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Mean Girls phone scene
Mean Girls phone scene
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Wellness > Sex + Relationships

Mean Girl Mentality at University: Why Does it Persist?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Exeter chapter.

I have always been accustomed to what pop-culture has colloquially dubbed “The Mean Girls” of school environments. Anyone who has seen the early-2000s teen classic Mean Girls will be somewhat familiar with the concept. In short, there is a group of socially advanced girls, or women, who impose authority and power over perceivably lesser powerful social groups. I had always, somewhat foolishly, assumed that this mentality would wither and die once one enters into higher education – however, I was wrong.

“You can’t sit with us!”

– Mean Girls

Mean girl behaviour can be characterized in a number of ways, with manipulation, exclusion, and social aggression being at the forefront of its identifiable factors. Such toxic dynamics are not simply reserved for secondary schools/high schools; they can even persevere into higher education and workspaces. I understand that mean girl mentality is inherently rooted in societal pressures, jealousy, and internal insecurities, yet what I don’t understand is why women continue to pit themselves against one another despite being aware of such factors.

The prevalent group mentality in higher education spaces is a whole other issue, that I won’t be exploring in this article, yet I feel as though the concept certainly fuels mean girl mentality in higher education social circles. Deducing from movies, shows, and real-life, it is plausible to suggest that mean girl mentality is prompted (at least in part) by group dynamics – where individuals feel the need to conform to the masses to fit in, or gain social approval.

Understanding Mean Girl Mentality Through Social Research: My inner sociologist wouldn’t let the matter rest, so I did some digging…

Social research on mean girl behaviour in higher education sheds light on its complexities. Studies by psychologists and sociologists have delved into the social and psychological mechanisms behind such behaviour. Researchers have found that mean girl mentality often stems from a deep-seated need for social validation and acceptance. In a study published in the Journal of Social Psychology, researchers found that individuals who engage in mean girl behaviour often do so to enhance their social status within a group, highlighting the role of group dynamics in perpetuating these toxic interactions.

Addressing Mean Girl Mentality: With this understanding, the next reasonable step is to address the issue. It is heartening to see the emergence of female-led societies at the university, and even better to witness workshops and safe spaces being provided in order to build female solidarity. While mean girl mentality is concerning, it is not insurmountable.

Universities and their communities should actively work to promote a culture of empathy and respect. Education and awareness programs can play a pivotal role in dismantling stereotypes and fostering understanding between individuals. Additionally, encouraging open dialogues about healthy relationships and self-esteem can empower individuals to recognize and resist mean girl behaviour.

Conclusion: Mean girl mentality might persist in higher education, but it doesn’t have to define the social landscape. Only through empathy, solidarity, and education can we truly eradicate mean girl mentality, ensuring that higher education institutions become spaces where individuals thrive, unburdened by toxic social dynamics.

Recommended Literature: I have thoroughly enjoyed reading literature relevant to this matter, including Nicky D’s “Queen Bees and Wannabes” (2003) and Simmons’ “Odd Girl Out” (2002). Being acutely aware of the infernal patriarchal influences which permeate our social dynamics is perhaps the first step in incentivizing solidarity and female-friendships.

A huge nerd with a passion for niche tv shows, RPGs, and playing my guitar. You will usually find me consuming unhealthy amounts of coffee, or stressing in the library!