I grew up as a chunky, asthmatic kid, whose height peaked at four-foot-eleven. Being in direct contact with “mean girls” while growing up, I am quite familiar with “Mean Girls Stereotypes.” I still have vivid memories of the mean girls I encountered: in 9th grade, a girl in my art class only referred to me as “meatball”. Some pulled my hair. Vulgar stories were made up about me. I wasn’t some helpless underdog with a heart of gold either. I laughed at other girls behind their back and was wildly ignorant about my friend’s issue with self-harm. My reasons for rejecting femininity were simple. I was simply above it. However, I wasn’t incredibly popular like the classic “mean girl” stereotype. I was a total jerk to other girls too, and it was seriously uncalled for.
Like most former high school girls, I grew up into the woman I am and left the chip on my shoulder in my senior-year locker. Catapulted by my love for feminism and post-secondary education, I am now comfortably pro-women and pro-girls. As I watch my younger sisters and family, friends go through high-school and repeat the same behavior, I ask myself why. Why do my sisters deal with mean girls and exhibit mean girl behavior at times? Why is the mean girl stereotype so timeless and well-known?
On the one hand, I think the mean girl stereotype is just derived from a societal hatred of women. On the other hand—unlike most stereotypes—I think there is validity in the mean-girls trope. Let’s dive into it together and solve the riddle.
The World’s Hatred of Women and Girls
The concept of the world just merely hating women will be an all-encompassing theme throughout my mean girl theory. It should not be new information that women are mistreated globally (to say the least). Women account for 92% of victims of sexual assaults. Every six days, a woman is killed by her partner in Canada. Over 6,000 women and children sleep in shelters due to domestic violence at home on any given night. Women experience physical, emotional, and sexual violence on a widely disproportionate scale to men, at the hands of men.
Through unrelenting hatred, our world actively demonizes women with a multitude of archetypes. At the very least, these archetypes are unkind and hurtful, but more dangerously, these archetypes can lead to acts of violence towards women. The damsel in distress, the slut, the bitch, the mean girl: all archetypes created from a place of hatred towards women.
By painting teenage girls as manipulative, vindictive, materialistic, and evil, the mean girl stereotype actively undermines the feminine experience, ridicules and pigeonholes young women, and tells the world that teenage girls are not to be taken seriously and—for the most part—are to be avoided.
Why are Mean Girls Stereotyped?
I want to discuss the validity of the mean girl stereotype. I believe—as someone who was in high school not that long ago—that mean girls exist and that there is a decent amount of them out there, and I definitely had my mean-girl-moments too. Do I think that a teenage girl being mean because women are inherently horrible? Do I believe that women are just selfish, vindictive, and spiteful? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I think that women are so commonly warm, kind, generous, and thoughtful. I guess mean girls stereotypes exist because of how much being a teenage girl sucks.
High school can be challenging for girls. For everyone between ages 10 and 17, kids are dealing with puberty, and with puberty comes a range of deep and overwhelming emotions. On top of the base of puberty, young girls deal with:
- Sexist dress codes throughout most high schools.
- Sexual assault.
- A lack of support for girls in math and science.
- Causing many young women to drop out of subjects that they were passionate about.
- A massive rise in eating disorders.
There is also a massive problem regarding young girls and women feeling the need to compete against each other; this issue is deep-rooted in our society and affects women’s mental health throughout their lives.
Is it any wonder why girls would become unhappy? Is it any wonder why an unhappy teenager who is always at risk of being sexually assaulted, being told they can’t wear the clothes they like because of the boys in the class, struggling with an expectation to be thin, and an expectation of being “better” than the other girls would lash out? I know I lashed out lots of times!
My point being, that being a mean girl isn’t natural. It’s created by an environment that encourages it. Girls are abused and tormented throughout high school, which breeds a culture of unhappy, self-chastising, terrified teenagers who manifest their feelings into anger. I’d be pretty angry too.
The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Mean Girls Stereotypes
The invalidity and the validity of the mean girl stereotype combine to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because we live in a so anti-woman world, stereotypes like the mean girl are pushed against young women to shame them. Still, it is the act of shaming and harming women through mean girl stereotypes that creates anger and aggression in teenage girls: thus, making the mean girl.
Ultimately, the tradition of teenage girls being mean to each other is toxic and harmful and can have long-lasting effects through adulthood and how we interact with each other as women. To stop the brutality of how we treat each other in high school, we need to go beyond telling our girls to “treat others how you’d like to be treated.” It is time to have measures in place to prevent sexual assault and emotional and physical abuse. We also need to have proper universal mental health care available, especially for kids in such a vulnerable time as high school.
The mean girl stereotype will not die until we treat our girls with respect, dignity, and kindness. I rest my case.