They are called “mean girls” or “queen bees”, they are the wicked of high school and sow terror in the corridors. They are very ambitious young women, very manipulative, very calculating and who managed to establish themselves as a type of character very stereotyped American TV series for teenagers.
Do they really exist? How is this type of character built? Does it really bring something to the plot of a series and to the audience,?
Today, I tell you all about this type of character that fascinates me.
So let’s go!
The wicked have not waited for the democratization of television series for teens to exist. it’s a kind of character that we already met in many movies and TV movies for teenagers. Indeed the teen movie is a kind to whole, whose codes vary according to the country and which evolve according to the times. In the United States, some characters often come back:
The sportsman, the geek, the shy intellectual and … the mean girl.
It has become a fundamental part of teen movies, especially when the teen movie seeks to target young women. “Heathers” with Wynona Ryder in the 80s, “Clueless” in the 90’s and more recently the cult “Mean Girls” written by Tina Fey and released in 2005. These films have become true references when talking about teen movies, simply because they have popularized this colorful and incredibly cruel character.
So he has also become a recurring character in the American series for teens. And if this wicked exists, it’s for a reason:
It’s to fuck shit. Do not look! They are only there for that. What makes it interesting is that it manipulates individuals. Sometimes to achieve his ends, sometimes just to have fun. It will gradually structure relations between people and structure the plot.
But to make sure that this character has interest it must of course work. If this character was all the time similar, it would become boring, but especially incredibly predictable. And, as it is there to essentially create twists, the stakes and succeed in getting around this kind of difficulties.
Patrice A Oppliger, professor of Communication at Boston University has written a lot about the figure of the mean girls in popular culture. This is how she was able to organize them into four different categories that sometimes come together. between them and found in works from pop culture (and therefore TV series):
1. The Mean Girl Mean
2. The Snobby Mean Girl
3. The Sexpot Mean Girl
4. The Deceit
The Basic Mean Girl is the one that comes back most often. Full of confidence, she is rich and very pretty, having 2 or 3 friends to surround her. Very often we find the same elements that would explain his wickedness with others. Successful parents and putting a lot of pressure on her for her future career, seeing extremely rich parents, working a lot, always absent and not interested in their daughter.
The Snobby Mean Girl does not seem to have a weak point unlike the previous one. Being spoiled rotten is a trait she claims and justifies her Machiavellian side. It also very often questions the subordination to adults, especially the principal or the teachers. Unlike the Basic Mean Girl, the Snobby is much more disillusioned: she will certainly not succeed in her life but, not especially ambitious, she does not care and then she will marry someone rich or will eventually touch a legacy of his parents.
The Sexpot mean girl is less recurrent in the series for very young teens, rather for those seeking to reach an audience of high school students and adulescent. All the interest of his entourage is on his silhouette, how she instrumentalizes her body to achieve what she wants. She very often plays her sex appeal and makes her sexuality a tool to come to an end.
The deceit is essentially known because his character has the best replicas. Often very petty, constantly passive aggressive, all the interest of her character lies in the interactions she maintains with others and the repartee she shows to annihilate them.
And if Oppliger denounces these four figures of the mean girl in popular culture, she finds that movies like “Mean Girls” have tended to glamorize and value this type of behavior. Behaviors that, according to her, would be based on deeply sexist stereotypes: superficial young women, venal, hypocritical, manipulative, unambitious and using their sexuality to achieve their ends. To erect such a model seems dangerous to him, and at that level she could not be especially wrong.
It has been almost 15 years since this theme is extremely present in the United States. The film “Mean Girls” appeared precisely at that time. According to the National Institutes of Health in 2001: 30% of students said they had suffered in the USA.
In 2011 another study showed that high school students were 45%.
School bullying brings together a lot of different elements:
Repeated and targeted mockery, from physical aggression to the desire to hurt psychologically.
The forms of harassment are multiple, more or less visible, it is often wrong to quantify in this way their severity. In fact, in 2010, 70% of teens say they have been cyber-harassed compared to 70% of parents who say they do not worry about cyber-harassment for their children. Very often we hear that new technologies have created or reinforced school bullying, which is not especially true.
