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To The Pain … Girlhood in America

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There is a scene in Mean Girls where one of the girls in the popular clique tells the new girl that she’s pretty. A compliment to make her feel welcome? No, a trap — to see if The New Girl has the unmitigated gall to agree that she’s attractive.

I think the truth of this scene flew over the heads of most men. Their interactions and politics are different — straight-forward. Men — boys — know where they stand with one another. If a guy is your friend yesterday, he’ll be your friend tomorrow — barring a major betrayal or running over his dog. They certainly don’t slowly torture members of their group longterm.

Girl Politics are different. There can be seismic shifts over seemingly minor incidences such as wearing the wrong outfit or smiling too long at the wrong boy. Often what is said is very different than what is meant. Someone showing compassion can be garnering information to use against the unwary girl who she pretends to comfort.

And the girl on the outs is often the last to know. She finds herself second guessing comments that would be clearly malicious if they were not said with sincere smiles. If she responds to what she senses beneath the surface, she is labeled paranoid…she has also given them ammunition.

Do I speak from personal experience? Sure — from both sides of the Tug of War. Then again, most women can tell you a few tales from the front. The cruel comments they cried over, the cruel comments they doled out.

I remember being 14, looking into a mirror and wondering why my ex-best friend called me ugly and everyone laughed. I saw a pretty girl in the mirror — not that I would ever be stupid enough to tell people that — but maybe I was missing something. Did I have too many freckles? Was 113 pounds too fat? Maybe if I had the right clothes? Should I fight with this girl? Should I pretend like I was above it all? (The truth is that once you were on the outs any decision or change was a bad one. You had to find a new group.)

Years later these girls go into relationships and the men in their lives wonder why they are always looking for hidden meanings. Why the woman in their life cannot take a compliment at face value — and why all the questions this woman asks seem to be trick questions with no right answer. And sometimes they wonder why their girlfriend can be sweet to someone’s face and tear them to ribbons secretly. They weren’t privy to the early training.

As a rule, girls become women and it does get somewhat better. We do learn to become loyal friends and we do, hopefully, gather up the tatters of our self-esteem, but those memories are always there; even more so when we see our daughters and the girls around us going out into the world — sweet, innocent, looking for acceptance… We hold our breath and hope it will be different. We hope that if the world has to teach them humility and knock them about, that the wounds will be more on the outside–bruised skin is sooner healed than are the countless tiny wounds that are bled out in confused tears late at night.

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About Nicolette

  • Eric Olsen

    very poignant and touching Nicolette – – thanks and welcome!

  • Thank you for the welcome… glad to be here. I’m still learning the ropes and didn’t reaize I’d published yet — yay me!

  • I enjoyed this Nicolette, thanks.

    I would add, though, that boys go through their own rites and hurdles in adolescence. I have no idea which was worse, having only seen this world from the male point-of-view, but consider that while teenage boys form close friendships, it’s of a highly competitive nature. If you can’t “hang” with your clique in terms of toughness, intelligence, physical appearance, ability or lack thereof with the ladies, and so on, you’re likely to be left upon an island of loneliness.

    Toughness is a vague term, but it applies to both a readiness to do physical battle (I bet X can kick your ass… what are you going to do about it?) and perhaps more importantly, a mental toughness: to fend off verbal attacks, teasing, probes to find and exploit your soft spots and weakest points.

    All of that being said, I have found that men tend to form closer and long-term friendships than do women.

    Into my early 30s now, I feel fortunate as hell to still have a number of close friends that date back 20 or more years now.

    Anyway, just wanted to give the male perspective, or just the perspective of one guy!

  • Oh: and any reference to The Princess Bride will always get my attention — nice job!

  • Right. I never wanted this to be about saying boys don’t have their own battles. It’s not easy to be human *period.*

    I do know that the physical fights I got into were forgotten much sooner than the covert stuff. If it’s not too personal, what type of battle scars tend to stay with men? Is it the physical fights they won or lost? Verbal slights?

    One of the points the books above make is that girls would probably be much better off if they could express their aggression. Instead they try to suppress directly telling people when they have an issue with them, and it’s more damaging for all the parties in the long run.

  • Yeah, I wasn’t trying to compare, just saying boys go through their own trials.

    I do realize that girls do get into physical scuffles, but boys go through an unending series of physical challenges — from the athletic field leading up to acting just tough enough not to end up the school’s kicking post.

    So it’s not the fighting so much as the constant threat or challenge to violence that is a large part of growing up as a male. I’d allege that that is somewhat comparitive to the social arena of combat girls face.

    Well, I’m comparing I suppose! I might be completely wrong — just throwing out a thought, a possibility here.

  • Can a guy be bad at sports and not be instantly shuffled into the geek category?

  • i dunno about the blokes i don’t know (obviously) but those I *do* know, along with myself, are well aware of this. And this is in Britain, so it’s not just in America…
    generally, it can be summed up as:
    bloke arguments escalate until there’s some sort of physical showdown. That clears the air, and at least after about the age of 16, both sides will generally do the sensible thing and stay away from each other.
    Arguments between women, however, tend to get real “bitchy”, real rivalries develop, and of course there are the real nasty ones who go out of their way to be evil…
    Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, but then this is just a generalisation.
    I would much prefer to be bullied by blokes than bullied by women. Women have the capacity to be so much nastier

  • Nicolette — Vert difficult, to answer your question. Some with outstanding personalities will develop into “characters” or artsy types cool enough so that it doesn’t matter. But I would say age 13 and younger, sports means a hell of a lot in guy-world.

