Mean Girls, Mean World


I remember exactly where I was and what I was wearing the first time I thought my thighs looked fat. I was ten, sitting in my fifth grade class at Forest Hills Elementary in my matching top and bottom separates. They were mint green with navy stripes and I had on bobos because we couldn’t afford Keds.

I know I didn’t lose you somewhere in the descriptors because I’m certain you stopped when I said ten and took note of the word, the age and if you didn’t shake your head you likely paused. I shook my head this weekend as I read an article that said children as young as six are suffering from eating disorders and ten is the magical age they start discussing blow jobs.

What are we doing to our girls?

Bloomberg published an article two years ago that stated a billion women and girls are going to change the face of the global economy. Companies want them to step into leadership roles, fully recognizing the power of a women’s influence in the boardroom and in thoughtful decision making. But, how do they get there safely, confidently and with the least amount of scar tissue when the world wants girls to be sex pots by sixteen? I worry we want to grow our girls into moguls and move our communities forward, but aren’t changing the way we see them or each other, for that matter. Media, misogyny and starlets are an entirely separate conversation that can make me use wild gestures.

The other side of the coin? Forget the men and media who sexualize women and hear me please dear, beautiful, lovely mothers, sisters and friends and let this sentence sit in your heart:

We hate each other.

That is tragic.

Woman on woman hate, shaming and bullying are serious issues. I can appreciate another woman’s beauty, but recently observed a friend tear a woman apart from shoes to hairstyle when I said she was gorgeous. It made my heart hurt as I wondered what wiring caused us to start looking at each other as competitors as opposed to compatriots.

A male colleague recently observed a business woman question her female counterpart who mentioned aspirations of motherhood with a venom that was startling. He suggested women in leadership positions have to lose their feminine qualities and become almost masculine to feel heard, “Jeanette, these women were mean to each other…”

I’m guilty of it myself.

Prior to having my daughter I remember judging a single mom who wouldn’t travel on Fridays because Fridays were her days with her daughters. I am ashamed as I think back to my vitriol, “Seriously, this is business. Get a nanny. Be in or be out.”

Clearly she was in, but her “in” was with her priorities; her beautiful, innocent, learning, wander-filled daughters that needed their mom. She was balancing the powerful and beautiful roles that make women amazing and I was the little punk that wanted her to make things convenient for me and my business.

While I’ve come far, I referred to a male colleague as a girl the other day and my hands immediately flung to my mouth as I sucked in air. It was as if I wanted to pull the word and connotation back Hoover-style.

“That was terrible. What did I just do?” I winced with big eyes.

He smiled in a tender, slightly knowing way, “You have some thinking to do about this subject. You want to help women think differently, but even you are programmed to be more masculine in your role and to think of ‘girl’ as being a derogatory term.”

He was right.

I am typically the only woman in a business meeting. For the most part I lost the masculine vernacular after becoming a mom and finally shed the business suits because I was tired of dressing like all the men at the table. For the longest time I thought that being a woman meant weaker, for shame. I am no longer embarrassed to reschedule a meeting around my daughter’s schedule or discuss my daughter’s funniest new this or that and you better smile and ask me to see a picture.

I came to this place when, after returning from maternity leave, I was asked by an executive how I was going to “make it up.”

Dude, I just made a person. You go make it up.

I flung my mother status in his face while I got back to work by my own terms and timeline. I often think back to the day my daughter was born. I held her in my arms that first night and said to her searching face, “I will always choose you.”

So, I must choose her over and over again as I dig through the layers of conversations we have to have about self esteem, friends and the eventual step into the quagmire that is a hyper-sexualized world. The one that wants her to have a thigh gap, yet run it “like a boss.” She will see it in song lyrics, boardrooms and relationships and I have to figure out how to help her notice it when it arises rather than be conditioned by it.

The collective we has to choose our girls and each other. We have to dig through the layers of conditioning that have separated us and figure out how to come together and force these conversations in our communities, in our workplaces, in our governments, but more importantly in our homes. They should happen in the car, in line at the grocery, every single stinking chance to we have to capture the hearts of innocent, attentive little ears before they fill them with earbuds. If we can tuck these messages into their hearts, a little love note at a time, maybe they’ll build something we can only aspire to imagine. While a colleague has over and over again told me, “Hope is not a strategy, Jeanette,” I’m still sticking with hope.

I’ve got lots of it.

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