Mean Girls and Privilege

Ana Gvozdic - Ecuador


February 28, 2017

You know your bridge year is the year of learning, when even watching Mean Girls with your friends as a break of Ecuadorian life starts relating to the things that have occupied your mind in the last days. So here are the things we can learn from Mean Girls about privilege, especially within the international community.

1. Exclusivity

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While the Mean Girls decline the right for others to sit at their table, those of us with different privileges have access to places which further reinforce our privilege. In a recent conversation with the vice-president of the indigenous community, he reminded me of the privilege I have as a beholder of the Croatian passport, which has not caused me any complications in crossing borders or getting visas so far, while he does not have the same privilege. I also realize that most of my traveling has been around educational purposes, for which I received scholarships, which again are not available to everyone, and mostly require the knowledge of English, which not everyone can easily obtain.

 

2. “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” doesn’t work in social justice.

 

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Not only does the statement forget to account for the differences in people in terms of their experiences of life, within the international context it makes us neglect history. We can not assume that what we find good, acceptable or positive would cause the same reaction in others, and I would advise communicating at all times (e.g. just because you are comfortable talking about abuse, doesn’t mean that everyone is.) The issue gets even more complicated when it deals with inclusion, similarly what we talked about above. If exclusivity is such a big problem, it should work both ways – everyone needs to be included everywhere, and that’s how we create equality, right? It doesn’t really work that way. Equality can’t emerge overnight, simply by opening a new page and creating an equal society, forgetting all injustice that has happened in the past. I felt this so much in my conversation with the same indigenous leader, during which I felt like I have been put up to test for his trust, treated not just as Ana, but as a representative of the group of white foreigners, which have broken his trust so many times. The same way the viewers are happy for Regina not being invited to the party, it makes sense that the Mean Girls are not invited to the party in real life too, whether it is women requesting a man-free meeting to talk about sexual assault (not saying that men are not victims of sexual assault too!), or the organizers of the Black Lives Matter march opening it up only for people of color. Maybe after some time and trust building, Regina gets invited to the parties again…

 

3. Decision-making power

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Mean Girls get to decide the rules. This particular one reminds me of beauty ideals which again favor the privileged ones. I still don’t understand why every time I talk to my host grandma and her sister, the conversation seems to end up about the color of my hair, with occasional comments along the lines “thank God we are Mestizo, otherwise we would have those ugly indigenous noses”. However, the decision-making power goes beyond beauty ideals, and again, reinforces the status quo. Just think about the economic inequality – who gets to make the decisions and what kind of dependency does it create? Or, what saddens me so much, the United Nations, and the disproportionate power countries have – take as an example the Security Council and the Veto power. It is as George Orwell put it: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

 

 

4. So, if we don’t want to be mean girls…

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Ana Gvozdic