Don’t assume all cliques are exclusive or mean

By Elana Altman

McClatchy Newspapers

In seventh grade, an article in The New York Times Magazine entitled "Girls Just Want to Be Mean" shook the social structure of my middle school. Well, OK, it shook it for about the first half of my Monday morning first-period wood shop class. For those 20 minutes, girls of all social classes banded together to discuss the blatant attack on our culture that made the front page of the publication.

Oh, my god," girls shrieked, "we are not at all like that. We totally don’t have cliques or anything."

"I know," we would agree, "and especially not ones like that. I mean, no one is going to not let you sit with them at lunch because you wore jeans on a Thursday."


Then we all went back to our little cliques and barely spoke to each other until graduation.

There was no denying it: We did have cliques. They just weren’t nearly as exclusive as the ones portrayed in the book "Queen Bees & Wannabes" or the movie "Mean Girls." They were somewhat fluid, and those who really wanted to could move between them.

In high school, the situation is similar, but there’s even less rigidness and moving between cliques is even easier. Of course, I go to a nerd school, so it may be different for those in normal high schools. Yet most of my friends from other high schools tell the same tale (except for one case, where a friend of mine said the popular kids throw trays of food at the loser table at lunchtime).

Now, adults tend to freak whenever they hear that we have cliques, even fluid ones with lots of mobility. They immediately assume that having cliques means that a few select rich and pretty girls are predators and everyone else is prey, so let me clear this up right now: That’s not true.

Cliques are little more than groups of friends who share similar interests, hobbies and, in many cases, clothing styles. There’s a clique for the rich preppy girls who like to shop; there’s a clique for the jocks; there’s a clique for the artsy theater kids; there’s a clique for the science nerds; and there are cliques for all sorts of mixtures of those groups, such as science nerds who like to shop.

There’s a clique for pretty much everyone, and it would be pretty hard not to find someplace to fit in with so many options. Everyone acts as though cliques lead to ostracism, when in fact they do the opposite. Nerdy cliques act as a safe haven for the stereotypical geek. Of course, parents worry that the popular cliques would tease the nerdy ones, but that’s actually not much of an issue. In my experience, everyone is too caught up in their own lives to bother making fun of someone else.

What To Read Next
Fundraising is underway to move the giant ball of twine from the Highland, Wisconsin, home of creator James Frank Kotera, who died last month at age 75, 44 years after starting the big ball.