Before the appearance of the Internet or the mobile phone, school bullying already existed, other forms, sometimes less visible, only there were no traces, no evidence of this harassment, no means to identify really the culprits. With respect to harassment, school bullying never occurs in isolation. In 85% of cases, the person doing this has accomplices. In 81% of cases, these peers are there to encourage this behavior and of its 81%, 48 will participate actively.
In this 81% there is everything: those who follow because they follow, those who are afraid and who prefer to see this violence carry over to others, brief full of different cases, and those who follow have often already undergone school harassment . The leader no, but the followers yes. Hence the fact of seeking to be under the protection of the brute so as not to relive it again.
Harassers are often domineering, often go faster in a quarter turn, have little empathy, struggle to follow the rules and see violence in a positive way. For there to be harassment there must be a form of repetition, deliberate, and the person who is targeted has obviously never sought it. How one educates his child plays a lot. Parents who do not invest too much in the education of their children, who lack discipline with them, who are absent or violent, who are extremely strict in teaching them to enter constantly in competition, do not necessarily help to that their children have very healthy relationships with others.
Very often, school bullying perpetrated by adolescents is considered to be different from that perpetrated by adolescent girls. Men would be more susceptible to physical aggression and women would be more likely to experience what is known as “social aggression”. The principle of social aggression is that their violence is more verbal, it is revealed in the interactions they have with people. They will seek to harass morally, to marginalize. It’s more insidious, it’s more passive aggressive for some, it would be more “psychological”.
Which is rather false since the physical aggressions can have enormous damage on our psyche.
The researcher Kaj Biorkvist has worked extensively on the different ways of attacking someone from a verbal or physical point of view. In the 1990s, he spoke of his side “indirect” aggression to highlight the forms of aggression that women use between them, including social aggression.
If women use words more than they are, they would not learn as much about the use of physical violence, but it is also because they enter into a dual process of this use of speech. They are often taught to shut up and let the other person speak but at the same time speech becomes one of the few tools they can use as a mechanism for attack or defense.
They are a use of words much more strategic, that’s why they are often associated with rumors peddled or cyber harassment. Language is their medium. Violence in women, would it be unrecognized or rather devalued?
It is often said that girls would often be “worse between her”. Which is rather false.
And for two reasons;
First, studies have shown that when women spoke about their friendships with girls, they showed much more attachment and affection than when men talked to each other, since they were taught more to express their emotions. And that might partly explain why girls place a higher emotional importance on them and therefore they will not argue with each other more easily. Moreover, although they often say they prefer the company of boys, they still hang around more often with girls, as boys also attend boys more often.
In reality, therefore, the way in which they live the relationships and of which they speak of them is substantially different.
Then we must understand that it is not worse, but different. In men, therefore, the aggression that comes back most often and is most often staged is the physical aggression: we fight, we show his muscles and his gold strength, this form of domination very manly is enormously valued by our company. It is therefore more easily overlooked when it comes to pointing the finger. But a wicked woman is a threat, she goes out of her predefined role and the techniques she uses to spread her wickedness are not legitimized by society, because they are not male practices.
In addition to not wanting to admit that women can also be violent is a form of violence that is not recognized, and this violence can be ridiculed: the roles of mean girls in drama are rare , they are often rather present in the comedies. What they do is considered something light and not serious and is not generally perceived as violence. Add to that that female harassers are often much more represented than male harassers in the teenage series or film, and this is a huge problem, because even though women are the ones who are most often harassed, she does not necessarily harassed by other women.
We have said that women use social aggression more often than physical aggression. But that does not mean that men do not use social aggression. They insult, they sexually assault, sometimes they sexually harass and they also peddle rumors about their female classmates.
So is this a myth?
Because even though women are the ones most often harassed, it is not necessarily women. We can then ask why we do not talk about it so much, why their indirect violence, which is obviously also present, is not so represented. The arguments you know them surely:
their violence is accepted and legitimized, as they say “boys will be boys”, it’s like that and not otherwise.
There have been studies to look at women’s violence. There is little mention of the one where vignettes are read to students, with a predefined text. The discussion exchanging between a man and a woman. It turns out that at the time of noting the aggression between the two, when it was the woman saying the dialogue deemed “aggressive” being at the heart of this interaction, her aggression was judged much more severely.
