Never was a cornflake girl
Thought that was a good solution
Hanging with the raisin girls
— Tori Amos
The Mean Girls bullshit started in elementary school for me. I remember a friend telling me in the 5th grade that so-and-so had said my outfit (a pink denim skirt and matching jacket that my mom had bought me) was “just OK.” I frowned, not really understanding (a) why my friend was telling me this or (b) why the other girl had said something like that in the first place (if she even had). Why did she care what the heck I was wearing? I’m sure lots of other girls and women are familiar with this little game. Well, I hate it. I’ve always hated it.
I was at a junior high dance when a girl in my grade saw the boy she had a crush on dancing with another girl and turned to me to say, “Why does he like her? She’s not even pretty.” I had no answer for that; how was I to know why he liked that other girl? There could’ve been any number of reasons. But I also wasn’t supposed to answer that question. My companion was unhappy that her crush was with someone else, so she badmouthed her. That’s what we women are supposed to do to each other right? (I know you can’t really read tone, but for the record, that last sentence is dripping with sarcasm.)
I made the cheerleading squad in ninth grade but it was clear from the start that I didn’t belong. One of the the other freshmen girls actually said very loudly, “Some people made it who shouldn’t have,” and looked right at me. Yeah, I got the point. I had been so excited about making the squad, but over the course of that year, those girls made me hate it. I almost quit when we were training for a competition. I remember breaking down in tears, leaving practice early, and swearing that I didn’t want to go back. My mom and the coach convinced me to, but after the year was over, I never auditioned for the cheerleading squad again.
In high school, the Regina George of our group was Chelsea (I’ve never actually known anyone named Chelsea, so it’s safely anonymous). Chelsea thought it was fun to make up lies about other girls and to say things like “I didn’t want to be the one to tell you this, but Amber thinks you’re a bitch” or “Billy used to like you but now he likes Liz.” The girl everyone else was not talking to or mad at seemed to change from week to week, but it was never Chelsea. The others finally figured out that was because she was always the one stirring things up. Another girl, Deanna (not her real name), and myself were sort of on the fringes of this group, so we were never really as big a target for her as others were. In fact, we were kind of the second-string friends, only “in” when someone else was “out.” But did we say “forget this crap” and go find some other people to hang out with? No, we didn’t, at least not then. I was lucky enough later on in high school to find my best friend; she wasn’t a cornflake girl and our friendship was the most genuine one I had back then. But, I certainly wasn’t an innocent with my previous friend group. I went along with them, behaved like a cornflake girl, trash-talking others, etc. Did I like doing it? Hell, no. It didn’t make me feel better about myself to cut up other people. I felt like a jerk. But I played the game nonetheless.
One of the worst things I can remember being a part of was the first time I ever heard another woman recount a story of sexual assault. Deanna told us about two encounters that she’d had with a man at her college and her attitude was very flippant, as if these were just normal things that had happened to her. Her face, too, was a mask, but I understood very clearly that she was talking about something else entirely. I felt the underlying emotion in the lie she told in that dark car. Let me pause here to state that just because a person doesn’t scream no and do all that they can to fight off a sexual aggressor, does not— I repeat, does not— mean that what the person experienced wasn’t a sexual assault. Go look up the definitions (RAINN provides some very good ones). Sometimes you consider the situation and opt for the lesser of two evils; you give in and let something bad happen to you because you fear something worse will happen if you don’t. I know because I went through a similar experience myself a few years after Deanna did and like her, I told a lie about it. I didn’t want what had happened to me any more than she had, but I allowed it anyway because the person who did it had prefaced the act with “What would you do if I raped you?” When Deanna told us her story, I said, “Oh my God, Deanna, that’s awful,” but everyone else in that car was silent. Silent! They didn’t say a damn word! That’s the sort of “friends” I had, the kind that didn’t speak up to support each other but instead either ignored one another or were cruel and uncaring. That was the night I stopped playing that stupid fucking game.
But it still went on around me, still does. In graduate school, some of my fellow female students started a rumor that I was fooling around with one of the professors all because one day I came to class late looking really depressed and upset (which I was), sat in the only vacant seat, which just happened to be right next to the male professor, and he reached out, put a hand on my arm, and asked, “Are you OK?” Yep, he touched my arm, asked me how I was doing, and some petty people concluded that we were having an inappropriate relationship. Where’s the logic in that you ask? Well, I later found out that apparently some of those women thought this professor was hot and that, apparently, they were projecting their own wants onto me. So . . . I guess it was some weird form of envy or something? And some pretty serious exaggeration on top of that.
My instinct with mean girls was to be like Janis in that scene in the gym when Cady waves to her and she waves back like “Oh, hiiii!” then gives her the up-yours arm gesture because it can feel really great to finally say “screw you” to someone who’s treated you like dirt. I’ve thought about this though and while I definitely believe that we shouldn’t put up with other people’s bullshit, giving it back ultimately doesn’t seem like the best approach either.
What I really want is a sisterhood, the very opposite of Mean Girls— women who actually, genuinely support one another. My best friend in high school (who is the only person from that time in my life that I’m still in touch with) was not a mean girl and when we were not as close through college and our early adult years, I truly missed that presence in my life. She showed me that the kind of friendships I wanted—the ones my soul needed—were possible. That’s who the raisin girls are. They’re the ones who listen when you need someone to and won’t repeat what you tell them because it’s some new piece of gossip they can spread around. They’ll empathize. They’ll try to help you if they can. They won’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, but they will try to help you figure out what you need to do. They’ll tell you that you deserve the best that life has to offer you and that you don’t have to settle for anything less than that. They’ll hug you when you need to cry, they’ll rejoice in your happiness, and they won’t ever judge you because they don’t want to bring you down, they want to build you up. Yeah, that’s me and those are the women I now call my friends — those raisin girls. And all the cornflake girls? Well, they can come hang with us too whenever they’re done playing the game.