This week is the 10th anniversary of Mean Girls.

This week a girl in my sister’s school beat her up, hitting her face and head into a locker and giving her a concussion.

This week I raged and cried over beer with a friend after work because I’m nearly 3,000 miles away from home and can’t be there with her. Instead, I have to call her late at night (her time) during my 15 minute break at work to find out that these same girls filmed the fight, put it on Instagram, and then took to ask.fm where they verbally abused her and tagged her by her Twitter handle.

The Urban Institute did a study on cyber bullying and teen dating last year, and the results may shock you. They should.

…more than a quarter (26 percent) of youth in a relationship said they experienced some form of cyber dating abuse victimization in the prior year. Females were twice as likely as males to report being a victim of sexual cyber dating abuse in the prior year. More than a tenth (12 percent) of youth in a relationship said they had perpetrated cyber dating abuse in the prior year. Females reported greater levels of non-sexual cyber dating abuse perpetration than males.

(Technology, Teen Dating Violence and Abuse, and Bullying. Zweig, Dank, Lachman, and Yahner, 2013)

I detailed more of the background on what happened to my sister on Twitter, and Storified it here. I may repeat myself some here, but this is the story:

My sister started the school year with a couple guys interested in dating her, she turned them down, they both start dating other girls. The boys reach out to my sister behind their girlfriends’ backs, my sister shuts them down and asks them to stop contacting her. The girlfriends find out, start threatening my sister, waiting for her in bathrooms, at the bus stop, and sending her threatening messages. My sister shows a teacher, and the one girl gets suspended (she’d already been in trouble for fighting). The suspended girl is the queen bee of a clique, and in retaliation, the girls in the clique start threatening my sister further, and the queen bee eggs them on.

One girl takes it further, threatening my sister in the hall at school. My sister’s boyfriend stands in her way, but the girl ducks around him and punches my sister (who has her back to the lockers) in the face repeatedly. And then they took to social media afterwards, because now the second girl is suspended for fighting.

I saw the video. 25 hearts for my sister getting punched in the face.

My parents are pursuing legal recourse, my sister’s resting at home, and she’ll recover. Hopefully this will stop soon and everyone will be able to move on with life.

Here’s the thing that gets me: Mean Girls is 10 years old, and this is still going on.

These girls beat my sister up, yes. But they’re victims just as much as my sister is, and I’ll tell you why.

They’re perpetuating the system established by patriarchy where men are sexual creatures who do not bear the consequences for their the waves left in their wake. They act, women clean up. They expand themselves socially, we cover for them and accommodate. The boys aren’t satisfied with their girlfriends? Their girlfriends don’t challenge them or break up with them out of self-respect; they attack my sister, because they see her as a threat.

They see her as a threat because we have been socialized to see other women as competition for men, not comrades at arms in the struggle for respect, equality, and autonomy.

I’ll step aside here and let one of my new favorite authors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie take the mic on this point.

“We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”  (The Danger of A Single Story. TED Talk, 2009)

As you know, I help run a YouTube channel where we talk about YA literature with a heavy dose of feminist critique. One of the reasons I chose to start this project with Gretchen is that I was sick of seeing female protagonists in fiction (or film or pick-your-media-of-choice) whose narrative arcs are centered solely on their relationships to men, and I was tired of seeing female friendships in media that were fake.

Fake because they didn’t relate over anything except for men. Fake because they are either flat stereotypes who giggle and “support” each  other in romantic escapades, or are pitted against each other in competition for a man. There’s not much in between, because without a romantic male interest, the media gatekeepers don’t seem to think there’s much of a story worth telling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard new novelists say that their editor love their ideas, but wanted them to “up the tension” by adding a romantic interest. A female-centered story without a romantic interest, apparently, won’t sell. And realistic depictions of female friendship is worth sacrificing for the sake of male-centered sexual tension.

Did you know that if a movie has a sex scene where a man is receiving oral sex, the film’s rating is going to be either PG-13 or R, but if a woman’s receiving oral sex, the rating hits NC-17? A woman receiving sexual pleasure from a man is apparently more dangerous to society than the other way around.* Did you know that we’ll get a movie with a raccoon and a tree as superhero leads before we’ll get one with Black Widow or Wonder Woman? Did you notice that The Hunger Games books opened and closed on relational plot points rather than action plot points? (I didn’t notice that myself, but I can’t re-find the source on that observation now–help anyone? ::edit:: Gretchen pointed it out, thanks to her reading of Swati Avasthi) Did you notice that Katniss and Tris don’t have any female friends, not really? Did you know that conservative leaders are still saying we don’t need feminism anymore?