So are we really more aggressive, or more mean, or is our aggression more easily perceived because it is less legitimate? Beside, it is also interesting to see that all women seem to have experienced social aggression by other women. Others report having more difficult interactions with other women, but often the mean girl is the other and seldom herself. So there is a common problem where women, because they are taught to depreciate and depreciate their gender, immediately instils mistrust of other women. Another important element to emphasize and that is often said that we teach the woman to show their emotions more often and that men, for their part should be silent and show nothing. Which is not totally true.
Dr. K. Underwood specializes in the relationship between children reminds that girls are valued only when they show a certain type of emotions. Certain emotions such as anger, for example, are not valued at all. They come to regulate and repress these feelings, all the messages and all the negative emotions, judged as not very rewarding according to their gender. Let us also add that parents, according to gender, teach their children to manage these negative emotions in two different ways, for boys, it will pass more easily through physical aggression while girls, they will more often go through social aggression. When the girls become “mean”, they are totally bending to the stereotype of gender that is expected of her. While communicating on something that displeases them, they learn to remain “presentable”, that is to say, pretty and calm in their behavior. If they confront each other less during interactions and prefer to wait to talk behind their backs to the contrary of men who would be supposedly more sincere it is also for this reason. No they are not all hypocrites, besides being caricatural, it is also forgotten that if they try to look good in society is because it is what is expected of them.
A UCLA “mean girl” study points out that media and cultural works do not help in dealing with such violence. Because the rare times they are mentioned, this is done glamorous, exaggerated, or demonized, without any subtlety. There is no concrete analysis. By giving stereotyped representations, the “mean girl” becomes a myth, a cynical myth that we can not take seriously anymore, but yet, in what we believe, a bit like an old urban legend.
In reality, according to a study by Behm Morawitz and Mastro, people who have seen “Mean Girls” tend to come out with a vision of relations between women much more negative than others, and it does not matter the end of the film.
And these misrepresentations of pests have big drawbacks. Jacklyn Ratliff worked a lot on the myth of this “mean girl” and how this myth took up all the codes of gender stereotypes that have been assigned to women since their birth. They would be aggressive, hysterical, manipulative. What we find in the end among the mean girls.
So basically it’s a bit like saying that all women are wicked and that all wicked are women.
The principle of a stereotype is to assign traits or attributes to a group of people. These attributes make it possible to judge the members of a group, to place individuals in a certain category or a certain level, often of inferiority. As is the case with women. Elysabeth Behm-Morawitz and Mastro have been interested in presenting such portraits on a regular basis. Portraits based on gender stereotypes and still showing some form of special friendships, based on the blackmail of hypocrisy as well as on the roles of women in society.
The mean girls that we see in the series do not explain why the teenagers would be ultimately, supposedly, nasty between them. This notion of rivalry between women already existed well before the series. The series just show this problem. She shows it in a very “clichéd” way, but she shows it.
These series characters thus resume sexist clichés that already existed before the movies and series. It did not create anything new. So do not worry, if you decide to identify yourself with the bitch service is that deep down, according to them, you’re already a little mean girl at the base. It is this model that you relate to because you find things that are already part of your personality. This model gives you the feeling of being able to find solutions to certain problems in your life. Although this is done in a rather negative way, we can not say the opposite, these series have nevertheless managed to illustrate a certain problem that we find in the interaction between women, due to the way in which our gender is built. It is therefore difficult to say that social aggression between women does not exist, and also difficult to minimize, especially since women suffer a lot.
So, perhaps this is the moment to ask ourselves: do we all live simply in a culture of wickedness?
These cultural works are part of a society that cultivates sexism, which is why it is so ardent to emphasize that women are mean to each other and that this is much more serious than when men do not. is with a woman, but also a culture of wickedness?
We are currently in a liberal system, where as we keep saying it, the individual is an extremely valued notion, much too much according to certain people since this system would contribute to our retreat to be and cultivate a certain egoism. But this system also plays on the fact that one must be able to capitalize everything, and thus capitalize on one’s interactions; the role and the social power that this confers on us being taken into account. The peers are very important in the construction of the teenager, the network gives us a status but the unpleasant relationships are an inherent part of this type of constructions where we value everything.
