The Problem With Mean Girls
The vast majority of us are familiar with the movie Mean Girls (written by the amazing Tina Fey). Although the film has the quintessential embellishments of most chick flicks, it also sheds light on the difficulty teenage girls face not just with their parents or boys, but with each other, even with their “best” friends. But you hardly need to watch Mean Girls to witness or experience female aggression. According to a recent New York Times Article, “The existence of female competition may seem obvious to anyone who has been in a high-school cafeteria or a singles bar, but analyzing it has been difficult because it tends be more subtle and indirect (and a lot less violent) than the male variety.” We all know that this sinister ambiance is omnipresent in social situations generally, but according to the study, the “mean girl” form of indirect aggression is used more by adolescents and young women than by older women.
All women, especially during their teenage years, feel jealous of other women. Even if you are a confident self-loving feminist, you might still wish you looked more like one of your friends or a woman you see on the street. The aforementioned New York Times article referred to the research of anthropologist Sarah B. Hrdy, who found that if a woman is sexually appealing according to mainstream standards, then other women will be more hostile towards her. This competition among women fuels the pressure for women to conform to a societally acceptable and appealing appearance. One researcher, Christopher Ferguson, found that there is no correlation between what women are exposed to in the media and their perception of their own appearance. However, being compared to a more attractive peer or stranger tends to make women feel more insecure -- a finding that rang true to me, because I usually feel the most jealous of another girl when I'm using social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. These sites have a significant effect on how teens feel about their own self image. A Facebook or Iinstagram profile is essentially a collection of images of your friends in their most flattering poses, make up, and clothing, so no wonder it makes us feel insecure about ourselves.
But it's important to remember that although girls can be competitive and cruel, especially as it relates to their own and others' appearances, they can also be supportive and kind. I attend an all girls high school and this New York Times article has made me appreciate the atmosphere of respect and support in my school. We all wear uniforms, which helps reduce the hostility. The single sex environment allows us to develop ourselves intellectually instead of materially because we are forced to focus on school instead of clothes or boys. Obviously, we can think about other things outside of school but when we are in school, we are there to learn and support each other.
My goal as a feminist is to support and advocate for women’s equality, but how can I do that if I am competing with other women? As feminists and as women in general it is important to feel confident about ourselves so that we can support other women and help us all rise to achieve the equality that we deserve.
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