Mean girls happen. They happen at 9 years old on the playground. At 21 years old in the sorority. They happen in blockbuster Lindsay Lohan movies.
And for me, they happened when I was 27.
Because I grew up influenced by feminism, and Riot Grrl, I’ve always believed that if anything, girls should be especially nice to one another, because there’s a whole culture’s worth of influences telling us to be petty and competitive. Yes, we live in a culture that’s pretty hateful to women — where women and girls get the short shrift. But often, women and girls are just as guilty of perpetuating that upon ourselves as any man. I’ve always tried to avoid girl-hating or putting other women down, because I understand that it’s just a tactic to keep all of us where we are. To keep us complacent by turning us against each other and ourselves.
So it’s with that in mind that I’ve approached my relationships with women — or tried to.
A few years ago, I was invited to a pool party at my friend Steve’s house. Steve and I were in the same loose circle of friends, and I’d even done some freelance writing for him at one point. I was also friendly — though not quite friends — with his girlfriend, Jennifer, though I’d always sensed a small bit of unease around her. Steve had a reputation for being rather flirty, and though my relationship with him was strictly platonic (and to be honest, I found him sort of gross), I wondered if the fact that I was more his friend than hers made her uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, I showed up at the pool party that day with a six-pack in hand and spent the day hanging out. More and more of Jennifer’s friends came over — a group of girls that had been a tight circle since college. We chatted, though I hung out more with the few guys I knew there — friends I had DJed with or had worked with before. All was well, until I got out of the pool and tried looking for my clothes. Everything was in my bag as I’d left it — except my underwear.
As I started looking around for them, Jennifer came up to me and laughed.
“Are you looking for your underwear?” she asked. She then led me into the kitchen, where a couple of other girls were standing around giggling. “Check the freezer.”
I opened the door and quickly grabbed them, completely mortified.
“We played a prank on you!” she said. “Oh come on, it’s funny!” she continued.
Well, no. It was supposedly funny. Supposedly lighthearted. But it didn’t feel that way at all. Instead, it seemed pointedly mean and passive aggressive. If one of my close girlfriends had pulled a similar prank it would have been hilarious. Childish and silly, but funny. But coming from a girl I was more acquaintances with than friends, it felt straight up mean. I suppose because I wasn’t in her crew of friends, because I was friends with her boyfriend, and because I was considered an outsider that somehow made me a target? Was I somehow a threat to her?
It’s been six years, and that incident still sticks with me. After the horrors of junior high and high school — of not fitting in, of desperately wanting to, and of having my own battles with catty and insecure girls — I really thought I’d never be “mean girled” again. And maybe it’s because of all of those things that I’m especially sensitive to how I treat other women and how they treat me. Since then, Jennifer and Steve got married. They have a young daughter now. They seem happy and I’m happy for them. I hope, though, that she teaches her daughter that being a girl is hard, and tearing another person down or making them feel bad — or sticking another woman’s underwear in the freezer as a “prank” — isn’t the way to solve problems.
Have you ever been “mean girled”?