It’s been a while since my kids were at an age where they were expected to invite the entire classroom to their birthday party, but a recent FB post got me thinking about those days. Because in a lot of ways, those days are still now. No, no one is going to publicly chastise my daughter, Clementine, when she doesn’t invite every member of her college class to her upcoming 20th birthday dinner, but the idea that she somehow should will still be there. Because no one wants to be considered a mean girl.
Don’t get me wrong: I read Queen Bees and Wannabees (the book that inspired Mean Girls) way back when Clementine was still in grade school, and I was just as terrified as every other mother at the thought of her entering the Halls of Judgement that are otherwise known as Middle School and turning into either a bully or a victim. But then, one day at the park, I noticed something. I noticed that some of the kids Clementine didn’t want to play with—or, as those kids’ mothers might call it, that she wanted to exclude—well, they were kind of weird. And not the good kind of weird either, but the creepy kind. And, on a few occasions, along with being the creepy kind of weird, they were also downright scary. And, perhaps most importantly, I noticed that by forcing Clementine to play with them I was essentially telling her to ignore that little voice inside of her head that was pointing out how creepy weird they really were. In other words, I was ordering her to ignore that little voice that that someday might just save her life.
You know the voice I’m talking about, the one that tells you, “Don’t let that guy buy you a drink,” or “Don’t take that shortcut through the alley,” or even “Don’t stay in this relationship for one more minute.” The voice that is not, in fact, our psychic sixth sense or a guardian angel, but rather the deepest, most primordial part of our brain recognizing that we are still prey and that there are predators out there and that, oh yeah, right about now is the time when we don’t need to think anymore we need to run. Yeah, that voice.
And I know that it might seem a giant stretch to get from “strange little seven year old at the park” to predator, but at least two of the kids Clementine didn’t want to play with when she was young are now in jail for violent crimes, so make of that what you will. (They were also, I might add, both boys—or rather, now, men.)
And therein lies my biggest problem with inclusivity. It seems to me that for the most part this is something that comes up far more frequently with little girls than little boys. And I don’t mean to imply that boys can’t be just as judgmental and clique-y as girls—they can—just that boys are less frequently told that their own personal choices aren’t valid. That they should put aside their preferences and doubts and just “be nice.”
Look, there is no good reason to ever shame someone for not belonging to your “clique,” whether your clique consists of all the top cheerleaders sitting at the table right in the middle of the cafeteria or all the most rabid SuperWhoLock fans sitting at the table in the corner. But there is also no good reason to be forced to include people you don’t want to include. You can be “nice,” and still not invite them to sit at your table. Or come to your birthday party.
That little voice inside your head will thank you. And, just maybe, it will still be around when the day comes that you really need it.