In reality, popularity, being recognized, promoted, valued and appreciated is closely linked to a feeling of antipathy. The principle of power, of owning more, even from a social point of view, inevitably makes some aspects unpleasant. Let’s add that popularity is often synonymous with wealth: you have to have the latest cool gadgets, money to go out, party, to consume excessively. In short, again, ideas found deep in our liberal system.
Rosalind Wiseman and her book “Queen Bees & Wannabees” in 2004 came back on this aggression that fed on the silence and the unspoken women, but without ever taking into account where the social aggressions came from and especially how they were treated. This is why the researchers Kelly and Poremantz wanted to analyze this demonization of violence where it is much less so for other forms. Male violence or state violence.
Series do not create anything new, they just feed on a culture of aggression that already pleased viewers, because it was something that returned them to their daily lives.
And if I mention it a little bit in the past, it’s because I have the impression that things may be changing in the way mean girls are illustrated in television series. I have the impression that we are gradually getting away from this model to make something better. And if the mean girl that we currently find in the series became rather an attempt at empowerment?
Things seem to be changing lately, especially in the way mean girls are written and presented on screen. Instead of becoming a disruptive element of the plot, they become more and more the main characters, characters that we start to appreciate, to which we attach and sometimes with a real depth in the treatment of their wickedness and in their relations with others. Blair Waldorf of “Gossip Girl” is often thought to have been one of the first important serial characters.
Some spectators explain how she appreciates the power she has. This power held by a woman is no longer demonized, it has even become a crucial element of the plot and is the focus of the series.
Moreover, it is one of the first mean girl having had a plot sometimes very dramatic.
However, it is a very moderate takeover of power: the structures around it remain very rigid, it has no influence on the ambient sexism of certain characters, the diktats it imposes does not fly away and the The rules she can impose on her comrades remain extremely superficial and gendered rules. Concretely, imposing on his girlfriends to wear greenhouses will not change the world.
In the end we are always in a series that glorifies the individuals and the New York elite and that therefore wealth and liberalism and therefore everything that can be related in any way with the culture of aggression, But , this series may have provoked a new way of representing mean girls and we can note some improvements and a more critical look developed with real empowerment.
Take the example of Pretty Little Liars, who came right after. A series of very uneven quality, but having questioned this character of mean girl, where the roles are reversed and where we find ourselves on both sides, where we understand this idea of following the movement, to be mean girl by pressure but also what is the suffering of harassment. We also see young girls who gradually learn to detach themselves from their toxic and unhealthy friendships to build a true friendship: solidarity, generosity, without judging the other, where they communicate, are honest and help each other.
My last favorite at this level is undoubtedly the first season of “Scream Queens”. openly retelling the aesthetics of teen movies starring mean girls and which I mentioned at the beginning of this article. The whole series turns into ridicule and exaggerates the excessive line of these female characters who become gross and ridiculous. But the interest of Screen Queen is to have taken advantage of this caricature openly explicit to play thoroughly on the map of the girl power. By resuming the ultra-pop, glamorous and marked aesthetic of this movement, but also showing manipulative and calculating girls who are capable of physical violence and most importantly, to team up with each other when it comes to tackling a sexist guy. Here, empowerment becomes central and this girl power is an important element of their relationship. Yes, they can be detestable to each other, but when it comes to ganging up on the oppressor and putting him in his place, they manage to stay together. A scene of scream queens is downright cult at this level. The side girl power is pushed to the end, making the whole a little grotesque but the issue of substance, the fact to rise to protect against sexism is the trigger.
And sincerely, I hope that other series of the genre will follow, whether humorous or dramatic. It seems to me that there is a lot of things to do with this type of characters. It is necessary to show more seriously their wickedness without glamorizing it, but also not to make a cliché sexist and uninteresting where we fail to perceive the ins and outs of their motion background. However, a nasty character can be exciting and fascinating if you know how to master it and explain this wickedness. There are lots of perspectives, questions about power, women’s violence and women in general that are possible. And I have the impression that some series begin to finally understand these different subtleties.