Wednesday, July 22, 2009

MEAN GIRL GROWN UPS

Over the holidays, while I was catching up on my professional reading, a particular item drew my attention. It concerned a female judge who had been disciplined for violating judicial canons and basically being stereotypically "bitchy." It was the latter that caught my eye. The disciplinary court, after hearing thirty witnesses, found that she "routinely belittled, berated and badgered court staff." The opinion went on to state that she traumatized some so severely that they could no longer appear before her and that she acknowledged bias against certain attorneys which had resulted in issuing rulings against them. Stunning was the finding that the judge used court personnel, including her law clerk, as her personal servants - to clean her home, rake her yard, bubble wrap her packages and scrub her floors. But the most telling finding of all was that she had lodged a false complaint stating that a court administrator had grabbed an associate's arm and screamed at them. In true mean girl fashion, she fabricated situations that mirrored her behavior to deflect from her own. Her defense: that all of the witnesses were pressured to lie about her. Translation: they must have followed a more powerful mean girl's lead. What else could it be!
I would not have thought much of this, except that it came hot on the heels of my own experience with a mean girl judge. I will spare the detailed specifics, but suffice it to say that this woman outdid her male peers in the "disrespecting me" department, no small feat, as one had authorized the sale of the former marital residence without full disclosure and put a gag and eviction order on me to ensure that, another had characterized my ex's tax fraud to be the mere failure to file a piece of paper, and a third had held a significant hearing in the divorce matter knowing I had not received actual notice of it, was not present, and then authorized the disbursement of almost $80,000 from the aforementioned sale to the perpetrator of the fraud, my former husband! But this judge's bias against me was palpable, from the order in which she allowed me to speak, to the limited amount of time she allocated me, last and least, to her lack of familiarity with the case file and applicable law and her willingness to allow only opposing counsel - a male - fill in her knowledge gap. There was an exchange where she in essence told me to "get lost," and "take it up with (another court)." Of the one day hearing scheduled, I got ten minutes of less than an hour, mostly interrupted. You could feel her venom fill the room.
To say I was disappointed is an understatement. But what I at first couldn't figure out was why. Was she a mean girl grown up? I didn't think so. She wasn't that attractive - "plain Jane" comes to mind - short, straight, salt and pepper mannish hairdo and angular, unremarkable features. I strongly suspect she was not one of the pretty or popular girls in her younger years, which nixed that theory.
Had she been a victim of a mean girl in her youth, and because of that become a mean girl grown up, taking it out on anyone who remotely reminded her of someone who bullied or humiliated her in those dreadful middle school and teen years? Just my luck, I'm told I am "cute," have good hair (albeit short and salt and pepper as well, but with bounce) and look 15 years younger than we both probably are, courtesy of fibromyalgia taut, porcelain skin. However, I don't accentuate or flaunt my supposed pulchritude; no hair color, lipstick only, eyes hidden behind glasses, dress way down. I simply don't care, but apparently she did, still jealous of THAT despite all of her professional accomplishments, giving new meaning to "judging a book by its cover!" Very immature, but given women's propensity to have long memories for past slights, vindictive grudgeholding, and striking out at the most available target, that seemed a more plausible explanation.
Which begs the question, why, forty odd years after the women's movement supposedly liberated us to be all we are and can be, do we still (A) want to be like men, and outdo them routinely in emulating them at their worst, and (B) behave in a petty and non supportive manner toward our own as if they are some threat for some guy's attention/affection in some long ago schoolyard? Biologically Neanderthal catty cats! Some of us may just be mean girls grown up who never changed, but could the rest be explained as mean girl grown ups shaped and spawned by youthful victimization? Are we unconsciously creating MORE mean girls? Will I now become a mean girl as a result of this experience? I hope not.
Does it make us feel superior to wield authority in this manner? Because it shouldn't. By acting so unkindly, have we in essence given up on "love" and "niceness" for "our sex is all about power?" I would hope we could achieve a balance there. We may say we've "come a long way baby," but deep down if we behave no differently than men or the mean girls of the childhood cliques and we make our name and feel good about ourselves by stepping on and over others, particularly women, rather than treating them as equals and helping them get a leg up, we've clung to the worst of our gender traits and adopted the most disagreeable and unpleasant of the opposite sex. That's not progress. That's something to be ashamed of. Revenge on the mean girls. I'm all for that - at the time the incident occurred, directed at the perpetrator. Pick on the mean girl that picked on you and get past it; don't pay it forward on the innocent. In so doing, that's one step backwards for you, and by multiplier effect, many steps back for the rest of us.
We live in a country that with the election of an African American president may finally rid that race of the internal violence affected upon it by generations of slavery. We shouldn't have to wait for a woman to be elected to that high office to eliminate the passing down the "mean girl effect." The time for that is now.

Karen Ann DeLuca