But Mean Girls is 10 years old, and my sister has a concussion.

How many of you have experienced girl drama because of the patriarchy?

::edit:: This deserves some clarification–Black Swan was originally rated NC-17 and they dropped it down to R after an appeal. The reason this is remarkable is that girl-on-girl sex scenes are generally performed as if for the male gaze, and are there for a “curiosity” item of sorts, and not aimed at female viewers. Therefore it’s less “offensive,” apparently, than a woman getting pleasure from a man — something that is rarely done in film because it’s not for the male gaze and has to be all about her sexual satisfaction.


  • John

    This makes me so mad I could spit. And possibly a little glad I wasn’t there, ’cause I might be in jail now. Although it would be worth it. ::rage::

    • John

      Sometimes a knee to the solar plexus is just a heartwarming thought.

  • Daniel Snow

    So I’m trying to disagree with your middle paragraph about the girls perpetuating a patriarchy, but I cant. Their actions make no sense in any mental framework that I possess. I simply can’t wrap my mind around why you would harass and attack someone who turned down your boyfriend when he attempted to cheat. I’m going to take your word for why they did this, because I can’t find any other possible conclusion.
    On a somewhat happier topic, your discussion of woman-centered (female-positive? realistic?) media reminded me of a book I got from my cousin a five years or so ago. “Wild Swans” is the story of three generations of women in China. Beginning in the last years of the empire, and running through the Cultural Revolution, it’s a beautifully told story of their lives. Not really YA literature though. Pretty much full adult. I was about 21 when I read it though, so maybe it does qualify. In retrospect, my cousin’s “fall” into feminism should have been obvious a long time out.
    In a related vein, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on “Alien.” It’s a perfectly ordinary Hollywood story, if very well done. Standard badass protagonist. Standard mindless evil bad guys. All in all, a reasonably normal movie. Except the protagonist is a woman. And there is no romantic relationship. Granted, this describes a disturbingly thin list of movies, but that series is there. Well this got bit long. Sorry about that.

    • Daniel Snow

      Sorry for the double post, but when I left here, I headed over to The Atlantic. Their front page, currently has an article relevant to both your sister’s troubles, and the larger topic of feminism. http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/04/the-confidence-gap/359815/
      Naturally, this got me to thinking. While Army Aviation is pretty male dominated for obvious reasons, I’ve worked with two female pilots. One had genuine, medically diagnosed mental problems not really relevant here. The other though is a bit of a puzzle. She wasn’t very well liked, but she was extremely confident in herself. In retrospect, did I not like her because she made questionable decisions, got in other peoples way, and had trouble with authority? Or did everyone do that , and I only noticed with her because she was woman? Perhaps a bit of both? I don’t really have an answer here, I’m just musing. Anyway, thanks for making me think.

    • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

      That behavior of attacking the girl that your boyfriend cheated with is normal and common. I think it has something to do with the idea that a girl can’t scare her boyfriend, but she can scare another girl. She can hurt another girl, but her boyfriend could hurt her if it came down to it. So she goes after the girl: it makes her feel in control.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        I think it has something to do with the idea that a girl can’t scare her boyfriend, but she can scare another girl. She can hurt another girl, but her boyfriend could hurt her if it came down to it.

        Like that one Beetle Bailey “chain of command” sequence:
        The General yells at the Colonel.
        The Colonel yells as the Major.
        The Major yells at the Captain.
        The Captain yells at the Lieutenant.
        The Lieutenant yells at Sgt Snorkel.
        Sgt Snorkel yells at Private Bailey.
        Private Bailey kicks the barracks dog.

        And the “other girl” is just the barracks dog.

  • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

    We are selling our house and moving to another town this summer, largely driven by the bullying my 14 year old daughter received this past year ay school. When i called the mother of the queen bee, the mother told me she was aware of the bullying, and had tried to stop it, but she had no control over her daughter.

