Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Musings on the Queen Bitch (Warning: Semi-Autobiographical Tangents within)

Mightygodking's got a great post up about the head cheerleader as alpha bitch stereotype/stock character.

I have to second everything he says here, seriously. And I want to elaborate on it, from my own perspective.

I won't rehash the same points he makes about Cheerleading being a hard and relatively unrewarding, demanding activity. Instead I want to talk about the "Queen Bitch" stereotype in general.

First, I have to disclaim this with some simple autobiographical facts. My highschool experience is fairly remarkable and atypical. I didn't go to a standard public OR private high school, instead, I was part of the first class to attend an experimental charter school located in the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. The school experience was varied, with good and bad elements, (but let's be honest here, there are few things more kickass than going to school in a museum/historical village,) but I can't be 100% certain that the social standards are actually representative of the greater population of female high school students.

Okay, the big important factor is that my school only had 100 students per grade, and we were the first class recruited. There were no upperclassmen for us, ever. We did have cliques and groups, but they were not strongly defined, and there was often a lot of migration back and forth between them. There were not actually a lot of clique wars, since most of us had enough friends in other groups to make anything beyond a mildly antagonistic rivalry a fairly bad idea.

We didn't have a cheerleading team or a band, and it was a while before we even had a sports team (the Henry Ford Navigators, how awesomely lame is that?!).

I don't know how typical my experience was, as I said, but I do know that it bore almost no resemblance to pretty much any portrayal of high school I've seen on television or in comics, ever.

The biggest difference is that we didn't have a Queen Bitch. We simply didn't. And while as a highschool student, I just thought this was another way our school was different from others, the older I get, the more I wonder if this Queen Bitch archetype exists at all.

Because, let's face it. People are generally popular for a reason and who really wants to hang out with/or be a total bitch? In my high school experience, we had our rich bitch type characters hanging around, but quite one liked them. They sure as hell weren't about to be voted Homecoming Queen. We girls are catty, we're not going to vote for someone we don't actually like, even if we ARE jealous of her. Especially if we're jealous of her, you think we'll give her more reason to lord it over us?

I'm beginning to think that the Queen Bitch is primarily a male construction. In one of my anthropology classes, I remember a big thing about how boys and girls tend to socialize differently. Apparently, and I don't know if this is true or not, boys tend to compete more against each other and establish more hierarchies and dominance play. Girls, on the other hand, tended to be more cooperative. A boy who transgressed would be, this study said, punished by being pushed into a lower social tier. Whereas a girl who transgressed would be more likely to be simply shunned by the group as a whole.

I tend to take these kind of studies with a grain of salt in general, but I have to admit, that when it comes to my own social upbringing, the description of "girls' society" is fairly apt. I don't know if it's biological, the way we're raised, or simply that my experience is an aberration, but that is how it was for me. There was never one alpha girl, and more likely a girl who tried to take on those sorts of characteristics would be expelled from the group as a whole.

I've been on both sides of this, naturally, accepted and shunned, but I've never seen the kind of socialization that these stories imply. Not among GIRLS anyway.

This is why it's my theory that the Queen Bitch is a primarily male concept. The Queen Bitch is always set, in these sort of stories, as the opposite to the popular boy. (Usually an athlete). And is often given her status through her relationship with him. She's the Queen to his King.

I'm sorry, but okay, assuming my experiences are atypical and girls do have the same sort of alpha-hierarchal society as evidenced by these movies, shows, comics, books, et cetera...why the hell would we choose our alpha based on who she's dating at the time? Or the number of boys she's dated? (Especially given the stigma attached to being "too easy".) That simply makes no sense!

And by the way, just because there's one girl that all the boys want to date...that doesn't mean WE'RE going to think she's the best thing since sliced bread. We don't judge each other on quite the same standards as you judge us. (And honestly, jealousy's a lot more likely to keep the subject down than elevate her up.)

