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Mill and Mean Girls?!

November 28, 2010

The movie Mean Girls was the perfect parody of the ‘typical’ suburban American high school. The high school with all of the distinct cliques which never mingled and co-existed for nearly seven hours everyday in the same building. Everyone belonged to one of those pre-existing cliques-whether they be a part of the jocks, the band geeks, the art freaks, or the mathletes. To this Mill wrote in On Liberty,

“But society has now fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency, of personal impulses and preferences” (p. 622)

According to Mill, these high schoolers have lost what makes them unique. High school has gotten to the point where we long  to fit in and the opinion of particular cliques has taken the place of our personal judgement. So what happened when an innocent, fairly intelligent, home-schooled girl from Africa enrolled at one of these conformity driven high schools?

Well she started the school year off staying to true to her ‘individual’ nature, what many students may refer to as just being socially awkward. She didn’t know what it meant to go to a high school Halloween party-she actually dressed up as something scary rather than sexy. She was not ashamed that she was actually good at math and she spoke with students of various cliques. She broke all of the norms, something Mill would be so proud of. But then peer pressure set in and Cadi (the innocent girl) became a member of ‘The Plastics’ and basically the envy of the entire school. Although this is an extreme example Mill would nonetheless be very disappointed,

“He who lets the world, or his portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation” (p.621)

Mill also wrote,

“Persons of genius are…more individual than any other people-less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of moulds which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming their own character”(p. 625)

However,  the fact that Cadi altered her lifestyle in order to fit in did not change the fact that she was naturally really good at math. Can’t we be a part of a distinct group in school and still keep our individuality? What would Mill think about campus events such as Festifall where everyone tries to get students to join their groups-are we putting ourselves at risk of losing our individuality?

  1. Meredith Ambinder permalink
    November 28, 2010 11:13 AM

    This is a very interesting way to look at this topic, and I like how you compared it to such a popular modern movie. However, before reading the post I had thought you would have analyzed the “burn book” situation in the movie. The burn book was a book that the mean girls had made, including a page for everyone in the school. Each page was filled with what they thought about each specific person. Though they got into a lot of trouble for this, do you think Mill would have been okay with it? Is it wrong for them to express their opinions about others in such a way? Are those comments considered “harmful to others”?

  2. Samantha Eisler permalink
    November 28, 2010 2:46 PM

    I like how you brought in Mean Girls to parallel Mill’s perspective in On Liberty. You raised some really good points, however i think you may be generalizing a bit. Not EVERY person fits in to one exact clique. Furthermore, I don’t think that Mill would be against activities such as festifall. Participating in a club or group does not always mean you must give up your individuality. When it gets to the point when the club or group has fully taken a person over, that is where Mill might condemn something like that.

  3. maqianhu permalink
    November 28, 2010 3:08 PM

    I like how you connected Mill’s theory to Mean Girls. Your post bring up how our current society would be disapproved by Mill. However, Mill’s ideal society can never be achieved because in a society, everyone has to socialize, and this socialization bring out the similarities and difference of people. And when people notices similarities between each other, they tend to hang out with each other more, which eventually leads to cliques.

  4. Amani permalink
    November 28, 2010 7:31 PM

    I really enjoyed this post. I love how you connected Mean Girls to the concept of individuality by Mill, it helped me understand Mill in a different perspective. Mean girls is all about the social pressure to fit in, and to be accepted by all your peers. When it comes to joining a group from festifall, I don’t agree that it causes a person to lose their sense of individuality on the contrary because a lot of groups are so diverse, each person is unique because they add their own perspective and intakes.

  5. Katelyn Salowitz permalink
    November 28, 2010 7:38 PM

    I, like those above, also thought this was an interesting comparison. To answer the questions listed, I do believe that a person can still join a group or club without losing individuality. Often times, the reason one joins a club or group is because of their individual taste that coincides with that of other people. Of course, one could get out of hand to the point where the club is their life and individuality is lost. In which case, I believe Mill would not be fond of this. However Mill did want all ideas to be evaluated and by joining a group one has the opportunity to evaluate specific ideas to one likes. So, maybe Mill would have even liked grouping.

    As far as events like Festifall go, I think Mill would have been a fan. Festifall is a great opportunity for students to evaluate different ideas and try to decide what is true.

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