The viciousness of girls

A recent post I wrote was supposed to be about this, but ended up writing something different. Sometimes my brain just goes where it wants.

But this time, I want to write about an event that had a profound effect on my life. I haven’t thought about it in a long time, but I sent an old photo from 1986 to a friend to demonstrate my bold fashion sense, and it reminded me that it has taken many years to get back to the woman I was as an early teen.

At age thirteen, I was in a “gifted” school. I had been there for 4 years. Our classes were small and there were about 20 women in our entire year (60 men, but that’s another discussion as to why there is a discrepancy). I had a lot of friends – I remember having no enemies…I liked everyone. People liked me. I was a bit bossy, having yet learned that fine skill of leading without being obnoxious.

(Sidebar: when I was four years old, on a hike with my Mom and many of her friends, I announced that they should all line up behind me. My Mom has said she has known from a very early age that I would lead people).

I invited the entire class to parties I had. I could fit with the geeks and the jocks and the artsy types with ease. My best friend was equally tall, with big boobs, and we both really liked guys. After one year of us being in the same class, the school decided we got into too much trouble together and split us up the following year.

Life was good. I liked many boys (I guess I started early). I had a boyfriend for six months in Grade 7, who ended up on my “guys I’ve slept with list” several years later. He’s still one of the ones who got away.

I was completely unaware that some people don’t like popularity. That some people resent it. I was unaware of it, and therefore probably put it in people’s faces without realizing it. But I wasn’t malicious and mean.

By my final year before high school, my best friend had moved to a different city. My boyfriend and I had broken up. But I still had lots of friends. During a school trip there was some drama between me and my now-ex-boyfriend and another girl. I suppose I didn’t like sharing, even then.

Within a couple of weeks, I was totally ostracized by every one of my girl and guy friends. It started with the girls – I no longer remember how – but nobody talked to me. One particular boy left me horrible notes calling me a “fat pig”.

I don’t recall how long it lasted, but of course it felt like an eternity. It was probably three months. The teachers tried a mediation with all 20 girls. Nobody said anything helpful. I had two friends – both outcasts, relatively – and we hung out together behind a portable classroom.

It was horrific.

Later, when things got better, in trying to explain why the fuck they did it to me, one friend said “well, you just got a little too popular.”

I shudder to think how long it took me to really recover from that event. I don’t mean getting back to having friends and partying. I mean, get back to being my authentic self. Bold, confident, uninhibited, unafraid to lead.

It’s not always easy to know how to lead and still be liked and respected. Nobody likes a bossy pants. Being a stage manager was a great training ground for honing this skill. I got really good. But in my corporate work environment, it took a LOT longer. I said to myself I was a “quiet leader”, but that was bullshit. I didn’t ask for promotions I deserved. I didn’t stand up to other leaders when I thought they were wrong. I let things happen that shouldn’t happen.

I never really found my real voice again until my mid-30s. I am more honest with my friends. More accepting of who I am. I found the courage to take up the space in this world I deserve to take. To wear the equivalent (okay, not quite) of my fashion choices I had at 13. I wear a purple suit when I damn well feel like it, thank you very much. One of the reasons I’ve done so well the last few years at work is because I have finally accepted that I’m very good at what I do, I know what I’m talking about, and people respect my opinion (I’m also humble enough to know I have a lot to learn).

On occasion, the remnants of that experience still surface. I have an unrealistic and oversensitive fear of being excluded. If there is a club or a clique, I want to be in it, even when it defies all reason. If there’s a prize or award, I want to win it. I sometimes resent others who are the winners or the ones who are chosen – not because I think the world is zero sum, not because I’m not happy for them, but because it brings up all that old hurt and fear.

It’s amazing to me how impactful our childhood experiences can be. As I write this, I’m at a friends country house. We talked last night about how experiences with boys at a young age can permanently impact our self-worth. So not only is it important to understand these things to move past our own demons, but I also realise even more now, the responsibility I have as a parent to raise a kind and thoughtful child.

