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Confessions of a Former Mean Girl

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Her name was Jackie and we were cruel to her.

She lived in a small, weather-worn house across the street from our school. She wore the same out-of-style clothes every day. They were stained and frayed. Her hair was never combed, and her homework was rarely done. For these crimes, a court of spoiled and selfish fifth-grade girls sentenced her to a year of hard time as the target of jokes, disdain, and teasing.

I was on the jury.

Decades later, I look back on those playground moments with a great deal of shame and embarrassment. I think the worst thing we did to Jackie was the plot to make her think we were going to let her in our group (dubbed “The Magnificent Seven” by a teacher) all the time knowing we were going to ostracize her a few days later. The plan was to tell her how rich we were, how we vacationed in amazing places, and how our parents drove multiple expensive cars. Isn’t it amazing we want to be your friend, Jackie? You must be special!

Our plan worked perfectly. Jackie thought we accepted her. She was happy. Then we crushed her with the news she wasn’t our friend, she could never be our friend, she’d never have a friend, boo hoo.

Of course none of us were rich. The most exotic vacation was at Disneyland, and our parents drove station wagons and Ford sedans. We lived in split levels and ranch homes in subdivisions. Our clothes came from the Sears catalog or maybe the downtown JC Penney’s. Obviously, we told Jackie those lies to make ourselves feel better. There is always someone prettier, richer, smarter and girls are hyper-aware of these differences. By grinding a less advantaged girl into the ground, we stood a little taller. This was the gang mentalility, and I don’t use the word gang lightly.

Our switchblades were our tongues. We punched and kicked with haughty looks and well-time laughter and gossip. I think we did more damage, as girls, to the spirits of other girls than the boys who wrestled around on the playground ever did to each other. A bruise on the cheek heals. A bruise on the psyche may never heal.

I wonder now where the adults were? Teachers and aides were quick to pull tussling boys off each other. Did they notice Jackie crying on the side of the building? Did they notice the notes passed during class, her exclusion, our hissed whispers when she sat near us in the lunchroom?

I am not blaming the adults for failing to stop us. We should have known better. I am simply wondering why it was tolerated if indeed it was noticed?

Recently, I volunteered to help with my church’s VBS class. They assigned me to work with the second grade class.

It was a fun and exhausting week. The kids were full of energy and were kept busy with singing, crafts, snacks, and stories. Most of the kids knew each other from church or their schools. Some brought neighborhood friends. Overall, the kids seemed to get along well.

One day, shortly after returning to the classroom from the lesson, I noticed a girl in the corner crying. I approached her and asked what was wrong. She spilled the story of how another girl promised to be her best friend for the whole month of July, and now she wasn’t being a friend at all. She was so hurt. I told her I was sorry, and I knew what she was feeling.

I did: I became Jackie in seventh grade. I cried on the school bus more than once. I ate alone. It was the worst year of my life. Amazingly, I was savvy enough to see what I did to another was now being done to me.

I gave the girl a hug and told her to join in with the group. The kids in the classroom were busy doing an activity with balloons. I pulled the other girl aside and said I couldn’t tell her who to be friends with—but I could tell her it was important to honor a promise. She knew immediately what I was talking about, and I was very proud of her when she went to her friend and apologized. These girls are only seven, so young to be dealing with drama.

I wonder what would have happened if someone, anyone, had pointed out that The Magnificent Seven was nothing more than a band of cowardly bullies who measured worth in the amount of friendship pins on our shoelaces?

I wish someone had tried.

Jackie, I am sorry.

gretchen
Author: gretchen

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Comments
  • Pingback:Lifenut » If your name is Jackie, I have something to tell you

  • comment avatar Suzanne Bastien July 22, 2008

    Wow.. that was a really strong story.
    I believe that energy is formed with a purpose, and I think that your apology is felt in the cosmos.

  • comment avatar Kalisha July 22, 2008

    Great post! The clicks of girls start so young. I teased a girl in high school that I feel so bad about too. All we can do is learn from those mistakes and teach our daughters and sons how not to be that way. Thanks for sharing!
    Kalisha from Mommy Lounge http://mommylounge.wordpress.com

  • comment avatar Kelly @ Love Well July 22, 2008

    Wow. That story made me cringe. It’s horrible what kids will do to each other. And please know — I’m not pointing a finger at you, because I acted in similar ways in 8th grade, when our private school class turned into a soap opera. It’s just such horrible thing. The scars last.

  • comment avatar Heth July 22, 2008

    Oh boy. I have wrestled with this so much since becoming an adult. I too was mean and hurtful, completely oblivious to what could have possibly been going on in other kids’ lives. I think that’s what makes me cringe the most. To look back and realize that not everyone had the ideal home life that I took so much for granted. Some of the most unlovable kids were the ones who were hurting the most and I probably just made it worse for them.

