I started the morning at the school, asking to meet with a counselor before my daughter would agree to stay for the day. For weeks, she’s been navigating female friendships, mean girl stuff, and the struggle of communication between peers as a 12 year old.
I remember these years well. I remember the threat from a peer to beat me up because she thought I said something mean about her. I remember trying to wear the right clothes and do my hair the right way, all so I could fit in, which I never really feel like I did. As I reflect, I think it’s because no 12 year old girl really feels like she fits in. It’s part of the process of growing up.
As I hold this space with my own 6th grade daughter, I am trying so hard to show up for her, hear her, listen to her heart, support the individual person inside of her, play to her strengths, and show her empathy for the tough road of being a girl in middle school. Some days we navigate this beautifully. Other days it’s a hot mess.
I see her try to navigate the meanness and cruelty of other girls, the calloused words that come out of their mouths and through their texts, the struggles with communication and understanding each other’s feelings or positions. I see her say cruel things to others or want revenge for something another young lady did. I see her stand in her own truth and struggle to see that someone else’s truth might be different from hers, and that’s okay. The lack of mental flexibility and seeing outside of herself is representative of that preteen development.
In her most dysregulated state, I see her self-talk become attacking and defeating to herself and others. All of this appears to be normal development, even though it’s extremely painful to witness, observe, and walk through with her.
What I find most intriguing, is that my own experiences as an Adult Woman often mirror that of my Middle School Daughter. So, that leads me to ask the question: Do Mean Girls Become Mean Women?
Here I am, at 42 years old, and these words recently came out of my mouth when talking to an adult male colleague, “I know that you don’t really understand what’s happening right now. This is mean girl stuff. Yes, we’re adults and we’re professionals. Yet, everything about this situation screams mean girl stuff. I’ve been dealing with this since 2nd grade. It’s easy for me to spot. It’s much harder for you, as a male. It’s okay. I’ll figure it out.” The male colleague just looked at me and said, “I will never understand why someone would say these things or write these things about another person.”
At 42, mean girl stuff is still painful and biting. It’s hurtful and causes emotional wounds. It’s confusing and disrupts the goal of stability. It takes its toll on a person. It triggers my Little Stacy and causes me to regress to that Middle School Girl.
Now, as I’m coming up for air, recovering from a direct attack by a Mean Woman, I can see it a bit more clearly and it just causes even more curiosity about how we stop the Mean Girl from becoming the Mean Woman.
I get the opportunity to work in many school settings, most of which are mostly female. I am never surprised when co-workers describe their work environment. Every single one has a Mean Girl in the midst. She’s disguised as an Adult Woman who knows more than others, is critical, and plays the part of Judgy McJudgerton where she rips apart all the choices of her colleagues and administrators. It’s toxic and leaks onto the kids’ learning environment as well. Kids can spot these Mean Women from miles away. Yet, everyone tip toes around Her and no one feels brave enough to call Her out for fear of Her wrath.
As I’ve sat with this topic over the last few weeks and contemplated the above examples, personally and professionally, I think I just have more questions about Mean Women than answers.
Here are just a few:
Are we so wounded as women that we have to take it out on other women?
Do we struggle with having others co-regulate us through development and then we carry that trauma wound into adulthood and lash out, verbally, when we are dysregulated?
Do we stay stunted in middle school behavior because no one ever loved us, helped us, or modeled for us when we were super emotionally messy?
Do we put up a guard of Mean Girl because we have a fragile self-esteem and we feel threatened by other women who are confident and successful?
Did we just not get the skills to talk about our inner most feelings when we were preteen and teen girls?
Do Mean Women raise Mean Girls?
Do Mean Girls become Mean Women?
My questions go on and on.
And, if I’m completely honest, I got a REAL glimpse of Mean Women as I watched my social media feed right after JLo and Shakira’s super bowl performance. The words we use to talk about the behavior of people who are complete strangers demonstrates to others (and our children) how we perceive the world in general.
Just based on what people posted, I learned quickly who is emotionally safe enough to open up to about things that are hard in my life. Yes, from the posts about JLo and Shakira.
If creating emotional safety can decrease suicide rates, increase resilience, and offer an overall better mental health picture, wouldn’t we do that? Wouldn’t we think critically about what we are saying about other people? Wouldn’t we strive to be Adult Women who are kind and empathic and courageous? Wouldn’t we model the best versions of what being an Adult Woman means?
If I am the Mean Girl, or you, don’t we have to take ownership of this and figure out what in our history has created us to be that way?
The solution to my daughter’s situation? She will be meeting with the other two girls and her school counselor to talk through things and see if they can figure out how to either be friends or co-exist with each other in a way that is not hurtful. Every time an adult helps her navigate how to communicate with her peers, I feel one step closer to her not being a Mean Woman.
The solution to my situation? I’m not sure yet. I have to decide how much emotional capacity I have to work in a situation where my emotional safety was robbed by a Mean Woman who will continue to work in that same setting. Mean Girls as Mean Women are rarely held accountable for their actions and their toxicity bleeds onto everyone around them. My tolerance for this is becoming less and less each year.
Regardless of what I choose, I will continue to evaluate how I treat other women, what I say to them, how I judge them, and what I am modeling for my daughter AND my son. I am by no means perfect in this, but I am learning how to keep my mouth shut when needed and be kind and considerate when I need to hold a boundary. I’m working hard at shedding my own Judgy McJudgerton and settle into the fact that we, as women, can be our own worst enemies.
I don’t want to accept that reality. I don’t want to have to arm my daughter with skills on how to navigate Mean Women. I want to help her develop skills to talk directly about issues with other women and work through conflict in a meaningful, solution-focused manner.
Every Adult Woman has a Mean Girl somewhere inside. Some of us have done the hard work of healing that Mean Girl. Some of us still have more work to do. How do we do that? Please seek professional help. The toxic work environment Mean Women are creating is not helpful for anyone. The more healing we do, the more fulfilling our lives will be. Every person I have the privilege of spending time with, shows me that we are all just trying to do our best, everyday. We don’t need to make it harder on each other.
And, for the sake of us all, can we agree that if we have to call each other out on something, we do it privately, with kindness, directness, face to face, and with an openness where we do not automatically assume that someone is being malicious or out to get us?! There’s always more to the story than what people see. Most judgment is really about the lack of understanding.
Drop me an email at [email protected] and tell me your thoughts on Mean Girls becoming Mean Women.