reason other than that they could. It breaks my heart that Thing 3 is going to have to learn to armor her tender little heart against such coldness. That she is going to learn to hesitate before walking up to a group of women. That she is going to second guess her clothing, her hair, her makeup, and herself, because of Mean Girls. I hope that she will keep the confidence she has and that she will not buckle or change for anyone, but being a woman myself…I know that some of that is inevitable.

I wonder why we demand respect so forthrightly from men, but fail to give it to each other?

About Steph

I like words. I suspect I would like sanity, but I really have no way of knowing. I can be reasonable, but not often. View all posts by Steph

59 responses to “The Mean Girl Experience

  • REDdog

    I validate you and agree with everything…wouldn’t be a girl for quids

  • Michelle

    I don’t know why we do this to each other. My heart aches for your daughter, too…My hope for her is that she develops a good sense of self and doesn’t have to worry about anything when approaching a group of women. I am still working toward that.

    • Steph

      I hope so too. Her dad is really confident so I hope she’s like him and doesn’t give a shit! Really, I think I started thinking about this when I was mourning BlogHer. Cause I knew I’d be SO NERVOUS if I went that I’d probably ruin it. Plus, I have a bitchy resting face, so I look like a Mean Girl even though I’m definitely not.

      • Michelle

        OMG! My exact fears. And I have a mean resting face as well. I didn’t realize it..but I do. I have a friend at work who avoided me for a long time because she thought I was mean. I am so much not mean.

  • Sarah (est. 1975)

    OMG Steph. I *too* have Bitchy Resting Face. We are as one.

  • Me

    How sad for those two girls that they didn’t get to really meet and learn about Thing 3 and what a wonderful little girl she is. You are right though – little girls can be extremely mean – is that why they grow up to be woman who are really mean ? I don’t know but the world would certainly be a better place if we could all learn to be nice to each other and really, if you haven’t got anything nice to say – just shut up !
    Have the best day and a big hug for {{{Thing 3 }}}
    Me xox

  • Foxy Wine Pocket

    Awww, this breaks my heart. It starts young. I think it starts out as experimentation on the part of the kids. They try things on that they hear. And if it’s not redirected, it just gets worse. I struggle with my 11YO daughter daily to help her understand what’s not polite or helpful and what is.

    And you have a bitchy resting face too?!!

    • Steph

      I know Thing 3 sees stuff on TV and then says it, and I’m like, no that sounds very rude. And I know that kids don’t really get tone of voice and all that, so it is hard. I hope neither of us raise a Mean Girl!

      Yes! What is wrong with us? I think my face is just lazy.

  • Belladonna Took

    I heard an interesting take on this only today. I was visiting a friend, who told me that her 10yo granddaughter was upset by some mean girls in her swim team. Her daddy listened to her rant and sniffle a bit, then said, “Why do you think you should get to have people not be mean to you? There are lots of mean people out there. There’s nothing special about this.” I know it sounds pretty heartless, but he’s a great dad and they have a wonderful relationship, and him saying this apparently just put it into perspective for her. She stopped feeling like a victim, recognized that they were just being the kind of people they were, shrugged off the behavior, and focused on leaving them all paddling at their next swimming practice.

    • Steph

      Right. Thing 3 wasn’t upset at all, and I didn’t step in or anything, I just noticed it and thought it was sad. No, she isn’t going to live her life without mean people, but I just think it’s a pity that girls in particular are mean to each other.

      • Belladonna Took

        I was the fat kid at school, and also the teacher’s pet. Mean kids – girls and boys – made my life hideous. Nearly half a century later the scars still burn sometimes. So I get you … it’s beyond sad that kids behave like that. But it seems to be the way we’re programmed … Apparently William Golding was right.

  • The Art of Being Human

    Humans as a whole pretty much suck, don’t they?
    Not all girls are bitchy, but far too many are. Really sad that little girls start so young. They must have bitchy mothers to learn from.

    • Steph

      Yes, we’re all a bunch of dicks, lol. I know my daughter sees stuff on the Disney channel that makes me want to barf, and I have to say NO, we do not act like that.

      • The Art of Being Human

        Shame on Disney! True though, there’s so much stereotypical bitchiness on TV even kids TV. I grew up on Nickelodeon, and even there… I mean, Angelica on the Rugrats – sheesh! Maybe I was a bit harsh with my “blame the bitchy mother” comment after all…

  • Cassandra

    My entire life I have preferred the company of men for this very reason. In college I was the girl who hung out with the guys on a Friday afternoon rather than spending time with other girls getting ready for the party/dance/dinner. To this day you’ll find me watching my beloved sports teams with the guys rather than shopping with the ladies. Guys are just nicer to each other (and by extension, me) than women could ever be.

