I have a friend who has a hard time trusting women due to a mindset her mom instilled in her.
As a child, whenever a girl hurt her feelings, her mom would say, “She’s just jealous of you.” It was an easy answer, yet over time it made her skeptical of her own gender.
Today, she struggles to unwire herself of this mindset and let down her guard. While it may have been true that some girls were jealous, hearing this repeatedly has kept her from forming deep relationships.
I thought of this after receiving an email from a mom whose 3rd-grade daughter was hurt by friends. What stood out about this mom was a realization she had after telling her daughter “girls are mean” in a desperate effort to soothe her.
“I didn’t like hearing those words come out of my mouth,” this mom said. “Afterward I thought, ‘That can’t happen again.’ It didn’t make me feel better, and I don’t think that is the way to go through life. How will girls ever see themselves if everyone seems to agree that girls are mean? I don’t accept any other blanket statements, so why should we accept this one which has such long, destructive tentacles?”
For the record, her daughter had every reason to feel hurt. A game called “5 Things I Hate about You” had gone around their class, and a close friend turned it on her. Yet even in the aftermath, this mom searched for a better response, something to help her daughter stay confident and find a position of strength.
I applaud this mom because she’s onto something. I’ve never bought into the “girls are mean” cliché for these reasons:
1. I don’t agree with it. Yes, girls can be very mean, but so can boys. The real problem isn’t a gender issue but rather, a cultural issue. Our world has become incredibly cruel, and what we see happening among kids is a reflection of the adults – and the terrible example being set by people who should know better.
2. We find what we’re looking for in life. Just as a pessimist will see thorns while an optimist sees the rose, people who accept blanket statements like “girls are mean” or “guys are jerks” will carry that expectation into every relationship. They’ll make it a self-fulfilling prophecy, proving themselves right every time.
3. Kids walk into the labels we give them and live up to the expectations people have for them. If we want kind kids, we must first believe they have kindness in them. In the movie The Help, Aibileen Clark repeatedly tells the child she is raising, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Why? Because she’s casting a vision for how that little girl will perceive herself the rest of her life. She’s making it clear that this is her identity, and any choice or belief that contradicts it – such as acting mean – isn’t true to her character. That’s not who she is, because she was made for more and designed to reach a higher potential.
4. Girls need each other, and while some girls are meaner than a rattlesnake (we all know that type, right?), letting bad experiences taint our view of everyone makes us defensive and suspicious. It prevents us from forming meaningful connections with anyone – even trustworthy females – because we don’t let anyone close enough to see the “real” us.
5. Saying “girls are mean” bashes the entire female gender. Why insult ourselves and the daughters we’re raising? Why train the next generation to eat their own and perpetuate a thought that only paints a picture of doom and gloom?
6. Putting any group into an ALL category creates a stereotype. And as parenting expert Dr. Michelle Borba says, parents should help kids tune into behavior that’s wrong (and never tolerate mean behavior), but also be aware that saying ALL about any group of people creates bias. It’s better – and more effective – to show examples.
If we want change, we need a new narrative. We need to think about the scripts we hand our daughters that wire them for relationships.
I know my girls will have issues to work through one day due to my shortcomings, but one mindset I don’t want them struggling to reverse is a deep distrust of girls. Quite frankly, they need good friends. Friends who will be there when I’m not. Friends who “get” them in a way I never will. Friends who enrich their life, make them laugh, and lead them home when they stray.
So what does a mom do? How do you respond when your daughter gets sucker-punched by a mean girl, and you’re grasping for words to ease her pain?
The temptation is to revert to clichés. To tell her “girls are mean” and then fantasize about getting revenge. Before your mind goes there, consider an alternative. Change the conversation to instill hope and a sense of control.
Consider words like these:
I’m so sorry this happened to you. It’s not right and it’s not fair, and you don’t deserve it.
Please know you’re not alone. Although you feel singled out, like you’re the only person to ever be treated this way, you’re not. Sadly, our world sets a low bar for how people should behave. Even at my age, people can be very mean, inconsiderate, and ugly. Just last week someone hurt my feelings by making a rude remark that stayed in my head for days.
I can’t promise that you’ll never be hurt again – because you will be – but you can use this situation to your advantage. You can learn from it and become a better friend. The worst people provide the best examples of how not to act, and now that you’ve been targeted, you know to never repeat this mean behavior. This wisdom will take you far in life and lead to great relationships.
This may blow over with the person who hurt you, or it may not. Only time will tell. But for now, keep a safe distance and stick with the people who make you feel good. Take the high road and be kind, because kindness keeps you at peace with yourself. It always attracts the right kind of friends.
You can’t “fix” anyone or make them stop being mean. You can, however, empower yourself by refusing to pass on what they started. Go for kind and be the example that our world needs. Healing comes when you help others, when you turn your pain into a purpose by becoming the friend you wish you had right now.
Today’s kids are being shaped by a world that is harsher and darker than the world that shaped us. It likes to pit girls against each other, exploit it on TV, and fuel the belief that every female has a mean streak that makes her inherently cruel.
Maybe that’s true for some, but it’s not true of the whole. I’ve spent a lifetime immersed in the girl world (I grew up with 3 sisters, now I’m raising 4 daughters) and I’ve met every personality under the sun. I’ve witnessed A to Z on the catty scale and learned that you can’t let the bad apples ruin your faith in everyone. To throw out the baby with the bathwater is a mistake. We only hurt ourselves when we miss golden opportunities to form genuine friendships with other females.
The fact is, girls need each other. They are stronger together than apart – especially as they learn to be encouragers. Believing socially prescribed notions like “girls are mean” is as helpful as believing “girls are bad at math.” Most parents would never tell their daughter that latter statement, so why would we convince them of the first?
It’s time to start a better conversation, one that empowers our daughters in hurtful situations and casts a vision that makes them proud of their gender and confident of the good things still to come.
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My new book Love Her Well: 10 Ways to Find Joy and Connection with Your Teenage Daughter is now available, and it’s getting a fantastic response as moms tell their mom friends about it. You can find it everywhere books are sold, including Amazon and Audible. What a privilege it’s been to narrate my first book for moms!
My two books for teen girls, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know and Liked, have been used widely across the U.S. for group studies. For more posts, subscribe to this blog or join me on Facebook, Instagram and the Girl Mom podcast.
Posted by Kari on January 17, 2021