Alpha, Beta, and Gamma: The Divisions of Girl World
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The divisions of popularity in the world of girls are very clear. Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees and also Odd Girl Out, discusses two of these divisions. She labels the first group the “alpha” group; these are the girls that are considered “popular,” who wear the trendy clothes, and are beautiful and wealthy. The second group she calls “beta,” and these are the girls who are “outside the box” – they long to be invited to the parties, and try everything to fit in. Susannah Meadows, author of the June 3, 2002 cover story of Newsweek entitled, “Meet the Gamma Girls,” breaks open a third group of girls. The “gamma” girl is “defined by what she does, rather than by her popularity rating.” The individuals who are most affected by these divisions are the ones that keep these same divisions in place.
The alpha group will be most visible in adolescent society. They are the popular crowd, the ones who consistently “look hot,” and who care about little else than their appearance. They are, quite simply, celebrities on an adolescent scale. Damian, a character in “Mean Girls,” when describing them to the new girl, says, “They’re teen royalty. If Northshore [High School] was Us Weekly, they would always be on the cover.” In the alpha group, there is always some sort of soap opera going on which everyone knows about. They are sometimes feared or hated, yet somehow, every girl knows every detail about them.
These girls often live in what is considered “girl world.” Girl world has a specific set of rules regarding what you can and can’t wear, how you can and can’t act, and who you can and can’t associate with. However, understanding these rules is usually very difficult, as girls don’t often know what the rules are until they break them; when they are broken, the rules become painfully clear.
In the beta group, a person will find a group of girls that is generally trying to follow the rules of the alphas without being clear on what they specifically are. These girls are usually fighting just to keep their heads above water in the social scene, and generally are not succeeding. The rigid rules of the alpha group do not apply to them – within the beta groups, the most important rule is loyalty.
The beta group consists of the wannabees, the band geeks, the loners, the drama dorks, and the JV cheerleaders, to name a few. These are the girls who are second string in everything. They make easy targets for the cruelty of the alphas, as they are trying so hard to fit in and rarely do. Their efforts are the basis for mockery. The beta group also often includes those girls who were once alphas, but for one reason or another have fallen out of grace with the “Queen Bee.”
The gammas are a division all their own, and don’t play by the rules of the alphas. These girls are too busy riding horses, or surfing, or writing their latest song to be bothered by the regulations of girl world. The Newsweek article by Meadows mentioned above profiles a small group of gamma girls who are independent, friendly, and emotionally secure. They are generally active in extracurricular activities, both athletic and academic. They regularly attend youth group and have strong values.
Because violating the rules doesn’t bother them, they are not easy targets for the alphas, and remain at peace with most people in the school.
Being aware of these divisions will help us to discover why girls divide this way. Wiseman, in an interview entitled “The Politics of Girl World,” on the movie “Mean Girls,” says, “Girls get these messages about what girl world is clearly from the culture.” She then goes on to say that although they get the messages from society that they themselves are the enforcers of these rules.
For example, the alphas embody the powerful and elite in society. Most people look to them to dictate the rules of fashion and behavior for their environment. By looking to them, the betas help to enforce the rules set forth. The betas also enforce this ideal by trying to fit in with them, by trying to conform. This gives the alphas affirmation that their behavior, their style is right, and everyone else should recognize them as the ones who set the standards.
The alphas also impose these regulations by condescending behavior towards those who don’t fit the mold. Given the support (even if unintentional) by betas, alphas then begin to perceive themselves as a cut above the rest. They also set these regulations for themselves – the girls within the group hold their standards nearly impossibly high, so that within the groups there are even more rules than are seen to the outsider. In the movie “Mean Girls,” the character Cady begins as a beta, but is quickly accepted into alpha society. One of her first glimpses into their life is at Regina, the leader’s house, when the girls are critiquing themselves. Cady thinks, “I used to think there was just fat and skinny. Apparently there are a lot of things that can be wrong on your body.”
The gamma girls, once again, break all the rules. Not only do they not accept or condone these regulations of girl world, but they do not care whether they conform to them or not. They find their acceptance in other gammas, girls on their sports teams and in their youth groups.
These divisions tend to start with an attitude of superiority from a particular group of girls, but they feed on many different things. Email and instant messaging, as popular forms of communication among adolescents, have in some ways fueled the fire. Rumor mills are started much easier. Emails can be sent that “Anna did this” or “Shelby is that.” Most of the time, these rumors aren’t true, but will be taken as truth the second the “send” button is clicked. Basically, these comments say to other girls that “We have decided that this particular girl is no longer worthy of being treated as a human being.”
The more girls think that their popularity rating determines who they are, the more we will have these problems. Girls who believe that popularity is connected to who they are are more likely to sacrifice themselves. They are less likely to stand their ground when it comes to moral decisions, and are more likely to drink or to do drugs due to the need for acceptance.
Only if being a gamma girl becomes a norm will our teen hierarchies crumble. The rigid rules of adolescent society don’t offer much room for the differences we have as human beings. There will always be those girls who slide into their pre-fabricated roles – they will dumb themselves down to get the guy they want, or pretend they’re fat when they know they aren’t. The alphas will always pretend they’ve got it all together, even when their world is falling apart at the seams. To help our adolescent females become healthier, happier girls, we must teach them about the divisions they create for themselves and also teach them why they exist. Teaching these things will help them to understand and perhaps to break down the barriers of their world.