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An Arch-nemesis for Our Times

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Average Everygirl #28: Average encounters the Arch-nemesis | Panel 1: Average stands beside a new character, a girl with black hair in long pigtails. The narrator says, "Meet Average's arch-nemesis, Prissy Rival." Average says, " 'Arch-nemesis' is a bit strong." Prissy adds, "Seriously. It's not like I'm building death rays. | Panel 2: The narrator, ignoring them, continues, "Prissy, like all female arch-nemeses, is a cheerleader." Average looks to Prissy and asks, "Why do cheerleaders get such a bad rap in modern lit?" Prissy answers, "We're popular. Most writers were nerds, so they're jealous." | Panel 3: The narrator says, "Prissy goes out of her way to make Average's life a misery." Average, surprised, asks, "You do?" Prissy replies, "No. It's just catty remarks in the halls between classes." | Panel 4: The narrator concludes, "She's a horrible, horrible person." Average says, "This is news to me." Prissy replies, "Yeah, you're pretty oblivious. It kind of ticks me off."

She’s cute, she’s popular, she’s a back-biting villain and a true arch-nemesis!

In all seriousness, bullying is real and it is common. If you haven’t experienced it firsthand, you’ve probably witnessed it. The broad spectrum of bullying experiences explains why the “poor downtrodden bullying victim” trope gets so much traction: it creates insta-sympathy between the heroine and the reader.

That being said, can we give cheerleaders a break?

(Haha, no. Of course not.)

Arch-nemesis Limitations

The Mean Popular Girl works as a villain only if her victim cares what she thinks. It’s a matter of social hierarchy, where both players (bully and victim) must have self-esteem issues. Otherwise the trope breaks down. People with high self-esteem don’t need to bully others to feel good about themselves. People with high self-esteem can also slough off insults given by others.

Low self-esteem, now, that’s fodder for drama.

I will admit that I was a nerd in high school. (I know. Surprise, surprise.) More accurately, I was a loner nerd. I had this sense that I floated through social scenes observing others from behind a fourth wall. I was basically invisible except on the odd occasion where the fourth wall broke. Or, at least, that was my perception. (It still is. I call it my Fourth Wall Syndrome.)

Cheerleader uniforms were definitely a status symbol at my high school. The cheerleaders wore them to class every game day, which set them apart from the rest of the student body, but I couldn’t tell you the names of those cheerleaders now. I’m not sure I could have named them all back then. They don’t stick out in my memory as being particularly snotty or rude. I don’t recall getting bullied by them. Maybe I was so insignificant that I was beneath their notice. Lucky me.

In short, the Mean Cheerleader stereotype, as ubiquitous as it is, falls flat for me. My one run-in with a would-be bully (that I can recall) happened in Jr. High, before cheerleading even came into play for my age group, and it was monstrously underwhelming.

Like, I’d give that girl a 2/10 on the Successful Bullying Scale.

I sometimes wonder if Iย wasย the bully. Perhaps I was unwittingly someone’s arch-nemesis? After all, I had a sharp tongue and a general disdain for the world. I wasn’t higher up in a social pecking order than anyone else, though. I’m not even sure I was in a social pecking order at all. (Fourth Wall Syndrome strikes again.)

One thing’s for sure: I wasn’t nearly as cute as Prissy Rival.

2 thoughts on “An Arch-nemesis for Our Times”

  1. I always laugh at the beautiful cheerleader arch-enemy thing. I’ve not known a single girl in school who was both popular and pretty. All the popular girls were the ones who were either actually ugly, or merely had interesting faces. They were also incredibly clever. It was like they’d worked so hard to be amusing because they didn’t find themselves pretty, that by school age they were nearly irresistible. They knew how to slice with their words and delight the rest of their audience at the same time.
    They were terrifying, quick-witted, fast-tongued, and incredibly competitive. Only one or two that I knew were sporty-type girls, and they hated to be beaten there as much as they did intellectually.

    I mostly did my schoolwork and tried not to get to clever with my mouth.

    (Actually, I constantly shot off my mouth because I loved to be clever, so I most often gave as good as I got… But I did try not to rub their noses in it when I did better in school ๐Ÿ˜€ )

    1. I think the Beautiful Mean Cheerleader is probably an American thing. All the popular girls I remember were also very pretty, but there’s a huge focus on “image is everything,” culturally.

      It kind of sucks, especially for those of us who spent our teen years lodged fully in the Ugly Duckling stage of life. ๐Ÿ˜€

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