Have we always been this way?
Recently, Sarah Jessica Parker - an actress I admire and adore and who starred in my favorite television show of all time - told British Harpers Bazaar that she's baffled by the cruelty of women today.
I read this, sat back in my chair and ...
FLASHBACK. 9th grade. Friday night. Football game. Girls bathroom. Paula Piscarelli takes out a black magic marker and writes "I love Chris Castalucci" on the bathroom wall. (Names have been changed to protect the mean, the meanest, as well as the well meaning).
My friend, Michelle Marlone, informs Paula in no uncertain terms that Chris likes Jen.
Me? Yes, me (the only name that hasn't been changed here - Jennifer Fernicola before I met Mr. Ronay. Nice to meet you.)
Thought bubble over my head: Can Michelle shut the F up? Chris likes me? I don't even know what to do with that information. I don't want anyone to like me if it means pissing off the likes of Paula. … or any of the other tough girls in this school who the boys should like as they seem to know what to do with this information. I mean, I would never vandalize public property! That's what you're supposed to do when a guy likes you, right?
Hours later - Paula P finds me after the game and informs me - in no uncertain terms - "I just heard Chris doesn't like you, actually."
Thought bubble over my head: Ouch.
Well, that was high school. Everyone was subjected to some sort of mean girl - or guy - in high school. Right? Surely, things get better - and nicer - as you get older. Right?
FLASHFORWARD. First job out of law school. First day. First colleague I meet - the only other female in the department.
Her: You're not going to learn much here. You might want to think about how long you're going to stay.
Thought bubble over my head: Ouch.
Me: Oh. Um … where's the bathroom?
Well, maybe I'm a target for meanies. Surely, I've never been a mean girl myself. Right?
FLASHBACK. 4th grade. It's Friendship Week and everyone has to vote for the nicest boy and nicest girl in the class. And … I win. A title, no less. Miss Congeniality!
The next day, at lunch, Miss Congeniality turns to one of her subjects - one of her subjects who never seems to have lunch, whose mother never seems to insist that she wash behind her ears and brush that hair so she doesn't look like "Who did it and ran" (like some people's mother) - yes, Miss Congeniality asks this little girl why, you know I'm really curious, as to why exactly you wear the same clothes everyday.
Thought bubble over my head as I write this: Ouch. The meanest anecdote here and I was the perpetrator.
So, no, mean girls - and guys - and meanness in general is not a recent phenomenon. What is a recent (relatively speaking) phenom which makes it FEEL like we've gotten meaner? Reality television and not so social social media.
The Reality Television Factor
As SJP pointed out, reality television may be to blame for this seeming spike in snottiness. I agree that, yes, the advent of table flipping television may make it SEEM that that's what it's like in social circles everywhere nowadays. But, I disagree that that's actually what's happening. Did anyone rip out anyone else's hair extensions at your last girls night out? Of course not. (Well, I hope not! Keep reading. You might have some decisions to make.)
I believe you can watch all of those Andy Cohen produced productions all day everyday and still not turn into a screaming, backstabbing mean girl - or, uh, grown woman. It's entertainment (yes, that's debatable but that's a blog post for another day.) In the words of Teresa Giudice, it's reality television, it's not real.
The Social Media Factor
What else is different now compared to bathroom breaks during football games back in the day? The internet. And Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it.
And unlike the delicious crap that is reality television, this crap is real and it's crappy. The bathroom wall is now the Facebook wall. And some people might have the balls - no, cowardice to hide behind a screen - and declare to EVERYONE (or that's what it feels like) who doesn't like who or who wears the same clothes everyday. It's a public forum ripe for shaming and being shamed and that's what's different ... not to mention, scary.
There are better blogs than this that deal with how to deal with bullies - real life ones, online ones, work ones, big ones and little ones. They're out there and we should all be vigilant in preventing and properly handling online - and real life - bullying. It's hard enough avoiding mean co-workers as an adult. I can't imagine what it's like to be a teenager today in the age of FB and beyond.
Still, the serious topic of bullying aside, when it comes to our own social circles, our own friends, our own Carries and Mirandas and Charlottes and Samanthas, I do believe we have choices.
Whether it's 4th grade,
or 9th grade,
or your first job,
or your social media universe,
we have choices.
The Stop and Blog the Roses Factor: Err on the Side of Positive
I might not have always made the right decisions. It might have taken a couple - ahem - of decades to choose wisely (though I do have to pat my 9th grade self on the back for not fighting back. I was a total wimp and afraid of Paula, yes, but I also think I knew deep down it was the wisest move to just walk away).
To SJP or anyone else discouraged by what they see on Bravo, I think the world feels a lot nicer when we
choose to be a truly nice person, truly - ahem - congenial,
realize that reality TV is not real and not our reality (unless you're really crazy and that's what your life is really like, in which case, I can't help you)
choose our social circles - and social media circles - wisely.
I choose to be a positive person - I no longer comment on other people's clothing options, unless I have something nice to say, of course - and I root for others - women, men, boys, girls. If you're doing something positive, I want to see you succeed. I'm in your corner. Thank you for being in mine.
I choose to "hide," "mute," or simply "ignore" negative people. I can wish them well but I don't have to let them or their negativity into my orbit.
I choose to surround myself with only other positive people - in my life and in my news feed.
If you err on the side of positive, the world will not feel so much like a mean girl's haven - or the football stadium bathroom of your high school - even in this age of reality television and social media.
In the spirit of Stop and Blog the Roses, today, I am grateful that I get to choose - to watch Real Housewives and then go to dinner and drinks and talk about it with real friends.
What is Stop and Blog the Roses? If Sex and the City and Chicken Soup for the Soul had a love child. Check out these recent entries -
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