  • Bike bubba

    Wait a second here. If these girls are perpetuating a patriarchy by fighting over a boy, than are Popeye and Bluto perpetuating a matriarchy by fighting over Olive Oyl? Let’s be serious here–people fight over attractive prospects because the supply of attractive prospects is smaller than the supply of available partners. It’s the same reason that people bid at auctions.
    I think Kathleen hits on the real reason for what is going on–she called mother of queen bee, but Mom had no control. OK, in some families, there’s another person called “Dad” who will back Mom up when his children get out of line. Why isn’t Dad involved in this case? John and our the boyfriend of our gracious hostess’ sister have the right thought too.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Bubba, this begs the question as to whether Olive Oyl is an attractive prospect.

    • Daniel Snow

      In the fine honorable tradition of internet arguments, allow me to disagree. Fighting over a boy makes sense; stupid perhaps, but at least understandable. If both girls are pursuing the same boy, then assaulting Hannah’s sister is simply an idiotic overreaction, nothing more. However, they weren’t both chasing the same boyfriend. Hannah’s sister had already turned the guy down twice, which is what makes this such a noteworthy case. Queen Bee attacked someone who wasn’t any sort of normal competition. (not that I advocate attacking anyone at all) Hannah’s sister was a threat in some other fashion. Hannah’s argument, as I understand it, is that her sister was dangerous solely because the boyfriend was interested. Logic would say “get mad at boyfriend,” but some kind of subservience/patriarchy/whatever implies that you can’t do that. This leaves Hannah’s sister as the only possible target.
      The fact that all of this is starting to make sense to me is a bit disquieting.

      • Bike bubba

        Enjoyed the comment on Olive Oyl by HUG. I never got that one either. Maybe if your world is drawn by King Features, anything looks good? (one could also comment that a one eyed, deformed sailor and his brutish rival are also not exactly prizes, no?)
        But that said, it illustrates the nature of these kinds of rivalries. The victim doesn’t have to be interested, just the love interest. You de-value the perceived rival to upgrade yourself.
        And if it doesn’t make sense to you–as it does not to me, either–praise God. Just know that competition without good sense (and perhaps without a dad in the house) leads to nasty results. It has for a long time.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          Not, Victim, Bubba.
          MAGUFFIN — the object/prize that’s the reason for the fight. A Maguffin can be anything — a Maltese Falcon, the last toy at the store, the WWE Championship belt. IT has no reason for existence except to trigger the competition/fight among the lead and antagonist, the Face and the Heel. (And to each party in the fight, they alone are the Face and all the others are Heels.)

          And in this case, the Maguffin got broken in the fighting.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    One of the reasons I chose to start this project with Gretchen is that I was sick of seeing female protagonists in fiction (or film or pick-your-media-of-choice) whose narrative arcs are centered solely on their relationships to men, and I was tired of seeing female friendships in media that were fake.

    Fake because they didn’t relate over anything except for men. Fake because they are either flat stereotypes who giggle and “support” each other in romantic escapades, or are pitted against each other in competition for a man.


    Ever heard of something called “The Bechtel Test”? It’s a test of whether a book or movie or TV show has (1) more than one female character with a name and speaking role who (2) talk with the other named female character about (3) something other than boys/men.

    Off the top of my head, the only TV show that comes to mind who consistently passes the Bechtel Test is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Yes, colorful cartoon ponies have more sense than most live-action female characters on-screen.
    Related is “Smurfette Syndrome”, where you have only ONE female lead character in an otherwise all-male lineup. (This eliminates female-to-female interaction while retaining male-to-male and male-to-female.)

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    This deserves some clarification–Black Swan was originally rated NC-17 and they dropped it down to R after an appeal. The reason this is remarkable is that girl-on-girl sex scenes are generally performed as if for the male gaze, and are there for a “curiosity” item of sorts, and not aimed at female viewers.

    I have never understood why, but a lot of straight guys are Really Turned On by watching Hawt Lezbo Action(TM). (The female version of this — a woman who’s only turned on by male homosexuals — is called a “Fag Hag”, but I know of no equivalent term for a male who’s turned on by Lesbian action. Maybe it’s called “Real Manly Man”, I don’t know. Still doesn’t sound like a recipe for sexual success.) This might be Fanservice, a way to sneak an audience-appeal porn trope into mainstream film.