Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Bad Girls

Mean girls are so, like, in.
They're so of the moment, they're practically five minutes ago.
From a timely episode on the mock-therapy show hosted by that revolting southern-fried windbag, Dr Phil, to the soon to be released teen movie ‘Mean Girls’, to the recent documentary examining the cruelty of a pack of ten year old sadists in training bras ‘It’s a Girls World’, being young, female and completely without a shred of human decency or kindness has never been more popular.
But of course it’s an old, old story. (Eve (All About), Heathers, Nellie Olsen…) The interesting thing about it this time around is the range of options girls have for being meaner than a junkyard cat. Women’s liberation may not have earned us equal pay, or shattered the glass ceiling, but it has removed virtually all the barriers to creative cruelty.
In a recent article in the International Herald Tribune, Maureen Dowd describes the high school hierarchy that defines the hives ruled by these Queen Bees of mean. At the bottom are the betas – the wanna‘bees’ who are aware of the ‘in’ crowd and sickeningly aware they’re not in it, the gammas who don’t give a crap and are more concerned with what they do than what others think (pray, pray, pray your little girl gloms on to the gammas…) and the alphas – the girls at the top of the social totem pole, who define the ‘in’ crowd and most importantly, decide who will be awarded a lifetime membership in the ‘out’ crowd.
Unless you were home-schooled, or brought up by wild dogs (a much gentler society) there’s no particular mystery to any of this. But what Dowd wants to know is, why if the female alpha personality is alive and well in high school, does it usually shrivel up and disappear in adulthood? She makes the case for a definite lack of tough broads at the top, pointing out that if they get to be mighty, they usually fall (Martha Stewart, Tina Brown, Lizzie Grubman, Carly Fiorina and of course the original ‘Queen of Mean’ Leona Helmsley) and concludes that it’s really not so surprising when you consider the amount of testosterone-laced fury emanating from the alpha male clubhouse.
(She also points out that one of the most famous alpha chicks Hillary Rodham Clinton, turned gamma when she hit the senate. S’true.)
But not all meanies turn soft as they age – some even get a little sharper and crispier as they weave into womanhood. Case in point – my mean girl encounter.
I had a run in with just such a creature, a ‘social meanie’ if you will, the friend of a friend, who was clearly no friend of mine.
You don’t expect it as your grownup self. It’s a disconcerting surprise - like a noisome slug hidden under a lettuce leaf in a Waldorf salad. It can arouse the same sort of feelings too: disgust, shock and a little thrill of horror that’s unexpectedly hard to put mentally aside. It’s the pinch when you expected a caress; the bite that comes in place of a kiss.
The thing is she was pretty: tall, blonde, rich, successful and pretty; I felt – in my late thirties at that time – strangely adolescent around her. Not quite fully baked, a chick with a little shell still clinging tenaciously to my butt. Why pretty should have anything to do with it, I’m unsure. Perhaps it was just so like the Waldorf salad – an unexpected place to find a creepy-crawly.
Within an hour of meeting me, and after some innocuous trivia-related comment of mine, she asked - with withering disdain - if I just sat around all day reading fan magazines... Some weeks later, upon encountering me at the mutual friend’s daughter’s birthday party, she suggested I get a real career instead of fooling around with the writing thing; as a pre-school teacher perhaps, or a nanny – I was so sweet with little children. The last time I saw her, the topic of children came up again and she suggested I come to her house some time… to play with her little boy. I wouldn’t disturb the nanny she said, she’d probably welcome the time off.
Never have I been so completely and utterly dissed. So condescended to – so patronized. And each and every time, I said nothing. I just stood there round eyed with shock, while she – as cold as the iceberg that sank the Titanic – smiled in ill-concealed contempt, and sailed on conversationally, nimbly picking her way amongst my ruins.
I can’t blame her entirely; I was after all, there on all the various occasions… looking to the naked eye at least somewhat conscious. I was just so surprised is all – surprised and slightly horrified that someone wearing pantyhose and lip gloss was squaring off against me as aggressively as a knife wielding gang member on the seamiest side of town.
And perhaps that’s it – maybe this was some sort of convoluted initiation, whereby if I told her to shut her mouth (or carved her a new one) she would have deigned to respect me. Hazing as a friendship ritual; a test to prove worthiness.
But of course that’s not it – meanies are never more sure of anything than their victims. Had there been the slightest likelihood of my standing on my hind legs and verbally biffing her back, she never would have got past ‘fan magazine’. She really was nothing more than the most juvenile schoolyard bully.
And I was nothing more than the most bewildered beta.
But I’m changing – I’m toughening up; I’m studying for my gamma degree and I’ll let you know when the papers come through.
If that’s okay with you of course…

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