Mean Girls is a cult classic, and with very good reason. It taught a generation of girls that it was not okay to pull other girls down to deal with one’s own insecurities, only to momentarily feel better about oneself. This was in 2004, when a term like ‘internalised misogyny’ was still several years away from being used in common parlance.
Mean Girls is set in an American high school but that doesn’t obstruct its universal appeal. There are queen bees like Regina George all around the world. And there are others who enable them – like Gretchen Wieners and Karen Smith. These people may not even be teenagers who don’t know better; very often, they are adults.
A movie like Mean Girls that comes with a repertoire of internal jokes and references also acts as a fun icebreaker and helps in forming new friendships. A person responding to my calling something ‘fetch’ with ‘Stop trying to make fetch happen!’ might just inspire me to get to know them a little better.
In addition to all this, there’s also something to be learnt from the protagonist Cady Heron’s personal journey. Cady is made to believe that being a mathematics nerd is something to keep hidden away, that she cannot be popular and a mathlete at the same time. It is not just the school’s other popular girls telling her this; her own friends dissuade her from joining the mathletes too, calling it ‘social suicide’. Cady then dumbs herself down, not just for popularity, but also to get her crush to take pity and offer to tutor her in a subject that she is far better at than him. Cady’s parents also have trouble reconciling with the suddenly popularity-obsessed American that their sweet little nerd has turned into.
Mean Girls takes an open stance against ‘girl-on-girl crime’, as the math teacher, Ms. Norbury, puts it eloquently. But the lesson about not compromising on one’s true interests and identity to fit into an unnatural mould is more covert. The audience doesn’t get a whole scene telling them that they should do what feels true to them, as with the gymnasium experience that the school’s girls (and Damian) are subjected to following the explosive fallout of the Burn Book leak.
Still, watching Cady realise that she doesn’t have to be a lesser version of herself to appear cool in other people’s eyes is an empowering experience for the viewer. It encourages us to not give up on our interests because someone else is offended by it for a petty reason. One could even argue that the movie encourages people to find new interests to suit their needs, as Regina does in the end with sports, as a way to channel her rage into something more productive.
As with many other works of popular culture, Mean Girls has been criticised in later years for several things. While some of this is valid, the fact is that the movie’s role as a cultural tour de force cannot be denied. It was, for many millennials, an introduction to the concept of female solidarity. It also offers a valuable life lesson in a non-preachy way. What’s more, all of this is done humorously. So, here’s to teachers real and fictional—Tina Fey and her brainchild, Ms Norbury—for imparting some ‘fetch’ lessons in the most ‘grool’ fashion.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.