Joyce 1 Tera Joyce Dr.

Erin Dietel-McLaughlin WR 13200 2 October 2011 Mean Girls: The Impacts of Emotional Abuse I hear my alarm screaming at me to get out of bed. In an attempt to avoid the same dreadful experience I face everyday, I pull my covers over my head and hide. After pretending I didn’t hear the first two snooze alarms, I jump out of my bed and rush to get ready for school. I make the drive to my high school, cranking the radio to my favorite rap music, imagining it as a pep talk to get me through the day. I hurry through the hallways, dodging the names that are hurled at me as I rush to class. I see a freshman’s books scattered on the floor after being knocked out of his hands and hear the sobbing of an underclassman whose friends started rumors about her. As the school day continues, I see lunch money grabbed out of a kid’s hands and a teacher humiliate a student about her grades in front of her peers. When the final bell rings for the day, I make the long walk to the basketball gym. The next three hours are filled with screaming, pushing, pulling, and every other act of violence possible. When I finally get home for the evening, thinking I have at last escaped the cruel outside world, I turn on the television to see sporting events, movies, music videos, advertisements, and television purely showing violence. These programs assume my peers and I know the differences between right and wrong, but they give us no model for where to draw the line should be drawn. No matter where I am, I cannot escape the violent world that surrounds me. In the movie Mean Girls, a girl name Cady changes from being homeschooled in Africa to being a student at a typical high school in America. After quickly being befriended by two

Joyce 2 social outcasts, Janis and Damien, the three devise a plot to ruin the lives of the three most popular, crude, and beautiful girls at their school, The Plastics. Cady is offered acceptance into this exclusive group, and uses this newfound power to attempt to discover The Plastics’ darkest secrets. When the leader of the group, Regina George, steals Cady’s love interest, this plan to learn secrets turned into a quest for blood. Janis, Damien, and Cady create a plot that would remove The Plastics’ social power from them. The battle turns ugly when the members of The Plastics turn on each other and Cady begins to associate with The Plastics more than her true friends. The girls take the situation to an extreme and a school wide battle begins. In the end, all of the girls are able to put aside their differences and peacefully coexist at school without the excess violence shown through the majority of the movie. In a single day, a student witnesses countless acts of violence, both physical and mental. Many students are victims themselves of violence; many students are the ones creating these acts of violence, and too many of these acts go unnoticed. Although making jokes at another’s expense may seem trivial, it is in fact crucial in terms of today’s perpetuation of violence and conflict. Violence is not a new concept nor is the silent form it normally prevails in. For years, philosophers have been discussing what causes violence as well as what differentiates between the types of harassment. One theory that has passed the test of time is psychologist James Gilligan’s chapter “Shame and Death of Self” from Preventing Violence. Gilligan argues that shame causes the anger, which creates violence. He claims those who turn to violence as an escape from shame are often those with the lowest self-esteems by saying “The people who become violent criminals, and end up in prison, are notably lacking in all of those non-violent sources of self-esteem”(Gilligan 37). Throughout Mean Girls, characters are constantly using violence as a means to increase their self-esteem and in the process prove they are better than

Joyce 3 their peers. In Rachel Simmons’ Odd Girl Out the “perfect girl” is depicted. In the chapter “She’s All That”, the ideal girl is described as “stupid, yet manipulative. She is dependent and helpless, yet she uses sex and romantic attachments to get power. She is popular yet superficial. She is fit, but not athletic, or strong. She is happy, but not excessively cheerful. She is fake” (Simmons 126). This Barbie-doll type image is not practical nor is it possible, yet the girls in Mean Girls tear each other down because they do not fit this description. Through deception and lies, these girls are able to rip each other to shreds much more effectively then a fistfight would ever allow. Similarly to Gilligan’s chapter “Violence as Proof of Masculinity” portraying the differences in violence in genders, Mean Girls confirms stereotypical ideas of female violence. In the film, physical violence is a rarity; however, mental and emotional conflict is extremely prevalent which is explained by Gilligan’s theory that men or more likely to create physical violence. This film sheds light on the environment that high school students deal with everyday and shows classmates, teachers, and parents the struggles that are faced. Specifically, the film’s emphasis on the ideas that some people feel they are superior to others, the belief that violence is caused in hope to restore ones dignity, that violence will never fail to exist, and the differences in violence depending on gender seem to confirm pre-existing theories about violence in society. The idea that some people are more important than others is shown throughout the film Mean Girls. As expressed in Wink’s Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence, humans automatically believe that there should be an order in society: “Human beings are thus naturally incapable of peaceful coexistence. Order must continually be imposed upon us from on high: men over women, masters over slaves, priests over laity, aristocrats over peasants, rulers over people” (Wink). Humans believe there should be an order of importance, and naturally each person puts themselves higher than others around them. In the film, the Plastics boost their own