The thing is, I do remember from my more typical middle school existance, the existance of a "popular crowd". A group of girls, snobs of course (if you can't tell, I was NOT a part of this group, heh) who were somehow the highest social status in the school, despite the fact that our "outcast" group was quite a bit bigger. So at least that correlates a little...

But, well, it's a lot more of the Sweet Valley Books's "Unicorn Club" than it ever was Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Cordelia and the Cordettes. The GROUP was elevated, not one individual. There might be one girl who was prettiest, one girl who was richest, one girl who was the best leader, but the whole thing was more of a group affair. And each one was DESPERATE not to get thrown out of the flock. And they might be a bitch to people outside their circle, but inside? Not. A. Chance.

Ultimately, all I know is that there is almost noting to turn me off of a school set story than the presence of a Queen Bitch. It strikes me as a lazy attempt to make the heroine likeable through her victimization, rather than, you know, giving her qualities that are actually likeable. And at least for me, it bears no resemblance to any socialized atmosphere I've ever encountered in my school years.


  • At November 07, 2007 5:03 AM, Blogger Ragnell said…

    For a great test on whether or not this holds true, we have a High School-like environment that everyone should be familiar with, actually: The Comics Blogosphere!

  • At November 07, 2007 5:37 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Heh, we really are perpetual highschoolers aren't we?

    (I'm in your group, right?)

  • At November 07, 2007 6:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That's so true. I feel like I had an atypical high school experience because the head cheerleaders in my class were all bubbly and fun, even to us dorky types. I think a lot of it is men trying to imagine how a female social circle works, applying their social rules, and missing by a mile.

  • At November 07, 2007 7:48 AM, Blogger Centurion said…

    I'll one up the theories based on my own theory. I think the idea is created more out of a media need to isolate a character for a story to focus on.

    Female Lead type of character, which is why she's always with the Male Lead. She doesn't have to be well defined or deep in character, but she's whom the plot centers around when it covers non-male elements of the story - protagonist, or antagonist.

    Sexist? probably. I suppose splitting the awards that way helps as much as it hurts. How many oscar winners can you name that won for their roles, and why do you remember them?

  • At November 07, 2007 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Actually, one of the things I liked on Buffy was that they actually seemed to realize that the character of Cordelia would get old after awhile and started to give her character an arc beyond her initial single purpose and characteristics that continued into Angel.

  • At November 07, 2007 10:18 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Thom, I definitely appreciate that Cordelia has more depth than initially portrayed. I do however think her initial portrayal is very unlikely given my own experiences of female adolescent socialization. :-)

  • At November 07, 2007 12:04 PM, Blogger SallyP said…

    I don't think that I've EVER seen a television show or movie that actually portrays High School in the way that most people experienced it. I was in a rather odd position, in that due to my Dad getting transferred several times, I attended no fewer than THREE different High Schools, so I was always the "new" kid. Oddly enough, i think that in some ways this worked in my favor, as I ended up being courted by several different groups. Still, it's tough moving in the middle of your senior year!

    The "Queen Bitch" construct really doesn't exist, that I can remember. Another cliche that always drove me nuts, was the obligatory nude girl's locker room scene. That sort of thing NEVER happened! We were all so self-concious and shy! Everyone HATED having to take showers!

    Stupid nerd writers!

  • At November 07, 2007 12:19 PM, Blogger Ragtime said…

    Semi-tangential comment to your semi-autobiographical tangent.

    I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point," where he talks about the "Rule of 150."

    Apparently, 100 people can get together and not form cliques, but by the time you get to 200, cliques will inevitably form. The human mind is not programmed to interact on a personal level with more than 150 people in any setting, and will invariably group into subsets once you get past that point.

    I don't know any queen bitches either, but I would assume -- the the extent that there was somewhere, sometime, a real life model of the stereotype -- it was in a bigger school.

