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When Mean Girls grow up… (and they are still mean)

by Kellie Whitehead

As the 2004 film reaches adulthood this year, it’s quite ironic - can Mean Girls really grow up?

When high school is over, we embrace the responsibilities of age and perspective, or we should - adult mean girls? Not so ‘Fetch’ in anyone's (burn) book surely? Can you be prepared for grown up mean girls still being mean?

For anyone (and probably everyone) who felt, or endured any kind of ‘playground’ behaviour at school, it’s shocking to witness it from those very much old enough to know better.

And let’s call ‘mean girls’ what they really are - bullies. If we take the definition of ‘intention’ as read. Snark, sarcasm, swipes - all different to debate, opinion and even unsolicited advice. Going out of your way to ostracise, criticise or to be just plain nasty is deliberate. Condescension and cliques, and the fact is, there are women who simply do not grow out of it.

What age and perspective does give most of us however, is the ability to recognise this behaviour and deal with it with the contempt it deserves. I’m lucky, since leaving school I’ve managed to move through life with very little ‘friend’ drama. I have plenty, but don’t seem to attract these types, but I’ve certainly been forced to work alongside them. When we are new, and growing into our new adult ‘persona’ - out of education, maybe living away from home too, our confidence in our new selves needs validating. We are negotiating a new world. Depending on your work or industry, we may even wonder if this is it? Is there no such thing as sisterhood? As we witness the office gossip, the insecure boss, the vain, the man obsessed and the social climbers. They are everywhere.

I’m here to tell you that there absolutely is a sisterhood. I have never understood those who claim otherwise, except to understand that those who usually demand that ‘women should support each other!’ constantly, whilst fleeing from one drama to the next, are usually the source.

Of course, social media mega use has exacerbated the comparison curse and vanity, oh my, the vanity! It’s so hard to write about this without coming across as some wretched, bitter older woman, but I promise it’s not that. I genuinely cringe for the women over 30 I see daily with a clear and incessant need to be ‘liked and shared’

I wonder if the UAE cyber laws do much to suppress the kind of online ‘mean’ we witness in other parts of the world? Sad keyboard warriors with unhappy lives, but I sometimes put influencers into a similar bracket. Unboxing mountains of shamefully wasteful products after products, not so humble brags, and perfect lifestyle fakery is actually just as bad in 2022. Happy, busy people have no need to show off daily, and the irony really is, that over the age of 25, it’s really not a good look. Read the room ladies.

On the flip side, the fact is, you never , ever know about the person online you feel the need to comment on publicly. Their personal circumstances, their family set up, their true income or what they actually do day to day when not in front of their phone screen.

You can of course unfollow and delete, you can even call them out and gain the sympathy you might be looking for - but what about in real life?

We’ve all been there. I’ve got some shocking examples from my school years, that with 25 years hindsight, I can’t believe I allowed people to get away with. Now, I choose my battles wisely and have, to give younger me the credit she deserves, always had the rational ability to disseminate the ridiculous, horrible and bitchy from the reality. People who deliberately set out to hurt the feelings of another, at the very least, and right up to the sociopath, deserve nothing but pity. It’s never, ever about *you* I promise you that.

At a wedding I once attended, I observed a group of relatives, all female, arrive and look each other up and down. Obviously, every single one of them had clearly made their own grand efforts to look their appropriate best for the occasion. These were sisters, mothers, aunts and nieces - all over the age of 30 I may add, yet not one of them passed a positive comment to the other. No, life isn’t about appearances, but this was an occasion with effort made, I was brought up well, manners recognise effort, and even if we silently judge a choice of style, I always like to share a compliment. It staggered me. A simple observation, granted, but really, how hard is it to be nice, kind or simply friendly? Clearly very hard to overcome feelings of envy, seemingly.

I think we fall into two camps on this subject generally - those of us who believe that real adult women do not behave like this, and those for whom it hits very close to home. Luckily, in a workplace, we can find the confidence to deal with problems officially, and even legally. With family and ‘friends’ it’s a bit different granted.

Bullying has no age limit and weaker or naive characters can fall victim to a faux-sisterhood of female empowerment, in which the only requirement is deriding or ridiculing other women. This is no tribe or gang you want to be part of. Even witnessing such behaviour should be uncomfortable, but an easy trap to fall into so you don’t feel like the odd one out.

As a victim, how to deal? Two words from me - self care. This will look different to different people, but it’s essentially protecting yourself in your own unique circumstances.

Block - from social media for example, or from your contacts. NOBODY is forcing you to continue any of these relationships, virtual or otherwise.

Talk and share - to whomever you need to. If the bullies do it to others, maybe they stay quiet out of fear. Sharing your experiences means that you get it off your chest and even help in ‘outing’ terrible behaviour that may have become normalised amongst your circle. Show others it’s not okay.

Forget it - you don’t need to ‘forgive’ per se - but please recognise that these people are pitiful and unhappy. If anything, we should be wishing them the help and healing they so very need. The last thing to do would be to ruminate or wallow in their past behaviours. It’s your life, you’ve got this. Leave the plastics to their man made world.


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