    • Steph

      Me too. I’ve always had a hard time with women friends…I think partly because I’m such an introvert and they expect so much from me, where guys just don’t give a shit. And then there’s my mean resting face, which I’m sure doesn’t help.

  • Mental Mama

    Bitches. That sucks. But you’re right, it’s totally a chick thing and we all seem to do it at some point or another.

  • heylookawriterfellow

    I wonder if anyone has conducted a study on why this is. Because it is everywhere and I don’t get it either.

    • Steph

      I thought about researching it before I wrote, but I have a really bad memory so I didn’t want anything in my head but my own words. I might look into it now though. Surely someone has.

  • AZ Gringa

    We don’t have TV in my house. I mean, we have a tv because we do like the occasional movie and video games are awesome, but we don’t have cable. If there’s something really good on tv, well, that’s what internet is for. But, to tell you the truth, there’s just too much crap on tv that directly contradicts what I’m trying to teach my kids about being decent human beings who are happy and productive. TV is not allowed in my house until it learns how to behave.

    • Steph

      I agree with that 100%. We only have Netflix, but my daughter started watching some Disney channel shows on my dad’s ipad recently and I can already tell a difference. It’s really weird because with Netflix, she’s hardly ever seen a commercial — I love it, lol.

      • AZ Gringa

        Ah, yes. Commercials. The other good reason not to have TV. And really, who needs commercials when she has classmates to fill her head with visions of useless crap that she absolutely HAS to have.

  • Liz

    Ugh. It starts that young, huh? I know what you mean about resting bitch face. I get that too. Usually it’s men who say something though: “Smile!” which is then the last thing I want to do cause why should I smile on command so then I look even more bitchy but I mean it that time.

  • jgroeber

    My five-year-old daughter is both victim and perpetrator. I see her whispering to two girls, but not the third, in a cluster on the beach, but then a half hour later at the playground, a group of six-year-olds want nothing to do with her. Where’s the empathy?! Where’s the ding-dang empathy?!! And as far as I can see, it does sort of happen to boys, too. Ugh. That Dad above who suggested that it was just what people do and to move on, maybe even bring your own kindness somewhere else, he might be on to something…

  • Spoken Like A True Nut

    I went to an all-girls school until I was 16. Talk about bitch central. I was a kind, genuine kid, so from the get-go I was totally bewildered by the way the girls there would seem to be your best friend one day but then act like you were some kind of disgusting alien the next, for absolutely no reason other than they felt like it.

    When my parents finally agreed to let me transfer to public school, I made no attempt to hide my elation. Hilariously, some of the girls who had treated me the worst had the nerve to get offended by this, telling me it was insulting that I was so happy to be leaving them. I asked them what they had ever done to make me want to stay. That shut them up pretty quickly.

    I’ve just never understood what anyone gets out of it. I mean, we all have our moments of dickishness, but don’t girls have better things to do than play these elaborate mind games on each other?

  • Middlemay Farm

    Women have been bitches to each other since the beginning of biblical times.What has turned me off about feminists is how much crap they blame on men. A study came out last year about the glass ceiling for women and said one of the biggest causes was the “queen bee syndrome” where the women who got ahead blocked and bad mouthed all of the rest of the women working in the company. My husband managed women who actually came to him to complain that women were staring each other down in the office.

    Its hard for me to take women seriously when they embrace shows and magazines that make us all look like stupid whores and then wonder why people think we’re stupid whores. I forgot to mention–angry–stupid whores. Those women don’t represent anyone I know. Great post!

  • jaklumen

    It’s been my experience that men don’t judge each other as harshly, if at all.

    If we do, it’s done as terms of endearment. There was a really good Art of Manliness article about it, which I’ll share if you’re interested. I wish I’d learned those parts of the mancode a little better when I was younger, because I was very sensitive as a tween and teen. Guys can be brutal, but, they honestly do it to bond, oddly enough. I can roll with the teasing and nicknames now.

    I think women do this in their own way, but, it just seems to be different.

    • Steph

      Yeah, I’d love to read it. I have two boys and it’s so weird watching them interact with their peers versus my experience as a young girl. Definitely different.

