Friday, 12 August 2011

Mean Girls

This post has been about 3,456 drafts in the making, going back a couple blogs, actually. It's about something that has perplexed and infuriated me for about a year, since my younger daughter started coming home telling me about being bullied and my older daughter started coming home crying about her friends being mean to other kids.

There are lots of drafts of this post that contain the phrases "I don't get it" and "How did these kids get this way?" There are drafts that were angry, and drafts that were sad, but definitely the common thread was confusion.

One of those drafts includes this paragraph:

I don't get it. I'm a good mom--a really good mom--but I don't do anything extraordinary with my kids that should make them so different from other basically good kids. And the other kids have good parents, too, as far as I can tell. So what's the thing making those kids so mean? I don't get it.   
[hey, I never said it was a good draft] 

Then I was writing draft number 3,457 and I was really thinking about those other parents. The rest of this post is going to sound like I'm terribly arrogant and judgemental, but I don't care. It needs to be said.

My daughters aren't looking forward to going back to school very much. Bria is seven and going into second grade. Last year, she was regularly upset to the point of being in tears over things her friends did to each other and to other kids. A couple of them--both otherwise generally good kids--would plot to humiliate a shy girl in their class who doesn't have any friends. Others would exclude kids from games and clubs and friendships just for the sake of it. Some of them were mean to her younger sister just for fun, which particularly bothered Bria.

Marissa is five and going into senior kindergarten. She spent her entire year of junior kindergarten being picked on by a girl twice her age who did things like dictate where she was allowed to play, make fun of her for the viewing pleasure of her own friends, and occasionally physically bully her. (The fact that the school did nothing to stop it is a topic for another post.) Her sister's friends also liked to make her do things to embarrass herself because Marissa is the kind of kid who never suspects something is up. Her feelings got hurt a lot.

I know all kids go through things, and my point is not about what happened to my kids. It's this: all of the bullies and mean kids are girls. There are boys in both of their classes with minor violence issues--they might hit or push a kid for not giving them what they want. But when it comes to mean for the sake of mean, girls have the market cornered and they start, as I've had the misfortune of learning, at a very young age.

For most of last year, I couldn't figure out what makes these girls this way. I know most of their parents and they're good parents. I didn't know what made my kids different. They aren't perfect, but neither of them would ever hurt someone else just for the pleasure of watching them react, and about ninety percent of the girls in my daughter's first grade class were routinely doing exactly that.

At first, I thought it couldn't possibly be the parents to blame, but that was kind of stupid of me. Parents are definitely to blame for making mean girls mean. But it isn't their parenting exactly that's making their kids mean--I assume most of them tell their kids to be nice and play fair and always take turns. That's not the problem. The problem is the example they set in their regular lives. It's who they are.

Mean girls come from mean moms. None of these parents, as far as I can tell, are shoving people down in the snow and sitting on top of them, but they can all be mean in the way that it seems like all women are sometimes mean.

I grew up with five sisters. I understand women. I love my sisters, and I have a few awesome female friends who I also love. For the most part, though, I think women are mean.They're mean to each other in passive aggressive ways, they're mean about each other behind their backs, and they're absolutely awful when they talk about other people outside of their circle of friends.

And the whole time, their daughters stand somewhere between knee and chest height next to them, which isn't exactly out of ear shot. And they're learning.

Girls grow up watching their mothers gossip about everyone including their best friends, and that gossiping generally consists primarily of getting some degree of pleasure out of another person's misfortune. And they learn that someone else's pain can be amusing.

Girls hear their mothers unjustly criticize other people and even other kids without showing any understanding or empathy for them. And they learn that they needn't ever try to see something from the other person's point of view.

Girls observe how the female social world is constructed and that exclusion is a strangely necessary part of it--someone has to be left out so that those who are included feel special. And they learn that they should feel good when someone else doesn't get to be part of something and they do.

