As grownups, most women feel they have left the mean girl hierarchy behind. But have we? Perhaps the question I should be asking myself after coaching and chaperoning is not “was I like this,” but “am I like this.” Unfortunately, I probably do at times fall into the number two or three girl role, laughing along as the miscues of others are pointed out. How often, like my daughter, am I the observer who see’s something is wrong, but stays in the background, not speaking up, not wanting to be pulled into the situation and draw attention to myself. How often, in real or assumed competition for resources, authority, or voice, do I overtly or subtly slip on girl number one persona, and intentionally call out my perceived flaws of others?
Middle school, rules do still have power in the adult world. Advertisers and politicians use the harsh word to draw focus on the worst traits of their competitors. Water coolers and parking lot smoke break spots are fodder for gossip that changes instantly when the subject arrives. Passive aggressive words and behaviors between work place, neighborhood, and even extended family cliques do exist in the grown up world. Being in the inner circle still provides, if misplaced, a feeling of belonging. I have a work colleague who is known for her “odd” behaviors, dress, and general disheveled appearance. She has a nickname that people will use right in front of her; with her seemingly not realizing it is her they are referencing. I’ve heard her described by these physical appearances and quirks, but rarely if ever do I hear her described in terms of her professional accomplishments, which are many.
Just as I feel uneasy about the negative political rhetoric of candidate bashing by their opponents, the mean gossip and harping on others weaknesses and undermining success, leaves an equally sour spot in my stomach. To think that I contribute to the circle of meanness, through participation or silence, is even worse. Any contribution weighs down my energy to resolve a problem, or create something new, so it is not an altruistic realization. I wish I had really learned it in middle school. Owning that belongs in my new frame of reference.