Film & Philosophy: Mean Girls

After walking into a classroom of students that immediately silenced upon her entry, L decided it was time to do Mean Girls for a film friday discussion over here at Philosophy Matters. It’s a film that we can use to explore educational philosophies and feminism, so here goes.

Cady Heron, played by Lindsay Lohan, had been home-schooled in Africa her entire life by her professor parents. Her mom gets a tenure-track position at Northwestern and the film follows Cady’s transition from self-confident, independent and intelligent girl to mean, backstabbing, and catty girl as pressured by The Plastics (high school “teen royalty”). The following quote demonstrates Cady’s transition from independent student learning from nature in Africa to a typical high school classroom:

“I had never lived in a world where adults didn’t trust me, where they were always yelling at me:

– Don’t read ahead!

– No green pen!

– No food in class!”

I cringe every time there is a classroom scene in this movie! There were so many cases (in the Health/Sex Ed class alone) that were so incredibly frustrating as an educator. The constantly scowling faculty mulling through the lunchroom made me sad for the school. Tina Fey’s character, Ms. Norbury, was the only teacher that seemed to have real connections with her students. She called them by name, she spoke to them as people, and she made the subject she taught relevant and fun by showing support of the Mathletes. This observation by Cady that “Adults didn’t trust [her]” is both sad and reality. Too many educators do not give the students in their classrooms enough credit or independence to really explore and learn about their subjects. The rules that are listed after the observation are also completely arbitrary! Why would it be bad for a student to read ahead? Does an assignment written in a green pen have less value than an assignment done in a black pen? The “no food in class” rule is the only one that seems valid and one that I have in my classroom (unless I bring food for all of my students to enjoy). Why don’t teachers trust their students?

As a practical matter, I’ve found that a few bad apples often spoil it for the rest. I’ve seen many classrooms and programs where something goes wrong and a rule is created to prevent it from happening again. Creating rules and punishing is much easier than actually dealing with the issues that come up in the classroom. Grading, reporting, larger classes, state testing, all of these things push us further and further away from actually caring about the students themselves. Results matter. There are deadlines that need to be met and objectives that need to be achieved. In my opinion, it’s not so much a matter of trust as a lack of time and care. We have a culture of standardization in education right now, and these seem to be merely reflections of that.

“OK, irregardless. Ex-boyfriends are just off-limits to friends. I mean, that’s just, like, the rules of feminism.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll never tell Regina what you said. It’ll be our little secret.”

This conversation happens between The Plastics and Cady Heron at the lunch table. Cady has just expressed interest in an ex-boyfriend of one of the The Plastics (the one who had just stepped away from the table). The Plastics seem to thrive on secrets and somehow having an advantage over other girls. This is demonstrated in their dress, their manipulation and certainly the way they treat male and female peers. This concept is explored at length in the Her Campus article titled Girl Code: What’s Ok & What’s Not According to Collegiates. According to the article (which can be found here:

Answering the question, “Is it OK to date a friend’s ex-boyfriend.”  Furthermore college-age females had some interesting things to say, for example:

Lier: You can do anything you want, but like all actions, there are consequences. Dating your friend’s ex will change your relationship with her without a doubt.  So, depending on how important your friend is to you, this might be something to consider. Generally speaking, it’s not a good idea and you will most likely lose your friendship with the girl. If she is not the kind of person who is a true friend anyway, then go for it.

Lier acknowledges that the relationship will certainly be tested, even ended, with the female whose ex-boyfriend is being dated. Women are asked to evaluate their relationships with their fellow support systems, female friends, when selecting a potential mate. Should it be weighed significantly that this mate was rejected by the first female? Perhaps there was something inherently wrong with the relationship due to his attitudes, behavior or even physical contributions to the relationship. Should Female #2 trust Female #1’s judgement and not date her ex?

For me, this answer is highly contextual, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving a blanket yes or no. I think if there larger character issues, like physical abuse, then it should be quite easy to trust Female #1’s judgment. However, even within groups of people who are fairly similar, there are significant personality differences. When I think back to my group of friends in high school, we were all similar from a big picture perspective, but still very different from one another, and different in groups than we were on an individual basis. And I think that’s common and normal. We all feed off of the personality of the people we are around to a certain degree. And I think that makes it very difficult to predict how you will hit off with any particular person.

There are a lot of assumptions with a group of female friends – we assume they have like interests, attitudes, philosophies and ideals; without which they would struggle to maintain friendships in the first place. Bringing a male into the picture causes competition between the females for his affection AND raises concerns of loyalty. Would a male be more likely to date girls (as in, he has a “type”) in the same female social group just by sheer interest in like-minded females? Perhaps a better question is, would you feel comfortable with a male friend dating one of your exes? Why do you think there is a difference here?

This topic is interesting for me, but I think it’s hard to discuss because it’s impossible for me as a man to experience what it’s like to a woman and vice-versa. I’ve had many women try to explain to me that female-female friendships are much different than male-male friendships, some even claiming there never is true friendship between two women. I tend to doubt the latter extreme case, but I am open to the idea that there are differences. The suggestion is usually along the lines of females being more competitive and comparative – constantly asking questions such as “Do I look better than her?” At least in the male world I live, that’s rarely a question I have asked or heard other guys ask in comparison to other guys. If this difference is true (and again, I can only rely on what I’ve been told here), then I think that competitive nature might explain the difference.

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