    Lord forgive me.

  • comment avatar Anonymous July 22, 2008

    I was mean and people were mean to me. I refuse to make it a banner – and chalk it up as a necessary evil that made me who I am today. Had I been coddled and “protected” I would have never grown a back bone. It’s good to feel embarrassment over how we treat other people – its a bad feeling that keeps us from repeating the same mistakes. And Kelly, I disagree. When you learn about yourself and grow into adulthood – those scars heal over. However, teaching our children that we are to love our neighbor (girl on the bus, kid on the playground) more than we love ourselves – things like cliques disappear. How can you be exclusive when you are taught to esteem others better than yourself? The problem is that most children today are not taught these things by anyone – let alone their uninvolved parents.

  • comment avatar Schratboy July 22, 2008

    Why don’t you try and reach out, find the girl and make amends in person? Writing about it in a blog may be cathartic, and profitable, but it falls short of a true contrition and making amends.

  • comment avatar Tracy (tjly) July 22, 2008

    Good story to read Gretchen. I remember that “gang” mentality with girls too. Its sad that it seems to be starting even younger these days.

  • comment avatar amanda July 22, 2008

    Isn’t it something? Boys and girls are so different in the ways that they relate. There’s so much subtlety and emotion to deal with when you’ve got a group of girls–and as a parent you can only hope that your child isn’t the perpetual victim!

    http://www.kiddio.org

  • comment avatar GretchenM. July 22, 2008

    I was the target for years…at a fancy-schmancy private school. The two leaders of the cool girl group (they weren’t too bright, but they were rich and had a lot of power), made my life miserable for 6 years. We left that school after 9th grade,much to my relief, and suddenly I had a bunch of friends! Fast forward many years. My brother and his wife are friends with one of the mean girls…she was at their wedding,even. Did she come up to me to say “hello” or anything? Nope. I found out she was there after the fact, when I saw a guest list. May she rot in wherever she ends up. My brother knows how I feel about her and I hope he has told her. I am glad I have sons.

  • comment avatar Kristin July 22, 2008

    I was on receiving and giving ends. Can’t say either one was that fun.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson July 22, 2008

    Jennifer Degenstein. That was the name of a girl I tormented in grade school. I had no reason to dislike her: she was sweet, quiet and and shy but I made darn sure she was not a part of our “cool” neighborhood posse.

    i wrote a similar post about her last year and I actually had a Jennifer Dengenstein respond. Not THE one but who knows? Maybe one of these days?

  • comment avatar Tiffany July 22, 2008

    What a great post from Lifenut whom I read regularly. I love how it all went full circle, not that she herself was bullied later, but that she was able to help another child who was hurt.

  • comment avatar Tiffany July 22, 2008

    Oh, I forgot to include my URL at http://www.ButIHadATiara.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar Blackhatseo July 22, 2008

    Added. Nice work on this one. Btw, my blog is dofollow, stop by and grab a link. Walter

  • comment avatar diana/sunshine July 22, 2008

    this post made me cry because i know the lasting effects mean girls can cause. i had a daughter who was bullied in middle school. and as a youthworker, i see this behavior all the time.

    funny thing is, i can understand how girls end up being mean girls. it’s all about fitting in and feeling accepted. even though my daughter was treated terribly by mean girls, she turned right around and treated others the same way once she became part of a group.

    it’s too bad young girls can’t see what they’re doing and the consequences of their actions. it’s not until we get older and look back that we can fully understand the impact we had. i say we, because i was a mean girl, too. =(

  • comment avatar diana/sunshine July 22, 2008

    oh, i forgot my url, too.

    http://www.sunshine-on-my-shoulders.blogspot.com

    sure wish you mile high mamas would have our url automatically included.

  • comment avatar edj July 22, 2008

    Oh yes…and Jill, I’m so sorry. And, like you, by jr hi I was on the other end of things. I just cringe at the memory. The things is, I was never the instigator, but I lacked the courage to stand up to those who were. AND I was taught well; I just lacked backbone. I would be kind in private, but ignore in public.

    Great post.

    http://www.planetnomad.wordpress.com

  • comment avatar Stephanie July 23, 2008

    I was lucky that I never experienced or encountered Mean Girls in my younger years. I never felt ostracized, nor did I ever ostracize–but that was largely due to attending a very teeny tiny private school where there was only one other girl in my class. We were friends, if only to ward off the boys.

    However, when I went to college my group of friends turned on me and ostracized me from the group. The drama was even complete with a note (!!) that said, We don’t want to be your friend anymore.

    I suppose some people could take that event and be a stronger person because of it, but for me it led to years of depression and the refusal to be friends with anyone except my spouse. Although the anonymous commenter above believes that scars heal over, it never really did for me.

