This morning I was thinking about one of my best friends, Heather, who lives quite far away from me. I was singing the new One Direction Song (Best Song Ever – catchy, isn’t it?) and thinking about all the times we would go dancing. She is a really good dancer. That got me to thinking about her daughters, and whether or not they would be good dancers as well. I thought to myself how strange it is – Heather and I met when we were 19 and have had a rocky road for a friendship, and now we are so strong and I’ve been married and divorced and she has two beautiful daughters. It’s funny to look at where we are now versus where we started. It took several years for us to get to a place where we could just be nice to one another. I am so grateful to have her in my life, but it made me wonder… Why the hell are women so mean to one another?
I am particularly sensitive to bullying – especially when it comes to women bullying other women. I don’t really remember bullying before the age of 12, but I was so naive and probably didn’t notice it happening. I have little memories… not being allowed to play tether ball at recess with the boys, being excluded from playing Uno with some other kids at school… but nothing that I remember being really devastating. When I moved from Ohio to New Hampshire, at the age of 12, everything changed.
I know that the age of 12 is rough on all adolescents. I am sure that the things I experienced after the move would have happened in Ohio if I had stayed. I associate the first few years living in New England with a lot of pain and suffering. The bullying was intensified by the culture shock – the midwest is quite different from New England. Also, I was adjusting to not only not knowing anyone, but my parents didn’t know anyone either. The move was stressful on all of us at the time, except for maybe my youngest sister who was five at the time, so she has few memories of her childhood in Ohio.
I was a bubbly and energetic kid. Always smiling and always happy – for the most part. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my school – with a slight accent and cowboy boots (my dad always wears them and so of course I wanted a pair of my own!). I was overly eager – always friendly to everyone and chomping at the bit to make new friends. I didn’t really understand where I was or how the kids expected me to behave, but looking back on it, it feels like I did everything wrong. A lot of these kids had known each other – like my sister and her friends – since kindergarten. To say I was an outsider was mild – it felt more like I was a malignant growth in my social group.
I also tried very hard in school; I loved learning and kids didn’t really respond to that well. I bonded with teachers easily because I had a wide vocabulary and tried really hard. I respected them and talked to them like they were my friends, and I quickly developed a reputation for being a teacher’s pet. Even though that is the best place to be if you are a motivated, eager student – it kills you socially.
Kids wrote things about me on posters in the bathroom, which was devastating. No one talked to me at the bus stop in the mornings, which was difficult because at my old school everyone talked to everyone, even if you had never met them before. My middle sister wasn’t even with me – she was in the fifth grade and so she went to a different school. The bus rides were brutal, no one wanted to sit with me, and I always felt on the outside.
There was a huge class system at my middle school – the kind that cliché movies about high school feature. All the cool kids wore clothes from the same kinds of places – and they were always the kinds of places my parents wouldn’t shop. There’s truly no sense in spending that much money on a child’s clothing when they are growing too fast to wear it for very long. And as a child, I played really hard. So why spend the money on the real Adidas shoes with the lines on the side, when they would just get dirty anyway? So I wore the Payless Adidas knockoffs (thinking if I had those kinds of shoes, maybe the kids would like me), and everyone could tell and it didn’t work.
There was an invisible line in the lunch room – this is probably my second worst memory. I didn’t understand my “place”, and so I went to sit with some kids that looked cool. They were the ones that everyone else seemed to revere, and I wanted to sit with them. As soon as I sat down, everyone at the table started talking at once. The kids next to me, the kids in front of me, and the kids next to the kids in front of me. Things like, No one likes you and Get up and go away or You can’t sit at this table. We don’t want you here. The shame of awkwardly getting up from the middle of a bench seat at a long table and carrying your tray anywhere else – as long as it’s on the other side of the invisible line – was brutal.
I made a few friends, but they were all the wrong kinds of people. They were the low-range of the social class, and they were mean to me as well. Nothing but trouble, those few, and as their lives unfolded, that became all the more obvious.
In my eighth grade year, I wanted to start off on a new foot. I tried and tried to get the popular kids to accept me. I don’t know why it mattered to me so much – looking like them, talking like them, acting like them. I just so badly wanted to fit in. I had spent the majority of my seventh grade year coming home crying after school. It was awful, and I was going to make the most out of eighth grade.
I came very close to mimicking what the girls wore, and they eventually accepted me into the group, but it was hesitant. I wore my hair and makeup like they did. It was so obvious that I was completely falsifying who I was to fit in – looking at my seventh grade yearbook picture, I am beaming. Looking at my eighth grade picture, I look like I am on the verge of tears. Soon I was mostly integrated into the group and I felt a deep satisfaction that I could make these other kids like me. Suddenly I was welcome at the cool kids lunch table, and during school trips and assemblies we always sat together on buses and in the auditorium. I had a group. I may have even participated in those things that they did to me, but to other kids. I honestly don’t remember. If it happened, I am sure I have repressed the memory out of shame.
My single worst memory from adolescence – worse than the bus accident I was in that knocked my teeth out-of-place and required some fancy handwork, braces, and dental surgery – was the day that one of the girls in the group, and I wish I could remember which one – told me that I wasn’t actually a part of the group. I remember exactly where we were standing – in a stairwell after one of our classes, it may have been home room. It’s a little fuzzy, but I think she sat next to me in home room and I had confided in her that I had a crush on one of the boys. He hated me, of course, but I didn’t see that. I just thought he was dreamy or whatever. Anyway, I think she felt sorry for me and couldn’t stand it. So she told me, privately, that I wasn’t one of the popular kids at all. That I was allowed into the group as a sort of pet. It was all one big joke that pretty much everyone was in on.
