Telenovelas, Mean Girls & Sharkeisha: Questions About Woman on Woman Hate
By: Wendy Castellanos-Wolf
The following may be a universal statement: Women are mean to each other. I work in two traditionally predominant female trades, Dance and Education, so I get to see the very complicated dynamics of female interaction first hand and on a daily basis. I have been able to observe teenage girls at school, colleagues out in the field and the women of various ages, social class and education levels that make up my extended network. I am an expert in the field of mean girls, and even more so since my students made me watch the 2004 Mean Girls movie with Lindsay Lohan. I know all about the “Regina Georges,” “Plastics” and “Burn Books” of the world. I even know to remind myself when I encounter a mean girl that “She doesn’t even go here” and then chuckle at the not-so-inside, inside joke.
My mean girl studies began early on though. I come from a land where the Telenovela is a nightly family ritual, and from an environment that almost reflected what played out on the screen. It was by tuning in, that I not only improved my Spanish but also acquired a basic understanding of what being a woman could be like. I was fascinated by the dichotomy of the female characters. I learned that good girls were prettier but suffered the most, and that bad girls had way more fun but always ended up crazy, dead, or in jail. Good and bad were always at odds and as a kid, I wondered which one I was going to grow up to be. Spoiler alert: I became both. As a real woman in her thirties, (and not a two dimensional character on an admittedly cheesy yet so addicting soap opera), I have mostly been a good girl who sometimes dabbles in mean.
Of course, the definition of good and bad varies with perspective. I have been called mean when I thought I was being helpful. Likewise, I have unknowingly accepted compliments that were intended to sting instead of boost. It is difficult to talk about these qualities whose definitions are so tied to cultural and societal beliefs, but I will be so bold as to say that a couple of months ago, I saw a video that depicted the epitome of a mean girl. At the urging of my students, I watched a YouTube video that had gone viral about a girl named Sharkeisha. If you have never seen it click here, but fair warning, it is upsetting to say the least. Sharkeisha is filmed punching an unsuspecting girl in the face and then became famous for it. I was horrified by what seemed to be unprovoked violence, horrified by the nonchalant voyeur who stood by to film it all, but mostly disgusted by the millions of people who glorified her actions and rewarded her behavior with fifteen minutes of fame.
(Side note, since the video went viral, Sharkeisha has faced some very steep mean girl consequences. I am happy to report that she is currently in jail with a misdemeanor charge.)
The Latin American soap opera as well as movies like Mean Girls and the Sharkeishas of the world, are just some examples that portray the archetypal relationship between women. So yes, women are mean to each other, but why is this an accepted cultural and societal norm, so much so that industries are built around the concept? There have been numerous studies done on issues like black on black crime, bullying and domestic violence, but has anyone ever really delved into the issue of woman on woman hate? This is not rhetorical. I am genuinely interested in reading something that will explain why the girls I interact with at the High School I work at, are emotionally and verbally abusive to each other and then proclaim to be best friends. Why it is that I have gone out with my girlfriends only to be stared down by another group of women for the mere transgression of being in the same space. Or why just this morning, I received an email from a friend who happens to be living abroad, describing how she is judged and treated by some of the women in that town.
I am a dancer and throughout my life, all of my closest female friends have also been dancers. Because of this, I learned two life altering lessons very early on.
- There is always someone better than you so there is no point in wasting time or energy being jealous.
- Everyone has their own path in life. Enjoy your own and stop worrying about what somebody else is doing.
I have been extremely fortunate because I have always had strong relationships with women who were smarter, richer, more talented, better looking than me, one, or all of the above. In my small peer group there is mutual respect and admiration, sisterly banter and the occasionally tough reality check, but never hate stemming from insecurity. So it is from this background that I am completely baffled when I experience another woman, as my students would put it, hatin’ on me.
Why does being a woman, at least outside of my peer group and in the society that I live in, often feel like a competition? Ladies, shouldn’t we be helping instead of hatin’ on each other?