Huffpost Women

Mean Girls Exist After High School, Research Attempts To Explain Why

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MEAN GIRLS AFTER COLLEGE
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Thought that you were free of mean girls after high school?

Think again.

New research from sociologists Elizabeth Armstrong and Laura Hamilton found that the social groups so prevalent in high school don't dissolve after you graduate. More specifically, there are still mean girls in college.

Armstrong and Hamilton observed the lives of 53 female undergraduates over the course of 5 years at a middle-tier public university. In a press release for EurekAlert, the authors said: "the high school peer culture that divides students into homecoming queens, wannabes and nerds thrives in college, to the disadvantage of many."

After college, things don't necessarily improve. Armstrong said: "The pressures these young women encounter make it very difficult for them to focus on academics. For many, the experience is not a good one, and we found that it can affect the trajectories of their lives for many years to come." Sometimes, girls just can't get along.

In her 2005 book "Mean Girls Grown Up," women's studies and relational aggression scholar Cheryl Dellasega explores what happens to mean girls when they grow up. She concluded that a significant number of women continue to act aggressively in their interpersonal or professional relationships, playing power games and aiming to put other women down.

All of that said, some argue that we focus too much on how women undermine each other. Earlier in 2013, Jessica Chastain, the who was nominated for a best actress Oscar, was accused of "hating" Jennifer Lawrence, a fellow nominee who went on to win the award. Chastain responded on Facebook, "I’ve done two photo shoots with Jennifer Lawrence over the years and have found her to be utterly charming and a great talent. I’ve told her how beautiful her film work is. Please don’t allow the media to perpetuate the myth that women aren’t supportive of each other. Every time an actress is celebrated for her great work, I cheer."

HuffPost Blogger Laura Sessions Step wrote in 2012 that reality TV encourages the idea that women are prone to be at each other's throats. She wrote, "It's not surprising that some women assume the worst about other women. Female nastiness is celebrated on television these days in shows such as "Real Housewives Of..." (name your city)."

But Meghan Casserly of Forbes argued in April 2012 that women do have a tendency to be cruel to each other: "It sucks to say, but sometimes women really are just mean. And I don’t mean 'some women are mean.' I mean sometimes all women can be mean. Most often to each other."

If we admit that some female relationships are destructive -- even if, as Sessions Step put it, "Women are multi-dimensional, sometimes warm and generous, sometimes cold and conniving. We should expect no more from them than from men -- and no less" -- the big question is this: How can we steer clear of toxic bonds with other women and focus on the healthy, mutually enriching ones? Research has shown how much women need friendships. Mean girls might always exist in the world, but how much we interact with them is up to us.

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Filed by Nina Bahadur