No pressure.

0 thoughts on “The viciousness of girls

  1. It really does kill your self esteem and confidence when girls do that to you. I know it personally took me YEARS to recover from the crap I went through in school. I’m glad that you are you and came back to being your authentic self!

  2. spot on ann! once again, spot on! resonates personally for myself as well as a parent.

    have you read “odd girl out”? or “queen bees and wannabe’s” ? both were released several years ago as the bullying awareness movement was just starting to gain traction. “odd girl out” is reminiscent of what happened to you in high school. whereas “queen bees and wannabe’s” http://www.amazon.com/Queen-Bees-Wannabes-Boyfriends-Realities/dp/0307454444 is about helping your daughter(s) navigate the new girl world of gossip, cliques etc. the author, rosalind wiseman later released “queen bee mom’s and kingpin dad’s” because these same kids grow up to be parents. and parents, well parents can be just as vicious….

    i remember one specific experience when I was in the sixth grade and a scottish boy band (before they were called boy bands) was coming to town; i used my paper route money to buy a ticket in the first row. it was a matter of finding ride from the suburban town i lived in to the city (mass transit was still in it’s infancy then and didn’t even reach my neighborhood let alone my town). knowing a classmate was going with her family, my mom called her mom and offered her gas money if she could drive me. as far as my mom was concerned, heidi’s mom was receptive and we were all set. the big day came and i went home with heidi after school. as we got ready for the concert, her mom was pleasant, even chatty and then she asked where i was sitting so she could make sure we found each other at the end of the show. i told her and it was if a switch went off. her face visibly changed as she said to me, “well, aren’t you rude to rub it in heid’s face that you have better seats than her. that’s awfully manipulative of you to get your parents to buy you a ticket and then find you a ride. just so you know, i don’t appreciate it and heidi doesn’t either!” i was dumbfounded, i looked at heidi who looked horrified and confused. i was 11 and didn’t know better but i knew enough to try to defend myself. mistake! i said ” i don’t know what you mean, but i bought my own ticket with my paper route money and because both of my work at night, i was very thankful she was driving me.” you know what she did? she slapped me with her open hand! slapped an 11-year old girl and then she was shouting ” girls like you need to know your place. just because you are smart and independent doesn’t mean you are smarter than an adult or can do whatever you want.”

    i had no idea what set her off or what she meant. heidi & i had always been school friends, we were in a small private k-8 school, and our class only had 23 students. we didn’t socialize outside of school a lot due to our separate interests, including my paper route, we were in the same girl scout troop, student government and the local volunteer corps. mr. paar had intervened by then, telling her to calm down and asking her what the problem was. she sobbed and pointed at me “she’s just too smart and independent for her own good and i don’t like it. it makes me uncomfortable. what 11-year old has her own money and buys her own ticket to a concert, bob? on top of it, look at her outfit! she made it herself! how does she have time to do all of that and get better grades than heidi!? there’s something wrong with her.” she went on as if heidi and i weren’t there.

    [ side note- for what it’s worth, i’ve had insomnia since i was a young child, i did a lot back then when there was no internet, no cable ( totally dating myself now since mtv launched when i was a freshman in high school and cable still wasn’t available in my neighborhood even then, 3-years later), television programming wasn’t 24-hours. Instead i listened to music and i read. a. lot. i wrote. and i learned to make things. including the tartan lined jeans and long sleeved t-shirt she is referring to (nothing untowardly about it except that in looking back it was a lot of plaid. a lot. and well before the seattle grunge plaid movement, as in 20+ years before)]

    looking back i know she was wrong in how she handled herself, but as a 6th grader that wanted to fit in and not draw attention to myself, and never sought it, it just found me, i remember apologizing and asking permission to use their phone. i called my dad at work, crying, telling him what happened and asking if he could use his break to come and bring me home. upon hearing this mrs. paar, instead of apologizing or saying don’t be ridiculous you are riding with us to the concert, she said she would still be willing to drive me if i traded my ticket for heidi’s since she was a bigger fan of the band! needless to say, that night stands out even today and had an impact on my dealings with adults throughout school.

    wear your purple suit whenever you damn well please, you go girl! i wear my red chucks on sassy days or my hello kitty kiss t-shirt when presenting in front of 300 of our executives, it’s not because i can, but because i want to 🙂

    • Thank you so much 🙂

      What a crazy story! Parents can be such assholes…amazing (and sad) that you hit such a nerve with this woman. There are so many ways that “precocious” children get slammed down instead of propped up. Especially girls. I’m sorry to hear this happened to you.

