Mean Girls: Addressing the High School Stereotypes
True or Not?
Co-written by Erin Lee & Sydney Lee | English Columnists
Ever heard of Mean Girls? No, it’s not the three girls sitting next to you in your NutriSci 10 class, talking about last Saturday night at Beta Apple Pie. If you hadn’t already guessed, it’s actually the ever famous movie which has dominated the nation with its numerous unforgettable lines, memes, and characters. It has already been three years since Mean Girls (2004) celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2014. Starring Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams Amanda Seyfried and Lacey Chabert, this 2004 hit still remains one of the most relatable movies for teenaged girls worldwide.
If you have yet to have watched the movie, then we really need to get you out of that cave. However, if you have already seen this great American classic, you may have wondered, “Are these high school stereotypes actually true?” And this is the question we will be answering for you today.
Stereotype 1: High school lunch time is actually divided into cliques.
North Shore High School is the dominant setting of Mean Girls, where all of the drama take place. Lunchtime at North Shore High School reflects gender and racial stereotypes in a “typical” American high school environment. Janice Ian, the main character’s first friend at North Shore, draws a map of the cafeteria, labeling each lunch table and the “clique” that sits there. Here are some of North Shore’s “cliques”:
Unfriendly black hotties
Girls who eat their feelings
Girls who don’t eat anything
Sexually-active band geeks
The greatest people you will ever meet (Janis and Damian)
And the worst (the Plastics, or the “popular” girls).
At first glance, some of these labels may sound familiar. Yet is this how “cliques” or “friend groups” really work in high school? Not really. In this scene, no Asian is seen in any of the African American or caucasian tables, no African American is seen in the Asian or caucasian tables, and the caucasians form their own cliques within their race. Asians are portrayed as either “cool” (as in fashionable and rich) or “nerdy” people who do not speak proper English. African Americans are illustrated as hot, unfriendly and intimidating. Students in the school band are depicted as “sexually-active”, awkward, and only friends with other band members. Caucasian girls who aren’t part of the Plastics or the school band either have eating disorders, are desperate wannabes, or are lazy, socially-awkward burnouts. Growing up, we definitely have seen the formation of cliques especially in high school, but neither high school nor society in the 21st century is as extremely segregated as the one in the movie.
Stereotype 2: Holiday grams determine your popularity.
We all used to look at that girl, who has a pile of candy canes and colored grams on her desk nonchalantly but also with slight envy. In high school, we all knew that these grams were just something small, but also that it did matter whether we actually got none or even one. So we would plan it with our friends ahead of time, saying, “If you buy me one, I’ll buy you one.” We all pretend it doesn’t matter as much, but in the deepest of our hearts, we know it does. The movie, with Gretchen Wieners’ passionate speech about her anger at receiving 0 grams, hints at the embarrassment that one may feel upon receiving 0 grams. They may just be a colored picture, or a candy cane, but society dictates that you must receive at least 1 gram in order to avoid the title of a loser.
Stereotype 3: Girls freak out when they have a 3 word conversation with a boy about how it’s October 3rd.
No, we girls actually don’t get excited if you ask us to borrow a pencil or what the date is. The movie illustrates the main character, Cady Heron, being giddy and excited upon talking to her boy crush, who asks her what the date it is. This scene almost implies that all it takes to woo a girl is just asking her what the date is; from another perspective, it seems to be almost a mockery of the male, as if Cady didn’t expect him to even be capable of starting a simple conversation. Whether this is an exaggeration of a high school female’s obsession with her crush or a mockery of a male’s inability to detect female’s signals, this October 3rd phenomenon has become a popular meme that now almost makes October 3rd a national holiday.
Stereotype 4: Girls select particular days to all dress up to a color.
“On Wednesdays, we wear pink.” But why? The answer is simple: to exclude others and to include only the “accepted.” Bear with me and I’ll explain this further. The “On Wednesdays, we wear pink” statement has become a legendary Mean Girls meme that is widely circulated today. However, if you actually think about it, this statement was first introduced in the movie as a way to exclude the new girl, Cady. And later on when she is able to assimilate into the Mean Girls squad, she also joins them in wearing pink on Wednesdays. By doing this, Cady is acknowledging that this particular practice that has been created by the three girls is a symbol of inclusivity. But why must one wear a particular color on a certain day to be accepted into a friends group?
Also, by wearing pink on Wednesdays, the girls make themselves stand out and clearly demonstrate to the rest of the school that they are part of a group that the rest of the school is not included in. The movie here is right in that that attention is a crucial aspect that many high schoolers seek in order to deal with their insecurities. However, because the statement has now become a meme, we often forget that this meme we laugh at has a message of exclusivity within schools that leads to unhealthy learning environment and at worst, instances of bullying.
Stereotype 5: High school talent shows are a way for girls to seduce the guys.
The Plastics dancing to “Jingle Bell Rock” in mini dresses and heels is another iconic scene from Mean Girls. According to Regina George, the “Queen Bee” of North Shore High School, it is a tradition for the Plastics to dance to this song every year at the school’s winter talent show. Anyone who has watched this performance would agree that the choreography is rather possibly disturbing, as Cady’s father’s face from the audience tells us.
Although the original purpose of talent shows is for participants to perform and showcase their talents in the performing arts, it is true that in high schools in America, some girls do use it for provocative or sexual performances and dances. Many of us have likely seen girls like Cady and her friends at our own high school and will be able to relate especially well to this scene.
Stereotype 6: Derogatory terms such as “bitch” and “slut” have become part of high school girls’ everyday language.
“You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores,” says the teacher to the entire group of girls at North Shore High School. The stereotype in Mean Girls that derogatory terms such as “bitch” and “slut” have become part of high school girls’ everyday language is actually true, as terms such as “sluts”, “whores” and “bitches” were once marked as offensive and derogatory in society but are now used by girls, especially teenaged girls, in everyday language. Almost all female characters in Mean Girls call each other by these terms, forming the stereotype about teenage girls nowadays and suggesting that society’s values in America have changed. Such language is portrayed as very commonly used and even “cool” and “popular”, further associating these words with females in general and making it seem okay for younger female audiences of the movie to also call each other by these terms.