(Un)Popular: An Analysis of Mean Girls in the Real World

I wasn’t very popular in high school. I never quite understood what it took to be popular. I cared too much about everything: my grades, my family, what people thought of me… I thought being cool meant not caring and as hard as I tried I couldn’t do that. The weirdest thing happened when I started college, though. I became popular. People wanted me to eat lunch with them. I had classmates fighting over who would be in my group. It’s like the things that made you popular in high school don’t really matter anymore and your peers start to see the more important attributes, like intelligence and humor. I wish I could go back to  my high school self, to all the drama freaks and the nerdy girls hiding in the library during lunchtime and tell them, IT GETS BETTER!!

So I am interested in what it is that makes girls popular. I’ve analyzed Mean Girls, a movie that is all about popular girls and one girl’s rise to the top of the high school food chain. Specifically, I would like to point of the behaviors and characteristics that seem to be closely tied with popularity. After this, I will attempt to make some inferences about these behaviors and how they affect the dynamics of their relationships, and how that reflects both negatively and positively on teenage girls. 

Mean Girls, written by comedian Tina Fey, is all about Cady, an African transfer student, learning the ins and outs of high school and “Girl World.” On her first day in an American high school she meets Janice and Damian, who give her a run down of the different cliques, the cool and the not cool. On her second day she meets the Plastics, Gretchen Wieners, Karen Smith, and their “Queen Bee” Regina George. She is asked to join the Plastics, supposedly because she’s “like, really pretty” and told the rules, “On wednesdays we wear pink.” But when Cady falls for Regina’s ex boyfriend the tables are turned and she is sucked into an all out “Girl World War”. Throughout the movie Fey has brilliantly illustrated what it means to be popular through Cady’s transformation from Wannabe to Queen Bee.

Mean Girls does a great job of pointing out how terrible high school is. I mean, seriously, high school is the hardest part of life for many of us, including myself. One of the reasons I believe high school is so hard is that the strangest characteristics make you popular. I have catalogued several of these characteristics, directly observed in the behavior of the Plastics, and organized them into positive and negative attributes depending on their affects on the person and the people around them.

The positive characteristics are a much smaller list so I will start with them. First of all, being a popular girl, especially THE popular girl, the Queen Bee, takes great leadership skills. Take Regina, while she is an “evil dictator” she possesses great leadership skills. She successfully organizes the Plastics in a dance number (jingle bell rock) and her “loyal followers” indeed follow her almost blindly. According to MissRepresentation.org on 21% of girls believe they have what it takes to be a leader. Is society instilling the idea in our young girls that in order to be a successful leader you must also be mean and manipulative? Is leadership in young girls considered a negative thing along with the other attribute they must have to be the leader of the pack in high school? These are questions I can’t answer easily, but instead should be considered by all of us. According to The Representation Project,  9/10 girls have not given up on the idea of being a leader. There is still hope, but we must foster safe and welcoming places where girls can love each other without comparing or competing.

 Regina also possesses great problem solving skills, even if she does use them for evil purposes. An example of this occurs when she puts herself in the Burn Book to blame the other girls. That was a mean and hateful thing to do, but seriously smart. If Regina, and other girls like her were to channel that cunning into good means the entire world could be a little brighter. Being popular also makes you a trendsetter. When Cady cuts holes in Regina’s shirt where her breasts are Regina proudly wears it, and soon everyone has holes in their shirts. Regina was unafraid to try something new because she was popular, but this is a skill all young girls should learn.

The list of negative attributes are much longer. The Plastics are caught in their own web of peer pressure and manipulation. As Gretchen Wieners so eloquently points out, “You wouldn’t buy a skirt without asking your friends first if it looks good on you.” Cady learns quickly that in high school your friends opinions of you are the most important. How will young girls ever learn that their own opinion should be of the highest regard if they are so concerned with their friends’ opinions? This raises many issues in my mind. It is known that our young girls are suffering an epidemic of low self esteem. Clinical Depression in girls is double that of boys. I want to suggest that these facts are very closely related to peer pressure and the fact that in high school your friends are your biggest critics.

Another attribute that seems common with popular girls is they mustn’t have a good relationship with their parents. My parents were very loving and supportive my entire life. Family time was key and missing it meant no friend time. Regina, on the other hand, treats her mother like crap, while her mother tries so hard to be the “cool mom.” She uses her parents as a way to get what she wants and manipulates them as much as much as she does the other plastics. Cady’s transformation into Queen Bee shows her relationship with her parents deteriorating. On the first day of school they hug and kiss and take pictures, but by Spring she is ditching their family time in favor of a house party and a cute boy. A great relationship with your parents when you’re in high school may be unfeasible to some of us, but a healthy relationship with them is vital. Young girls need adults they can confide and trust in.     