    I am terrified that my daughter will ever experience this kind of pain.

  • comment avatar Brillig July 23, 2008

    It’s so fascinating to think of these things as an adult, no? I don’t think I was ever a mean girl OR the girl being picked on. But I had dear friends on both sides of the pendulum. What a painful thing for a child! I hope that wherever Jackie is, she managed to pick herself up and thrive– the way you clearly have managed to. Great post!

    http://www.twas-brillig.com/

  • comment avatar Tonggu Momma July 23, 2008

    My name isn’t Jackie, but I thank you anyway. I only look back on that time in my life using matter-of-fact eyes. It made me who I am today. Listening to your handling of the recent VBS situation… well, it sounds as if that time in your life also made you who you are today. You handled both girls with grace and truth.

    Now go forgive yourself, if you haven’t already. God already forgave you.

    http://ourlittletongginator.blogspot.com/

  • comment avatar katherine July 23, 2008

    wow.

    wow. what a powerful story. i appreciate your wisdom, insight and vulnerability, gretchen!

    http://www.senorelefante.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar Jody July 23, 2008

    You do realize that these cliques carry over into adulthood. There’s the “it” crowd in the office too. The politics may have changed a little, but not much. Where you live, what you drive, how you dress and what activities/schools your kids attend still all play into “the game”.

    It’s really a shame that so many women don’t grow out of the whole “Gossip Girl” mentality.

    Jody @ Mile High Mommy

  • comment avatar Jody July 23, 2008

    ugggh! _ my url didn’t take in the post above!

    http://milehighmommy.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar pisceshanna July 23, 2008

    I was the kid in elementary school whos dad was the most hated teacher. I was also the kid whos mom was the most hated bus driver. In high school I was the kid who got pushed into lockers and told “the halls smell like B.O. because of your dirty hippie ass.”

    Yeah, some of those wounds never heal.

  • comment avatar pisceshanna July 23, 2008
  • comment avatar Lori July 23, 2008

    What a great post.

    I was a bit of a Jackie. But I’m sure I had moments of being a Mean Girl, too. The Oppressed can so easily become Oppressors.

    Now I want to keep my daughter from becoming a Mean Girl. I will bookmark this to read with her at the right moment.

    Thanks, Gretchen.

  • comment avatar Antique Mommy July 23, 2008

    Oh that was painful to read. I cringed all too knowingly. I was a mean girl to a girl at school in the 2nd grade, along with the entire class. For some reason this poor gal was ostracized and taunted but who knows why. She was no different than the rest of us, but for some reason was “chosen”. About 3-years ago, I got together with my class (yes, my grade school class) and we all talked about it and said how guilty we felt and wondered what happened to her. In HS, I was the target of some mean girls. Payback is a bi*ch as they say. If there is one thing I work on with my son it is to be inclusive and to be extra nice to those on the fringes. I think that is the single most thing he can do to express his faith. He’s only four, I know, but it’s never to early to start watering that seed.

  • comment avatar Andi July 24, 2008

    I have to disagree with Anonymous above. I was a Jackie growing up. Some of those scars don’t heal and now I just struggle with them in the corporate environment. Maybe I’m more aware of myself as an adult, but pain inflicted is pain inflicted. MOST of what pains us on earth will never be completely healed until Heaven…if there is one. I can only hope to instill the awareness of that pain to my child and to teach him to never be the oppressor. Good post Gretchen.

  • comment avatar The Diaper Diaries July 24, 2008

    I too started out on the giving end and ended up for a while on the receiving end. I carry a lot of shame about it also. I just finished reading Nineteen Minutes and was so deeply affected. This is a fantastic post. Thank you.

  • comment avatar trs July 26, 2008

    Oh… I was the target… for a very long time. Being a skinny kid with knees as big as your head, while at the same time being a 30 year old in a 9 year old’s body doesn’t earn admiration!

    But then one summer at 4-H camp there was a girl named Shirley with an unfortunate hairdo and an odd crush on the hot camp counselor – and I found a way to target her. I wasn’t too terrible – but I knew at the time that I was only doing it because I could. Just to see what it was like.

    Most interesting… I taught a CCD class for the 16 year olds at my church. There was one very odd girl in the class who didn’t show up much and it was obvious the pretty, popular kids were uncomfortable around her.
    One evening when she wasn’t in class, the kids started an anonymous discussion about her. No names were mentioned, it was all hypothetical but we knew who we were referring to.
    The kids asked about people who were different, who wore trench coats and black nail polish and black lipstick (this was the year after Columbine) Why do they do it? I explained that some people feel very alone and they do some things for attention. The pretty girl announced, “But that’s negative attention. Why would anyone want that?”
    I explained that when you don’t get ANY attention, even negative attention feels important.

