Editors Note: Author and educator Rosiland Wisesman penned the 2002 book Queen Bees & Wannabes, which was adapted by Tina Fey into the 2004 film Mean Girls, produced by the late Jill Messick. Wiseman is also founder of Cultures of Dignity, which works with communities to shift the way we think about young people’s physical and emotional well-being. She wrote this guest column for Deadline.
Sixteen years ago I wrote a book about girls and their social lives called Queen Bees & Wannabes. I wrote it because I wanted adults to appreciate the seemingly small things — like best friend breakups, gossip, and dealing with boys who make sexually explicit gestures and then dismiss you for being “uptight” when you tell him to stop — all have on girls’ emotional well being.
I had no idea that this “Girl World” I was describing would turn into the movie Mean Girls or what impact it would have on people. My friend, Jill Messick, was on of the producers of Mean Girls and from the beginning, Jill understood that while Tina Fey had written a brilliant comedic screenplay, the movie had the opportunity to shed light on girls’ friendships and how important it was (and is) for girls to support each other.
Now, sixteen years later I am still working with teens but it is our “Adult” world that is obviously falling apart.
The #MeToo movement is long overdue. Real abuses have occurred and continue to occur in every segment of our society. The systemic abuse of power and that we have collectively ignored as so many among us are marginalized, abused, and dismissed is a fundamental threat to the emotional health and physical well-being of all our communities. It has been so for a long time and many more of us see the consequences now.
Jill took her life when she became caught in an adult version of the ends justifying the means in the #MeToo movement. I have seen this before. Countless times I have comforted young people who believe their life is over because someone used them to get revenge on someone else. And Jill, just like so many young people I work with, believed there was no escape.
As a woman who has advocated for women and girls empowerment my entire life, I am calling on all of us to demand integrity as we speak truth to power. We must hold ourselves accountable as we seek to hold others accountable. We can not abuse the platforms from which we speak in our desire to be validated. We must treat each other, every one of us, with dignity when we bring to light these abuses. And when our moral compass has gone off course, the only way to begin to make it right is to acknowledge the impact of our actions.
As I say to my students, being honorable doesn’t matter when you’re getting along with people. It’s the moments when you have made mistakes, when you are angry, when you think you are in the right and you are tempted to lash out, that who you are, your character, your honor, matter most. That is what strong principled women do. We uphold the dignity, the worth of all people — whoever they are.
That is what we all must do. Let’s honor Jill’s life by demanding to see the dignity in all.