Oh, if I could tell high school girls how little these boys matter. No offense, men, but in high school, you are really the last thing girls should worry about, and yet it seems you’re the only thing we can think about!!! A great example of this is when Cady lies about being bad at math, her best subject, to get the attention of Aaron, Regina’s ex-boyfriend. Perhaps it’s because every popular girl has her own personal man candy. The only thing important about the chosen man candy is his looks, and possibly his inclusion in the football team. We send girls’ messages their entire life, but never so strongly as when they are in high school. One message that is very clear is your partner defines you.

A really obvious characteristic of being popular, which, unfortunately, transcends age in many ways, is good looks. As Janice points out in Mean Girls,  when planning Regina’s downfall, one her most important allies is her “hot bod.” Janice and Cady even devise a devious plan to feed Regina protein bars that help her gain weight. From an age much younger than high school we tell young girls that their looks define them. Through agencies like cheerleading, pageants, and princess parties we drive home ideas about femininity and physical appearance. We forget to tell girls how smart they are, how creative, or how tough, and instead shower them with compliments about how cuuuute and how pretty that dress. Is it any wonder that 53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies.  By age 17 that number is 78%. Our society has built a direct connection between the success of a woman and how good looking she is.

 Popularity in high school means feared rather than well liked. In the beginning of the movie, when the “wannabes” talk about Regina George, they speak with a sense of awe and admiration, but they say terrible things. One girls even says, breathlessly, “One time, she punched me in the face. It was awesome.” There’s a certain sense of fear when talking about or to Regina. But not one of those girls says anything positive about Regina. Throughout the movie, one theme made abundantly clear is that to be popular has nothing to do with being well-liked, which brings me back to the question, Has society inextricably tied these attributes together, being feared and bitchy in order to be a successful woman?

After taking stock of several good and bad characteristics of high school popularity i would like to go back and look at them a bit closer. What do they have in common? What does this mean for girls as they are pushed into young adulthood? The thing I fear the most is that these girls have no clue how to be good, true friends. According to Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, studies show we are more confidant and are able to learn and accomplishment more in small groups. We, as successful women, need other successful women for support, comfort, and friendship. But the plastics have no idea how to be any of those things for each other. They constantly backstab, manipulate, and undercut each other. I fear that as the new generation reaches adulthood they will be isolated from each other, with no lifelines to help them step up to success. 

My second fear has already come true, it happened to me, and it continues to get worse every day. Girls hate themselves. We pick apart our bodies and our choices, we undermine our own prerogative and we don’t trust our own opinions. Self esteem hits rock bottom in high school for many adolescent girls, and there is very little reprieve in college or the working world. It’s no surprise to me that depression in women has doubled since 1970. We are constantly, from birth, being told to question ourselves, being told our worth is defined by our beauty, something that ebbs and flows, for most of us, over a lifetime. It is no wonder women make up such small percentages of leadership roles. It is no wonder women still make $0.63 for every dollar earned by men. Our whole lives we’re told we’re not worth it. By society, and as a teenager, by each other! 

Something has to change. Several things have to change. But in relation to my current topic i have a solution. I would love to see more movies depicting healthy female relationships. Whip IT! is a great example a group of strong females who can also support each other without having to compete with each other. Sisterhood of The Travelling Pants is another great example. We need to make more films and TV shows about how to be a good friend, not how to be a Queen Bee. We need to start admiring and honoring good qualities, such as loyalty, kindness, perseverance, and critical thinking and stop putting beauty and material objects on a pedestal.


 Works Cited:    

Mean Girls. Mark Waters. Perfs. Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried.  Paramount Pictures, 2004. DVD.

Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. First edition. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.

Cause and Effect. Digital image. Miss Representation. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

“The Representation Project.” The Representation Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

Women Who Wow Us: Maria Montessori

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found out https://creativesystemsthinking.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/let-a-childs-spirit-be-free-to-unfold-m-montessori/

