I'll never forget the first time I was bullied. I had always been a bit of a loner. I wasn't interested in whatever the other girls were into so I hung out with the boys. We would play street hockey, jump on the trampoline, and skateboard around the cul-de-sac for hours. I had even started a zine with one of my guy friends. It was a pretty sweet setup I had for a while, until we all got to the age at which girls and boys start becoming "interested" in each other. Swiftly, my sweet little world fell apart.
I was sitting in the hallway with one of my buds when a girl, who probably had some sort of crush on him, spilled a water bottle on my crotch area and told everybody I peed my pants. I was in fifth grade. Looking back, it's kind of hilarious, but in the moment, it was horrifying. I was somewhat friendly with this girl and felt betrayed. I was shocked, heartbroken, and confused. I was inconsolable for the better part of the afternoon and can remember hiding out in the library with my lucky rabbit's foot and a copy of Where the Sidewalk Ends. That was the day I asked my parents to homeschool me for the first time. I got through it by telling myself that the feeling wouldn't be forever. That I couldn't wait to get older so I wouldn't have to feel this way anymore. Fast forward about fifteen years. Not much as changed.
It's an incredibly difficult subject to unpack. Time after time, I've been left broken by my sisters. Womanhood can be so hard, which is why it's so important to stick together. But we rarely do. I've been on the receiving end of some pretty nasty calumny lately. It's got me thinking about myself, my role as a woman, and what to do about the "mean girls" I know. I'll never be invincible against their cruelty but I can try my damn hardest to not become one myself-- or rather, to stop being one.
The majority of the women I know who are most the most outspoken against "girl-on-girl crime" are the meanest girls I know. They'll post on social media advocating for unity and togetherness but behind closed doors, they'll trash anyone who seems to be a "threat" or doesn't fit their narrative. I never seemed to notice or care until it happened to me. It awakened a lot of complex emotions that I'd pushed away after trying-- and failing-- to fathom them a while ago. Am I forsaking my fellow humans for the sake of self-preservation? Am I turning against the team by becoming untrusting and reclusive? Shouldn't the burden of womanhood be a shared struggle? One could say that all of these things are true. But are they?
Before scrutinizing the words and actions of other women, I had to first examine my own words and actions. I didn't realize how many walls I had built over the years until doing so. I realized how contentious my mental illness has been in the relationships I've had, how instead of letting my friends work through it on their own, I immediately blamed them for not being understanding, and his I cloistered myself away, becoming increasingly disconnected. I had to reconcile the fact that I, though not naturally a cold person, had become one instead of allowing myself to continue to be vulnerable. My callousness came from a place of defense. If this is true for me, is it not true for others?
With about 30 browser tabs open and a pen and pencil in hand, I hit Google to see what the internet has to say about why girl-on-girl crime was, is, and seemingly always will be around. Is it jealousy? Anger? Boredom? Something we've developed evolutionarily? WHAT IS IT? One interesting article says a possible explanation is because women are caught between two hard places: on one hand, we're still working through societal norms when it comes to being "ladylike." On the other, we struggle with very real feelings of jealousy, sadness, shame, etc. We simply cannot deal with these emotions in the same way men can. There's a difference between an aggressive woman and an aggressive man. Historically in society, one was unbecoming while the other was at least somewhat acceptable.
This creates the perfect storm for something called relational aggression, which the author describes as “'behavior directed to harming another’s friendships, social status, or self-esteem' which can be manifested in direct ways such as 'social rejection and negative facial expressions or body movements' or in indirect ways such as 'slanderous rumors, friendship manipulation, or social exclusion.'" Sound familiar? We've all been through it. It's how mean girls can get their revenge by still seeming sweet and well-meaning.
So science says there's always going to be mean girls out there. What's next? Bullies may be a sad inevitability, kind of like an ouroboros of pettiness. Girls are mean to other girls. Those girls become hurt and defensive and are mean to other girls, who in turn are mean to other poor, unassuming girls. Will it never end? It can. It doesn't mean your feelings will never be hurt ever again but it does mean that you can take the sword from out of the mean girls' hands.
See bullying for what it is: it comes from a place of insecurity. This doesn't mean you should try to attain an inflated sense of self-esteem (i.e. "haters can't stand me because I'm just so successful beautiful!") but to remain humble and graceful in adversity. Bullies would love nothing more than for you to stoop to their level, spreading gossip and misery. It's not worth it though. It won't solve anything and it'll keep the cycle going. You don't have to roll over and become a doormat for these mean girls but you can't let them get you down. The bullies will never stop but you don't have to let them stop you. It's cliché but true. Find some gal pals you can trust. Share your hurts and insecurities with them and let them share theirs with you. Find a group of friends who will build you up. Surround yourself with ladies who would rather talk about their careers than whatever what's-her-face did last night. You'll feel so much better about yourself and others.