From Badness to Meanness: Popular Constructions of Contemporary Childhood

Meda Chesney-Lind, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Katherine Irwin, University of Hawaii at Manoa

This paper discusses of popular constructions of contemporary girlhood and, more specifically, with a vivid account of the "alpha girl" and "queen bee" stereotype that has recently dominated popular discussions of girlhood. While attracting readers with a summary of popular constructions of girls' meanness, the chapter offers a carefully constructed critique of these perspectives by suggesting that journalists, psychologists, and popular non-fiction writers have failed to address the issue of social power. We attempt to correct this void in current debates by comparing the current mean girl scare to past constructions of bad girls. We highlight our argument of social power by outlining the way that historic images of bad girls are often racialized and steeped in class conflicts. Thus, the stereotype of violent, lower-class, black and Latina gangbangers of the 1980s and 90s is traced to the mean girl construction of the clique oriented, white and middle class girl of the early twenty-first century.

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Updated 05/20/2006