Note to self — “mean girls” exist well beyond both high school and college. And when they roam the streets of the real world like they’re stomping through the school hallways, they will set you up to fall into a trash can, head first, and smile about it. Heck, I even had one for a boss once. And that woman paid me way too little for the crap she put me through for her own amusement.
Since graduating last June, I bounced around a few odd jobs in order to procrastinate studying for the GRE and thinking about the rest of my life. One opportunity, a 9-to-5 office gig with an hour commute each way, had me writing content for an online lifestyle magazine. The office was chic, decorated with tons of artwork and had enough iMacs for all. Lunch was provided daily, parking was complimentary, and my co-workers were all around my age. My boss was a young female entrepreneur whose ideas were as inspiring as her fashion sense. If I was going to be doing busy work for a little while, it might as well be somewhere too good to be true, right?
At first, it was fine. The work was plentiful, the food was delicious, the commute wasn’t so bad. But then, after a few days — yes, I said days — I began to notice a few crucial red flags. Like how the boss wasn’t around as often as she should be, since most of the staff was almost as new as I was. The “veteran” of the team had only been there for two months, and she only knew so much. We often sat there, confused about our assignments, and how she wanted them. And even after calling and texting the boss repeatedly in order to prevent an unsupervised and completely wasted day of work, we would receive no response.
Of course, the next day (or sometimes, the day after that), the boss would march in with a deeply dissatisfied look on her face and a voice louder than all those ideas and outfits I once admired. She’d reprimand us for things we didn’t know we were supposed to do, for things we didn’t even know existed, for things she once said that she herself would attend do. She scolded one employee to the point that he quit the job on the spot, and then continued to complain about him long after he was out the door. And what else could we remaining team members do but nod in agreement, in fear that we’d be next?
Shortly after, I did a bit of research on my boss and her professional endeavor, and I found complaint after complaint about the job position I claimed as my own. Apparently, the opportunity had been a revolving door of writers who had simply had enough. Even more so, it turned out that our paychecks weren’t exactly rooted in revenue from subscribers or advertisers — instead, the company was backed by a handful “international investors,” or so she said. But with so many employees constantly being hired, fired, improperly trained and often confused, there’s no way we were actually getting much work done to actually move the company forward…
And then it hit me: this woman was an overgrown mean girl. She made her company appear to be an “in” crowd to us, and we were paid to be her Cady Heron’s, day in and day out. Well, on the days that Regina George was there for, anyway. And no amount of free meals or parking spots would make it okay.
As thankful as I was for the employment opportunity — hey, any job these days is hard to come by — I couldn’t just unlearn the epiphany. I resigned to a smiling face that insulted me about how I was quite unfit for the busy work job anyway. And in my head, I agreed with her — I had way too much self-respect to be leashed up all day as some mean girl’s bitch who lived for an occasional treat.
It’s not just her, though. When you think about it, “mean girls” are everywhere in the real world. They bring their unresolved high school grudges to work with them and dump them out on whoever happens to be around; they go on extreme and unjustified power trips and get away with it daily. Sometimes they’re the angry drivers on the freeway or the women in customer service who won’t process your retail return with a smile. Other times, they’re your fellow team members who screw you over hard to get ahead at your expense. And very, very rarely, she may even be your boss. Temporarily, at least.
The secret to dealing with these mean girls? I don’t think it’s about us specifically putting them in their place; you won’t be backed by a sea of cheering classmates like Janis Ian was when she said she had a lesbian crush on one in that gymnasium. If reaching out and trying to be a friend isn’t an option, I think we can refuse to put up with them and their mind games and power trips. If that means switching departments, adjusting your work schedule or quitting your job to save your sanity, then maybe that’s what’s necessary. Stop shopping at the store where you got horrible customer service. And if there’s any kind of neutral, superior figure available, I say report to that person and have the mean girl be put in her place by someone who has even more power to do so. Whatever is necessary to protest the behavior should happen because, by simply letting it slide, they’ll simply continue to be mean.
However, part of me doesn’t blame them for being so mean all the time. After high school (and after college), the real world is scary. Everything is more competitive than the race for prom queen, and women aren’t just fighting for attention from the cute boy in class. There’s more at stake now — jobs, rent payments, childhood dreams and potential careers. Screwing someone over sounds so damn tempting sometimes, and being mean can definitely be easier than taking longer to do the right thing.
So if you have yet to encounter a mean girl in the real world, do your part and don’t become one. We women already have enough against us that the last thing we should be doing is putting ourselves against each other.
Have you been stunned by a mean girl in the real world before? Share what happened below!
Ashley is a UC San Diego grad who is holding on way too tightly to a potential career in magazines and goes to Vegas all too often. She’s fascinated with celebrities and strawberry beer and doubles as a pathological texter/emailer/blogger. Feed the addiction with tweets @cashleelee. Thanks in advance.