      I wear my bright pink chucks too 🙂

      I’m actually the only exec in my company (there are 1,200 executves) I’ve seen so far, with a visible tattoo. It’s small; on the inside of my wrist… and I didn’t even think about it as a rebellion. I just wanted it. But I recognize that many see getting it as fearlessness.

  3. When I was pregnant I was determined we were going to raise our son without as many of the stereotypical old school ideas that lead men and women to particular roles as we could get away with. I bought a book called “Beyond Dolls and Guns: 101 ways to raise your child without a gender bias” and promptly made my in-laws read it. (I know, its a wonder I’m divorced, huh? lol) Anyhow, there was a segment in the book in which the author stated “Boys are bullies, but girls are terrorists” and that really stuck with me. Girls fight way dirtier than boys!

    • I agree though sadly I think boys are “catching up” to girls in terms of the emotional warfare. *BUT* girls are so much better at that aspect. I remember growing up and the boys I played little league with tended to settle their differences physically and immediately and suddenly they were “all good” friends etc. (not the extreme hazing or bullying, but the issues that arise when playing the same sport or wanting the specific match box in the moment) whereas the girls I was in girl scouts or a competitive science team with it was emotional ostracizing.

  4. I firmly believe we are born leaders or born followers. I am in a job where I have to be leader and I am not a natural leader. I love my job though, so I’ve learned to be a pretty good leader. So far no one has mutinied on my ship. But it’s not natural.

  5. Just in a few words. Fantastic read.
    Life is a learning process and one that never ends. Never did I once think leading was easy. Fear keeps us sharp and eyes open to learn even more.
    We use what we gained in knowledge, no matter how faulty the thoughts may be. Overcoming those is a struggle. In the end we do what we know we do best.

    Fear of exclusion is nothing more than the knowledge they are jealous of you. Winning yes but not but all means at least I will never be called a cheat or stuck to my elbow in an ass.

    Did you not say that you achieved all by yourself. Take some pride in that. After all, you are you after all that hurting, you came out on top. Being the best you are today, becoming even better tomorrow.

    Keep on smiling xx

    • Thank you so much 🙂

      Yes, I accomplished much of what I did due to the work ethic and values instilled in me by my parents. A love of learning and exploring. I didn’t grow up with money. Far from it. So I recognize that everything that has happened to me has formed who I am today. I find it shocking somehow to realise how significantly some experiences can impact us, and for how long.

    • I like to think so – I have to believe I’m stronger for it in the end, and not that it sidelined me so much for so long that I would be more successful had it not happened. I can’t live a life of regret like that.

  6. Well, wouldn’t you know I was the victim of horrific bullying too, Ann? Encircled and spit on by fellow third-graders at my new school. Tortured by girls. Cornered. Followed. Beat-up. It went on for so many years I don’t know what/when the worst of it was. But I do know this, like you I grew to be one gutsy woman. A woman who wears a purple suit? Fuck, yeah, sister. And I’m raising my children with a very specific awareness, and fearlessness, which has everything to do with being bullied as a kid and the disproportionate impact it had on the rest of my life. My scars show through now and then. To this day whenever a man tells me I’m beautiful (especially lying there quiet without the benefit of costumes) there’s a little kid inside of me who still cries because not only did I believe I was ugly, but classrooms of children told me so.

    It made me strong, stronger than most people I know. And it made me mindful of raising strong, compassionate children.

    Thanks for the post. xo

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