    Then over the next few weeks, I got stories back from the kids about how they stepped out of their comfort zone to try to include the people they used to shun. OH GREAT SUCCESS! It’s one thing I’m very proud of….

  • comment avatar Iva July 26, 2008

    That took guts; laying yourself out for the world to ‘read’, especially with so many stories of people being bullied and their scars never healing.

    I think as adults, we all look back and think, “Why did I do that?” “What was I thinking?”

    The best we can do for our children is remember – remember why we bullied and remember how it felt to be bullied – and talk about it with our children.

    I really enjoyed your post.

    http://www.womanwithin.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar confident July 26, 2008

    My name is not Jackie but I am Jackie. I endured many years of being ostracized by my peers. I was different. Later, as an adult, one of my peers personally apologized. I hope that person realizes what a blessing it was for me. More than that, I hope that person realizes that she is forgiven for what she had done. You see, I may have endured her behavior for 6 or 7 years, but she has to live with the knowledge of her actions for the rest of her life. In the end she has a much worse situation to deal with. I would never want to go through that part of my childhood again but it made me so much stronger and a more empathetic person. My children are learning how to befriend the “Jackies” of the world and I am so proud of them. I realize that you may not be able to find your Jackie but I would be happy to stand in her shoes and tell you and my elementary/middle school peers that, “I forgive you.”

  • comment avatar Tiffanie July 26, 2008

    I am a Young Life volunteer AD and regularly find myself in the public schools, and sadly I think things are a lot worse than when I was a teen. So many cliques and gangs. Kids banding together and against each other. There are still kids crying in the halls, the bathrooms, on the bus and in their homes. While we are teaching our youth to stand up for their individuality and uniqueness, somehow we are failing to teach them to appreciate and respect the same in others.
    http://ourlloydlife.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar Erin July 26, 2008

    I work with school-aged kids in an after school program and I see so much of this kind of behavior. It saddens me how early children learn to be cruel to each other.

    I do pay attention, however, and I get involved when things get bad. Shame on your teachers for not calling you girls out. It looks like in the end you learned the lesson you needed, though.

    Beautifully well-written post!

    http://princessofsomething.wordpress.com

  • comment avatar Way More Homemade (Donna) July 26, 2008

    Wow… that was good. Thanks for your transparency about it.

    http://waymorehomemade.blogspot.com

  • comment avatar Ali July 30, 2008

    At my daughters middle school the mean girls have been given a name, they are called the P4’s. This stands for ‘Preppy Pretty Purse Posse’, this is because they all wear preppy clothes that are pratically the same (I guess), red bows in their hair on Wednesday, they all carry to school the same type of “pretty purse’ and of course posse speaks for itself. If you aren’t part of this posse, well you are either then classified as, EMO, Goth, Skater, Jock, or what’s worse not even categorized meaning you are NOTHING which is so sad. I guess my daughter is in the EMO/Goth/Skater posse which is funny because I wouldn’t put her in that or any category. I guess she just made friends with that crowd. She definetly is not one of the P4s even though for the last 8 years she has been in the same Dance Acadamy with most of them and you think that common interest would at least put you in the ‘ok’ to be friends with category. They are civil to her at dance (probably because they have to be) but nasty and mean at school which is just crazy. She says that they just glare and gossip about everyone all day long and they make life very difficult. I was hoping that these types of groups would go away, but it just goes on and on and is sometimes worse than when I was in school. It’s a shame.

  • comment avatar Mo August 5, 2008

    I love this post. This is actually a topic that I think of often in all of those “if only I knew then what I know now” moments. I think I’m among the majority of people when I admit that I too have been on both sides of the fence. I’ve taken the hits as well as given them. And I realize now, looking back as an adult, that some of those hits I received stung more than others, and many of them impacted me in a lasting way. It makes me wish so much that we could pass that knowlege on in an effective way when we see kids bullying now. But I also believe that, despite our best efforts, kids will learn the same way we learned as kids. And they too will think to themselves years later “if only I’d known…”

  • comment avatar Mo August 5, 2008

    I love this post. This is actually a topic that I think of often in all of those “if only I knew then what I know now” moments. I think I’m among the majority of people when I admit that I too have been on both sides of the fence. I’ve taken the hits as well as given them. And I realize now, looking back as an adult, that some of those hits I received stung more than others, and many of them impacted me in a lasting way. It makes me wish so much that we could pass that knowlege on in an effective way when we see kids bullying now. But I also believe that, despite our best efforts, kids will learn the same way we learned as kids. And they too will think to themselves years later “if only I’d known…”

    http://noteworthywhims.blogspot.com/

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