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Confession of a Mean Girl

This is a confession. I used to be a mean girl.

You see it on Oprah. You read it in magazines. The "hidden culture of aggression in girls." Girls are just as aggressive as boys, only they are more skillfully subtle at hiding it from adults. Girls form cliques. You are in. Heaven. You are out. Hell.

I was in high school. An all-girls school, where there were no boys to distract us from total female bitchiness. I was not wildly popular, but did manage to find a place among a circle of smart-but-not-ugly girls. It was a comfortable place to be. We commiserated about the endless homework and speculated about the secret life of the nuns who lived upstairs in the third- floor convent.

When I was in grade school, I also had a circle of smart-but-not-ugly friends. We contrasted ourselves with a group of smart-ugly girls. The distinction, in hindsight, was subtle. I wore glasses, was too tall, had fat calves and no idea what to do with my hair. I narrowly escaped total dorkiness myself.

Anyway, one of those smart-ugly girls followed me to high school and had the misfortune of being smart enough to be assigned to the same elite honors class as I -- only 16 girls. What was my problem with her? Except for the acne, Margie was not ugly -- only plain. Her problem was her parents. They turned her into a misfit by not owning a television and by insisting that their children play musical instruments and sing together. No matter how many times I'd blubbered over "Sound of Music," I didn't want a playmate who thought she was one of the Trapp family singers. It was creepy. The parents also had political opinions about social justice that were apparently shared in actual mealtime conversations. Margie could express these opinions at the age of 14. She could have been a teenage visionary, but instead she was only annoying.

I assumed that I was cordial enough to Margie's face, but there was a particular power in not having to be her friend even though we went to grade school together. But one day, my hideous guidance counsellor Sister Mary Dominic told me that I needed to "take Margie under my wing." Margie needed a friend. I had to be Margie's friend and had make sure that my friends were Margie's friends. It was all very chummy and conspiratorial -- woman-to-woman, we have to help out poor Margie.

Clever psychological tactic -- that completely backfired. Isn't adolescence hard enough without being coerced into being friends with someone totally uncool? Wasn't it bad enough to endure being too tall and terribly near-sighted and completely mute around boys?

With my clique of 3 or 4 girlfriends, I formed the "I Hate Margie Moore Club." The secret society was full of nasty glee. How incredibly superior I was. Then one day I came home from school and my mother confronted me. "I heard about the 'I Hate Margie Moore Club' and I have only one thing to say to you. Stop it. Immediately." How did she find out? "I'm your mother. I know everything," she said.

There was no "or else" in my mother's statement. The power and mystery of an all-knowing mother was enough to humiliate and terrify me. A cease-fire was called.

I knew it was wrong to be nasty and yet it gave me such pleasure. It's tempting to believe that goodness should be its own reward -- that conciliation and appreciation of differences is the coolest path to take. But maybe it's more important to be part of an in-crowd, to have your own crew to protect you from the circling insecurities. And you can't be IN unless you know who is OUT.

Links

Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons, as discussed on Oprah.

11.2.03