Monday was WWW Us day, and it also happened to be Maria Montessori’s birthday.  Unfortunately,  I’ve been really slacking off on my blogging, so just two days late, here’s your weekly Women Who Wow us.
Maria Montessori was born on August 31st, 1870 in Italy.  She was raised middle class at a time when Italy, and the rest of the world held fairly strict gender roles. Despite this, though, she refused to fit into any boxes and, as a child and an adult, succeeded in many things thought at the time to be “masculine.”
Maria and her family moved to Rome when she was 14 and she began attending classes at a boys’ technical school, where she excelled in the sciences, especially biology. Her father never quite supported her, but her mother did. This continued into adulthood, when Maria went to the University of Rome and became the first female doctor in Italy.
Her choices of concentraion as a doctor were pediatrics and psychology, and she used these to treat children who came to the free clinic at her school. She made many observations on the psychology and intelligence of these children.
In 1900, Maria became the director of a school for developmentally disabled children and began to extensively research and observe early childhood development and education. Maria developed an education plan and practiced it within her school and found remarkable improvements in student development. She began talking and writing about her findings, and also use these speeches and paper to advocate for women’s and children’s rights.
After several years of success helping disabed children, the Italian government gave Maria the oppurtunity to help “abled” children. She was given charge of 60 low-income children from 1-6 years old. She tweaked her method where necessary and used it in her new school. This method is now referred to as the Montessori Method.
The Montessori Method refers to an environment where the teacher allows the student to learn what they would like, how they would like to learn it. One of her most famous quotes is, “The Greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, The Children are now working as if I don’t exist.
By 1925, The Montessori Method had gained great popularity all over the world, including in America. There were over 1,000 schools in the United States at it’s peak in 1925. They method eventually lost favor around 1940.
By then Maria had been forced to flee Italy and move to India, where she developed a program called Education for Peace. This program, and the work she did on it, earned her two Nobel Peace Prize nominations.
Maria Montessori died in 1952, in the Netherlands. In the 1960’s Montessori schools saw another bout of popularity, and there are many in the United States and all over the world still today. In fact, Montessori schools have recently been recognized as a major influence of many famous movers and shakers. Check out this video, where Google Founders talk about the influence a Montessori education had on them.
I’ve always loved Maria Montessori, and her system of education. I have learned a lot more about her while researching her for this post, and it’s been great! I hope you enjoyed learning, too!!
Until next time,
Stay Awesome

Women Who WOW Us presents Amelia Earhart

I love this color portrait I found of Amelia on fiddlersgreen.net
I love this color portrait I found of Amelia on fiddlersgreen.net

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life.”

Amelia Earhart was someone that could be a great role model to anyone.

She was a game changer in both the field aviation and in helping women everywhere see their own potential. She set nine flying records and sold several books. All while everyone around her said a woman could never do it. She has always been a big hero of mine.

In this post I will tell you about Amelia’s accomplishments and her amazing willpower.  I hope you take away from this that you are capable of anything you set your mind to.

Amelia Earhart was born July 24th, 1987 in Atchinson, Kansas, but she did not stay there for long. She grew up very unconventionally, especially for the time, and was quite the tomboy. She spent her childhood moving from town to town a lot with her railroad attorney parents. Eventually she ended up in Toronto, Canada, where her sister lived. In Toronto Amelia took a Red Cross first aid course and enlisted as a Nurse’s Aid tending to soldiers during World War 1. Following World War 1 Amelia returned to the states and enrolled in the premed program at Columbia University.

In her heart, though, Amelia must have heard another calling, because in 1920, after only a year at Columbia Amelia left the school and travels to New York where she went on her very first plane ride. After being up in the clouds, Amelia knew she had do it again, and was determined to take flying lessons.

The very next year, 1921, Amelia was able to buy her first plane, a bright yellow two-seater she nicknamed the “Canary”. Amelia used the Canary to set her first record, as the first woman to fly up to 14,000 feet in altitude.

In the years that followed, Amelia had some rough times. In 1924 Amelia was sick and had to be hospitalized for Chronic sinusitis. She was forced to sell the Canary and work several odd jobs, including a social worker, a teacher, and a salesperson for Kinner Airster, the same company that produced her first plane.

Then, on a cold morning in April, 1928, a fateful call was made. The man on the phone said “How would you like to be the first women to fly across the Atlantic?” With that phone call history was made. Even though Amelia was just a passenger, she and her whole team were given a parade and reception at the white house with then president, Calvin Coolidge.

Little did Amelia know, on this history making flight she would meet her future husband, George P. Putnam. Putnam also became Amelia’s manager, organizing her interviews and public appearances, booking her a luggage and clothing line, and even publishing two of her books, “The Fun of It” and “Last Flight”.

Though most of the records Amelia set were women’s records, this did not deter her. She felt she was always fighting to be seen as an equal person in a man’s world. She was quoted saying “Now and then women should do for themselves what men have already done–occasionally what men have not done–thereby establishing themselves as persons, and perhaps encouraging other women toward greater independence of thought and action.” Amelia believed every person, man and woman was capable of doing ANYTHING they set their mind to, and I think she is a great proof of that.