So then it made sense.
When I thought about it that way--in terms of the examples being set rather than just the more direct parenting these girls are being exposed to--it makes sense. It's sad and it's frustrating, but it makes sense. I know that a lot of the parents of my daughter's friends have no idea their kids behave the way they do, but I don't know what they'd do if they did know. In some cases, I think they'd probably discipline them, but it's not going to make a difference because they're still going to keep setting the same example.

What I'm saying is that WHO YOU ARE is probably the most important part of how you parent.  You can tell your kids whatever you want, but unless you're demonstrating compassion and empathy and kindness, your kids aren't going to learn it. They're going to learn to be like you. And maybe it's time we all evaluate who we are and whether the apparent acceptability of the way women behave really means that it's okay. Because it's not.

I know this blog post still could have been a lot better written (it could have just been the Mean Girls movie which makes essentially the same point), and maybe someday I'll rewrite it and make it better (and more different from the point of Mean Girls, even though if Tina Fey would sue me, that would be awesome, because I'd get to meet her, right?).

Anyway, I know this post kinda sucks, but I just wanted to get it out. I know it's not likely to change anything, but I wish it would.  Women are awful to each other, and sometimes to everybody, and it's such a waste of time and energy, and it's making the world a worse place for everyone, especially our kids. I wish we could start being kinder to each other, so our kids could learn to be kinder and grow up in a more pleasant world.

I'm going to go pet a unicorn while my leprechaun grants my wishes now.


  1. Great post. I am not a parent but I am a woman. I try not to gossip but it sucks when I am sucked into the conversations about other people's lives. It sucks even more that is sometimes that all people have to talk about is other people. I remember one thing that stuck with me after I shared with a professional mentor of mine: "what kind of life do you live when all you do is talk about other people?" Made me think and think twice before I open my mouth. Can't say I am perfect but I try not to gossip or contribute to gossip.

  2. This only reaffirms my most deeply held belief; bitches be crazy.

  3. Naomi - I'm with you. I get sucked in sometimes. though I try not to be mean about gossip, I do occasionally have a definite interest in hearing about what's going on with other people. I like the quote from your mentor--very true, and exactly how I feel about it, too.

    Chris - bitches do be crazy. Good point. :P

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  5. I loved this. Beautifully written. And I completely agree - I think a lot of the people who say "I have no IDEA where that came from!" about their children JUST DON'T SEE IT in themselves. Therefore, their kids won't. And the cycle will continue. Your kids - they've got a great role model. I've got high hopes for them. World domination is a definite possibility. (I can't even imagine how hard it is to see them go through bullying, though. Part of the reason I could never have kids. I think I'd end up at the school in a brawl with a child if anyone bullied my babies, and then would go to jail. I take bullying WAY too seriously having been a victim of it.)

  6. Thanks, Amy! I don't know whether encouraging world domination might affect their current kind, empathetic dispositions. I'm willing to try it for a while and see what happens.

    It is VERY hard to watch them (well, one of them) get bullied, especially when the school isn't doing anything. The girl who bullies my younger daughter should, according to their "Zero Tolerance" policy, have been expelled by now. But apparently that policy does not apply to pretty little rich girls. Must be in the fine print. Bullying horrifies me. I was never bullied in school--not once, ever. I had no idea how mean kids could be until my kids went to school and I was completely unprepared. Shamefully, I would kinda like to smack that kid AND her mother around... but that makes me sound just mildly hypocritical.

  7. I have a seven year old going into grade two as well...last year on his first day of grade one, he was peed on - on purpose. It was heart breaking! Then I found out it was the same bully from his daycare that he went to years ago. Almost made me feel better that it was the same rotten I knew what I was dealing with.

    He got over it, and him and the bully actually started to get along a little.

    Hopefully this year is not too rough!

  8. That's horrible that he got peed on. I can't even imagine. It occurred to me after I posted this that boys are probably mean to boys at that age. But that's great that they get along now. I hope he has a great year, too!