Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
I just started watching Netflix's, "AlRawabi School for Girls," created by Tima Shomali and Shirin Kamal, and it's getting me to ask in silent desperation, "can we please talk about how the "popular," "cool," "normal," "neurotypical," "rich," "able-bodied," "straight-cis" girls are some of the meanest, most oppressive, and most likely to bully and bulldoze over others?
Christian girls in these categories can be especially mean. I know because I am one. I speak for myself and come with decades worth of experience and observation of others like myself. We can be terribly mean-spirited. We're the type to bully you, then turn around and tell you that it's not our fault that you're sensitive and emotional, so, if you can't keep up and stand the heat, "stay out of the kitchen." We'll tell you this with a smile on our face, head tilted to the side ever so innocently. Or we'll communicate this non-verbally through some passive-aggressive behaviour that just makes us like a bully all over again. Then clutch our pearls and show up to Sunday service in self-righteousness and judgement of others. I wrote about this in, "Catholic and Queer."
Atheist girls can be pretty mean too, don't get it twisted. As this show explores, it can be similar in the Muslim context, as with any other category of girlhood. That's the point, there are systems that we're all a part of that shape us into these same templates, regardless of geographic location, creed, or race. We all look alike, even if differently.
These themes of bullying that the show explores actually do show up in the research. From psychology to sociology, anthropology, to feminist literature, the topic of bullying has been studied more in recent years, though what we've come to know it as has changed over the centuries, varying by culture.
Themes of bullying have shown up in my research, though not by that specific name. White feminism for example often gets accused of this, of being the mean girl bullies of feminism. I wrote about this in "Nice Nasty White Feminists and Shame," because that is the literal study. White feminists have tended to have the power, resources, and support to be, "the queens of the castle, na na nana boo boo, you can't catch me. playground bully type. They claim to be the origin of feminism. Gender equality is all thanks to them, or so we are led to believe. They claim to be the more superior, prettier, more worthy. Most of the world is set up to affirm them as such. All greatness flows in one direction, from them to the West, to use Chandra Mohanty.
While the rest and other feminists, (Black, Indigenous, non-white feminists of colour) are seen as the "dirty rascals," that disrupt and cause tensions and divisions. (Did you notice the Little Rascals nod in the last blog). That was me saying we adults are children, in case you didn't get what I was doing.
Adults literally look like over-grown children and then claim to "adult" so well. "So mature," we think we are. Then we look down at the less popular, less rich, less cool, [insert the opposite of every one of those describers used above] to be childish and immature. Newsflash, we all look like this in some way. It's culture. We shape it, and it has shaped us. Unless we face and admit this, we will continue to look like the very children we claim to not be, and be in denial of how much we are what we don't see ourselves as. Did you get that? If it doesn't make sense, let it.
The series "AlRawabi School for Girls" is set in high school. Netflix's "Karma's World" is directed at children, primary and middle schoolers specifically. But I see adult themes in both of these shows. Like father, like son. Like mother, like daughter. Aunties and uncles look like cousins. Grandparents mirror grandkids. The old generation looks like the new generation, only in new ways. Both claim to be nothing like the other, while both are exactly the same.
All to say, can we talk about bullies and how they manifest differently at different stages of life?
I'll start, I see myself as the bullies in both these shows. I'm also triggered by how they remind me of the very same ways I've been bullied myself. I've also been oppressed while being oppressive to others. I find myself located at both sides of the spectrum, different faces of the same coin.
I'd like for my children to do and be better if I have them. I'd like for generations to come to not be bullies, to bully less, to not bully at all. But I haven't been that yet. I can't seem to stop bullying cold turkey. It still feels good at times to make fun of others. I still judge and think I'm better than some. And thoughts of revenge and sabotaging others still creep in when I feel threatened or hurt by others. Thankfully, I don't have much money, power, or resources to back up the bullying. I'm super mindful and introspective about when I am a bully and work hard to change my ways, so my damage is minimal compared to others. But I struggle with still being a bully, as do many others around me. So I'm not sure how I can expect that from any generation, lest, the younger generations. It's hypocritical and unrealistic. If we the older generations haven't solved this bullying issue, how can we honestly expect the children to do any better? Why are we even harder on them to not bully, when we ourselves are some of the worst bullies, but we refuse to admit it, never mind, accept it? Each one, teach one. Start with self first, then try to fix others.
I'm not done with the show yet, just started it. But it just got me thinking...why do mean girls all look the same across different cultures and generations?
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Until next time, in solidarity.