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Mean Girls phone scene
Mean Girls phone scene
Lorne Michaels Productions
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Why ‘Mean Girls’ Still Holds Up, 20 Years Later

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 U Conn chapter.

The first time I saw Mean Girls about a year ago, I thought it had to be overrated. I mean, there were so many memes, and so much hype around it, that I thought it was impossible for a movie to live up to that much hype. But as it turns out, it’s not! Mean Girls was actually that good! I’d go so far as to say it was Grool! But the reason Mean Girls has lived up to the hype and has endured through all the years is not only because the writing is top-notch and because it was perfectly cast, but because it speaks to experiences that are universal to all girls growing up. Mean Girls has withstood the test of time because it talks about the complex social dynamics girls are expected to navigate every day in their friendships. So get in loser, we’re talking about Mean Girls!

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It shows how girls bottle up their feelings

One of the biggest problems when you’re a girl is, in my opinion, how you feel you can’t express any negative feelings or issues you may be having in your friendships. This is because girls are socialized to be nice and polite, so they feel as though they can’t bring up any problems that they are having with their friends or they won’t be seen as “nice.” According to The Take’s video, The Mean Girl Trope, Explained: “Part of the problem is that girls aren’t given license to deal with conflict honestly, out in the open.” This can be seen in Mean Girls with the “Burn Book,” in which The Plastics wrote mean rumors and gossip about other girls in school because they were likely feeling resentful towards those girls in one way or another, but didn’t feel like they could discuss those feelings out in the open. This is demonstrated in the scene where Cady is complaining to the Plastics about how Mrs. Norbury is failing her, and talks about how Mrs. Norbury kept saying “I’m a Pusher,” to which Cady remarks “I bet she sells drugs on the side to pay for her pathetic divorce.” To which Gretchen encourages her to “let it out” in the Burn Book. So as you can see, The Plastics use the Burn Book to express their feelings which they feel would not be socially acceptable to let out. 

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It shows how girls use relational aggression

Another thing Mean Girls does well is show how girls use relational aggression in their friendships. Relational Aggression is a type of bullying where one damages another person’s status or social standing within their peer group.  It manifests itself in several ways, such as spreading rumors, excluding people, backstabbing, forming cliques, and establishing rules for anyone who wants to be a part of their social group. We see this behavior in spades in Mean Girls. One example I can think of is when Regina says she’s fine with Cady crushing on Aaron and will talk to him — and then proceeds to go up to him and tell him that Cady is obsessed with him, basically, and then kisses him and makes sure that Cady sees it. This is an example of indirect aggression, which is when the aggressor uses other people in the social group to harm the target and avoids direct confrontation. But the biggest example I can think of is how Janis, Damien, and Cady, attempt — and succeed — to undermine Regina’s power by launching a series of social attacks on her; such as giving her weight gain bars and passing them off as weight loss bars, and turning Regina’s friends against her. According to  Michaela D.E Meyer in An Intersectional Analysis of Mean Girls, “Although the narrative may encourage viewers to interpret Regina’s behavior as unacceptable, Cady and Janis engage in the exact same behavior when trying to gain control of the situation. These behaviors are purposeful, and used specifically to cull power within the confines of the high school experience.” This shows that Janis engages in the same underhanded tactics as Regina, even though she likes to think of herself as “good” because she believes she is ultimately doing it for a good cause.

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it shows how all girls can be mean, not just the popular ones

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Mean Girl”? Someone popular, pretty, rich, white, blond, or skinny? This isn’t always the case. Anyone can be mean, it’s not a behavior that is exclusive to popular kids. The truth is, anyone can be a mean girl if they’ve got the right attitude. Janis Ian may not be the most pretty, the most popular, or the richest character in the movie, but she sure is just as mean as the rest of them. Even though Janis likes to think that she is superior to Regina, she is more like Regina than she would care to admit. We can see this in how she manipulates Cady. She tricks Cady into cutting class when she first befriends her, and then, when Cady is invited to sit with The Plastics, Janis uses this as an opportunity to plot her revenge against Regina. She manipulates a new and impressionable Cady into joining her revenge against Regina, dragging Cady into beef that she had nothing to do with, despite Cady’s reluctance. Janis’s manipulation of Cady is similar to how Regina is able to manipulate everyone around her to maintain her social status. In addition, according to The Take, “As much as Janis claims she’s out to tear down the system, she ends up creating another plastic to replace the old queen, propping up this toxic hierarchy.” Even though Janis claims to be a rebel against the system, her methods of rebelling just uphold the system, and she just ends up on top. To add to that, while Janis frames her mission against Regina as a noble fight for justice, she is unaware, or just isn’t honest with herself, about her self-serving reasons for doing so. More than anything, she cares more about getting revenge on Regina for what she did to her in middle school rather than setting things right for everyone.

Finally, something that bothers me is that Janis never gets called out for what she did to Cady or Regina. I’m not saying that Cady didn’t deserve to be called out, she did! Once Janis put her on that path, Cady definitely ran with it and made a bunch of bad decisions that only she could blame herself for. And for all that, she deserved to be called out. However, Janis is the one who put Cady on that path, and for that, she needed to take responsibility.

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it shows how you can end up doing bad things because you’re “right”

Sometimes, just because you started out with good intentions, it doesn’t mean you’ll end up as the bigger person in the end. Sometimes, you can end up engaging in some really underhanded actions to achieve those intentions. This is what happens to Cady in Mean Girls. In the movie, as I said earlier, Cady and Janis launch all kinds of attacks on Regina, but they justify themselves because “Regina deserved it.” After Regina is finally overthrown, Cady ends up taking Regina’s place, and her popularity goes to her head. Even though at this point, she’s basically become Regina 2.0, she continues to view herself as “in the right” because she started out that way, and because she’s not Regina. It takes Janis calling her out for her to realize how wrong she actually is. Somewhere along the line, she lost sight of what she was doing, but still thought she was a good person because that’s how she started out.

So, that’s my list! As you can see, even though Mean Girls is 20 years old, it has withstood the test of time and still has many valuable lessons we can learn about the social dynamics of female friendships, and it discusses many hard truths that are hard to talk about. I think we can all agree that Mean Girls is still to this day, so Fetch!

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Nicole is a senior at the University of Connecticut studying communication and gerontology. Her hobbies include crocheting, writing, playing the flute, and biking. Her favorite TV shows are Bob's Burgers, Bluey, and The Simpsons.