Good girls, bad girls and mean girls, we all remember them at school. Which group did you belong to? School reunions shed a light on this ‘girly’ question.
Bad Girls Transform
I went to a school reunion a few years back and noticed the interesting transformations of some bad girls. ‘Bad’ is defined here as those who mucked up in class, wagged school, smoked in the toilets, talked to boys over the school fence and neglected their studies. These girls dated early and left school at 15 years.
They are only defined as ‘bad’ because they behaved in the opposite way to the ‘good’ girls, the swats, the lady-like, polite and obedient girls. Bad is really too strong a word, but you get the drift, the idea of naughty and nice. I noticed there is a new best seller out by Michael Robotham called ‘Good girl, Bad girl.’ This inspired my article.
I discovered at the reunion, as I chatted to these old classmates, that these ‘bad’ girls mostly stayed with their first boyfriend, married, had kids and went on to lead quiet lives in the suburbs.
These one time bad or naughty girls now seemed sedate and settled. Some were even grandmothers because they married so early. I enjoyed talking to them and we stay in touch as friends, whereas at school we were not.
The more academic of us, the good girls of yesteryear, had, by contrast, led messed up lives featuring later marriages and divorces, even a suicide. University educations had not made us any wiser about relationships, maybe less wise. Where had we gone wrong, despite our A grades and prefect status? Had we raised our sights too high above the reliable tradie husbands? Did we expect all doctors and lawyers would be kind, caring husbands?
Had our delayed marriages caused us to miss out on stable partners and good providers? My very educated fellow turned out to be a white collar gambler, and we went bankrupt. It was a case of financial abuse. Oh dear, being dux definitely did not help me with my choice of partners.
As for mean girls, I only remember a few and always stayed away from them because I would be a perfect victim. The words of Desiderata steered me away from them. ‘Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are a vexation to the spirit.’ Maybe there were a few mean girls lurking in the gathering at the reunion?
There certainly seems to be more mean girls at schools these days. The demise of Christian principles has led to selfish, me-focused behavior. Ignoring the ‘do unto others as you would like done to you’ code, mean girls target and torment their victims so they feel good themselves.
Bullying is rampant and with social media now ubiquitous, it can be a cruel world for young girls as they mature into their teens. The emphasis on appearance must erode the confidence of many teens, at a time when you need it most. I’m sure these days, I would be the victim of bullies, though I never was in my high school days.
Kind friends, good and bad
I was fortunate to have kind friends at school who never taunted me about my stick thin appearance because of my battle with anorexia. At the reunion, old school mates embraced each other. There was no bitchiness or nastiness.
It was a joyful re-union, a lot of fun to see what each of us had done and were doing in life. So I was on cloud nine throughout the reunion weekend. I now think my school days were some of the best years of my life! My classmates were never mean girls.
I recently attended an inspirational talk given by a local ‘celebrity.’ Though she has been a high achiever in sports throughout her life, she confessed to her audience that she was a bad girl at school, so bad that she was expelled. When the new prefects assembled for their ceremony with the teachers, she was the naughty girl who sprayed everyone with a fire extinguisher.
But because she was just naughty not mean the label did not go on to affect her after school life. This expelled prankster even became a teacher herself. Talking to her later, I realised she may have been naughty but never mean because she was voted most popular girl, and even voted to be school captain.
But because she was so naughty, the teachers would not allow it. Her popularity indicated to me that she was not mean, just a bit wild. Wild, naughty, that is passable. You can grow through that phase. Mean girls seem to stay mean. Mean is not a good label to have attached to you.
Big Mean Girls
This year, three Australian Labor Senators were caught in the headlights and labelled ‘the mean girls’ by the late Kimberley Kitching. With an election looming, this label was not a good one to have when you are in the front line of politics.
Mean and bitchy are harder labels to shrug off than ‘wild’ or ‘naughty’. Have your wild times, your naughty times but don’t hurt others in the process, then you can move on to reinvent yourself in your more mature years. But if you are unkind, cruel, that is who you are and will be remembered as. Kindness matters.
Good, bad, kind, naughty, mean or bitchy, these adjectives can attach to label you as early as school. Like nicknames, they can be hard to shake off. Fifty or so kids calling you something every day is tough if the name is ‘Smelly’,’ Grunter’ or ‘Fathead.’ But worse if you are labelled, ‘Meanie.’
I know it is only a label, but when it comes to people, labels tend to stick. (unlike those I attach to my freezer containers.)
Kids can be mean. They learn it from adults who can be even meaner. There will always be bullies in the playground of life, no matter what age we are. But now, bullies are not just in playgrounds but online, so escaping them is impossible unless you just stay off their platforms, stay out of their playgrounds.
Released prisoners have trouble starting again, finding work because labels stick. Reinventing oneself is not easy, or always successful, especially for those in the public arena. The past can come back to haunt us once labelled by the media.
Mean Girls in the Media
Politicians are frequently undone by their past misdeeds or even perceived misdeeds, undone by reports of alleged sexual misconduct many decades ago. Men and women of power can be toppled by rumors by mean girl journalists who have their own agenda, at the expense of truth.
These days with political correctness, you can even be cancelled for something you said, taken out of context from another time when it was okay to say that. Mean girls are watching and waiting to pounce. Once they have labelled you as sexist, racist or misogynist, you’re done for, your career is over.
Mean Girls are Just Plain Mean
This is a far more sinister game than mean girls mocking and excluding you at high school. I think the big mean girls must always have been mean. Bad girls and naughty girls can mellow with age and good girls can get in touch with their flirty, sexy sides to become a little naughty. But mean girls are just plain mean.
Don’t be a mean girl. Be good or bad but most of all be kind. Call out the mean girls. Use your voice for good.
Joni Scott is an Australian author with two published novels: Whispers through Time and The last Hotel. She co-hosts a women’s blog; https://whisperingencouragement.com/ and has her own website; https://joniscottauthor.com.
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