It’s funny – Western culture is known for putting the focus on individualism. You know, every woman for herself; only one person can be the best; thinking in terms of “I” instead of “we”. But if you isolate, say, twenty individuals on an island, chances are they’ll start clustering into small groups, bonding over common likes, dislikes, morals, fashion sense, musical tastes, etc. The most famous breeding ground for cliques is the everyday high school. When you graduate, you’ll probably be part of a clique in your workplace, gym or university. I bet even retirement villages have cliques.
To me, cliques are about image, identity and belonging. At school, I didn’t know where I belonged. I became a social floater as opposed to a social butterfly, wandering from group to group in search of my people.
The swampies (“Goths” in today’s lexicon) and ska kids hung out together; you had to be pale and be a smoker, and I was neither. The best I could do was dye my hair jet-black and wear dark clothes in summer. Still, I loved the swampie look. They moped around school and talked endlessly about going to The Beat, a gay club in Fortitude Valley which is still around to this day.
The academic kids were adored by teachers because they were the only ones who actually listened to lectures. Hey, I paid attention in class…but mostly to gossip.
Sporty basketball boys and netball chicks also were revered because they trounced other schools in competition. One time, the sports department mistook me for an athlete and put me on the relay team. Didn’t they know I was the girl most likely to drop the baton?
One group of popular girls had it all – brains, beauty and boys in tow. Now, I could only claim to have brains in the anatomical sense, but at least I had something in common with those chicks.
It’s not just girls who care about which social group they belong to. A couple of my male colleagues, Rick and Trent* were just as concerned about popularity way back when. Rick says he was a lone outsider. He could merge into any group but also didn’t fully belong. Talking to other people, I’ve found this is a common experience. Some would rather be part of a crowd they didn’t really like than be utterly alone.
Sometimes we want to join a group not just for that sense of belonging but to feel well liked and popular. What makes a person or group so cool that everyone wants to be with them and in turn boost their own status? Trent says, “I think it’s a combo of things – looks, money, having unembarrassing parents. Also not caring too much about things, getting into a bit of trouble, having cool elder siblings, being tough. Though, usually tough kids are considered cool out of fear, not respect.” He says at his school groups weren’t always exclusive. They tended to overlap – the jocks infiltrated the rebel gang and the not-so-sporty joined in with the cool/sporty group.
What’s the most desperate thing you’ve ever done to belong? Confide in me and you could win my personal copy of Lisi Harrison’s book THE CLIQUE, which is about a girl who moves to a new school and clashes with a clique of bitchy richies.
* Not their real names. (Hope you like your new identities, “Rick” and “Trent.” Wink, wink.)