Friday, March 16, 2012

Mean Girls: Can Popular Media Destroy Feminist Gains?

 Although comic books show women fighting and using violence to solve problems, women in our society have been stereotyped to not use physical violence as a form of fighting. Instead, women have been conditioned to take on a passive aggressive form of fighting, usually consisting of spreading rumors, or emotionally degrading people they wish to destroy, instead of just physically taking them out. This idea of refraining from physical violence is portrayed and popularized in the media.

Take for example the following clip from the well known movie, Mean Girls.

In the movie prior to when this clip was taken from, Cady got into a “fight” with Regina. Although the word fight can imply physical aggression, this “fight” consists of playing with emotions and gossip in attempts to destroy one another. Emphasizing the difference between this kind of fighting and what Cady would be used to in Africa where she just moved from, Cady says, “I knew how things would be settled in the animal world, but this is girl world.” 

This clip implies that in “animal world,” things would naturally be settled by violence, with the strongest one winning. However, in “girl world”, one must not use violence to solve problems. Rather, they use mind games instead of throwing punches. However, this clip does imply that women have thoughts of physical aggression to take out their rage like others do, but are expected to refrain from acting on them simply due to the fact that they are girls. 

I also thought it was telling that in this movie, the two girls are fighting over a guy—which goes against many feminist ideals that women should be able to be independent. Not only are women restricted from using physical violence, but they are also “fighting” over a man to make them happy! A movie with a message like this is something any feminist would not be proud of—refraining from physical action because society tells them to and fighting over a boy—basically begging to lose the equality they worked so hard to gain for women.

Like in Mean Girls, our media tells us that “girl world” is different from the actual world—and different rules must be followed. Popularizing ideas like this causes our society to create an idea of women—passive and trying to find a good strong male to do the real fighting for them. Although the feminist movement has been strong and successful in gaining equality and independence for women, why does our media still portray women in this way, causing women to slip once again into the stereotype they worked so hard to get out of? 

Video from: 


  1. As my most recent post was on female bullying in the workplace, I too have been thinking about the ways that women fight with each other. Movies like Mean Girls are especially effective in portraying the idea that girls can only play mind games and not actually fight physically. Unfortunately, I think the media may use this portrayal because it is generally true. I know few girls who would solve their problems with other girls physically, as in the “animal world”, but I do know many who would instead resort to harsh words and manipulation. One of the appeals of movies like this is that they point out many of the things occur in society and mock them. Mean Girls especially is a satirical interpretation of what is like to be a girl in high school.

  2. It is often said that when two guys fight, they punch each other and then go get a beer together, but when two girls fight, they call each other names, ignore each other and polarize everyone the know. This is because being in a real fight is a show of machismo for guys, but physical altercations are seen as unladylike, so girls usually refrain from them in favor of more subtle, but ultimately more damaging (mentally, at least) means.
    Mean Girls (the movie) was written by Tina Fey, who I would consider a feminist, or at least a role model, in order to show how stupid and pointless girl "fights" are, not promote them.

  3. The movie Mean Girls makes a spectacle out of the way girls fight with one another. It portrays an extreme case of girl bullying and turns it into a comedy. I think this movie is hilarious but it is sad to think about how there are girls in real life that act in a hateful manner towards other girls. I agree with wrath42 that often guys will get into physical conflict while girls will fight one another on a psychological level. In many cases, the psychological conflict can go on for much longer than the physical, which I find makes it in a way much worse. When you get into a fight, someone knocks someone else out and it done but when does verbal abuse and manipulation end? I don't know if Mean Girls is stereotyping girls or rather portraying the unfortunate truth about girl fighting in an extreme manner.

    1. I just want to begin with the fact that I love this movie. And I don't think that the movie is trying to enforce the "girl world" rules. It makes a point of making fun of them, therby highlighting the ridiculous aspects of girl fighting.
      I would also want to point out that the rules of aggressive engagement are not strictly defined as male or female. I would think it is more based on class structures. No one in the Royal Family, of any nation, could get into a fist fight, male or female. Obama can't start punching people because he is a male. But also you can see women getting in physical fights too. Jerry Springer anyone? The difference is that punching is usually seen as a lower manner to settle arguments. People can lose respect and status when punching people. I propose it is not "girl world" but Preppy High class girl world.

    2. I totally agree with you, Maggie! I was thinking about how I have definitely heard of women throwing punches (on shows like Jerry Springer) or getting into "cat fights," although not as common as men. However, I do believe that this isn't because women are more reasonable and choose NOT to fight, we simply find other ways than physically. Because we are emotional creatures, we know that the ways to hurt our female enemies most is through THEIR emotions. I remember being a little kid and wanting to get spanked or grounded for being disobedient, just as long as my parents didn't yell at me.

      I think in this scenario, Cady realizes the way to most hurt Regina is not through violence, which would only end in her looking like a victim, but through cleverly ripping apart her "kingdom." This would result in her whole world being torn apart, and make her feel emotionally unstable (hurt, jealous, humiliated).

      If we look at this through a male perspective, Cady beating up Regina (now both guys) would result in Regina looking weak: one of the most degrading feelings for a man. I think this is why men resort to physical violence and women use emotional. In general (and certainly not in all cases), men lose self-esteem when they are visibly weak, whereas women lose self-esteem when they feel emotionally weak.


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