- Gender and Relationships
When Mean Girls Grow Up
Social dynamics exist in every age and time, so it should have come as no surprise to me that bullies, nerds, and mean girls would follow me well beyond graduation, greeting me everywhere from the office cubicle to the church pew. Developing the skills necessary to establish harmony in a group of females didn’t get easier, it just got riskier. When we grow up, there is more at stake. Our ability (or lack there of) to ‘get along’ with other females could cost us our position, our job, or worse; our child’s future in the classroom, on the dance team, or the next game.
As a child I was accustomed to the spirit crushing attacks of mean girls. When you have buck teeth and bottle-cap glasses, complimented by a stylish pair of pink corduroy’s your mom made you wear, you learn to expect female rejection. Although I must say on behalf of the females, the boys weren’t lining up to be my friends either. However, they had an entirely different criteria determining where others fell in the social hierarchy of elementary school. Adulthood was the light at the end of the socially tormenting tunnel, better known as K-12. Little did I know, those years where people like myself are crushed under the weight of ‘peer-pressure’ are wasted on the naïve people who take the duck-and-cover approach. School operates like a social experiment meant to train us for the battle that lies ahead. Who is the enemy, ladies? Ourselves.
There is a junior-high girl living and breathing inside all of us. She snort-laughs at comedies, she turns red when her children air the family’s dirty laundry to perfect strangers, and she still lashes out with the fury of Wolverine at the nearest female who presents a threat. The threat could be an escape tiger from the local zoo, as often as that happens, but most of the time it is the woman standing next to her.
While men are considered to be the more competitive species compared to the nurturing woman, I contest that women are just as ruthless in their efforts to establish a pecking order. We simply evolve from pulling each other’s pigtails to pulling our weight to make sure the other girl doesn’t get a chance. She doesn’t get a chance to tell us how to do our job, she doesn’t get a chance to steal our friends, and she sure as heck doesn’t get a chance to take our man! We will gossip, tattle, and organize a full scale attack if we have to, with the speed of wireless fidelity at our fingertips. Before she ever saw it coming, we have nailed the coffin door shut on Little Miss Threat. The junior high girl can sleep soundly until the dawn of a new threat arises. Then, like an owl in the night, she will swoop down and eat alive whatever stands in her way.
Until science provides us with a way to surgically remove the junior high girl within all of us, I believe we can find a better way, or else we will all end up like monkeys. In her book, “Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman,” Phyllis Chessler examines these primitive qualities proving that as sophisticated as we are ladies, we still need to evolve.
"In extreme circumstances, female primates can compete as intensively as males. ["captive females"--those low in the hierarchies] tend to use 'male-like' behavioral strategies to gain rank, including opportunistic coalitions and frequent reconciliations." (Richard Wrangham, professor of Biological anthropology at Harvard) And again, Chesler points out the aggressive female behavior in ringtail monkeys: "Among ringtails, females have "more aggressive encounters than males. 'Matrilines' can effectively eliminate other 'matrilines.'" Quoting Allision Jolly, who is affiliated with Princeton's department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, "...the outcome is sometimes wounding, expulsion from the troop, and in extreme cases, death. Female hierarchies are often circular and can be upset from year to year as females attack each other." In chapter two, Chesler focuses on young females and their use of indirect aggression that could harm fellow females within their own groups; this aggression, she argues convincingly, is once again the primal fear of being excluded from the group. To our ancestors, exclusion from the group was most likely considered a death sentence. "Indeed, most girls are terrified of being excluded or rejected. When this happens, a girl experiences social aloneness in the universe. She learns that she has to reinvent herself and form a new group. Sometimes, one simply hasn't the heart to begin anew, to open oneself up to pitiless exclusion again. A subsequent loss is always greater than the previous loss, since each new loss contains within it the first loss as well....This fear of being cut off, abandoned, losing the female intimates upon whom one depends, explains why may girls try as hard as they do not to upset of disagree with their friend and thus often end up never saying what they really think or feel. On the one hand, this may account for why girls, more than boys, try to engage in socially sanctioned behavior, try to mediate conflict in a creative or constructive way, and try so hard to apologize for, minimize, or justify winning in a competitive game. On the other hand, if a girl cannot say what she realy means or feels, this is likely to lead to resentment, superficiality, and repeated friendship failures. As we shall see, girls try to minimize this by choosing frineds who look, dress, talk, and think just like themselves."
Ladies, there is hope. The first step is always admittance. Learn to recognize the junior high girl within. Once you realize she is there, your ability to identify her will greatly increase. The next step is a little harder. You know who she is, but you must decide who you want to be. The next time she shows up, whether at Bunco or Bible Study, tell her to “sit down”. Ladies, we have within us the power to rise above her even if we can’t eliminate her altogether. Some days it will be harder than others. But when she rises up within you like Super Woman on steroids, remember that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to [wo]man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
One thing I know about junior high girls is that their frontal lobes are not fully developed, which means they act on emotion and/or hormone levels more than logic. If we want to separate ourselves from the junior high girls, we need to start thinking about what we are doing and why we are doing it. We need to ask ourselves, “What is the motivation of my pretty little heart?” It’s not always as pretty as the powdered nose we look down. But deep down we all want the same things; to be loved, to be understood, and to be accepted. The battle against womankind is won not on the ground, but in the hearts of women just like us when we decide to die to ourselves and live for Christ. He received threats but was never threatened, was attacked but never defended (himself), was put down but lifted up, was cast out but opened the door so others could come in.