Our house is open to our friends. That of course, includes my children’s friends. Up until about today, my daughter’s life has been devoid of much of the girl drama we’ve discussed here at Femamom. I’ve liked to imagine that is because we have been welcoming to our children’s friends. Of course, that’s a ridiculous corollary and in fact, has nothing to do with the absence of girl-on-girl hurtfulness. Sadie’s life has been devoid of much drama, because she is a peacemaker and a listener and has never asked for something one of her friends wanted. Ever.
Sadie is running for class president. Her desire to participate wholly in school spirit baffles me. But of course I’m proud, and holding my breath. I want her to win because she’d be great at making everyone in her class feel important (a huge job, one that I wouldn’t want) and I want her to win because she stuck her neck out and we never want our children to be hurt.
But here’s the rub: girls can be MEAN. My son’s friendships? Simple. They either hang out or they don’t. A typical exchange about the disappearance of a certain friend might go something like this:
Me: “Hey, where’s Tom been?”
Gabe: “He’s doing other stuff.”
Me: “Huh, so he’s okay, you guys are okay?”
And if one of them was running for class president?
Me: “Caleb is running for president?”
Gabe: “He’ll be great.”
Me: “Yeah, he will be.”
Gabe: “Do we have anything to eat?”
There would be no anger at Caleb for having the audacity to run for president. There would be no wavering about whether or not to support Caleb because somebody else might be angry.
But Sadie’s best friends are confused about how to handle her brazen candidacy. Why? Well, I’ve been thinking about this all afternoon.
As a mother, I’ve got no patience for anyone hurting my kids. Of course, I entertained fantasies of banning all mean girls from the kitchen. But it’s more complex than my mom reaction.
I think it’s the same reaction we have when women run for real world office — Palin, Bachman and Hillary. Stay with me, I’m not suggesting high school presidential campaigns are on par with national politics. I am postulating that the psychology behind our discomfort with women saying, “Choose me, I want to win and I’ll be the BEST” is a result of our discomfort with such hubris in women, or girls. And so we pick apart our female politicians, their clothes, their ankles, their lipstick. Our girls are taught to be nice, not to want the prize, because wanting is selfish. It’s an unseemly trait; wanting the prize. To this end, how do girls support a friend who has announced she wants something? Not easily and definitely without grace. Unwavering support for Sadie, by her best friends, has proven complicated.
Breaking this down: girls who are too much of anything are shamed. Too sexual? That’s easy: Slut. Too smart? Bitch… Too ambitious? Stuck-Up Bitch. Too loud? Obnoxious bitch.
So, my daughter who I thought I’d protected from mean games by teaching her words for her feelings and communication skills for her friendships, has been sucked into a vortex of shame for daring to run for president.
I have watched Sadie navigate through social landmines, trying to understand how good friends and best friends, all the while smiling, couldn’t fully support her because they didn’t want to make anyone angry. When her dear friends spent the afternoon helping her opponent frost cupcakes because they didn’t want to make anyone angry, I got angry. But Sadie, she thought she was being “stupid” for feeling upset.
What they really meant by frosting cupcakes and baking cupcakes for Sadie’s opponent was: If you’re gonna have the lady-balls to run for president, we’re gonna make you pay for asking for our support because you should feel a little ashamed for thinking you can do the job.
They’ve been programed. These are nice girls, doing what they’ve been programmed, insidiously, to do; smile but judge and compare and tear each other down if anyone gets too uppity. Any heroine they’ve read about in school is the major exception. We are still taught to beat each other up for wanting more than nothing. What a bummer. And personally, the biggest bummer has been watching my daughter disillusioned about her friendships and taken down by girls she loves and girls who love her too.