On June 1st 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan departed from Miami, Florida on a 29,000 mile journey that would take her around the entire world. She would be only the second person ever–and the first woman–to make this flight. By July 2nd almost three quarters of the trip had been completed. Inaccurate maps and shady weather had made the trip difficult for the pair, and their next stop, Howland Island would be the most challenging. Howland Island is only a mile and a half long and a half-mile wide. There landing would have to be perfect.

Despite constant contact with the US Coast Guard, who were stationed all around the island, Earhart and Noonan could not find their landing zone and shortly before 9 in the morning they lost communication entirely. Nothing was ever heard from them again. The U.S. government spent nearly $4 million scouring 250,000 square miles of ocean before finally calling off the search on July 19th.

On Howland Island there was a lighthouse built in Amelia Earhart’s honor. I hope you will always remember Amelia for her courage, her vision, and her ability to push the envelope in both aviation and women’s’ rights. I hope Amelia Earhart helps you to see the potential in yourself. Anything you set your mind to is possible.

Juliette Gordon Lowe: Founder of the Girl Scouts

Today I want to tell you about the woman who founded the Girl Scouts. She was an incredible, unique woman, especially at the end of the 19th Century. I really relate to her in a lot of ways. We both love the arts and having fun outside and being active. We both have a strong desire to accomplish things and help people. Juliette Gordon Low is one of those ladies I really look up to. She is a woman who wows me.

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Juliette Gordon Low was born on Halloween, 1860 in Savannah, Georgia. She was a good-natured and beautiful baby according to all accounts. She was given the nickname “Daisy.” Juliette had a complicated childhood, being born just before the Civil War to a “divided house.” Her father was a Southern slave owner and her mother was part of a prominent Northern family who helped found the City of Chicago. For the many years the war dragged on Juliette, her mother, and her siblings barely survived. Once the war was over they were moved to her maternal grandparents in Illinois. There, Juliette attended boarding and finishing schools and lived a wholly different life than she had known on her Southern plantation.

Juliette learned all the appropriate subjects for girls to learn at the time. As a result, she gained a lifelong love of the arts; she could sketch, write poems, write and act in plays, paint, and sculpt. Juliette, however, yearned for something more. She loved the outdoors and was constantly caught sneaking out to play tennis, swim, canoe, and ride horse, all of which were frowned upon at the strict finishing schools to which she was sent.

Juliette was later called “Crazy Daisy” because she was often very eccentric and whimsical. She was known for “good natured disasters” and “frequent experiments that went awry.” Additionally, Juliette was an animal lover and had many pets in her life, including dogs and exotic birds. To Juliette, however, life was not yet whole. She still sought purpose and meaning in her early twenties as well as independence, something young girls at the time could only dream of.

Eventually her parents agreed to allow her to move to New York to study painting. She believed she could achieve a little financial independence by selling her art. Still, though she was expected to get married. She finally did, at 26 years old, to wealthy cotton merchant William Mackay Low. He was an Englishman and after their wedding they purchased a home in London, but Juliette’s time was more often spent in America and travelling. As a result of a freak accident on her wedding day, Juliette lost the hearing in one, and eventually both of her ears. She often travelled searching for a cure to her deafness. Meanwhile, her husband was travelling with his madame , gambling, partying, hunting and having a good ole time. Eventually Juliette found out and during the divorce trials William Mackay Low drop dead while on vacation with his mistress. Karmaaa!

After William died Juliette began travelling the world and eventually ran into Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts. She was sure she would hate him, but ended up thinking he was very charming; they also shared many views and ideas, especially on the new youth movement of the time. After their meeting Juliette spent all of her time and energy on the  creating a fledging youth movement.

Coincidentally, Baden-Powell had been searching for an answer to his problem with girls. They kept showing up with their brothers, eager to learn all the same skills and play the same games. This, especially in the beginning of the Twentieth Century created enemies, those who believed in would “feminise the boys”, or make the girls more masculine.

Less than a year after their fated meeting, Juliette founded the first Girl Scouts in her hometown of Savannah, Ga.  At that first meeting there were 18 girls, now there are 2.8 million girls in the Girl Scouts of America. The Girl Scouts, since the time of it’s beginning, teach girls not only about homemaking skills, but also survival and nature skills as well as preparing girls for possible roles as professional adults. The Girl Scouts have never excluded girls with disabilities, something Juliette was very serious about, never letting her deafness hold her back.

