Most of the time, my dining options are in the dead center of a Venn diagram that features Things I Can Eat Over the Sink in the left circle and Things I Can Eat At a Stoplight on the right. A lot of my dinners are either handed to me through the driver’s side window or passed over a sticky countertop in a still-steaming Styrofoam carton. That’s why I’m a regular at May Way Dumplings in Winston-Salem’s Reynolda Village, where I’ve spent a lot of evenings leaning against the cool glass of the front window, waiting for takeout and wondering whether I could ever love another human the way I love pork buns.
The other night, I was doing that very thing, when three girls sitting at the counter got my attention. They were all twenty-something Wake Forest students, wearing so many monogrammed leggings, hoodies and vests that they looked like the result of a controlled explosion at a Lululemon store.
“Like, did you see Kylie at practice today?” one with red hair and impossibly large earrings said. The other two shook their heads.
“Like, I can’t even,” she finished, pushing a single noodle across her plate.
The girls were all on the same varsity sports team with a girl named Kylie (that’s not her real name), and for 15 solid minutes, they viciously slammed her clothes, her classes, her major, her ex-boyfriend, her current crush, her workout, what she does and does not do at practice and her dream of going pro in the sport they all played. And for that same 15 minutes, I hated all three of those girls from their Invisaligned smiles to the soles of their Ugg boots.
I completely forgot about my boyfriend the pork bun and stood there trying to decide who to feel sorry for first. On the immediate, micro-level, I hated that Kylie had friends like this – and I’m putting the word “friends” in the most sarcastic of quotation marks – and I hated that she probably had no idea how awful they are.
I hated that this isn’t unique to those girls, to that school or even to that generation. Mean girls aren’t new, not at all. (I’m entirely convinced that somewhere in ancient Mesopotamia, a group of women stared at Noah’s wife, rolled their eyes and said “Ugh, she’s wearing those shoes on a boat trip?”) But mostly I hate that women can be so brutal to each other, especially because we already face so much criticism from every other direction and demographic group.
We don’t need to talk about how old I am, but I’m somewhere between being out of college and out of collagen, which means I do know a couple of things. I wanted to pull up a chair and sit beside those terrible little Kardashian larvae and tell them that it’s hard to sustain a friendship – or any relationship, really – if it’s based on nothing but criticism for others. I’d tell them that their looks will fade and that there’s nothing they can buy at Sephora that will contour the worst parts of their personalities. And most of all, I would tell them that one day, they’ll step off that well-manicured campus and realize that the rest of the world is waiting to tear them apart, for no reason other than because they have a matching pair of X-chromosomes.
We face judgment, inequality and impossible standards. We get it from men, from what pass for societal norms and, yes, from other women, too. Just scan the headlines printed on the cover of any women’s magazine, because every single month, there’s a new assortment of things that are wrong with us. Our faces are wrong, our bodies are wrong and, if we’re having sex with another person, we’re doing that wrong, too.
I don’t know how this all ends, and I don’t have the word count to try to come up with a solution. I just wish that we wouldn’t be this critical of each other. I mean, if Kylie did something truly horrendous, like pronouncing it “expresso” or sneaking tuna salad into a theater – then call her out on it, sure. But stop dismantling her for sport. That’s not what your scholarship is for.
By the time my order was ready, I wasn’t even hungry. When I walked out the door, the girls were talking about Kylie’s eyebrows — I wish I were kidding — and undoubtedly feeling superior somehow.
I seat-belted my pork buns into the passenger side of my car and stared in the direction of Wake Forest’s campus, thinking that if this is what passes for Pro Humanitate, then we’re all screwed. I hoped that Kylie was over there somewhere, running repeats on the track, wiping sweat from her perfectly normal eyebrows and feeling good about herself. I hoped that she’d graduate and go on to kick ass in whatever she chooses to do. But mostly, I hoped that the real reason that those girls didn’t like her is because she’s not like them, not at all.