Meanness, the Most Effective Form of Self Defense.

By Lauren Cupelli

Throughout the novel Mean by Myriam Gurba, the author tells various stories about her childhood all revolving around this idea of being “mean.” Most children, including myself, have been taught to be nice to everyone no matter what yet she learned at a young age the complete opposite idea and in hindsight that may not be such a bad thing. Being mean has such a negative connotation when most of the time it is used as a method of self defense.

 It seems that the nicer you are, the more people feel obligated to take advantage of that kindness and walk all over you. Being mean is the only way to make sure everyone knows they can’t treat you like that. Gurba states, “We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would chop off our breasts. We act mean to defend our clubs and institutions. We act mean because we like to laugh. Being mean to boys is fun and a second wave feminists duty. Being rude to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being a bitch is more exhilarating. Being a bitch is spectacular” (17). This is such an important quote because it just goes to show you that meanness can in fact be a good thing. If you don’t stand up to people who are blatantly rude to you then they will feel perfectly fine treating you like that all over again. The world can be a cruel place, especially today with social media. 

Sexual harassment comes in many forms such as disturbing comments left on Instagram. We see celebrities receiving comments like these daily and it has been so normalized that nobody even talks about it. Some of our favorite singers can’t post a decent picture without having some old man comment about how hot they look in the most derogatory manner. These are the type of people that won’t stop unless meanness is applied. I find it ironic that even people who are looked up to and are so important in society still live with harassment like this. This in a way reminds me of Gurba considering she has such a loud personality and has no trouble speaking her mind, yet once she begins to get sexually harassed by Macauly she refuses to open her mouth. Gurba states, “I looked at Macaulay with caution. This trepidation was knew but felt natural. Instinctual. I knew that what was happening under the table shouldn’t have been happening, but my impulses did not command me to fight. I froze. Many animals do this. Deer. Possum. My mother” (25). She knew she didn’t want that to continue but she didn’t know what to do about it. That is truly a traumatic experience and it is difficult to say something in that moment since you’re in shock and afraid. This would’ve been the perfect time for her to be mean and insure that he never lays his hands on her again but she couldn’t get any words out. This could go hand in hand with the fact that he was once her friend. Statistics show that eight out of ten victims of sexual assault knew the perpotraitor. This could also have to do with the fact that she is Mexican and maybe felt hopeless, even to go up to the teacher and ask for help. 

In conclusion, being mean is important and a way to defend yourself from the creeps of the world. It portrays you as being someone who is strong and someone that nobody should mess with. Nice people are easy targets and it is unfortunate that is what our world has come to. Gurba does an excellent job providing us with examples that support this claim, showing how brutal life can be. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever felt like you were being disrespected because of how kind you were?
  2. Would you consider meanness a form of self defense? 

Work Cited

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

15 Replies to “Meanness, the Most Effective Form of Self Defense.”

  1. Hi Lauren! I really enjoyed reading your blog post, it was very interesting! To answer your second question, I think that meanness is a form of self-defense. From a young age, we are taught to be polite and trusting but sometimes people are cruel and take your niceness for you being naive and they try to take advantage of you. Growing up as a female I have been in circumstances where I have to be rude in order to get out of an uncomfortable situation. I liked the quote you used from page 17 when I read it I could relate to Gurba. Gurba states, “When was the last time you wanted to kill someone but chose to be a bitch instead of a murderer? Have you been called a bitch?” (18). This stood out to me because many times women are called a bitch just because they don’t want to do something. Men often call a woman a bitch after they are offended, that they didn’t get what they want. This is where being mean or a “bitch” is a self-defense mechanism because as a female we rather be called a bitch than get verbally/physically/sexually abused.

  2. Hi Lauren! I enjoyed reading your blog post for many reasons. I agree with the line that states “If you don’t stand up to people who are blatantly rude to you then they will feel perfectly fine treating you like that all over again. I also believe that once someone is negative towards you, you must call it out to prevent it from happening in the future again. It might be an intimidating thing to do, but it is necessary for people to know and respect their boundaries towards you. “I know I can be mean, but I also want to be likable” (109). I just don’t want to be so likable that anyone wants to rape me”. Yes, life can be brutal, but I personally would not disrespect anyone unless I was disrespected first. At the same time, I want to be like-able WITHOUT being taken as a joke.

