Do you know who runs the world? Well, if you are to believe the gospel of Beyonce (and many people do), it’s girls. Socially and economically, this thesis is slightly flawed. In some circles though, this could be considered true. In fact it is, and I’ve experienced it.
Growing up, we had the Spice Girls. Basically a rite of passage to have been intensely devoted to them if you grew up in the nineties, although in reality they actually only had about two albums. Zigga a zig ahh!
After we upgraded from Shout Magazine we all tried to become Cosmo Girls, before gazing in awe at Britney, who was a school girl so naughty she did not care about doing choreographed dance routines in the corridors whilst lessons were going on. But then she told us she wasn’t a girl, nor was she a woman. That was confusing.
And now we have Lena Dunham’s Girls, where it’s OK to sing weird acapella versions of Kanye West to your ex-boyfriend in a room full of people (thank God, needed to get that one vetoed for future reference).
I’m not really interested in the semantics of the word ‘girl’. Call me a girl if you like. Or a lady (unlikely). Or a boy (would be worrying but could happen if you saw my haircut when I was about four).
What I’m interested in is girl on girl action. No, wait a minute, if you have Googled ‘girls go wild XXX lesbian porn’, you’re in the wrong place. I mean female friendships. From the age of eleven to an eighteen, I went to an all-girls school. Somehow, I came out alive. Girls really did run the world there, and they were basically tyrannical.
Now, when I think about my female friends, I beam with pride and feel an almost telepathic sense of empathy and respect rush between us. I feel this even with women I don’t know so well, or have lost touch with. It’s one of the things that makes me happiest.
But when I think about the girls I went to school with, it’s enough to give me nightmares and bring me out in sweats. I was probably one of those girls who now we might feel suspicious of, who always says, ‘I just seem to get on a lot better with guys’. And I did, actually, because a lot of girls seemed to hate me.
When I was much younger, it’s easy to see why girls hated me. I was really bitchy. So bitchy that one of the meanest girls in the class wrote ‘BITCH’ on a piece of paper and made me hold it up for her to take a photo on her phone. (One of those cool new Samsung flip phones, obv.) But it was confusing for me. All the girls who were the most popular were the nastiest. If I was going to get them to like me, surely I had to say bad things about everyone else? Nothing else I said was interesting, right? So my desperation to be accepted saw me offer up unkindness like some sort of weird animal sacrifice. And that’s surely as complicated as girl’s nastiness gets most of the time.
After being humiliated circa. twelve years old for saying mean things about people behind their backs, I internally pledged to change my ways. But people were still unkind to me throughout my time at Psychological Stability Boot Camp, a.k.a. girl’s grammar school. There was the girl who made my whole form hate me by erroneously telling two of my friends I had called them ‘dykes’. Inter-form sports days were bad enough without thirty other girls talking about what a shit human being you were. There was another girl who used to write bitchy things about me in My Space bulletins, including a song about what a slag I was (as far as I know, she never got a record deal).
Then there was the girl struck the fear of God into people’s hearts to such an extent that if she wasn’t being horrible to you, she would be being horrible to someone else, and chances are you would back her up, just because you were so incredibly grateful to not be her victim for that fortnight. I would like to make a joke about that here, but actually I can’t, because the thought of what it was like to be hated by her is not funny in the slightest.
Baffled army generals might do well to take a lesson or two from girl bullies. Never underestimate the power of the MSN messenger group chat attack, the nasty rumour spreading, the passive-aggressive Facebook status, or the good old fashioned ‘YOU ARE NOT WELCOME HERE’ form room boycott. They will haunt your victim’s dreams.
The oracle that is Taylor Swift once said, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women that don’t help other women’. (She was a bit off the mark by referring to Amy Poehler and Tina Fey – perhaps should have tried Margaret Thatcher. Actually isn’t that who she wrote ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ about?) But what about girls who hate other girls?
It would be my dearest hope and basic assumption that most of the girls who were unkind at school aren’t like that any more. We all do stupid stuff at school – I dyed my hair blonde (badly) after watching Kate Bosworth in Blue Crush. It didn’t turn out well. And I feel it would be wrong for me to blame the girls themselves for being unkind, as we are all helplessly trying to find our way in the world at that time, when our insecurities are at their most fertile and all the images we passively consume are saying BE SEXY! WEAR NICE CLOTHES! GET A BOYFRIEND! STOP BEING EMBARRASSING! HAVE BETTER HAIR! NOW!!!! And we’d look back in the mirror at our braces and stripey highlights and think we would never become proper human beings.
But that doesn’t make the memories any less painful. To face the wrath of a girl is a unique kind of cruelty, and the psychological scars can continue for years.
But female friendship – real, genuine, honest, open and joyful female friendship – is a beacon of light, like no other. When women can laugh together without fear of one another, when they can receive each other’s admiration and respect and return it wordlessly, it sends one’s heart soaring high.
Back then, as a girl, being different was the worst thing possible. If you didn’t have a Jane Norman bag, a pink iPod mini and a phone that took pictures (kind of an innovative piece of kit at the time), you were all but asking for it. Weirdos who had pictures of Hugh Grant in their locker and wrote song lyrics in a Peter Rabbit notebook (erm, yeah. Let’s be honest, would you have been friends with me?) were basically writing ‘KICK ME’ on a piece of paper and pinning it to their own backs.
Yet, now, if you’re not different, what’s the point? Why would you want to be the same as someone else? Where’s the fun in that? In fact, where is the fun in that, ever? Not being the same as everyone else is the best thing you have to offer. I wish someone had told me that when I was thirteen so I didn’t have to spend years pretending to like R. Kelly.
I used to think if I ever had children I would sooner home-school them than send them out into the battlefield known as Girl Land. But why accept defeat? If I ever manage to lure a man into impregnating me and the bundle of crying joy happens to be a girl, I will say to her, ‘chances are, you’re really weird. Keep up the good work. Stay weird, and be as weird as you like’.
Jessie Thompson: Online arts and culture journalist at The Evening Standard. (@jessiecath)