This is Janis. She’s almost too cool to function.

“Boys fuck things up. Girls are fucked up.”

–Louis C.K. 

Get in, losers! We’re going to discuss Mean Girls!

In honor of this genius movie’s upcoming 10th anniversary, I am going to analyze an Outside Girl that is so obvious that she is actually easy to overlook: Janis Ian. This character was created by the amazing Tina Fey and portrayed by the equally inimitable Lizzy Caplan. I’ve watched Mean Girls at least once a year since I saw it on its opening weekend (at the probably-too-young age of 12), and I cannot believe that Janis was not my favorite character from the beginning. Because she is definitely the smartest, funniest and most powerful character in a movie with a bunch of strong, funny, intelligent women. Hell, it was even written by one. I mean, just consider the line “You smell like a baby prostitute.” It’s brutally honest, unnecessarily graphic and is aimed to deflate someone’s super-sized ego. What’s not to love?

If you are not (and never have been) a teenage girl, let me clue you in on something that should not be a secret: it sucks. Speaking your mind marks you as crazy, bitchy or, my personal favorite, “someone who can’t take a joke.” It doesn’t matter how smart, athletic, creative, nice or otherwise gifted you are; if you are not pretty by conventional standards, your romantic stock automatically plummets, along with your self-esteem. Oh, and your “best friends forever” often turn out to be your worst enemies. With all of this information, it is a mystery to me why there are always reporters with extensive research stories with the same, groundbreaking conclusion: aggression is not an exclusively male trait.

Although Mean Girls ends with a funny and disturbing physical fight/riot among all the female junior class members, most of the movie portrays what psychologists and sociologists call “relational aggression.” This is how you work out your issues in ways that slowly destroy your friendships instead of openly expressing your emotions. The more acceptable definition, according to Dawn H. Currie and Deirdre M. Kelly in Girlhood: Redefining the Limits, is “related to indirect aggression that includes covert behaviour…that allows the perpetrator to avoid confronting her target, and to social aggression as behaviour that intends to damage self-esteem or social status within a group…” Instead of just coming out and saying what they want, girls often resort to underhanded methods to work out their social problems. Our culture’s version of femininity “emphasizes the importance of relationships in women’s lives,” so actually having it out with a friend seems much less appealing than bitching about her behind her back and solving virtually nothing. And the sick thing is that we know we are being passive aggressive, but it physically feels like we have no other option.

The reason I consider Janis an Outside Girl is not just because she understands that clique culture and Girl World both are really, really messed up.  Instead, I like her because she is the only teen girl in this movie that strays from relational aggression without being instructed to do so. Ms. Norbury leads a workshop to try and build up the high school girls’ self-esteem and strengthen their communication skills and mutual trust. Unsurprisingly, Janis steals the show. (“It’s probably because I’ve got a big, lesbian ca-rush on you! Suck on that!”) Her honesty and willingness to verbally express her grievances separate her from the crowd in a healthy way. Often, being an Outside Girl means being lonely and feeling misunderstood. In Janis’ case, her outsider status could save her thousands of dollars in therapy bills. Because there is no way Regina, Gretchen or Cady will grow up to be well-adjusted. Karen won’t grow up to be well-adjusted either, but she is too stupid to notice. So I’m gonna call that one a draw.

I also like the character of Janis (and I could go on about this forever) because of her relationship to the LGBTQ community. Janis’ best friend and confidant is Damian, who is openly and proudly gay. Janis is not a lesbian, but her peers mock her as butchy because of the way she dresses, her friendship with Damian and because she takes female friendship very seriously. This is another super fun aspect of being a teenage girl. If you are independent , don’t smile constantly, publicly identify yourself as a feminist or have a close female confidant then, duh, you’re gay! In the eighth grade, a hurt Janis confronted Regina about her friend’s neglect and how she felt like she came in second to Regina’s new boyfriend. And Regina, being a relational aggressive, told Janis that she could not come to her pool party because girls would be there. In their swimsuits. It would have been pandemonium, obviously.

In any case, Janis is on the outside because of her clear, assertive communication skills, her willingness to align herself with other outcasts, and because she deviates from accepted gender norms and cannot prove she is not a lesbian. But I don’t think it matters too much to her. She realizes that the Plastics are psychotic Barbies. Like I said before, she is the best character in this amazing movie. And she is the one who really wins in the end:

Do you have any favorite Janis moments? Which Mean Girls line do you use on a daily basis? It would be so fetch if you left your opinions in the comments!

(Image #1 courtesy of scriptsit.tumblr.com; #2 courtesy of rottentomatoes.com; #3 courtesy of wemediacritics.blogspot.com; #4 courtesy of rottentomatoes.com)

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3 thoughts on “This is Janis. She’s almost too cool to function.

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