Are you ready to feel old? Today is the 10th birthday of the movie Mean Girls. Are you ready to feel less old? The film is as relevant today as it ever was. It’s a rare day that passes without someone somewhere making reference to the eternal language of comic Tina Fey, and just this winter, we revealed some of the hilarious and eye-opening behind-the-scene facts shared by director Mark Waters. Lacey Chabert, who starred as second-in-command queen-bee Gretchen, reports getting an average of 100 tweets per day using “fetch,” a word which paradoxically, seems to have “happened.”
So what is that special something that makes Mean Girls so very seminal; what makes it, perhaps, the film of our generation? Well, there are two major things that the film succeeded in conveying about female adolescence that other high school comedies missed.
1. There is neither villain nor hero in girl-on-girl warfare
In much of the high school media that predated Mean Girls, the queen-bee characters were simply, well, mean. Inspired by Rosalind Wiseman’s sociological text Queen Bees & Wannabees, Fey takes a different approach, delving further into the psychologies of her teenage characters.
When 1988’s magnificent gem Heathers turned the “popular chick” into a satirically evil vixen, over whose dead body raged a sexually-tense battle of morality, the girls, all named Heather, were intentionally one-dimensional: aside from an undeniable lust for power, their motives were comically unclear.
Mean Girls, in maintaining the charming specificities of high school life, including a detailed cafeteria map, is presents more humanized and relatable villians. Regina George, our antagonist, has a richly rendered emotional life; in her own poignant and flawed way, she cares for her friends and is blindsided by insecurities. It’s brutally honest, and that’s refreshing. In the end, the villain turns out not to be an individual but srather a societal structure in which girls are trained to compete with and to act hatefully towards one another.
2. It’s okay to talk about sex, and it’s also okay to be awkward about it
Where earlier films like American Pie addressed the awkwardness of the male sex drive, they rarely treated female sexual discovery with the same touching humanity. In 2004, we were all used to those coming-of-age stories in which girls experience the perfect, painless path to sexuality, and at the time, lines like “I was half a virgin when I met him” to “I can't help it if I've got a heavy flow and a wide-set vagina” are what made Mean Girls so subversive.
It was a nice reversal, and a comforting one, to see girls figuring things out and stumbling along the way (heroine Cady Heron even vomits on her love interest). It’s normal to be confused about sex, and it doesn’t help when adults tell us that if we have sex we “will get chlamydia and die.”
In high school, two of the most confusing things are girlfriends and budding sexuality. Both, frankly, can be terrifying. But they can also be really, really funny, and Mean Girls helped us all to heal from our daily embarrassments with peels of cathartic laughter. Happy birthday, ladies!