It’s the 10-year anniversary of the movie, Mean Girls, and the film is still having a huge impact on middle and high school girls. Just yesterday, my daughter’s entire softball team showed up to practice wearing all pink to celebrate the anniversary. (It was a Wednesday after all, and as the popular girls say in the movie, “On Wednesdays we wear pink.”)
While the movie is still totally relevant, I have a feeling mean girls have come a long way. Let’s take a look at the evolution of the mean girl.
Remember Nellie Olsen? If you’re older than 25 you probably do. Nellie was the antagonist of Little House on the Prairie. As the nastiest thing on the prairie since cholera, Nellie was a force to be reckoned with. Equally obsequious to adults as Eddie Haskell but much more dangerous to her peers, Nellie made it her mission to humiliate the nice kids on the prairie for her own gain.
I grew up watching Little House and tuned in every week to see what malicious tricks Nellie would play. I would cringe at just how spiteful she could be. It was fun because it was clear we were meant to hate Nellie. I didn’t know any little girls who wanted to dress up as Nellie for Halloween.
But then along came Regina George, and she changed the mean girl landscape for the worse.
Regina, from the movie Mean Girls, was the ring leader of the Plastics, the most powerful girl clique at her high school. She brought to the adolescent arena an entirely new arsenal of weapons to topple any threats to her popularity… or comfort, for that matter. Like Nellie Olsen, Regina is clearly manipulative and controlling, but her beauty, sex appeal and maturity make her attractive to kids. It’s harder to hate Regina than Nellie, because deep down inside, we want to look like, if not be, Regina.
Girls today have a harder time than we did identifying the mean girl and rejecting her behavior. Today’s mean girl is almost more insidious than Regina or Nellie. She often masquerades as friend or funny sidekick, and the laugh track that backs her up encourages our happy response to her bullying behavior.
Sam Puckett from Nickelodeon’s iCarly TV show is a terrific example of how well the media camouflages mean girls today. In a poll of 200 girl scouts, girls described the characters from iCarly like this:
Carly they described as “super nice”, “pretty”, “smart” and “kind”.
Freddie they told me is “nice”, “cute but geeky”, “smart with technology” and “a good friend”.
Sam is “funny”, “hilarious”, “tough”, and a “great friend”.
Having seen the show myself, I probed further. Tell me what kinds of things Sam does that are funny.
The girls then offered up a laundry list of scenarios in which Sam punches kids, pours food on their head (in public), sticks food on their faces (in school), and trips people in the hall.
And so I asked them again, what kind of person is Sam? Their response this time, ‘Well, she’s supposed to be funny.” And how do they know that? Because of the laugh track and because no one says otherwise. The show iCarly (now off the air) was so popular because it is a child’s world in which there are virtually no adults. Carly is raised by her older brother, a nutty artist who, albeit very caring, is hardly a voice of reason. The principal is a classic dimwit, Freddie’s mom, the only other adult on the show is a helplessly neurotic idiot. Kids viewing the show get a whole lot of sass, zaniness, and impulsivity, but virtually no consequence.
What does this evolution of the mean girl mean to our kids today?
In honor of the Mean Girls anniversary, I asked my normally active Facebook followers to suggest who they thought might be the reigning mean girl on TV or in film today. I heard back nothing but the faint chirp of crickets. Someone sent me a direct message saying, “I’m still thinking about the mean girls question…not sure.”
Which I think actually highlights the evolution of the mean girl best of all. Today’s mean girl is a chameleon. She’s less blatant and more manipulative than Nellie or Regina, and probably posing as a good friend. She’s the girl who says “You’re such a loser” in front of a crowd then says to you later, “I was just kidding! Obviously. Take a joke!” Pretty funny, huh?
Michelle Icard is the author of Middle School Makeover: Improving The Way You and Your Child Experience The Middle School Years (Bibliomotion, 2014). For more information click here.