Aileen Quijano

WHEN I was in my teens, I remember being haunted by the question: why are women in power so mean? From the hair-flipping Plastics who rule the campus, the Terror Teachers who are quick to dress you down over wrong answers; to the Queen Bee – your own Mama perhaps, who keeps you grounded at home just when you managed to get your high school crush to ask you out on a date.

Then I grew up to find that in the real world, mean girls still abound. From government ladies who make you wait and wait, to immigration officers who love to intimidate and yes, the Plastics who—being non-biodegradable, live long enough to kiss you on both cheeks at cocktail parties and stab you at the back the moment you turn around to get your own margarita.

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In the office, you have your very own Miranda Priestley whom you can’t ever please no matter what you do; suffer the Gossip Girls who pounce on any newbie; and work around the other corporate devils who whine, swear and wear fake Prada.

You try to escape the real world and discover to your chagrin more mean girls in books, TV or the movies—from Blair Waldorf to the Other Boleyn Girl, Stephen King’s Carrie, Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, Mrs. Minchin, Mara’s Clara and who can forget – the Wicked Witch of the West. As one blogger puts it, “It seems that for every faithful friend and all-round good girl there is some darn near demonically possessed mean girl out there determined to take her down. The fact that demons never have anything to do with these scenarios is perhaps their most terrifying element.”

We’ve all had our share of brush ups with mean girls. These antagonists wear so many masks but whenever I encounter one, I always find myself asking the question:

Why?

Is it peer pressure? Is it because when you’re dealing with insecurity, sometimes the easiest way to feel better about yourself is to tear someone else down? Is it the quest for popularity, the illusion of control, or simply the heady assurance that they have something other people want? Is it about the unbelievable pressure girls face to rise to some artificial and unobtainable standards of beauty and size? Is it something encouraged by our culture? So often women are pitted against each other--who’s prettier, smarter, most likely to succeed--that lead to in-fighting, and a thirst to be on top, because not everybody can be.

Where there’s meanness, I also see weakness. The mean girls in our lives may happen to have fabulous makeup or very nice complexions but deep down such girls, in my experience, are also wounded in some fashion, and, in the end, in need of compassion.

In every girl, they say, there’s the good, the bad and the ugly. Few girls, if any, are mean all the time. As someone defines it-- a Mean Girl is two-dimensional; a type rather than a fully rounded character. Because the truth is that sometimes girl relationships are complicated. Jealousy and resentment can coexist with affection and admiration. And if we’re honest, there’s a mean girl in all of us.

In an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine, January 2010 issue, cover girl Leighton Meester admits, “The evil side of Blair is somewhere in me, but acting her out is like therapy. I get to do things nobody would ever say or do in real life.”

Being the recipient of meanness or cruelty could be downright awful and devastating. But we also know that most tortured girls will go off into their adult lives and recover, learn to grow wings and rise above the pettiness and dark web of drama created by mean girls. As my friend Bryan always says, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. So maybe it’s not so bad in the grand scheme of things.

Perhaps it’s just me rationalizing what I cannot change in real life. True, there will always be spiteful, malicious or difficult women in our lives. But as I grow older, I find myself increasingly interested in the shades of gray, to know what these mean girls can actually teach us if we just open our minds.

Such as how to be bold, loud and fascinating. To be clever, aggressive and also mean when necessary.

As we welcome the Year of the Tiger, maybe it’s high time to stop running away from these mean girls, fight back and stop thinking that we are victims all the time. Like the tiger, let us grow up, be brave and finally take that stand and say, “I am woman, hear me roar.”