  • At November 07, 2007 3:18 PM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    I really can't speak to whether the Queen Bitch is a male thing - mostly because in my experience, non of the tropes common to high school movies existed in my high school experience.

    I went to Laguna Beach High School. There were 126 kids in my graduating class and about 800 in the entire school. There were no cliques based on anything apparent (like class status or sports or intelligence). There were groups of friends with very permeable boundaries and most kids easily facilitated between groups. There were two or three completely ostracized kids - based generally on personality.

    As far as popularity went, it was generally just who was the most likable. Being a football star didn't really earn you any great social cachet. Being a cheerleader only meant you wore a short skirt more often than other girls (which could spark male interest if not popularity). Nerdy types weren't victimized by anything other than their own insecurities.

    So really, all of it's completely foreign to me. I think that's why I find high school movies entertaining. They are so very much fantasies to me that the complex government and political hierarchy seems really inventive - and sometimes endearing.

    In my world, someone being popular because they're a successful quarterback or a bitchy head cheerleader are equally unbelievable. So I don't know if it's a man thing or a genre thing or what. I find it all pretty baffling.

  • At November 07, 2007 4:04 PM, Blogger Flidget Jerome said…

    I actually did have a Queen Bitch in my first high school but the interesting thing was there only 30 kids in my clsss. We were basically just too small to establish stable groups.z

  • At November 07, 2007 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I went to an inner city high school with a graduating class of several hundred. We did, in fact, have a 'Queen Bitch' in our school, though she wasn't a cheerleader (She was a majorette, which were WAY more popular in our school).

    The thing about her was, she was incredibly charismatic. She was cute (though not 'OMG beautiful!), well, spoken, made good grades, and basically drew people to her.

    She also tended to dominate just about anything she was involved in, which is where the 'bitchy' aspect came in. She mostly just walked all over anyone who didn't want to follow her. She wasn't malicious like on TV, but she did do a lot of things that engendered hostile feeling toward her, which she mostly brushed off as inconsequential. Funny thing was we actually got along pretty well.

    So for me at least the stereotype on TV is just another overly dramatic rendering of something I've seen in real life.

  • At November 07, 2007 4:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You also have to keep in mind that most of these shows are showing the queen bitch from outside her normal circle. She may very well be personable to the majority of the people around them.

    I mean, look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sure, Buffy, Xander and co save the world from ruin a bunch of times. That is information that we as viewers are given. But imagine what they looked like from outside of their circle. They weren't exactly a huge band of friends, and their behavior (hanging out at graveyards at night, ect) isn't exactly something that would cause people to invite them into their circles with open arms.

    Um, I think I had a point in there somewhere. Something about bitchiness being a matter of perspective, maybe? I don't know; I lost myself.

  • At November 07, 2007 5:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I generally feel it more a general story construct. In most cases (Heroes) we only see the queen from the point of view of our spectacular lead hero. She could just generally not like the lead and be snotty to her/him but around her friends is perfectly acceptable. A good example is actually an episode of "Reba" where one of the female leads discovers a house she wants but the old "queen bitch" cheer leader rival owns it. The Queen is nice to the others but the two still maintain a rivalry.

    As for Highschool, well I tended to be very talky and got along with all sorts of people, but I've witnessed people being snubbed just like on TV. I was at a fairly large high school though, with graduating class of over 400. I'm still proud to say that in a single day I said hello to over 300 people and knew their names and they knew mine, on a friendly basis. So maybe I'm not typical much either.

    As far as the Male thing goes I disagree there as well. Most groups of men that come into the store tend to shift in central leadership as need arises. The same thing happened with my friends, we had a person who normally kicked things off and then we'd switch off and on as to who was "leader". I can't really describe how it happened because it was fairly organic. Sort of like The A-team or the FF, there was a "leader" but really it's a group thing.

    So, in closing, I guess I'm saying yes there are "Queen Bitches", no their not always Queen Bitches, young men do form social leaders but only in the most fluid sense.