In 1927, Juliette found out she had breast cancer, but she kept it a secret and kept working diligently with the Girl Scouts of America until her death. She was buried in Savannah, GA and has received many awards and medals, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Juliette Gordon Low was a phenomenal woman, and it has been an absolute pleasure researching her life and achievements.

Women Who Wow Us: The True Story of Pocahontas

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When researching and learning about Pocahontas I was shocked that I knew next to nothing about this woman. The Disney movie is so far removed from the truth that nothing good can be gleaned from it. For example, the woman we know as Pocahontas was not even named that. Pocahontas was a nickname that meant “spoiled child,” or “naughty” or “playful” one. She got this nickname because she was the Powhatan chief’s favorite daughter, so probably very spoiled, and also because she was a playful, bright child, according to accounts of the English settlers.
Pocahontas’ birth name was Amonute, however, a more private, personal name she used was Matoaka. She was born in 1595. Powhatan tradition dictates that under normal circumstances Pocahontas would have moved to another tribe as soon as she was born and be raised there with her mother. No accounts of her mother, or her separation have been found, though, and scholars speculate her mother may have died during childbirth, allowing Pocahontas to stay with her father.
Pocahontas’ life was probably fairly normal, for the daughter of an Indian chief, until 1607, when she was eleven years old. That spring English settlers arrived on the shores of the new land. Not until the winter of that year would the Powhatan tribe meet them. Chief Powhatan’s brother, Opechancanough, captured John Smith in the woods and brought him before the chief. The details of what follows are muddy and confusing. By most accounts, Captain John Smith lived in relative comfort with the Powhatan tribe for several months. By Captain Smith’s own account he was “kept comfortable and treated in a friendly fashion as an honored guest.” The story that inextricably links John Smith and Pocahontas, the story of her daring rescue, was not mentioned or told until seventeen years later. Most scholars agree this “story” is a fabrication and bloviation of Smith’s mind. Most accounts agree Smith was a deplorable character, hungry for fame, fortune, and legend.
After John Smith was released and allowed to return to Jamestown, Chief Powhatan sends gifts of food and peace offerings to the settlers. For several years, the relations between the settlers and Indians were  relatively peaceful. They even traded young boys to be raised and taught the others’ customs. Unfortunately, as we already know, these relationships deteriorated over the next ten or so years and eventually this would bleed into Pocahontas’ life.
In 1610, Pocahontas married Kocoum, who was probably one of her father’s guards. A few facts are important to mention here. First of all, Pocahontas most likely married for love. Powhatan women were allowed to choose who they married, and the fact that Kocoum was neither rich or important points to the idea that they married for love. Additionally, the Disney movie portrays Kocoum as a violent man who pursues Pocahontas as a prize to be won. This is not fair to any of their memories, which we have already smeared beyond recognition.
In 1612, Pocahontas was kidnapped by the English settlers. She was held hostage at Jamestown for over a year. The entire time her father attempted to give in to all of the settlers’ demands, to no avail. After a year of being caged like an animal, Pocahontas caught the eye of a young widowed settler named John Rolfe. As a condition of her release, Pocahontas agrees to marry him and in 1614 Matoaka, daughter of a Powhatan chief, became Rebecca Rolfe. The descendants of Rebecca and John Rolfe would forever be called the “Red Rolfes.”
Shortly after getting married Pocahontas gave birth to a son, Thomas Rolfe. Two years later, the family of three travelled to London, where Pocahontas was wined and dined and shown all the finest things in English culture. She was paraded around as propaganda for the success of the colonies. We can never know what Pocahontas’ thoughts on this entire trip were, for she never recorded them.
On the trip back to Virginia in 1617 Pocahontas fell very ill. She got off the ship in Gravesend and died there shortly after. She was buried in Gravesend, but unfortunately, since then her grave has been overturned for construction.
The true story of Pocahontas is much sadder then the one Disney told us. Which makes it that much more important. We, as a society and a culture cannot forget about the struggles of women like Pocahontas, because we keep repeating them. Western society demands that you fit into a certain mold, and the media has exacerbated that. Pocahontas may be a much more extreme version of this struggle, but we can still relate to her. We can still mourn for her, and we can still promise to do better.

Women Who Wow Us: Mary Anne McClintock

I am very excited to announce a new weekly post here at An Adjective and a Noun. Every Monday I will profile a woman in history who changed the world. Women Who Wow is the tentative title to this weekly special, and if you have any suggestions on women I should profile, I’d love to hear them!
In honor of the 167th Anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, my first Woman Who Wows us is Mary Anne McClintock.

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