University of Wisconsin–Madison

“Mean Girls” depiction of Girlhood

In the text Kirsten Learns a Lesson the keyword girlhood is represented as innocence, youth, family role responsibilities (chores) while in the movie Mean Girls girlhood is represented as popularity, fashion, and social life.

From the book Kirsten Learns a Lesson, we learn about her experience as an immigrant in America. We are able to see both her home and school life. Kirsten has her morning chores that she is expected to do before she goes to school and then she has her evening chores to complete. Her mother and father do not expect her to get into any trouble, nor do they believe she will because she is still just a young girl, which I’m inferring to them means innocence. Another representation of girlhood from this text is that Kirsten is obedient and follows her parents’ rules and does not disobey them.

On the other hand, in the movie Mean Girls the idea of girlhood is represented in an opposite way. The main characters Regina, Karen, Gretchen are what most of the high school girls aspire to be. These three girls seem to “have it all,” the looks, the fashion, the popularity, the attitude, and boys who like them. This is what high school girls want and what society depicts as girlhood, at least for high school aged girls. Mean Girls brings in another part of the debate of the definition of girlhood discussed in the Keywords Essay as sexuality. Girls in this movie look at sexuality as another sign or expectations of girlhood, while other cultures may look at a girl’s sexuality as a transition from girlhood to womanhood. The three “mean girls” look down and in a way diminish the other girls in high school that don’t have as good of fashion as them, or the appearance or their sexual activity and because of that the other high school girls see these as expectations or requirements of girlhood. High school girls in this movie are mostly just concerned with what other girls, especially the “mean girls,” think of them.

I saw the connections between this book and movie when I was thinking about what girls think about what other girls think about them. In Kirsten Learns a Lesson, Kirsten is scared to present her poem to the class because she is worried what the other children will think of her and her English and that connected me to Mean Girls because this movie is centered around high school and the stereotypes girls in particular are supposed to follow. The definition of girlhood is always changing and is different to what age group of girls you are talking about. However, there are some things that might not always change and that is how I was able to connect the older book Kirsten Learns a Lesson to a modern movie Mean Girls.  

7 thoughts on ““Mean Girls” depiction of Girlhood”

  1. I agree that the idea of girlhood is always changing and definitely differs according to the age group and culture. Yet I find it interesting that fundamentally, Kirsten and the girls in Mean girls are simply trying to fit in and be a part of the new surroundings that they have been placed upon. Therefore, many of their thoughts revolve around how one should act to not be seen as the odd one out. Although, their ideas about how to act differ significantly, I think that it is the environment that they are in shaping that idea. In high school, sexuality is cool and prioritized, therefore the girls act accordingly. Yet, I find it interesting that it is also the student’s perception on what is cool, that is shaping this environment, therefore it is a mindset created and received by the girls in that particular environment, similarly to how children’s literature is created and received by children.

  2. I love this posts and how it shows the variation in the term “girlhood.” However, I think this brings up a very good question of what age is still considered girlhood? While you can make the comparison that girlhood means different things in both stories/movies, it is hard to completely compare them due to the completely different stages of life the characters are in. I do completely agree that in all stages, however, girls feel a need to belong and fit in with a group they view as desirable. These are all great ideas stemming from a unique comparison that I would not have thought of right away.

  3. I found it interesting how you compared the definition of “girlhood” to different age groups of girls with both Kirsten and the main characters in Mean Girls. I agree with your point that the definition changes with the different age groups. I like how you contrasted the perception of innocent Kirsten with the sexualized characters in Mean Girls. Kirsten represents the younger end of the age group, while Regina, Karen, and Gretchen represent the older end. While these age groups definitely play a role in how the definition has evolved over time, I would also note the change of time period. Culture and setting play a strong role in the definition of “girlhood” and Kirsten’s school experience was drastically different from Regina, Karen’s, and Gretchen’s. America was changing and the role that girls played in the development directly reflected how the definition of “girlhood” was derived. It will be interesting to see how the definition is defined with a movie produced this year and we will be able to compare it to the two other examples you talked about in your blog.

  4. Hi Alexis!

    I really like how you connect the keyword girlhood into our assigned reading Kirsten Learns a Lesson and the popular movies, Mean Girls. It is interesting to see how these main characters trying are trying to fit in into the new environment. Furthermore, how the definition of girlhood is represented differently in both the book and the movie. However, the original mean of the keyword “girlhood” still clearly seen such as the obedience of Kirsten and how it is all about fashion, appearance in Mean Girls.

  5. Kirsten in her story and Cady in Mean Girls definitely both have similar experiences in trying to fit a feminine mold to be able to relate to their peers. Contrary to your argument though, I believe that you can’t associate the Means Girls situation to girlhood. At that point in those girls’ lives, they have to deal with more of the adolescent struggles than those of girlhood. This includes things like social pressure, academic success, and becoming comfortable with your body. Kirsten and Cady are also in two very different environments and so I believe they are able to be considered together but not compared as equals.

  6. Hi Alexis!

    I think that looking at these two different examples of media is a perfect example of the role cultural and societal norms play in every aspect of our lives. In Kirsten’s time you still saw social pressures, like those she felt while at school, but they were very different. The ideals of the time and the practices of the time were very different. They were there to survive and to help family. They believed in hard work, and Kristen new that she had to work for what she wanted. These are not values present in Mean Girls because society had progressed far past where it was at in Kristen’s time. People were no longer trying to simply survive in society, but they were trying to survive. Cultural norms shifted, and importance was now placed in an entirely different realm. No longer was the goal to help other people, but to get people to want to help you, just to be close to you. At the time of Mean Girls the values of modern society were simply much different, so the depiction of girlhood was forced to evolve with it. Although I do believe that Mean Girls was a charactercher of modern girlhood, it still highlighted the major changes to such a crucial time, all because of a difference of values within society.

  7. Your connection to Mean Girls was really interesting to me because, thinking about the two, Kirsten Learns a Lesson and Mean Girls, they seem to be complete opposites. However, looking deeper into the two, I realize they are much more similar that I thought. The idea of girlhood is so complex because, as you said, it is always changing among society, different cultures, and time periods. Girlhood to some might mean innocence, while girlhood to others might mean high school and popularity. What sticks out to be though, is that in the grand scheme of things, all girls seem to have the same thoughts going through their heads: What do they think of me? Will they like me? Am I going to embarrass myself? Cady, the transfer student from being homeschooled in Mean Girls, is new to the whole high school and going to school thing, so she is more nervous than ever. You didn’t mention Cady, but I think Cady and Kirsten are very similar in the way that they are in new environments trying to fit in.

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