Queen Bees and Wannabes: a parents' up-to-date guide to the perils of "girl-world"

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/03/04/beyond-mean-girls.html

It’s been fifteen years since the first edition of educator Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes was published; now in its third edition – updated with current, timely material about social media and other fast-moving subjects, as well as reflections from girls who were raised on the techniques in the previous editions – the book is a compassionate, aware, and intensely practical guide to navigating the toxic, gendered lives of young girls in a diverse, politicized world.


This looks like a great book - I’m inclined to read it even though I’m not the father of a daughter. My son is only three but he’s going to be starting school (public pre-k) next year and in already starting to think about the social implications of that. I have social anxiety memories going back as far as kindergarten and certainly in grade school, and wonder how I can help my son navigate those situations (without being too preachy). Recognizing that gender dynamics are very different, I wonder if there is any similar “guide” for boys?


Cory mentioned “Masterminds and Wingmen” in the post.


Hmm. Must have glossed over that. Thanks.


I haven’t read this one as I have 2 boys, but I cannot recommend enough her parallel book ‘Masterminds and Wingmen’. It helped me and, perhaps more importantly, helped my wife understand what was happening with her boys in a lot of ways.


Back in the Dark Ages of my youth, the “mean girl” behavior started around fifth or sixth grade, really took off in middle school and settled into a established, less aggressive hierarchy in high school. Being one of the weird girls was hellish until about tenth grade, when the tension level eased, presumably because the social pecking order was set, not that I ever challenged it. I didn’t really want to be part of the power cliques; I did really want to be left alone.

Today I have a smart, quirky, seven-year-old daughter, and the “mean girl” s#%t started in KINDERGARTEN! She handled being excluded from the “Girls’ Team” well enough then because her best friend was also excluded. In first grade they were in different classrooms, and the exclusion escalated to active hazing/bullying, reaching the point where she was so afraid of the other girls that she couldn’t go to the bathroom at school. That was when she finally broke down and told me what had been going on.

Terrifying for me as a parent is that at this young an age, she didn’t tell me about what was going on because she had already accepted that this was normal. At this young an age she doesn’t have the couple extra years of experience and emotional development that I had to be able to reframe this in a rudimentary way that she doesn’t deserve this, that it’s not ok. And what the hell is going on in the homes of the girls who are leading and their deputies? They are learning this somewhere.

TL:DR I’m going to check this book out.


Hell is other children.


I should check this out. OMG little girls and their “groups” are freaking nuts. Like they banned “clubs” at her school in first grade. I mean just the most inane stuff like, “You can’t be in our club, you drink your milk with a straw.” You need a flow chart to graph who they are friends with, sorta friends with, and not friends with, as it ebbs and flows through the year.


I sometimes have time to listen to robert sapolsky introduction to human behavioural biology and is very entertaining


I teach 4th - 7th grade girls, at a school where the classes are gender specific by fifth grade. 6th grade is definitely the age a lot of this starts. One thing that makes it challenging as a teacher is how much the of the girl drama happens without us knowing. They hide it very well. And they’re less likely to come to me about things, because I’m a man.

Girl bullying is much more emotional, conniving and secretive than the boys version. Just a glance that says, “Seriously? You’re sitting with HER?” can have a domino effect of aggression and pain. They use withholding and isolation a lot. I’ve had girls come to me about how terrible someone is treating them and at the end of our conversation, they’ll plead with me to not say or do anything to make the aggressor dislike them. They always hope the mean girls will eventually like them.

Even consoling a crying girl becomes a thing about social status. “No, I’M the one who gets to sit with her and hold her, because I know what happened. I was there and I know the whole story. You don’t!” I once had a crowd of girls basically choosing sides in which of two crying girls they were going to huddle around. As I was trying to break it all up and get them to return to their seats and learning, a girl admonished me, “Sorry, but friendship comes before school!”

I’ve been teaching a long time and I still don’t know how to help them navigate this stuff, half the time. One thing I’ve learned though is that I have to be careful not to indulge the girls too much or they’ll want more and more time to talk, complain, and get worked up about the situation. You have to firmly say, “We’re done talking about this” at some point. I’ve also learned to tell girls that a lot of times there are no easy solutions or magic words to fix everything. Sometimes, you have to ride things out and hopefully learn a lesson that will help you with social issues in the future.

About a week ago, my own, genuinely sweet 9 1/2 year old told her super close best friend (this year’s model) that she wouldn’t be her friend anymore. She’s never talked that way before, but she was lashing out because of how time and attention were being divided in a three way friendship. A little off topic, but my wife taught me you should avoid three kid playdates, because it’s easy to end up with two kids playing together and one kid getting marginalized.


Tangentially Related:

Any other middle-aged people get inappropriately excited recently at the rumors of Tina Fey making a sequel to Mean Girls?


A lot of these problems can be avoided by talking to your children often about boundaries and healthy relationships. Children that have been given the tools to understand and recognize manipulative or toxic behaviors are much less likely to get caught up in cliques and power plays, and more likely to diffuse the situation by giving kids who might get swept into conflict another option. They will also be better armed to deal with predatory adults.



You are a mean girl.


What do we do if I make a Facebook page about me being a slut? Should my family slut-shame me?

It all seems too “gendered” to me. I wonder if there are similar books for gender-queer and/or agender children - not because I need that for mine, but because it might have been helpful during my childhood.


FWIW, she gave a talk at my daughter’s school once, after the first book came out, and most of the parents at that talk (including me) were unhappy that someone with no solid research to back up her claims was making categorical statements that, for example, were simply not accurate in our specific school system. We felt our time listening to her was wasted. It seemed that her claims were based on her own personal observations, fleshed out a bit from what she’d heard from people she knew (which, by definition, would likely be people from a similar socio-economic viewpoint).

She seems a Malcolm Gladwell type to me. It’s probably worth borrowing her books to read, rather than paying for them, until you’re sure they apply to your family situation.


With those expectations of evidence, it sounds like you have a pretty good set of parents there.


I just did some reading and you’re right, she really doesn’t have the formal education or credentials that one would expect from the author of such a book. She has a degree in political science.


Exactly. The real issue is emotional abuse and manipulation. People of all genders perpetuate and suffer from it. Framing it as a “girl” problem just isn’t useful, in the same way that framing physical abuse in scools as a “boy problem” isn’t.