With Mean Moms in the pipeline, we put our inner teen anxieties through a scientific filter via the 00s bitchfest classic Mean Girls
Savage and irresistible, the girl world transforms maths-geeks into glamorous sociopaths. Mean Girls parodied girl world perfectly, showcasing the high-school caste system in all its brutal glory: a desert-land watering hole ruled by vultures dressed as Barbie dolls. 11 years since its release, Tina Fey’s teen flick has become part of our nostalgia for the MSN-era, and the franchise has grown up. Mean Moms is in the pipeline, like a reminder that even worse trials are to come.
Cady’s rite of passage through girl world is particularly bruising. After ditching her studies to realise her full potential as a ‘regulation hottie’, she sets out to steal the Queen Bee’s man-candy. Her metamorphosis into a Plastic is so complete everyone thinks she’s capable of attempted murder.
Is butter a carb? Is it cool to slut-drop in the school talent show? If that person’s from Africa then why are they white? Teen life throws up endless problems, and there’s no textbook with the answers. The species of girl world are well described, but poorly understood. If scientists were asked to write a textbook explaining teen-girl ecosystems, they would probably say it approximates the hierarchy of a beehive, but is basically lawless. Luckily, there are a few mysteries those boffins can help with.
CAN I SURVIVE SOCIAL ALIENATION?
Thinking about social rejection is more depressing than seeing your recently divorced maths teacher heading to her second job in the mall. Can people actually survive it? According to science, this depends on where you get your sense of self. Social exclusion can benefit the independently minded: it stimulates their creativity. Spending lunchtimes with ham on their faces, and weekends at exhibitions, ‘art freaks’ Janice and Damian fully exploit their isolation for the benefit of their craft.
"Unlike people who have a strong need to belong, some socially rejected people shrug off rejection with an attitude of 'normal people don't get me and I am meant for something better," says Jack Goncalo, a behavioural psychologist at Cornell University. "For the socially rejected, creativity may be the best revenge."
Janice masterminds some conventional, ruin-that-bitch’s-life revenge as well, but while Cady is sucked in by Plastic-sabotage, Janice wins a prize for a painting devoted to their friendship.
HOW DO I AVOID PEER PRESSURE?
Peer pressure keeps girl world in equilibrium. Fail to conform, and it will crush you, but take things too far, and you risk embarrassing yourself. Home-schooled jungle freak Cady never gets the balance right. She only goes to two house parties, and they both end in disaster. After failing to adopt the skank-army uniform at the first, she goes overkill on fluorescent punch at the second and scares off the man-candy she’s been chasing all year.
Is there any way she could have resisted the temptations of gossip, lip-gloss and pink alcohol all together? Scientists think we’re naturally wired to succumb to peer pressure; it’s an animalistic part of us we can’t escape. Researchers found that teen mice living in groups drink more alcohol than those alone, just like teens. As far as we know, mice don’t throw parties and try to impress each other by dressing in slutty Halloween costumes. They are simple, non-communicative creatures, suggesting that adolescent risk-taking as basic as walking, eating and sex. And yes, as mice get older, they drink more alone. At least we’ve got Netflix in our cages; all that evolution we went through hasn’t been entirely wasted.
WHY DOES EVERYONE WANT TO BE SPRING FLING QUEEN?
A modern-day Cinderella, Cady proves you can be both Spring Fling Queen and a mathlete on the same night. Girl world selects Cady, the most murderous Plastic, as their new leader, but the ungrateful Queen snaps her crown and asks, ‘why is everybody stressing over this thing?’ She wasn’t even meant to make a speech.
The tribal struggle for social status is universal. Whether we admit it or not, we all crave it, according to a recent psychological publication. Mean Girls sucks us into Cady’s self-obsession, but when Mr Duvall calls an intervention, she realises that every group is split by in-fighting. Everyone wants recognition and respect in their own way. Janice wants appreciation for ruining Regina’s life; Karen seeks fame by predicting the weather with her boobs.
"Establishing that desire for status is a fundamental human motive matters because status differences can be demoralizing," says Prof. Cameron Anderson, co-author of the paper. "Whenever you don't feel valued by others it hurts, and the lack of status hurts more people than we think."
When self-preservation means bringing others down, a collective lack of status drives girl world into all-out tribal warfare. Gretchen Wieners is surprisingly insightful on this: scamming on your girlfriends is against the rules of feminism, even if they are fugly sluts. Cady finally clocks that she doesn’t elevate herself by hurting other women, and punishing herself is just as pointless. The only way to bring peace to girl world is to remove its royalty, and share the wealth around.