Laura Downey Hill
September 26, 2023
ISBN: 9798350904642; 160 pages
In Laura Downey Hill's new book, Where the Mean Girls Go: The Complicated and Hurtful Relationships Between Women, the author draws attention to how other women can be a woman's most scathing critic and harshest opponent—or fulfill the essential role of friend. Humans are social beings and as such, begin to learn to relate to others from birth: first from our mothers and, on a broader scale, later from our peers on the playground. We've all learned that pecking orders evolve, with some individuals taking a lead position through force of personality. But we’ve also learned that some use their role not to lead, but to bully. Among women, these bullies and their followers have gained the moniker of "Mean Girls." Hill, examining her own experiences with mean girls, explores the impact these women have on interpersonal relationships, the quality of life in a community or business environment, and the character development of our girls.
In a warm, caring, and confiding tone, Hill's is the voice of a confident and respected mentor. The author uses an effective mix of anecdotes, advice, and coaching to reveal what she experienced over a long and successful career in business and public service. This is not a poor-little-me story but an authentic exploration of women's relationships with one another as the author reflects upon those things she did well and those she regrets in her own personal and professional past.
Hill sets the foundation for her discussion of women's friendships in childhood when young girls initially learn how to behave and treat others by observing how their mothers conduct themselves. Culturally, girls are pressured to collect friends almost like souvenirs, with the number of friends collected a reflection of their value as a person. Motherhood is a tough job, and outside sources have always competed to influence a child's thoughts and behavior. Now, social media has multiplied the external sources that have access to our children. Hill offers proactive measures and encouragement to mothers to guide their children toward developing empathy for others and on to mutually satisfying friendships.
But where are the mean girls in all of this? What happens to them after the days on the playground and at school are over? The author contends that these girls, now women, create new arenas in the workplace, social institutions, or social media. Business-based mean girls climb the corporate ladder by stepping on the backs of their former peers, gaining worth by downgrading the achievements of others. Once they level up, rather than elevate their former female colleagues, mean girls pull the ladder out of reach.
Social media has enlarged the stage on which mean girls can wield their toxic influence. The author expands at length on social media's impact on women's views of themselves, social interaction, and modern discourse. While allowing users to broaden their view of the world, the Internet has also had negative impacts. Social filters have dissolved under the anonymity of the web and the distancing from genuine face-to-face interactions with others. Topics previously taboo in casual conversation—politics, religion, and money—are publicly and indiscriminately bandied about, and the consequences have been devastatingly cruel at times.
Online communities, which attract the lonely and vulnerable, often act as substitutes for genuine friendships with real people. The opportunistic make followers out of the unknown masses, extending their reach and multiplying the damage 24/7. While some use their clout for the general good, many are not altruistic. The author provides valuable cues and clues to identifying and dealing with these false friends.
With its positive delivery and encouraging tips for personal action, Where the Mean Girls Go is recommended to women of all ages in all stages of life.