Over at Huffington I’ve posted a blog on the “mean girls” obsession on the 100 anniversary of International Women’s Day. While there are many serious issues affecting women around the world, when it comes to communication the use of demeaning labels continues to be a problematic one. Women and girls are no meaner than men and boys. And yet, it’s appealing to the media to run with the “mean girls” label. When such labels catch on, women pay a price.
As I wrote about in They Don’t Get It, Do They some years ago, there is a language of exclusion in many businesses that keep women out of high-level jobs. It includes scripts known better to the men than women and the use of stereotypes to keep those in the out-group out. Savvy women observe and learn these scripts. They develop a repertoire of comebacks that deny the effective use of stereotypes. They learn to how to respond effectively to dismissive, patronizing, and retaliatory dysfunctional communication patterns (DCPs). They know, for example, how to nip such DCPs in the bud by using comebacks that disallow the dismissal of their ideas, bring covert patronizing out in the open and deny mean and manipulative people the chance to do them harm.
Labels like “mean girls” just make matters worse for women. They aren’t the worst problem we have, but they cause more harm than most women notice. So, I thought it important on this anniversary to keep us, women and men alike, alert to the influence of language on how we think — specifically that of labels.
In They Don’t Get It, Do They I mentioned that as women you’ll be labeled whether you like it or not. There’s no getting around it. So, you might as well have some input. That may come in the form of rejecting a label politely (“Let me put what you just said another way”), indirectly (“I am adamant about what matters”) or directly (“You’re looking at a bitch. Now that that’s been established, let’s get back to work.”).
That’s the beauty of a repertoire of comebacks. You can choose to tread lightly or not. It sure beats driving home wishing you hadn’t let another label put you in a place you don’t belong.