    Again these are all from a guy who tended to get along with everybody and who's "group" was 30-40 people large depending on the day.

  • At November 07, 2007 5:57 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Mallet: You've got some good points, but I think there's a difference in how a male student and a female student percieve the "Queen Bitch" character too.

    I know we're getting, say in Heroes or Buffy, the situation solely from the heroine's point of view. But in my experience, having been in the position of Claire, Buffy or Willow at varying times of my life, it doesn't look like that.

    It's not ONE girl. It's not one girl leading a pack. It's the whole pack. And from my experience at least, if you're a girl and you're picked on/shunned, you don't focus on one particular charismatic figure in the shunning group, the Cordelia or head cheerleader, you really do focus on the whole group.

    That's where I think the difference in gender perspective comes in. Because I've heard male friends refer to a particular girl as a queen bitch, but to me, she was just one of the pack (if one of the loudest voices). And I focused on the pack.

    For Buffy or Claire, when I incorporate my own (admittedly, perhaps atypical) perspective, I see a faintly familiar sort of social situation as relayed by a guy observer. NOT as relayed by a female victim.

    YMMV, naturally. :-)

  • At November 07, 2007 6:50 PM, Blogger Rocketlex said…

    Hahaha. I'm currently taking classes to become a screenwriter and last year I wrote a high school comedy which heavily parodied this concept. Basically there's this one girl in the high school who thinks she's the "Queen Bitch" girl of the school, but in reality no one cares outside her immediate circle of friends (and vaguely even then). She isn't a cheerleader, though (and though one of her friends is, this really doesn't impact the story much at all).

    It really reflects my own personal high school experience. There were a lot of cliques, but I don't remember them ever competing with (or even really caring about) each other.

  • At November 07, 2007 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I simply can't see that as the case because, like I've said, I've seen the scenario take place to a female friend. Anger may cloud my judgement, but it was very clear that one girl instigated and picked on my friend, which then snowballed into a whole group doing it. I knew both women, obviously I was more friendly with the victim, and I knew the "Queen" in that scenario wasn't like that most of the time. Just around my friend, and afterwards she was angry at the group, but mainly the "Queen" for starting it.

    Your view may very well be correct, most writers are still male in the entertainment industry and so everything they say is clouded by their experiences. Though if I wrote something like that it would be based off an event that really did happen. Naturally though I do have Anger and "Having a penis" in the way of establishing a female point of view. Of course my cheerleaders would also be space aliens infiltrating the school for their Nazi Masters...

    So, yeah... I don't know how to end this.

  • At November 07, 2007 6:56 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Well, everyone has different experiences in the end. :-P

    Ultimately it comes down to which is more atypical I guess. ;-)

    But I would totally read your alien nazi cheerleaders.

  • At November 07, 2007 6:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh and I would like to point out that my original intent was that it didn't happen often (hardly ever infact), but it did happen. It may just be that the size of my school and the number of people I knew that I'd find an example of this.

    I also have an example of somebody thinking "Filling the school with pigs would be funny" and "A dancing rapping Panda telling me to stay of drugs while accidently pointing a cap gun at me."

    So I may be the real anamoly here :)

  • At November 07, 2007 7:03 PM, Blogger Rocketlex said…

    Also, it is true that male groups tend to use hierarchy more than female groups, as my mother discovered. She used to work as a substitute teacher, and one exercise she did in a music class proved a very interesting social experiment.

    She split the class into two groups. Arbitrarily she chose males and females (since there was an even split). The task of the groups was to create a song and then play it using plastic tubes (each person holds a tube and then plays it at the proper time). The boys and girls went about this in completely different ways.

    The girls spent the majority of the time arguing with each other in order to make sure everyone's ideas got incorporated into the song as evenly as possible. The boys, on the other hand, immediately elected the biggest egghead in the group to come up with a song for them to play and then teach it to them, standing around until instructed by the "leader" on what their job is. Not the most democratic, but it's interesting to note that the boys were ready in perhaps ten minutes while the girls took the entire class time.

