From the Lunch Room to the Board Room: Do Mean Girls Ever Grow Up? (men need to read this!)

Mean Girls: from the lunch room…to the board room?

I have to admit to a guilty pleasure: I watch The Bachelor–no, not every week. But sometimes, with my mom and daughter via group text. Partly, it’s a civilization train wreck from which I can’t look away. My inner feminist is aghast: how can such a program exist in the 21st Century? Haven’t we evolved yet into women of substance, immune to petty rivalries and drama for drama’s sake?

You’re not going to like the answer: it’s a hard NO! I am realizing that, as a species, we still put a premium on female beauty, have a built-in disdain for rivals, and act like reptiles when competition is involved, be it for a man, money, or status.

My husband is appalled by the Mean Girl M.O. and leaves the room. He makes sure his daughter knows he doesn’t approve of her watching the show. Nana and I are a lost cause. That said, if anything he’s the one who needs to watch. Why? Because much of the success of Mean Girls is predicated on the fact that men are so oblivious to their antics. This always plays out in The Bachelor: someone has to go woman-splain the situation to the poor reub. But, let’s back up a bit…

What is a “Mean Girl?” There is a scientific explanation: women who are emotionally immature and view other, especially younger, women as competition. They often will refuse to help other women advance within a company by, for example, preferring to mentor a male over a female employee. Some such queen bees may even “gaslight” or actively take steps to hinder another woman’s advancement as they are seen as direct competitors.[1] Such tactics are sometimes referred to as heterophily (in the sense of positive preference and favoritism for opposite-sex colleagues) or the queen bee syndrome.[2]

Keep in mind, the movie Mean Girls, starring Lindsay Lohan, was based on a work of NON-fiction called Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. It took the uber-talented Tina Fey to put it into a story. Here’s an excerpt to give you the gist:

“Popular girls like this are acting like any other group of privileged people. They don’t recognize their privilege because they are blind to it. It’s all they know, and they haven’t had to go through the experience of understanding what it feels like to be on the outside. They know little to nothing about people outside of their group and are reluctant to admit what they do to put other girls down.”

Now, fast forward beyond middle school and high school, to dating-for-mating, career development, child-rearing, committee-chairing, etc. How do we end up with the same passive-aggressive shenanigans we had as teens playing out as adults?

I think the answer is in the above quote, “They haven’t had to go through the experience of understanding what it feels like to be on the outside.” Why not? Because as a personality archetype, I have observed that true Mean Girls (and Mean Women) don’t put themselves out there, take risks, venture outside of their comfort zones. Think about it: why move to a new city if you have everyone trained to give you what you want where you are? Why shift professions or try something new when you have it all wired? Not only that, but you may have to try something new alone, without your posse of protection.

Nope, let’s just say that Mean Girls aren’t exactly lifelong learners. In fact, in my observations, they are polar opposites. Lifelong learners have the power of self-observation, or Svādhyāya in Sanskrit. They know where their blind spots are and are seeking to correct them. They see themselves as part of a bigger picture, and not always at the center of it!

Over 20 years of teaching yoga, it never ceases to amaze me how kind and sincere my female students are. They are welcoming to newbies and immensely patient towards me. It was only after re-reading a few chapters of Queen Bees and Wannabes that I started to see a spectrum. On one end, you have “lifelong learners” who take chances, are curious, value self-awareness and exploration.

On the other end, you have the Queen Bees and Wannabes, who figure they already know-it-all so why bother? They don’t build much, but rather seek and destroy anything or anyone they see as a threat to their status. They travel in packs and their friendships are based on tactical empathy. This means they feign interest only to figure out where your “pressure points” are so they can use them against you later. As one of my students put it, they’re “highly transactional” people. If they give you anything, it’s only because they want something in return.

There is no shortage of these women; the success of The Bachelor is proof–not only that they can find contestants, but the millions of people who tune in and find something relatable about it. These Bees are in the workplace, your neighborhood, your church, your company boards– even your HOA! The only place I can tell you they’re not is in my yoga classes.

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Shaila Cunningham

Shaila Cunningham