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Rosalind Wiseman: Surviving Cliques and Bullies

Author of the book "Queen Bees and Wannabes," that explores the politics of cliques and bullying, believes that speaking out is the best way to combat such negative behaviors.


Imagine girls so mean that they call you on the phone and trick you into "dissing" a friend who is listening quietly on the other end. Imagine a friend who persuades you to write insulting comments about others in a book and then gives the book to your principal. Imagine being told that you could join the most popular clique in school, if-and only if-you wear pink on Wednesdays, pants on Fridays, and ponytails only once a week.

These nasty examples from the movie Mean Girls mirror real life, says Rosalind Wiseman, whose book Queen Bees and Wannabes inspired the film. "Believe it or not," she says, "there are many teens who think I told their personal stories in this film."

Rosalind regularly speaks to teens around the world about how to handle bullying and cliques. We caught up with Rosalind for a "mean"ingful conversation.

BABA: What was your experience like in middle school?

ROSALIND: I had pretty typical experiences. Although I was in a group of girls with many close friends, they often teased me. On the other hand, I treated one close friend so terribly that years later, I apologized to her mother. I think it's pretty normal to experience both sides, teasing and being teased.

BABA: Why does this happen?

ROSALIND: It happens because people naturally want to feel they belong to a group. Unfortunately, the easiest way to cultivate group identity is to contrast yourself with people outside your group. Sometimes this process leads to superiority feelings, a sense that others outside the group are unworthy of respect. Once this happens, it's easy to ignore mean things that happen to "the other." Jews can immediately understand this hurtful process because we've been victimized by it.

BABA: Do you think focusing on personal dignity helps solve the problem of bullying?

ROSALIND: I hope so. I get e-mails from people describing how thorny the bullying problem is. People have terrible feelings in their stomach when they witness bullying. They're scared to speak out because they worry that they'll be targeted next. I help people put those feelings into words, and then I teach them how to overcome their fears.

BABA: What should kids do when they see their friends being nasty to others?

ROSALIND: Although it's not easy, they should hold their friends accountable. They should speak out. Keeping silent is contrary to Jewish values.

BABA: Do you think that the Internet contributes to bullying?

ROSALIND: Absolutely! The virtual world is filled with bullying, especially in instant messages. Communicating via IM is often impulse-driven. In other words, because people who you IM are absent, you're more inclined to say whatever you wish; after all, you won't have to deal immediately with their reactions.

Cell phones also contribute to bullying. I heard about a student who took pictures of a 12-year-old in the locker room, downloaded the photos onto a computer, and forwarded them to others. Surfing the Internet is a huge privilege, and the technology should be used responsibly.

BABA: Do you think being Jewish influenced your choice of career?

ROSALIND: Sure. I'm proud of being Jewish because an important part of Judaism is speaking out for social justice. Jewish people are society's conscience, and I've always respected that.

BABA: Why do you think dignity is an important value?

ROSALIND: It's at the heart of creating justice in the world. Knowing that we have a responsibility to treat ourselves and others with dignity helps us in difficult situations. It's like a moral compass.

BABA: Thanks for your great advice, Rosalind-we really "mean" it!

Jewishful Thinking
It’s one thing to speak up when we hear a stranger saying unkind things, but telling off a buddy is far more difficult. Yet the Torah insists that we have the responsibility of tokhehah, rebuke, when we see a friend doing something wrong. We might instinctively believe that confronting a  friend will only lead to a fight, but our sages explain that honest rebuke actually helps to improve relationships. For this reason, the Torah says, “You shall certainly rebuke your neighbor” (Vayikra 19:17).

Lesson Summary: 

In this lesson, students will study about the mitzvah of tokhehah (rebuke) to recognize their responsibility in preventing bullying and cliquishness.

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