  • At November 07, 2007 10:20 PM, Blogger zhinxy said…

    The Queen Bitch exists, and I am... Very closely related to her.

    Heathers had nothing on this woman, let me tell you. For all that, you've got a point about women not assigning her top-bitch status on the basis of who she's dating. It was more the BOYS that worshipped at the feet of any male lucky enough to capture her attention.

    My own high school experience was that of being Queen Bee Of The Freaks... I really don't KNOW of any High School movies that portray my experience.

    You NEVER see me, the geek girl who maintains friendships with the cheerleaders, the Chess Club, the gangsters, and the punks...

    You see the BOY geek as friend of the popular kids all the time... But almost never the girl...

    Except MAYBE in Rock And Roll High School...

    Yeah, that's all I can think of.

  • At November 08, 2007 3:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Gonna chime in to agree about the QBs acting as a pack, since that's my experience as well. Over 500 students in my year, and the Queen Bitch group was made up of ten or so rich girls (plus an ever-fluctuating number of semi-Queens). And they did end up with the whole Homecoming court/class president/trying to win every title cliche (but no cheerleading. These QBs were all about the field hockey.)

    They didn't really have the kind of power that television shows like to give those characters, though. With 500 kids forming at least twenty visible sub-groups, the public ostracizing thing doesn't work so well. There's plenty of way more subtle things to do to a person to make them feel purposely excluded and looked down upon than the kind of stuff TV and movies portray. It was actually really rare to see one of the QBs go off on someone they randomly disliked (possibly because it wouldn't have been tolerated by some of the other groups. Self-policing FTW.)

    (Also, the cheerleaders at my school were all from the "average, but slightly dorky" crowd. TV tells me that this is weird.)

  • At November 08, 2007 8:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wait a minute are saying the high school and college girls don't stand around talking in the nude or their undergarments all casual like in the locker room?

    I suppose the sleepovers in lingerie and pillow fights were not normal either? Dammit...Hollywood lies *again*. ;)

    Kalinara-I think in Buffy's case though, part of the point was to start within genre conventions. Cordelia may not represent "real" high school girls, but I don't think she was supposed to. Just like Buffy herself was a film convention turned on it's head, I think the same was done with Cordelia.

    As an aside, when my parents saw Mean Girls, they said that was exactly what their high school experiences were like.

  • At November 08, 2007 10:17 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    Thom, we'd have been embarrassed to death. How about the boys? Did you all walk around in the alltogether in the locker room in your High School? Somehow, that scene never shows up in a Teen Movie.

    Darn it.

  • At November 08, 2007 7:58 PM, Blogger Seth T. Hahne said…

    Sally, there's a similar scene if I recall in Apt Pupil, with Bad Renfro hitting the locker room after some sporty activity or another. The shower room is one of the those big open, square affairs with multiple showerheads per wall. And weirdo that he is, he stands with his back to the showerhead - presumably so that his buddies can bask in his apt, nazi-youthed glory.

    Living in Laguna Beach, at the time the second highest per-capita homosexual community in the Western US, our own open shower was a quick get-in/get-out affair as nearly the entire male student body was deeply fearful of picking up the reputation of surrounding city (I understand that tolerance has grown tremendously since then).

  • At November 09, 2007 1:28 AM, Blogger Rocketlex said…

    Sally- True, but I must note that the "all male nude shower room" is a situation which is much less comfortable in real life than it is portrayed in movies. ^_^;;

  • At November 09, 2007 3:46 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    Three high schools in three years in three states.

    Two of them, both in very Football crazy places (Idaho and Ohio) had Cheerleaders who correlated with the Queen Bitch stereotype. The third, in Seattle, WA didn't. In fact most of the people I went to high school with in Seattle were really awesome.

