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Understanding Why Queen Bees are Able to Hold Court

The reality of tween mean girls.

The queen bee often orchestrates mean.

The queen bee often orchestrates mean.

There is a lot of discussion out there about ‘mean girls.’ This focus is indeed warranted, as girls tend to be judged, and judge themselves based on their ability to engage in relationships. We use the term ‘relational aggression’ to describe the kind of connection forming that involves coercion or intimidation. Queen Bees are identified as the champions of this sport. Specifically, they are the girls who yield power over others. They are both respected and feared. With a simple comment or direction a queen bee can ensure that one of her disciples is either admired or shunned.

Although the media may try to convince us that the ‘mean girls’ are typically the top dogs in the popularity food chain, this depiction is as unreal as the dramatic caricatures painted of how mean girls present themselves. Contrary to popular belief, mean girls and queen bees can be found in all tween social groups and cliques. In fact their behavior can actually be more brutal within a clique of girls ranked clearly in the middle of the social rankings. This is a particularly attractive place for queen bees to hold court. On some level they seem to understand that these girls admire the popular group and are willing to fight hard to maintain their middle status because the thought of moving down the social ladder is just too devastating. It all sounds quite dramatic, and well, it is.

Tweens in general (both girls and boys) are at a vulnerable point in development. This pre-puberty stage prepares them for the bodily changes that are on the horizon. Hormones serve as the catalyst for these physical changes.

These hormones can create emotional havoc. The super sensitivity often noted in tweens is not imagined. One moment a tween can be laughing and joking, the next she can be crying and anxious. The ‘raging hormones’ result in a volatile sea of emotions over which many tweens believe they have little control. This emotional state sets the stage for queen bees who covet the chaos this emotional mix can create.

Perhaps the description of how a queen bee practices her craft sounds a bit diabolical. To the girls caught in her web it can certainly feel that way at times. To the world outside their social realm, queen bees can seem kind and caring. They present as charming and often quite unassuming. These girls seem particularly well versed in keeping up appearances. Within their own group they exude confidence and importance. They are quick to direct and re-direct fellow group members. Their criticisms can be cutting; while a compliment from them is received with elation.

Why do other girls fall so quickly in line when a queen bee holds court? Why don’t our girls revolt and re-deploy themselves to a group that doesn’t engender such negativity? Queen bees prey on the feelings of ineptitude and awkwardness that are common to tweens and early adolescents. These girls seemed to be endowed with a natural narcissism that allows them to overcome or perhaps even disavow their own feelings of uncertainty. Queen bees rely on the insecurity of their charges. Perhaps it is the sense of order and structure these girls bring to the social circle that encourages their fellow peers to fall in line. These girls usually align closest with the peers whom they identify as the most vulnerable. This ensures that if another girl within the circle tries to stage a revolt or even an objection, the queen bee’s minions who are ready and willing to do as she directs, quickly quell her. It is the queen bee’s audacity that is probably her strongest trait. She understands that the majority of her peers do not possess the confidence or the callousness to treat others in the way she chooses.

In time however, the queen bee is usually eventually dethroned, or at minimum her power over others is deflated. Girls scorned by her often bind together to form other social circles that are more egalitarian and judicious. Those who stick with the queen bee demonstrate acceptance and understanding. It is not uncommon at older ages to hear friends defend her by insisting, “Yes, she can be mean, that’s just the way she is.” As girls become more mature and sure of themselves they have little need or tolerance for queen bees. Although she rarely loses all of her faithful servants, the majority of girls move on to engage in positive peer relationships. Interestingly while some queen bees outgrow their attitudes, many keep their stripes. They can easily be identified holding court among the other mothers or pitting co-workers against each other in their offices at work.

More from Jennifer Powell-Lunder Psy.D.
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