Mean girls in the mean streets of middle school

Posted: Mar 04, 2002 12:00 AM
Mean girls, maybe meaner than boys, are in. The Feminine Mystique was a revolutionary guide book for would-be feminists about how to rebel against their mothers' lives. Mean girls have boomer moms. A mean girl just wants to be her own man. A mean girl doesn't need testosterone. She's got bile without guile. She takes no prisoners in her pursuit of popularity. She'll stab a girl in the back, stick pins in a doll made up in her best friend's image, and roar like a lioness. She's not satisfied to meow like a pussycat. Mean girls, as described in the New York Times, are more little witches than bitches, and you find them stirring the cauldron of double trouble in, of all places, middle school. These girls have a Darwinian drive with unlimited energy for social climbing on the icy path to popularity. A grown woman can be enraged by the guy who turns his back to her in bed, but his is a gentleman's gesture compared to the 11-year-old girl who turns her back on her closest girlfriend, giving her the silent treatment as she walks down the hall at school. Mean girls make the battle between the sexes sound like a march for peace. Their wars end at Waterloo (or Hiroshima). The girls, known as Queen Bees, Alphas and RMG's (Really Mean Girls), are writing the primer for succeeding socially in the mean streets of middle school, and naturally "help" is on the way. There's a new enterprise in helping a mean girl to give up her wicked, wicked ways. Rosalind Wiseman, for example, runs a nonprofit organization called the Empower Program, with classes in 60 schools. She teaches at the National Cathedral School, a private school in Washington for daughters of the rich, the powerful and the political. One class is devoted to learning how to apologize. (A few daddies and mommies could take - or teach - that one.) The idea is to get the popular girls to become more aware of their "relational aggression" and say "I'm sorry," even if they really aren't. ("I shouldn't have called you a fat, ugly slut with a red splotchy complexion. You're merely plump and flirty with acne.") What we have here is the creation of just what we need, a whole new class of victims, the object of the popular girl's viciousness. The title of Rosalind Wiseman's forthcoming book, "Queen Bees and Wannabees: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends and Other Realities of Adolescence," gives you the flavor of her themes. The approach sounds like a touchy-feely movement for preadolescents, based on what their parents and grandparents learned and unlearned in Esalen hot tubs. Next up, no doubt, will be the "Greening of 'Tweens." Many schools hire outside "experts" to teach topics such as girls vs. girls, girls as foes, girls can be boys. We're coming full circle, teaching mean girls to give up their nails and snails and puppy-dog tails for sugar, spice and everything nice. Treating the vixen has become an industry, the latest thing in "social problems." "We are currently looking at relational aggression like domestic violence 20 years ago," says Holly Nishimura, assistant director of the Ophelia Project, which teaches girls to stop hurting each other. "Though it's not on the same scale, we believe that with relational aggression, the trajectory of awareness, knowledge and demand for change will follow the same track." What's this? Girl disses girlfriend equals man beats wife? Can a government program be far behind? We've just recently found out that the "self-esteem movement" covers up a multitude of slothful habits parading as confidence and damaging a young person's abilities to achieve, and now here's the nicey-nice movement to move bad behavior to a safe place behind the teacher's back. The New York Times juxtaposed its mean girls with a display of famous femmes fatales, past and present, under the headline: "Goodness Has Nothing to Do With It." Rose McGowan of WB's "Charmed," is known for playing bad girls on and off the screen. (She dated Marilyn Manson.) "What I like about bad girls she says," is that they don't know they're bad." Her role models are Lana Turner in "The Postman Always Rings Twice," the woman who persuades her lover to murder her husband, and Ava Gardner in "Mogambo," photographed with a lion in a movie where "the bad girl gets the man!" What the mean girl learns is what women have always known, girls vs. girls is how women learn to fight other women to get the man. The more things change the more they stay the same. Meow.