After that, I didn’t sit on that side of the lunch room anymore.
Similar things happened after that – the most amusing (looking back) was when a friend I had the summer before high school started flipped out because I told her that I loved her (in a casual “love you” friend kind of way) and she called me a fag and my parents fags and spread rumors that I was a lesbian. Great way to start high school. After that, it didn’t really matter. I made more friends, some were cool and some weren’t – but that moment finding out about my pretend social status pretty much sealed the deal for me. I would never really want friends again. Not that bad. Of course I still wanted friends, but I stopped being something to be desired, and I started being whatever I wanted.
This probably all sounds very familiar, because kids get teased, right? What I found interesting, as I aged, was that it doesn’t stop. When I was 19 or 20 I began working at my first real grownup job – or so it felt like – at a hospital in Ohio. It was like middle school all over again. It was very clique-y in my department, and I was a real go-getter. I tried really hard at my job, always completing tasks well before the workday was over. I made an effort to get to know my new boss, because she was new to the department and everyone talked about her behind her back and I wanted her to know she had a real friend, a real supporter. I had meetings with her to try to improve business processes, which just about everyone hated. I went on smoke breaks with some girls in the office, and they were always nice to me and friendly. One day, one of the women was accidentally copied on an email conversation about me. She told me about it, privately, so I would understand that these women weren’t my friends – they hated me. They were nice to my face, but talked so much behind my back. Cruel things, true things, mean things, horrible things.
Once, I was sitting in my cubicle waiting for a ride because my battery had died. Everyone else thought I had left, and in the cubicle next to me I heard one of these women talking about me. She was mimicking my voice and saying all kinds of mean things about me. I was just sitting there reading a book, waiting for my ride to get there, and when I overheard her talking I couldn’t breathe. Every nerve ending in my body seemed to come alive and I had the most peculiar humming all over my skin. I generally associate this feeling with anger, because I have quite the temper. My head started to hurt from the exertion to not beat her half to death (exaggerating) for being such a rotten human being. I was… 21? Maybe younger. I grabbed my stuff and walked outside – right past all of them – and burst into tears once I got into the fresh air. I started smoking a cigarette right there in front of the building – because I honestly didn’t give a shit.
When I moved back to New Hampshire, I quickly found a job at a restaurant. I love the job, but very quickly I had similar problems. When they made me a trainer, I started to hear from a few people at work that the other women really did not like that. Not all of them, but some. I would say that part of the staff can’t stand me, part of them like me because they know me fairly well, and the other part are indifferent. It’s the part that don’t like me that I just can’t understand. It’s been the same problem my entire life – I am different from others around me. In actuality, we are all different from one another – but I think I am different in a way that makes others dislike me for specific reasons. I usually go against the grain, I try harder than most people (not because I actively try to work harder than them, but I work how I work and it tends to be better than other people), I build good relationships with my superiors, I am motivated, a go-getter, I learn quickly, I am young and at the beginning of my adult life, I have a nice body, I am beautiful… before anyone out there thinks I am being conceited, these are not exactly my opinions, these are the opinions of the other adults watching these scenarios unfold. I would call my mother, crying, about the women at my job that were so terrible to me and made me feel 13 all over again. She would explain that this kind of treatment never really stops – especially with women.
It puzzles me, greatly, this thing that women do to one another. Why are we so mean to each other? Why do we cut each other down? I hate to say the thing that sounds cheesy and predictable, but don’t women have enough struggles in life without turning on one another? I feel one of three ways about people: I like you because you have proven your character to me and you are useful to me in some way, I am indifferent to you, or I dislike you because you have behaved in a way that I deem morally inadequate or you hurt someone I love. What is this thing where one woman doesn’t like another because she has a “better” body? Or because she is younger? Or because she maybe talks too much or is too happy all the time or has a great relationship? I see women going at each other for the dumbest reasons. Maybe you heard through the grapevine that she smiled at your boyfriend at the bar, or perhaps you don’t like the clothing she wears because you think she is trying too hard. Why can’t we just appreciate each other in some way?
There are a few times that I have been mean to someone, including my dear friend that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. It stems from jealousy, naturally. She had a better body (seriously, you guys that have seen me, can you believe I would be jealous of someone else’s body? Mine’s damn near perfect) and she was a better dancer. She had a (seemingly) better relationship, better just about everything. I hated her. I loved her, but I also hated her. She loved me too, but she also hated me for her own reasons, and we yo-yo’d between being inseparable and sabotaging each other. It once got so extreme that we almost came to blows!
Fortunately, those days are LONG past and I can build relationships with women that are meaningful and honest. I always tell the truth to a woman, including when I think she looks nice because she isn’t dressed as slutty as she normally is, or that she seems like a lunatic because of the way she is handling her recent breakup. I wait until they know they can trust me and know that I would never talk about them behind their backs, and then I tell them the truth. I find this to be infinitely valuable in a world where most women will lie to your face and then scheme behind your back. I watch this all, utterly fascinated, but utterly devastated. We are truly getting in our own way when it comes to affecting change in the social structure of things. It is not surprising that women have a reputation for being manipulative and bitchy – look at how we treat each other!
I just wish we could appreciate one another – and get past our own inadequacies so that we may treat one another with kindness and respect.