Wednesday, February 4, 2009

mean girls

It's been very much on your mind recently. You're 40, not 14, but you feel just as you did back then, now that your oldest is going through her turn in junior high.

It all seems so unnecessary.

The bullying, the name calling, the eye rolling. The comments about her clothes, the suggestion that she not curl her hair in the morning, as that look is the domain of the most popular girl in the eight grade. The additional suggestion that she try and "dress normal," that is, tone down who she is to become one of them.

It is all bullshit.

You pick her up every day from school, this tall, leggy, knock-out of a girl/child — the one who has been sketching clothing designs since she could hold a crayon, the one who now turns heads wherever she goes, and has the boys competing for her attention — and you know before she releases the latch on the door that it's been another one of those days.

The worst of the vitriol comes from the angriest of girls.

(Do they know how transparent they are to outside observers? Do they know that, with every sneer and cutting remark, they shed light on a self-loathing that is so profound it moves you to think about it?)

There's the one who was born with a defect, who literally wears her shame on her sleeve. She is a pretty girl, but awful. Just awful. Spiteful and mean and consumed. She has manipulated her world to work things in her favor, brandishing her handicap like a weapon, defying anyone to short change her the pity she thinks she deserves.

(Probably not. Or, not yet, anyway. They can't possibly have that level of self awareness. If they did, they would be incapable of such behavior.)

The problem is, your daughter doesn't buy it. She doesn't sing in her key, doesn't fawn over her and tell her how cute she's dressed today. This only infuriates the girl, strengthens her resolve to publicly bring your daughter down, no matter the cost.

(The problem also is, your daughter thinks that she is in some way responsible for how this girl treats her. That she somehow deserves the abuse. Daily now, you remind her that she is only responsible for how she chooses to interpret what is said and done. That she has the ability to respond in a way that favors her self esteem. You wonder when this is going to sink in.)

There is another girl, a plain, unremarkable girl whose smart-ass, fuck-you attitude will not serve her well down the road. Last year, you had the school place restrictions on how close she could come to your daughter. Yeah. Like that. It didn't stop the harassment. You knew it wouldn't. But you also knew that to not go to the administration, to not bring to their attention what was going on, was to send a message to your daughter that she was not to make waves, speak out, stand up for herself when faced with abusive behavior. It was an exercise in self respect, a lesson in discerning what is and what is not acceptable in the big world.

Especially when it comes to being a woman.

These two are among the aggressors. There are others, the followers, those who stand idly by as the verbal vomit happens. They are perhaps the most disappointing, because you know some of them. Know their parents. Have carpooled with them, given them birthday gifts, watched them grow up. Where is their loyalty? Where is their own sense of self respect? Where is that little voice that reminds them that it is absolutely unacceptable for any girl, no matter what her social standing, to belittle another?

Of course, rationally, you know the answer, know about herd mentality, understand the stakes involved in standing apart from the pack. And you know these kids are probably doing the best that they can with the tools that they have. And so you smile at them when you see them, and wait for them to mature, and hold your daughter close after the day's storm has passed.

The others... Long after you've forgotten their names, or are able to place their faces, or even recall the harmful exchanges, long after your daughter has grown and matured and stepped into womanhood in the way you know she is capable of doing — will eventually do — these girls will probably still be there, in their eighth grade mode, with their petty judgments and massive self loathing.


Unless grace happens. Unless something moves them, from within, or without. Unless their lives are shattered in such a profound way that to pick up and rebuild with what they had would make no sense. Better to start from scratch, from a new understanding, or from zero understanding, but a willingness to go from there.

And grace could happen. It's there. It's always there, waiting for any and all comers. Maybe your daughter will be the catalyst for grace. Maybe the dance that she's performing with them will be the turning point. Maybe in her graceful approach to getting through these last few months of junior high, head up, shoulders back, self esteem shaken but not destroyed, grace will move and find momentum.

You hope and pray that this is so. Because no matter how often you wish you could slap them around, mean girls need grace the most.

(Come to think of it, you could use a cupful yourself.)
Digg this

No comments:

Post a Comment