  3. Hi Lauren! I really enjoyed reading your blog post. To answer your second question, I do believe being mean is a form of self defense. For the majority of individuals, being mean is an action with the hope of feeling better about themselves. This isn’t exactly kind, however its human nature. As well as this, there are also specific situations where you have to be mean. But if it’s an act of self defense, is it actually mean? One thing that you said that I liked was “Being mean is the only way to make sure everyone knows they can’t treat you like that”, this really stuck out to me because in situations of sexual harassment or preventing it, this is very true. You have to be able to stick up for yourself, and I am not going to “be nice” because its the “right” thing to do. A quote that stood out to me was ““We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would chop off our breasts…”(17). This stood out to me because it shows that being mean doesn’t even compare to the nasty actions that are taking place to many women around the world. Overall I really enjoyed this blogpost and it made me think a lot!

  4. Hey, Lauren! Your blog post was really insightful and engaging because I can relate to these situations. I absolutely agree that the more nicer you are, the more people feel obligated to take advantage of that kindness and walk over you. To answer your second question, I feel like meanness is a form of self-defense. From a young age, we are taught to be polite and trusting but when someone that is cruel and disrespectful comes in, they take your niceness for you being naive and they try to take advantage of you. I agree with the quote ““I know I can be mean, but I also want to be likable” because people see me as mean but deep inside I am a nice person (109). Growing up, I have been in circumstances where I have to be rude in order to get out of an uncomfortable situation. But in reality, I grew up as a nice person but to the extent where if someone takes advantage of my kindness, I have to be mean. Great blog post, Lauren! Good luck on your facilitation.

    – Makense Garcia

  5. Hi Lauren, I really enjoyed reading your blog post especially because I feel like many of us can relate. In today’s society it almost seems as if the people who treat others the best, get treated the worst in return. After this occurring so many times, people often put their guard up and choose to be cold to others in an effort to save themselves from getting hurt. So to answer your second question, I do believe that meanness is a form of self defense. It’s honestly really sad that the world has made kind hearted people so afraid of being taken advantage of that they prefer to not even show their kindness to people anymore. It seems really backwards because we grew up being taught the importance of being kind and getting along with others in order to succeed, but we have many examples of people in our society that have gotten to where they are because of their mean approach. “We act mean to defend ourselves from boredom and from those who would chop off our breasts” (17). I like this quote because it says ‘we act’ rather than ‘we are’. It implies that people that use this defense are not actually mean, they’ve just learned their lesson by being taken advantage of too many times and have resorted to this to save themselves.

  6. Hey Lauren, I really loved your blog post and honestly, I am living for this book. To answer your second question, I think Gurba makes a great point of emphasizing how being mean can be used for self-defense. Sometimes it is more like self-preservation but self-defense by way of being mean is sometimes necessary. Girls are usually labelled “bitch” or any other negative connotation that someone can come up with the punish a girl for being mean. As Gurba points out this can come from women, “you agree that other girls are cunts to prove your fealty to the girls you love.” Meanness can be a form of solidarity, self-defense, and plenty of other useful forms of self-preservation. As you said, Gurba is sometimes showing us how harsh life can be and how being mean can be brutal but it can also be life-changing. We should not take for granted the usefulness of being mean and knowing when it is most effective.

  7. Hi Lauren! I really enjoyed reading your blogpost and I liked the direction that you took with talking about social media. To answer your second question, I think that being mean could be one of the most effective forms of self defense (as stated in your title). According to Gurba, she states, “If it’s done right, mean can be dazzling too” (17). I think that this quote describes my feelings towards being mean perfectly. Obviously if you are being mean to be malicious and make someone feel bad, that is not the “right” way. However, if you are being mean to stand up and protect yourself and others, this can show people that you are not someone that can be pushed around. I think this is one of the major takeaways that Gurba wants her readers to understand. Instead of teaching girls at a young age o be nice to everyone all the time, I think it is important that we start teaching them how to defend themselves.

  8. Hey Lauren, I really enjoyed reading your blog post! To answer your first question, I believe that in the past I have been disrespected due to me being too kind. However, that has not occurred recently, and was most likely more of a biproduct of kids in high school not being that mature yet. And to answer your second question, I would 100% consider meanness a form of defense, but a social one rather than physical. Utilizing meanness as a defense is seen when the narrator states, “I know I can be mean, but I also want to be likeable” (109). Being mean towards everyone you meet is just basically being a bad person. But, if an individual can use meanness to gain distance from disrespectful or negative people, than meanness can surely be considered a form of defense.

