I Was A Church Mean Girl
Today is October 3. If you're a fan of the movie "Mean Girls," you know it is significant. It was the day Aaron asked Cady for the date, marking the first time they ever spoke to one another. As a result, it has since been dubbed Mean Girls day.
As I'm sure many of you know mean girl behavior is not reserved for school children or adolescents. If unchecked, mean girl behavior can follow you to the grave.
The stories shared in this series will speak about the experiences of reformed mean girls. Most will speak about those of us who have been the victims of mean girl behavior in our adulthood.
And we'll round out the series with an expert opinion about how to prevent ourselves from exhibiting mean girl behavior in our real lives.
Kicking us off is my interview with Denisha Thomas, a self-proclaimed reformed mean girl from the church.
Check out her story below.
When I say I was a mean girl, I don’t mean like the movie. I was a church girl, still am a church girl. My mom has been a minister since I was 7-years-old. And then she became the assistant pastor. So I was at the forefront of the church. I was the most well-known girl there.
I was in everything. I was on the dance minister, in the choir. I was the president of the Youth Auxiliary Board, all of that. So I had power. Or influence. But influence can be power.
What I would say my most prominent example of being a mean girl has to do with, of course, a boy.
There was this guy that I had thought I loved since I was 13. And we had this forbidden love because my mom was super uber conservative. You could not have a boyfriend until you were 16.
We had love. And we would sneak around and see each other. And we ended up getting caught, making out in church. So my mom forbid me from dating this boy.
We broke up and he started dating another girl at the church. She had probably been there for maybe two years.
So I started saying little, slick things about this girl to my friends. This girl wore braces and I would say, ‘How do you have brackets with no wires? What’s going on with that? That’s not really even doing anything.’
I was planting the seeds of why people shouldn’t like her. When, in all actuality, I was hurt by him and the fact that he chose to date somebody at church when he knew I was the dominant person at the church and how dare you pick somebody who--in my mind-- didn’t match up to who I was and what I brought to the table.
Me and this girl were in the choir together. And there was some rule we’d made up that said if you didn’t make it to choir rehearsal before we sang on Sunday, then you couldn’t sing. And I had let other people slide. But this girl, I was like, ‘Oh no.’ And I wasn’t the one to say that to her, somebody else did my dirty work.
My friends were mean to her and didn’t give her a chance. And even after they broke up, I would hear stuff from my friends who didn’t go to the church about her and I would share that with other people.
Just mean, really mean. Getting people to not give her a chance because of this initial issue I had, that actually wasn’t her fault.
We had beef through college.
She was in Tennessee. I was in Missouri and we just could not be around each other when we came home to Memphis because again, she knew that I didn’t like her and it had everything to do with our shared ex. She knew that I had turned people away from being her friend because of the issues that I had.
Eventually, I had a come to Jesus moment where I sent her a long message on Facebook. I apologized, writing something like, ‘I’m so sorry that I was so mean and had people play against you.’
We’re okay now. I can’t speak for her. I don’t know that it was a deep hurt. But I know that I made an experience that should have been enjoyable, going to church and participating in all these activities, so un-enjoyable, that I don’t know that we could ever be friends.
And it’s not necessarily that I want to be friends, there's just going to always be that tension.
NSNC: What contributed to your come to Jesus moment? What made you realize you had mistreated her and needed to apologize?
Denisha Thomas: I think being at Mizzou, I started going to this really small AME church. Because I grew up AME. And I started teaching at the church. I was getting really deep into my word, reading a lot of scriptures about how if you had wronged somebody, you need to go back and ask for their forgiveness.
And I was also thinking, you’re about to go out into the world and there are some things you really need to leave behind or try and fix.
Now, ten years later, I’m always asking myself, ‘Did I hurt somebody?’ ‘Was I right?’ ‘Did my words cut too deep?’ I meant what I said but was there a way that I could have said it not to tear somebody down but to correct them.
NSNC: You mentioned taking your frustrations with the guy you liked out on this girl. A lot of us do that. Even grown women. We’re conditioned to see women as the problem or the obstacle to overcome. And we end up placing more blame on women than necessary. Did you ever come to that realization?
DT: I did. It took a lot of introspection and looking at my own relationship with my own girlfriends. I have always been a girls’ girl. I try to pride myself on that. I was never one of those women who said, ‘I don’t hang out with women.’ I mean, I have sisters. My mom and my dad both come from big families. I’ve always been around women who believe in empowering each other and all of that.
