Looking back at our time in high school we are all reminded of the various groups and friendships we observed or engaged in, and in every high school there is a group of girls we associate with being “mean girls”. You might have loved them, envied them, hated them, dated one of them or been one of them. The movie Mean Girls has influenced our view of female friendships and gender roles for the past 10 years and doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon. Exploring this movie through the lens of social cognitive theory we uncover just how strong the influence of teen movies can be on our beliefs and views long after we have left the concrete hallways of high school.
The University of Twente identifies that the social cognitive theory “explains how people acquire and maintain certain behavioral patterns, while also providing the basis for intervention strategies”. Social cognitive theory also deals with aspects of behavior for understanding behavioral change, as well as, cognitive and emotional aspects. Even if you have not seen Mean Girls you have most certainly been exposed to the vocabulary that has made up countless iconic references men and women use everyday: “On Wednesday’s we wear pink”, “Go Glen Coco”, “She doesn’t even go here”, “It’s like I have ESPN, or something”, and “It’s October 3rd”. Mean Girls, loosely based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabees, has lead the pack of teen movies for the last decade in the characterization of female friendships and gender roles in a high school setting, guiding our views on the dominant female role and the true nature of female interaction.
Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz and Dana E. Mastro explore the effects of teen movies and the influence of our exposure to the storylines portrayed on “gender-based beliefs about friendships, social aggression and roles of women in society”. The two part exploratory study investigates 20 grossing U.S teen movies released between 1995 and 2005. In regards to socially aggressive behaviors, there were 337 incidents recorded which found that “female characters were significantly more likely to engage in socially aggressive behaviors than males”. To gain a better understanding we look at direct scenes from Mean Girls; throughout most of the movie, no matter how horrible or catty the group of mean girls is to their peers they continue to be idolized and envied. These types of images and themes reinforce the belief that we will receive positive consequences with the enactment of socially aggressive behaviors. Results of the study showed, “females were significantly more likely to be rewarded for socially aggressive behaviors than were their males counterparts” indicating that “female characters are significantly more likely to engage in and be rewarded for socially aggressive behaviors than are male characters in teen movies”.
Based on social cognitive theory, Behm-Morawitz and Mastro’s results conclude that “it would be expected that exposure to such messages among the appropriate audience could potentially result in the development of unfavorable beliefs about female friendships and negative attitudes toward women in general”. Modeling these types of socially aggressive behaviors through an admired medium lays the foundation for how teen girls view themselves and their peers and how they choose to design their pursuit for higher status. The findings of Behm-Morawitz and Mastro’s research reinforces the idea that being a “mean girl” will get you father in life and that being one of the many victimized is just a normality. Even as an adult Mean Girls resonates with many experiences from the past, making this movie one of the most influential on our pop culture to date.
-Angelica DiPaolo, Morganne McIntyre, Anderson McNaull, Madeline O’Connor, Rachel White