When I was a teenager, Mean Girls was the film. It had it all – bitchy girls, social rankings, catty comments, backstabbing, witty one liners… it was like walking down the corridors of school, only more fun because it wasn’t aimed at you. As a film about teenage life, it was so true to life that it was actually a little scary.
You see, every school had cliques, a hierarchy and a popularity structure. Everyone was defined by a category. Something as simple as the colour of your hair or the shoes you wore defined your ranking. The canteen scene in Mean Girls where everyone is labelled is not just for cinematic effect – it’s a social commentary.
I was somewhere in the middle. I had a really, really great group of friends, I was smart, geeky, not into makeup and fairly shy, but really I was friendly with everyone. I wasn’t part of the ‘Plastics’ or the ‘Rejects’. I had the odd shitty thing said to me – my birthmark never let me go totally unnoticed – but mostly I had it good. I was happy. Sure, there were times I wondered what it would be like to be adored, to be a bitch and still have people blindly on your side, but in all honesty being popular looked like too much effort. I didn’t brush my hair every day, never mind take the time to use a pair of GHDs to flatten it into submission. My school pants were hideous, wide legged monstrosities, not the skin tight ones the popular girls favoured. But all in all, I was happy with my clique, my level, my life.
I still am. I have a great group of friends, I am happy to meet new people and my appearance is something I take pride in but not obsess over. I am in a city I love, doing a job I love and living with the man I love. I have it good. I don’t have a burning desire to be a ‘queen bee’, but one thing I have learnt is that for some people, that desire is always there. At twenty-five, I have seen that there are still women who think it is year nine PE and they can giggle at the girl who pads her bra and the girl who is biggest in the changing room. There are women who send abusive messages to people they don’t even know, women who form an opinion on someone based on their looks or something that someone else has said. There are women who cannot stand to see another woman succeed, who belittle other’s achievements, who will enjoy cutting someone else down more than they could ever enjoy seeing someone rise. I’m aware that it’s not just women who do these things and that there are plenty of male trolls out there too, but in a world where the gender pay gap, child marriages and even the tampon tax still exist, do we really have time to be treating each other like we are still in school?
We’re told to just accept eternal bitchiness from some women as part of life, that some people are just like that, that’s cattiness is normal. Roll with it, take it, cry in private and shrug it off.
But that’s not good enough. That’s not the answer. What you could excuse as a teenager figuring out who they are isn’t a good look on an adult. Whilst most people grow out of their bitchy ways and sometimes even regret how they treat other people when they were younger, some people never do and it’s time we stopped excusing that. Uncalled for, unnecessary nastiness is not okay. Anytime someone is catty, bitchy or cutting about someone else, it’s a power grab and one we should deny.
It’s not school anymore. That behaviour isn’t okay. We aren’t the same shy, socially awkward people we were as teenagers. We have careers, relationships, goals, children, investments, opportunities. We live in a world that rarely prosecutes rapists, that pays us less to do the same job as a man and makes us feel the need to check our friends get home safely after a night out. We get up every day and we face that world head on. Why not add facing up to those bullies into the mix too?
When your friend makes a catty comment about someone’s looks, call them out. Make them aware that what they are saying reflects more on their character than the person they are speaking about. When someone claims to dislike someone, ask them why. If they can’t back up their claim with legitimate facts then they’re the one with the issue, not the person they were talking about. The sooner we start stopping those who tear us down and focus on those who lift us up, the better we will all be.
The saying ‘we rise by lifting others’ is so very true – so get lifting. Be bigger than those who try to bring other people down to their level. Fight the fire, kill with kindness. The world will be a better place for everyone for it.