Joyce 4 self-worth by tearing others down; most notably through a book they made together—the Burn Book. In this, the Plastics wrote rumors about classmates and educators, as well as shared secrets told to them in confidence. They made fun of things that were taken out of context or simply untrue in an attempt to justify why they are more important than their peers. The Plastics would create ridiculous rules to rationalize excluding peers from talking to them or hanging out with them as well as considered their time a gift to those around them. The Plastics were able to control the school because they instilled a fear within the student body that, if someone attempted to take their honor away from them, this or her life in High School would be destroyed. In Mean Girls, some of the high school students excuse disrespecting other people by saying that they are better than the other person. Specifically, The Plastics act as if they are superior to their classmates and show them disrespect and shame in an attempt to boost their own self-esteems. Regina George, the leader of the Plastics, fits the description of the ideal girl that was expressed in She’s All That by Simmons. She is thin, blond, fake, stupid, has big boobs, is popular, has boyfriends with social status, and is manipulative. She often makes other girls feel inferior to her for not fitting into the persona of the “perfect girl”. Regina often makes Cady feel like she cannot appear to be as smart as she is and that her body is not good enough. In addition, she tries to catch Cady complementing herself because, if Cady were conceited, it would again prove that she was inferior to Regina. In Mean Girls, Regina tells Cady that she is really pretty. When Cady thanks her for the complement, Regina responds by saying “So you agree? You think you're really pretty?” (Mean Girls). Regina searches for flaws in Cady’s personality in order to prove to herself that she is superior to Cady. Although Regina appears physically perfect, when the Plastics are hanging out, they take turns pointing out varies flaws with how

Joyce 5 they look. In the film, The Plastics are depicted as perfect because they flawlessly fit the description of the ideal girl, though the girls pretend not to know it. Through making them seem to be perfect, The Plastics seem superior to their classmates and they feel it is justified to disrespect them. Because in the movie Mean Girls disrespect is common, the idea of using violence as a mean of restoring honor is extremely prevalent. Shame evokes rage, which causes violence. Gilligan expresses this concept that violence is used as a means to restore honor (Gilligan 29-37) in the chapter “Shame and Death of Self”, is seen when three students--Janis, Damian, and Cady-plot to humiliate the Plastics for rumors they started about Janis years ago. Cady pretends to befriend the Plastics to become closer to them and learn their faults. The three of them sought to strip these girls of their popularity by destroying their sources of identity. By taking away the features that made the Plastics superior to others, they took away the power that the Plastics had and made them feel the same pain they inflicted on many other people. Through this, the film showed that violence, whether it is physical or emotional, could be caused in an attempt to restore one’s honor. The damages of emotional violence are often the longest lasting because “violations to self-esteem through insult, humiliation, or coercion are probably the most importance source of anger and aggression drive” (Gilligan 33). Gilligan stresses the idea that those who use violence to restore honor often have no other alternatives. He conveys this by describing violent criminals as “overwhelmingly poor, uneducated, lacking in any skills that they or others could respect, and of the lowest social and economic status in society” (Gilligan 37). Characters like Regina George, or the other members of The Plastics, have no other avenues to increase their self-esteem except for harassing their classmates. The anger caused by the issue between Janis and the Plastics is the driving force behind her retaliation. Because the disrespect

Joyce 6 originated from how the Plastics were treating their classmates, Janis, Damian and Cady retaliate by placing disrespect and shame on the Plastics. However, eventually Cady becomes powerhungry and begins to transform into one of The Plastics. Being considered one of the popular girls makes Cady feel as if she belongs in her new school. She gains self-confidence through The Plastics and feels as if she is greater than her peers, including Janis and Damien if she is part of the popular group. Many times throughout the movie the differences between conflict resulting in physical violence and how many high school girls handle conflict is shown. Often the film jumps into depictions of the girls acting how wild animals would react in the situation at hand—by physically attacking each other. Then the film jumps back to high school, expressing how high school girls handle the situation. As expressed in the chapter “Violence as Proof of Masculinity”, it is more socially acceptable for men to act physically violent. “(Physical) Violence is not a ready-made, gender-specific means of undoing shame for women as it is for men” (Gilligan 59). This is mainly because physical violence is typically considered unfeminine. The Plastics would tear others down mentally by making them question the decisions they had made or who they are as a person. The Plastics, specifically Regina, take every opportunity possible to make others feel insecure about themselves. When one Plastic says “And even in fancy countries like the United States and England, seven out of ten girls have a negative body image.” Regina responds with, “Who cares? Six of those girls are right!” (Mean Girls). Rather than physically injure each other, the girls in Mean Girls damage one another emotionally. They tear each other down by subtly noticing out any possible flaw in hopes to ruin the other girl’s self-esteem. Throughout the movie Mean Girls the effects of verbal and emotional violence are widespread. Although some claim these horrible behaviors exist only in movies, violent actions,

Joyce 7 such as the ones expressed throughout Mean Girls, can be seen within any High School across the country. Students, specifically female students, tear each other down in attempt to fit an impossible description. Instead of finding alternative ways to increase their self-esteem, girls attack one another. Mean Girls shows how when faced with conflict the first solution thought of to solve the problem is often to attack the person creating the conflict with verbal and emotional abuse. As long as violence can be used as means to tear one another down or restore ones honor, it will always exist. In Mean Girls, the violent acts committed are not evident to outsiders, so they go unnoticed. The issues presented in the films are faced by student’s everyday. These issues hold lasting effects on the students involved as well as the students who witness the attacks. Violence like this knows no boundaries, effecting students of all races, all over the world, for centuries. Take Ten and other organizations like it help teach kids how to deal with the conflicts they face, the majority of which are in the form of bullying. Although campaigns continue to battle the existence of violence, conflict has, and always will, exist. The solution, however, should not be to attempt to eliminate it, yet to figure out how to deal with it. The key contribution is to know that when faced with conflict, there are other solutions besides violence. As said in Mean Girls, “I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school. I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy.”

Joyce 8 Work Cited Gilligan, James. Preventing Violence. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2001. 56-65. Print Mean Girls. Dir. Mark Waters. Perf. Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams. Paramount Pictures, 2004. DVD. Simmons, Rachel. Odd Girl Out – The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. New York: Harcourt, 2002. 103-128. Print. Wink, Walter. "Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence" Ekklesia. 2009. Web. 01 Oct. 2011.