Mean for a Good Reason

By Kayla Brizzell

The memoir Mean, written by Myriam Gurba, has a prominent theme of feminism and self-empowerment. Ever since she can recall, Gurba has been an “early-onset feminist” (15). Throughout the book, the reader is told different stories about Gurba’s life that support this self-identification. She likes to boss other people around, and says whatever she wants to whomever she wants. She’s not afraid to stand up for herself or others in order to get what she wants… in certain situations. 

Gurba also explains instances where she was unable to help herself in the memoir. These often include times when she is being treated unfairly or wrongly because of who she is. One example of this is when there is a “race war” in Gurba’s fifth grade class. When the teacher asks Gurba what happened she explains that the white girls were making racist comments towards her and the other Mexican girls. After she makes this claim, however, the “white girls burst into tears” and Gurba was forced by the teacher to “‘apologize for making them cry’” (20). The way that the white girls had treated the Mexican girls on the playground was easily dismissed by the teacher, and Gurba was the one forced to face the consequences. This taught her from a young age that there are not always good consequences for telling the truth. 

Another time something like this occurred was when Gurba was molested by Macaulay during history class. Everyday the same thing happened where he put his hands down her pants, yet she was afraid to speak up out of fear of being “call[ed] a ho” by her classmates (26). Because of what happened in fifth grade, Gurba was sure that nothing beneficial to her would come out of reporting Macaulay. She had to endure his molestation in class everyday just because she thought that she would be the one to face the repercussions for his actions. 

A third example, one that disturbed me the most when I read it, happened right after she got raped. Gurba walked into her mom’s classroom, told her what happened, and was taken to the principal’s then the nurse’s office. Gurba began to tell the nurse what horrible thing had happened to her, but, obviously upset about it, she started to cry. In which the nurse reacted to by screaming at her to “STOP CRYING!”, and followed up by saying, “These kinds of things happen. You’re going to have to get over this” (122). Just like Gurba, I was shocked after reading this. I couldn’t believe that the school nurse would say this to a young woman who had just gotten raped. She was treating her as if she was overreacting to this traumatizing event. This is just another instance in which Gurba is shut down and silenced in a time of need. 

All of these events, and more mentioned in the memoir, shaped Gurba into who she is today. She was forced to grow up quickly because of all of the trauma she went through at such a young age. She learned a very important lesson: “…the nicer you were…the meaner the world was” (16). At this moment, Gurba realized that she would stop being so nice to everyone. The only way to get what you want is to be mean, which was more fun anyway. While progressing through the book, the reader can see how Gurba changes and matures. She gets meaner and uses more humor to help her cope with all that has happened to her. She emphasizes in her ways of telling these stories how important being a feminist is because it has helped her overcome her obstacles. She shows us the importance of speaking up even when it seems like the world is against you. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you think Gurba would be different if these horrible things never happened to her?
  2. What scene shocked you the most in the book?

Works Cited 
Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

5 Replies to “Mean for a Good Reason”

  1. Hi Kayla, I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I like how you decided to write about the horrific events that happened to Gurba and her response to them. Gurba didn’t just sit back and feel sorry for herself after these tragic events, she used them to shape her into the person she is today. They taught her to speak up no matter the response. She was always silenced but that never stopped her, she continued to fight for herself. The most shocking moment in the book for me was when “Mr. Hand,” saw Macaulay molesting her and didn’t do anything about it. “Mr. Hand’s eyes were watching the performance between my legs… Mr. Hand snapped his eyes back at the worksheet he’d been grading. He hunched closer to it. He buried his blushing face in it. He used his worksheet as a veil” (31). I was so disturbed to read this, I couldn’t believe that her teacher did absolutely nothing and just left her to be molested by her fellow classmate, his student. Teachers are supposed to be a role model, a person their students can trust. This scene made me think about how many people are aware of a sexual or physical assault but didn’t speak up to protect the victim.

  2. Hi Kayla! Your blog post really resonated with me. I was also shocked by all of the times Gurba was silenced throughout traumatic events in her childhood. Actually, I think shocked is the wrong word. I would love to say I’m shocked, but really, I’m just disappointed. The fact that she was silenced so often is not at all surprising, because it happens so often to so many sexual assault victims. This is the reason why people are scared to come forward. Gurba’s story is, of course, her own, but in a way, her story is the story of so many other sexual assault survivors. They are forced to deal with their trauma on their own, because nobody will help them. This reminds me of when Gurba looked to Mr. Hand for help when she was being molested and he “…snapped his eyes back at the worksheet he’d been grading. He hunched closer to it. He buried his blushing face in it. He used the worksheet as a veil” (31). This taught Gurba from a very young age that she can only deal with her problems by herself, because nobody else will help her.

  3. Hey Kayla I loved your post!! I think you made several interesting points and I completely agree with them. I found it interesting how you mentioned that Gurba was unable to help herself in certain situations which seems odd since she has such a voice and appears to be confident enough to stop anyone who bothers her. I like how you brought up the molestation and how she was afraid of what might happen if she spoke up. I feel as though this could also have to do with her race, maybe she feels nobody would believe her or care about her especially after she sees a teacher witness what happens on a daily basis yet says nothing. To answer your second question, there were several scenes in this book that shocked me. One specific example is when she gets sexually assaulted and states, “I broke up with my body. Birds watched my assault. I joined them. I observed.” (P.118) I found these lines to be painfully ominous as if I could feel the way she was feeling. She was no longer a part of her own body yet someone looking from above. A truly horrifying experience.

  4. Hi Kayla! I really liked reading your blogpost and I liked that you focused on Gurba’s progression of being too nice to everyone to finally realizing sometimes mean is good. To answer your second question, the scene that shocked me the most was definitely the incident with Mr. Hand seeing Macauly sexually assault Gurba in the classroom. The fact that Mr. Hand clearly saw what was happening and said nothing is something that is puzzling to me because as a teacher, you should make sure all your students feel safe. However, Mr. Hand did the opposite, as Gurba states, “He became as modest as some harem girls are expected to be” (31). I think if Mr. Hand had said something, even if it was not a direct statement, things could have been different but instead, he contributed to the sexual assault. Instances like this are why some sexual assaults continue to happen, and that is what is shocking and upsetting.

  5. Hi Kayla! I really enjoyed reading your blog post and how you focused on Gurba’s use of being mean and standing up for herself when she had to. The fact that within the first hundred pages, we are given examples of Gurba being mean as a child is very fascinating. Whether it was her intention at the time or not, Gurba decided to stand her ground and retaliate against the pressures of society and her personal opinions. She perfectly epitomizes the intention of the book itself when she says, “it seemed like the nicer you were, especially during the Middle Ages, the meaner the world was” (16). Gurba explains that if you want something or you want to protect yourself, you cannot let people step over you. Gurba demonstrates this knowledge from a young age, and provides various other examples that reinforce this quote.

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