    I have no idea if the infiltrations of computers and technology and games makes a difference today. They were just starting to come in when I was a kid… but not quite cool enough to keep you indoors 24/7.

  • jadester – The point I was trying to make (possibly) is that the grass looks greener from the other side. I’m not sure if growing up is any easier for boys or for girls.

  • Speaking of the grass being greener…I think a lot of women befriend men to avoid the aforementioned politics.

    Do men befriend women as a break from competition? (If the interest is not romantic, of course.)


    Several of my female friends have said exactly that, they like hanging out with men to get away from the cattiness of women.

    I don’t think men befriend women to get away from the competition, but I can only answer for myself. first and foremost, there is some element of attraction, but that is a minor component. I think that having female friends just offers a different perspective than male friends do.

  • ***I don’t think men befriend women to get away from the competition, but I can only answer for myself. first and foremost, there is some element of attraction, but that is a minor component.***

    So when Harry tells Sally that men always want to bang their friends…it’s true?


    I’d say any man who tells you he hasn’t at least considered it is lying.

  • it may be true to a degree – in that a bloke can have female friends who, as far as he is aware, he has no sexual interest in, but we don’t always know our unconscious desires. Same goes for women, i suppose.
    I can’t speak for the other side, but as a bloke with female friends (as in, platonic friends) it helps to understand women alot more if you have women friends who can talk to you actually from their perspective. As opposed to just loads of blokes guessing.
    From what I’ve heard and observed of both genders, it’s generally easier to be a bloke, but if you’re a woman you can potentially have far more power.

  • By power you mean the ability to persuade, manipulate, and torture men with the use of certain body parts?

  • Do men befriend women as a break from competition?

    I think there’s something to that on both sides, though I believe there’s also a degree of attraction in most cases.

    But that’s the same in all relationships, isn’t is — platonic and sexual. We choose our friends for a number of reasons — we like to be around them, they have admirable qualities, etc. In most cases we wouldn’t befriend a person if we thought them to be hideous in some way.

  • Girl politics many a times translates into women politics and the tug of war tends to become more subtle. Take the mother in law and daughter in law relationship for example. It’s a never ending chess game, one trying to top the other.

    Personally I never had any issues with any of my female friends till I got married and realized what female politics was all about.

    Men generally are less complicated in their thinking and emotional make up, plus most like to stay away from domestic intrigues.

  • I don’t have a good relationship with my MIL, and she declared war for a while a few years ago. My husband just could not believe the level of anomosity she had toward me, or how hard I could fight back when pushed.

    I’d wanted a close relationship but she’s deemed me unworthy of her son, and That was That. So when she finally let loose it was almost welcome that the dislike which was in her not-so-subtle digs was out in the open. The upshot was I did not show up on the holidays which cut down on the time my husband spent there…

    Like I said, women can form strong bonds, but they also are usually quite adept if they don’t like you.

    Did I read once that women prefer poison to murder someone? That seems right.

  • It’s just amazing to me how hateful and harmful people can be — particularly to those they are “close” with.

    Think of the times that are supposed to bring the most closeness: weddings, family gatherings, holidays… and the nightmare they are for so many.

    Maybe I’m exaggerating… but I don’t think I am.

    Sorry for the drift off-topic.

  • Every time my MIL talks about how funny Everbody Loves Raymond is, it takes an extraordinary effort to not ask if she doesn’t see Marie Barrone as her long lost twin. It’s eery.

    Her battle with me went back burner when my SIL gave birth to a son, and named him after my dead FIL. Apparently my MIL feels the child is suffering unduly because of all the organic food, and the lack of soda. 🙂

  • My MIL believes in ‘Covert operation’. Initially her subtle barbs used to bug me but after 4 years of marriage I developed a thick hide.

    EricB, here is a qoute for you- Family vacations are trips we take with people we most need to get away from.

  • Oh, I feel an idea coming on…

  • That’s a great quote, swingingpuss.

    Reminds me of the other day, listening to Howard Stern. He was recalling how miserable Family Time used to be with his cranky father, particularly during Family Dinner. Man, I related to that.

  • Eric, cranky men are still easier to deal with than women. They dont brood or sulk for days and than bang, bite you when you arent looking. It’s really bloody when it comes to cat fights.

    Nicolette, when I gave birth to my son my MIL kept telling me how her daughter brought her kids up and I should do as she does and take tips from her.

    When both mother and daughter visited us last spring they made it clear that I wasnt a good mom nor a good house keeper.

    I just let it ride and even now I get to hear that she is a better mom, wife and cook. And all I think is balls…heh

    Mean girls do grow up to be mean women.

  • Swinging — While you may be right, you’ve never met my step-dad… Not fun.

  • lol, I understand what you are saying Eric:)

  • Families are tough. They’re a package deal, and sometimes it would be better if they were like a Whitman Sampler and you could give the nuts to someone else.

  • It does make you stand back and appreciate those (any?) family members you have who are both sane and generally pleasant to be around.