    I think you'll find this sort of thing anywhere that you get the near religious worship of sports teams, like in rural or low-income areas where sports are seen as a ticket out.

    Gods, one of the cheerleaders in Idaho made my life a living hell because my "skanky stoner ass" DARED to have a crush on the guy she was dating. Apparently my gazing longingly at him gave him cooties or something.

    So, yeah, it does exist, but just not all over.

    Geek Girls Rule!

  • At November 09, 2007 4:51 PM, Blogger Rocketlex said…

    M- You may have hit the nail on the head. My high school's football team was really just terrible, as were most of our sports teams. In fact, the girls' soccer and tennis teams were the only ones which did well, and a lot of that was because there was this one superathlete girl in my class who played on (and carried) both.

  • At November 10, 2007 12:37 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said…

    Hi Kalinara,
    Rather late Joining the Party, I know, but I felt the need to respond.

    I went to an all-girls Catholic high school, and my graduating class was about 220. We not only had Queen Bees, we had Princess Bees, as well. They called themselves the "Seventy Best Friends": they were teen models, they were cruel and malicious, they were beautiful and thin, etc. If there is a stereotype, they embodied it.

    I, of course, as a bookish chubby, geeky teenager (in the early 90s, no less!), was not part of their group. My group was a bit of the proto-goth, proto-punk group (before goth and punk found their revival in the 90s). We were the anti-popular group, not because we were anti-popular, but because *we didn't care about the popular kids*. I remember meeting one of the popular girls outside of school, and she was shocked--well and truly shocked--that I didn't know what her name was.

    My senior year, one of the Seventy and I became secret friends. It was very elaborate and fun--we would meet for coffee and study--and we even caught up years later. She came to my wedding a few years back. It's all very charming and Judi Blume, but it is one of my favorite stories from high school, and beyond.

  • At November 10, 2007 6:35 PM, Blogger Ami Angelwings said…

    I agree whole heartedly :D

    I'm tired of the popular = evil stereotype for highschool stories. :\

    I guess cuz.. I was bullied and picked on as a kid, but in HS I was rly popular :O

    And rly, ppl aren't THAT different from each other. But everybody makes assumptions and often it's "sour grapes" thing that ppl you envy must be bad people. :\

    Also, to add to that link XD Many writers are also male who write these things, and the "head cheerleader" trope is less about envy than about sour grapes. Somebody who was popular and pretty in their school that they wanted, felt they couldn't have, and justified in their minds that she's *not worth having*.


    Btw I was rly nice to ppl :D

  • At November 11, 2007 6:03 AM, Blogger Unknown said…

    I'd like to suggest "Freaks and Geeks" as the only TV show to really get high school right. Plus, it's simply one of the best shows ever aired. Too bad no one watched it besides myself and three other people I've never met.

    Yeah, the "queen bitch cheerleader" thing has been done and done to death. I'm not one for putting personal experience out as the be-all end-all for "truth." It's highly subjective, of course. And assumes that one's personal experiences are reflective of everyone else's. But at the same time... my high school definitely did not have a "queen bitch."

    Jocks and cheerleaders were at the top of the social scale, but we had a girl triumverate. Three really popular girls who were somewhat rivals to each other but also pretty good friends. There was one huge meltdown during the "Miss Albany High" beauty pageant but I think that was instigated more by an overzealous teacher. Led to some hard feelings and could be satirized or parodied in the manner of a teen comedy flick I guess. Or "Heathers."

    Oh there were some mean people at my school. Even now, 20 years later, there are still some scarred and battered people as a result. As for me... yawn... Few of my friends even went to that school and I just wasn't into it. I did my own thing.

    But if I ever write a book or something about high school, I'm deliberately leaving out the cliches.

  • At November 12, 2007 12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sally...know...but oddly enough, the teen movies that show the guys shower room as a place where jocks terrorize losers? Highly accurate.


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