      • jaklumen

        I had nothing but younger sisters, so, I never really quite got that fully until my son was born. Then, a lot of things rather clicked.

        (Interestingly enough, my wife had brothers save for one baby sister.)

  • AmberLynn Pappas

    I can’t remember a time in my life that I acted as the “mean girl”, but I’m sure I’m lying to myself if I say I never was. The thing about it is that if I were ever that way, it would have made me very uncomfortable. I have a hard enough time talking about racism, sexism, or discrimination in other terms because I can’t bring myself to use the words that some people use, even in the case of telling them that those words are wrong and why they are.

    • Steph

      Oh, I can’t either. The older I get the more empathetic I get, to the point that I get really upset when someone else is hurting or I’m even thinking about them hurting.

    • Steph

      You might’ve noticed that I don’t make fun of anyone but myself here on the blog — I would hate to think I had hurt someone’s feelings.

  • Rachel

    Wow… these are things that I haven’t even thought of yet after finding out I’m pregnant with my first girl. Oh my… I dislike this quality all girls seem to have. Hopefully I can research how to help her out from the start…

    • Steph

      Since both my older children are boys, I hadn’t thought of it much either. I guess we hope to teach our children, boys and girls, empathy and respect, and we just have to help them have enough sense of self to not be too hurt by the bullies and the snots of the world. Good luck to you and your daughter!

  • Aussa Lorens

    Raising a daughter sounds absolutely terrifying, for so many reasons. This is not a small one.

    I remember dealing with mean girls as early as… about 1st or 2nd grade I think. It’s interesting how that same sort of bewildered embarrassment doesn’t change from when you’re a little girl or the odd man out as 20-something.

    Still, I do have to remind myself to be kind. Not about mean girling other women but about making snap judgments or assuming THEY don’t like me and thus I need to be on guard. It’s odd how that sort of behavior trickles into our brains and refuses to let up without effort.

    • Steph

      It is! And I know exactly what you mean about bewildered embarrassment…that describes the feeling so perfectly.

      I remind myself too. I have a tendency to be shy and awkward, then with my bitchy face, I end up looking standoffish or like I think I’m better than everyone, which is the VERY last thing I would ever think.

  • cuteypie5

    The saddest thing I’ve ever been told: “I like your bitch better than your polite. Polite is something that sounds forced and painful from you.” I commend your efforts in raising Thing 3. I hope she can find the social grace that lacks in female society. We are often raised to claw and bite before smile be polite. Being a female somedays just plain sucks balls.

    • cuteypie5

      Please forgive my lapse of manners for posting another reply but I had a blond girl thought enter the air space between my ears. I’ve often wondered how men can pee with their peers standing there. It “hit” me after reading your post that men don’t judge other men is quite accurate. Women have closed doors and a lock for a reason, I guess. Cause you know Ms. Manners is gonna complain you aren’t sitting dainty on the toilet or you forgot to trim the whiskers on the cat.

    • Steph

      Oh my gosh, I can’t believe someone said that to you! How unbelievably rude!

  • Jana

    Ohhh, it’s so heartbreaking when little ones get snubbed. I took my 2-year-old granddaughter to the park this spring and, being naturally friendly and gregarious, she ran up to an older girl and said, “Are you my friend?” The girl gave her a glare, shook her head, and walked away. Emily looked at me with this totally sad, confused expression and said, “Grandma, she said she’s not my friend!” I tried to smooth things over by telling her that the other girl just didn’t know her – so from then on, Emily would run up to the other children and say, “I’m Emily! Are you my friend?”

  • vickilesage

    My son got picked on the other day at the playground by a brat of a 5-ish boy, a 4-ish girl, and their 2-year-old younger sister. Three against one? Seriously? My son is two. Thanks guys. While I see more Mean Girls than boys, this boy was clearly the ringleader of his douchey family. They all kept offering my son toys and as soon as he would reach for them they’d pull them away from him and laugh. I wanted to say “I’ll give you something to laugh about” but realized I sound like my grandpa. And that I shouldn’t be threatening kids on the playground, no matter how douchey. I did kick their ball really far away as we were leaving. *whoops*

  • Kelly

    Well I have resently taught my girls to kill em with kindness and if that does not work and the mean girls keep on, to punch em as hard as you can in the nose!! Lol I do NOT take kindly to bitches right now, maybe because i’m crazy pregnant and hate the world! I’m sure I will regret it when I get a phone call from the school, but I still say punch em right square in the nose;)

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