Tag Archives: Girlhood: Redefining the Limits

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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Orange you glad you resisted?

“Something has changed within me/Something is not the same/I’m through with playing by the rules/Of someone else’s game”

“Defying Gravity” from Wicked

In sixth or seventh grade, I woke up.  I wasn’t in a coma or anything; I just had the mini-epiphany that hits the more sullen of tween girls. I suddenly stopped buying into the notion that I should be like anyone else in my class, that I should believe everything my teachers told me, that I should pretend to listen to anything I thought was stupid. I started wearing what I thought was cute (as opposed to what was popular), stopped applying lip gloss and refused to style my hair. As you can imagine, black nail polish and Dr. Martens were involved. How did I make good on this quasi-nihilistic vow? I received straight A’s throughout middle school/high school, graduated salutatorian of my class and left for college. I don’t really sound like an Outside Girl, do I?

But I do have a point here. In a chapter of Girlhood: Redefining the Limits, researcher Rebecca Raby concludes that “resistance among girls and young women is likely to be hidden or c/overt–subtle and located in private spaces of interaction.” As you might have noticed, the Outside Girls practice active resistance to societal dictates, gender norms and peer pressure. But they also are undeniably intelligent and often use the system (i.e. school and family) to their advantage. Admittedly, some of these girls wear their disdain on their sleeves. But the majority of them use education and other culturally-approved institutions in order to flout how little they care about fitting in. In other words, they rebel in sensible and discreet ways.

Alex Vause, a.k.a. the coolest character on Orange is the New Black*, is a drug dealer. A really, really good one, despite the whole getting caught thing. Some of you might think, How is a goth-chic dealer working the system in a legitimized, secret way? I will tell you: Alex finds white, privileged, bored young adults and recruits them to be her street dealers/smugglers. Her genius of using rich white kids to move heroin (because our “justice” system is still hopelessly racist and elitist) is her exploiting others to manipulate the system. Yeah, I know that sounds underhanded and Bluth-esque, but if you watch the show, there is no way you would root against her.

Jenji Kohan, the creator of Orange is the New Black and the dearly-departed Weeds, is famous for “putting well-behaved middle-class white women in the middle of stories that typically feature rough nonwhite men,” as Mike Hale‘s succinct review puts it. And it’s true. Nancy Botwin sells marijuana to preserve her McMansion lifestyle and Piper Chapman goes to prison because she was restless after college. (What’s more exciting than smuggling drug money at the request of your kingpin girlfriend?) Kohan creates these characters and is famous for giving them recognizable motivations that land them in seemingly-foreign locations. I can’t help but wonder if Alex herself is a microcosm of Kohan’s creative agenda. Alex uses entitled white girls to do her bidding in OITNB‘s universe; Kohan uses entitled white women to entertain,educate and subvert her audience’s preconceptions. It’s not so different when you think about it. Another similarity between them: totally bitchin’ glasses.

Alex was not always working the system, but the viewer understands exactly why she wants to. After being rejected from the tiny monsters that are fifth grade girls, being denied the fate that Piper takes for granted (“no moolah, no school-ah”), and meeting a father that brings new meaning to the term “disappointing,” Alex wakes up. She is not normal, and pretending she is is a waste of time.  Why should she follow societal norms when conventional people are such dull sheep? Other girls enacting resistance to accepted ideologies might pretend to respect their parents while simultaneously breaking every curfew. A few girls could go all Breakfast Club, be the leaders of mean-girl cliques while hiding their consciences. Others, like me, might do well in school to ensure they will one day escape their hometowns and nightmarish high school experiences. Admittedly, few will look as cool as Alex when they are working the system over. Even with the presence of shiny black nails and combat boots.

And, yes, I know that distributing heroin in bulk will not win you any morality prizes. It hurts too many people. Yet, I admire Alex for using spoiled brats to get what she wants. I also love that she is so matter-of-fact about her crimes, her jail time and her passion for her profession. Her work allowed her to travel all over the world, gave her first-class mind something to do and was thrilling for her. She knows what she did is wrong, but she did it by finessing a flawed-as-fuck system. I know it is weird for me to champion a drug dealer (well, maybe not that weird), but I can’t help it.  I love Alex Vause because she woke up the moment she met her deadbeat dad. Instead of trying to play a rigged game, she created one with rules of her own.

*If you prefer Crazy-Eyes, Red, Sophia, Nicki, Pornstache, etc., come at me in the comments.

(Image #1 courtesy of weheartit.com; #2 courtesy of hollywoodreporter.com; #3 courtesy of reddit.com)