Deep Patterns from the Middle School Lunchroom

I expect them in adolescence. I don’t expect them at forty-five or fifty. Oh, I’m certain that the bullies in junior high school are still bullies today. Have you been to a high school reunion?

Although these behaviors are frequently said to be related, few studies have been conducted to make a direct connection between adolescent “mean girl” behavior and adult women’s experiences with each other in the workplace. Yet the connection seems obvious and could explain why the negative experiences of women with each other in the workplace are so pervasive. These behaviors probably reflect marginalized group behavior that is ancient, deeply held, and learned at a very young age. A frequent question from my audiences is, “But aren’t things different now for girls than they used to be, with Title IX and access to sports?” While some situations have surely changed, and change is always happening, two excellent studies conducted in 2002 and 2003 that covered diverse groups of girls from first grade to high school in various parts of the country found that the messages adolescent girls still receive have not changed in significant ways. Girls still learn from the larger culture that how they look (being skinny and blond) is more important than how smart or talented they are—and so many girls, including girls of color, have no hope of ever measuring up to the cultural standard. There is still a widespread expectation among girls that they will subordinate their own dreams and goals to please a man when they grow up and that they will be the primary caregivers in their families. Check out the magazines and websites that adolescent girls read to find these types of messages. Girls may now expect to work once they are parents, but they still may not expect to be the primary breadwinner unless they have grown up in a single-parent household.   An excerpt from my book, New Rules for Women, available at Amazon (]]>

Leave a Comment