And then again, when I was doing that introspective, I had ask myself how can I pride myself on that if I’ve done wrong by this woman about a Negro I don’t even have a connection to? We don’t even live in the same city anymore. How dare I treat this girl so meanly? I can’t say women empowerment, all about my sisters and I mistreated this woman because of a man--a boy at the time.
This girl and I ended up having a conversation again, after I apologized, because she moved back to Memphis, I moved back to Memphis and so did the guy. There was a whole off and on with this guy for almost ten years.
NSNC: I know that story!
DT: He and I dated off and on for ten years. And he eventually ended up dating her again as well. That’s a whole ‘nother issue with him. But when they started dating again, we were friends and he was afraid to tell me. I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t care.’ Don’t try to put that on me that my feelings are hurt or that I have ill will towards her.
Looking back on it now, he was too young to realize that he played a role in that as well. But it took a lot of me saying, I can’t say I’m one thing but reflect another thing in my actions. I want my actions to mimic my words.
We don’t have to be best friends but I can’t hold these feelings against you. I think I even went back to some of my friends back then and said, ‘Y’all, we were really mean to so-and-so.’
They were like, ‘Yeah, I mean...it’s whatever.’ And I’m like no, we were really mean to that girl.
NSNC: Can you point to anything in your upbringing or conditioning that made you regard girls or women a certain way?
DT: I don’t know that it was necessarily my upbringing but more of a societal thing where you stake your claim in someone and that’s it. ‘That’s mine and don’t nobody else touch that because that’s mine. That’s my territory don’t you touch it.’
I grew up in the era of “The Boy Is Mine.”
In movies that I saw, in songs that I hear, that’s my guy. There’s this girl code. If I dated him, you don’t date him either, even if we’re not friends. We’re associates and everybody knew that it was all me. Looking back, it was all stupid.
I think everyone around me knew that. But this girl didn’t know me and had no loyalty to me.
NSNC: Do you think the church environment contributed to the way you treated this girl?
DT: We should love our neighbors is what we were taught but I don’t know that I was necessarily taught to have healthy relationships with women through the church, if that makes sense.
DT: I think that, like most Black churches, we were very cliquey and if you weren’t part of a certain stature or didn’t do a certain amount of things, if you weren’t the chosen leaders, then there was a certain level of disdain for those who weren’t a part of those crews and those cliques.
I was in every ministry and then there were cliques within every ministry.
I do believe that even if they didn’t perpetuate those thoughts, there was nothing done to counteract that. I think the adults saw it but the adults lived that way too. That was their experience as well. They were very cliquey.
In our church, we had doctors and lawyers and the well to do folk all hung out with each other. And if you were middle class, you kind of had your own clique. So there was a caste system within the church.
I believe the church helped to reinforce it even if it wasn’t explicitly taught.
NSNC: I think a lot of women don’t have that same come to Jesus moment that you had. So they surround themselves with other women who don’t have good relationships with women and they don’t ever see anything wrong with it. Then they’ll have daughters who don’t see anything wrong with it. And it becomes this cycle and that’s why we hear things like, ‘I don’t have female friends.’ Because no one ever really questioned why they feel so strongly against other women.
DT: Especially with Black women, we’re so disrespected. We’re so undervalued. We’re still being disrespected in our own community, especially among men. We’re obviously disrespected by others and since we’re undervalued, how dare we not be there for each other? We got too many other battles to be fighting to be worried about each other.
We are the shit and we should really be there for one another.
I think about some of my hardest moments in life and my girlfriends helped to pull me through it. My girlfriends prayed and cried with me and kept me encouraged.
If I am fortunate enough to have daughters, I always want to teach them men come and go, fine. But you want to have a good, solid group of girlfriends. And recognize that if you aren’t the mean girl, if your girlfriend is, you should want to call her out on it. If she doesn’t want to change it, then you might need to reevaluate that friendship because you don’t want to be influenced like that. Because it will happen.
NSNC: And my mother used to tell me, if she’ll talk about another woman like a dog, she’ll talk about you like a dog too when you’re not around.
DT: Absolutely. If they’re gossiping with you, they’re gossiping about you. I really hope that since we’re all supposed to be inside, (We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, guys.), I hope that people will take the time to do some inner work. Not just for the benefit of yourself but for the benefit of others.
I think people are starting to realize that these mindsets are passed down from our elders. And I hope that our generation will be the one to break those curses and the mindset of, ‘Well, that’s the way we’ve always done it.’ Well, no. Let’s really look at why we do it, the root cause and let’s fix it.