If I Didn’t Tell my Daughter Girls Suck, It Wouldn’t Be Fair

I went somewhere I don’t usually go last week. I read some comments on an essay I wrote about my daughter having more boy friends than girls. I tell people not to do it, and I went there.

To be fair, it wasn’t right on the site. A friend had shared the piece on Reddit’s TwoXChromsomes, a site I love, and I was curious to hear what the women over there had to say. And that’s where I found a comment that spoke to one of my biggest problems raising a girl in America today.

Women who agreed with me that they recall being friends with more boys than girls, women who cited the cattiness of females they’ve encountered over the years, were called out for “internalized misogyny.”

It’s a trend I’ve noticed more than a few times in feminist readings. There seems to be a trend among feminists to insist that any words spoken against women are not feminist and must be stopped.

But what happens when the words are true? Who is the misogynist then?

It may not support the feminist agenda (whatever that is?), but the mean girl phenomena is not just a Tina Fey movie. It’s a problem that’s plagued girls for generations, and it’s not going away.

I recall the way I felt when I fought with my girlfriends vs. the way I felt when I battled with my boy friends. The girls could cut me to the quick, and would. Their taunts were vicious, personal.

With boys, the disagreements were less so. In fact, disagreements is really the only term I can use for them. We didn’t fight. We disagreed. There’s a vital difference.

So too is there a difference between criticizing women and internal misogyny.

For all that we want to speak of equality between the sexes, we can’t ignore that there are differences. There are good differences and bad differences. And there are scientific reasons to explain such phenomena as the girl wars that crop up for so many females in the formative years.

In one study in Psychological Science, researchers describe how females who feel the threat of social exclusion are more likely than men to former other cliques and alliances to prevent their own exclusion. Researchers at the University of Buffalo have tracked relational aggression behaviors in girls as early as age 3 that lead to problems for girls in their teen years. And a study at Johns Hopkins has revealed that while teenage boys tend to be equal opportunity bullies, “teenage girls most often bully other girls, using sly and more indirect forms of aggression than boys, such as spreading gossip or urging others to reject or exclude another girl.”

Acknowledging the difference in how teenage boys and girls treat one another isn’t self-loathing. It’s scientific fact.

And as the mother of a little girl, I’m struggling with how to best address it.

I don’t want my daughter to be ashamed of her femininity or to assume that she is doomed to be a catty witch in the years to come. The fact that a large percentage of girls turn on the drama doesn’t mean she will, at least not if we work hard to raise a kid who is kind and generous.

On the other hand, I don’t want her flying blind into a hornet’s nest of hormones and hairbands in a few years.

She’s already dealt with mean girls in pre-school (convincing me fully that the folks at UB are on to something), and it wasn’t pretty. A group calling themselves the A girls (I wish I was making that up, but I’m not), made both my daughter and her friend feel like they were inferior human beings for an entire school year. I thought I had until 11 or 12 before that would start, but I had to handle it on the fly back then, and I’ll tell you, her boy friends helped. A lot.

They just wanted to play. They just wanted to be normal 4-year-olds. They had no truck with manipulation and rejection.

Today she has a lot of boys who are friends (as opposed to boyfriends) and a few close girlfriends. I have never suggested she value one over the other, never pushed her toward either. Although the boys are mostly the children of my closest friends, she asks for playdates with them herself, and she does so frequently. Just as frequently as she requests a sleepover with one of the girls.

I hope this continues, not because I have a hatred for girls, but because I know the years ahead are tough. I know kids — on both sides of the gender divide — can be cruel.

And I remember, all too well, what it was like to deal with the species known to scientists as the mean girls. Remember because I can never forget them or the things they said. Remember because they are real.

My job now is to strike a balance. I need to prepare my daughter for the mean girls who lie in wait, ready to tear off chunks of her self-esteem and leave her heart open and wounded. And I need to tell her that it’s OK, because she’s a girl. And girls can do great things, like leaving the mean girls in their dust when they leave high school to tackle the big bad world beyond.

What’s your mean girl story? 

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