  9. Great blog post Lauren! I liked your first question a lot. I have definitely felt like I have been taken advantage of because of my kindness. However, I don’t think thats enough of a reason to stop being kind. It is common to confuse kindness with weakness, but they are in no way the same thing. People like kind people. Of course people are going to exploit kind people as well, but those people will get what they deserve eventually. Also, everyone wants to be liked. its easy to pretend like you don’t care about what people think about you at all but I think thats pretty rare to actually feel. “I know I can be mean, but I also want to be likable” (109). Myriam Gurba said it best.

  10. Hi Lauren, I loved your blogpost and all the outside evidence you added to support it. Especially as women we see the derogatory comments more often than men and it comes a time where we have to put our foot down and stand up for ourselves. In high school I came out as gay and I would hear comments from men every single day like like “Taylor I could turn you back if I wanted” or “when you are done with your phase, I’ll be waiting.” I faced comments like these every single day, and they were even worse when it was a guy saying these behind a computer. I truly did feel that being mean was the only way to defend myself because it was the only way to shut men up. The sad part is, it happens to women every single day no matter their sexuality, race, or ethnicity. For the longest time I tried to live by the saying “kill them with kindness” and it would work sometimes, but other times it just gave men another reason to make another crack or joke about my sexual orientation. In this day in age, sometimes meanness truly is the most effective form of self-defense.

  11. Hi Lauren! I think that this was a super insightful blog post, one of my favorite parts was that you discussed how sexual harassment has evolved and modernized over the years, through media outlets like instagram. These sometimes hateful and sexual comments can come turn into microagressions, and build up to make people feel uncomfortable. Since people have the power to comment whatever they like, some people take it to a level that is not appropriate. An interesting point that Gurba made that lends itself to this is “… Japanese school taught me about femininity, nudity, and parting your lips a certain way…” (103). While schooling in the U.S. doesn’t teach us this, Instagram and other medias do. Girls and boys learn how they should look and act based on the content that they see online. This can sometimes generate a hateful community, filled with judgment and negative stereotypes.

  12. Hi Lauren I loved reading your post! To answer your first question, I think of myself as a very likable and non-argumentative person so when someone is disrespectful towards me I tend to let them walk all over me. I think a good quote that would describe me from the book is “I know I can be mean, but I also want to be likable” (109). I feel as though this quote describes a lot of people. No one wants people to stop liking them.

  13. Hello Lauren, awesome blog post! I would like to answer your second question. When an animal is backed into a corner, depending on the animal, it will instinctually fight back in different ways. When a person is backed into a corner they will fight back too, but how they fight back or get out of the situation will change depending on the of person they are. Someone like me, who is usually pretty uncomfortable with confrontation, but is good at putting on a face, would be calm and level headed in order to talk their way out of the situation carefully and without stepping on any toes. Gurba, however, is first and rebellious; when she is backed into a corner, particularly when it is due to her heritage, gender, or sexuality, she retaliates harshly because she is feisty and rebellious. My favorite instance of this is when she admits that she never finished The Diary of Anne Frank, “I sometimes used to worry about whether or not I was going to burn in hell for finding the diary boring, but when I stopped believing in god, I stopped wondering about that” (73). While she isn’t fighting against a person, she’s fighting against the ideals that she was once held to by herself and others through religion. The best part is that she does so unapologetically, not caring if the person reading it thought it was mean or wrong.

  14. Hi Lauren! To answer your first question, yes… I have. Being too nice is unfortunately a character trait of mine that often leads people, even my friends, to take advantage of me. I’m frequently asked to take the blame in situations in which I’m not at fault, clean up other people’s messes, or do extra work to make up for a lack on other people’s parts. It’s unfair, and therefore I agree with you in saying that the nicer you are, the worse you’re treated. As the author explains, sometimes you have to be a bitch to assert your authority or worth, which is so unfortunate in this world of men. But luckily, as Gurba states, “Being a bitch is spectacular” (17).

  15. Hi Lauren!! I really enjoyed reading your blog post and I agree with your main point which focuses on how being mean to others can be a form of self-defense. I definitely agree with you that if you are too nice, some people will take it upon themselves to walk all over you; but if you assert your true feelings from the start and act mean to others, nobody will want to disrespect you which is the truest form of self-defense. Gurba states “Being rude to men who deserve it is a holy mission. Sisterhood is powerful, but being a bitch is more exhilarating. Being a bitch is spectacular” (17). I love this book because today, we live in a society where women have to be extra careful about walking down the street at night alone. Gurba makes it known that being mean to people is acceptable when you may be in danger, which not many authors openly speak about. Great job on your blog post!!!

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