The recent event in Waukesha, WI where two 12-year-old girls repeatedly stabbed a peer in order appease the mythical Slender Man had all the ingredients to send grownups into a good old fashioned "won't someone please think of the children?" freakout: violence, lost innocence, a dangerous internet element. Unsurprisingly, the media latched onto this, creating a vibe of near hysteria.
Let's forget the reaction of adults for a second and focus instead on the feelings of girls who are closer in age to the victim and perpetrators. Do they think that the modern teen girl has come undone? Not exactly — but they do think that the stabbing is representative of an angst and anger that tweens and teens have been experiencing all along.
In a piece for Vice called "What Wisconsin's Teenage Girls Really Think About the Slender Man Stabbing," journalist Kathleen Hale visits Waukesha and talks to several area teens about how they feel about the stabbing. Interestingly, many view it as an extreme-yet-mildly-understandable result of the middle school "mean girl" mentality.
...Teenage girls in Wisconsin want to talk about the case. They have a lot to say about girl-on-girl violence, for starters, and are patently unsurprised by the fact that Geyser and Weier concocted their stabbing plan while still in middle school. According to teenage girls, feeling inclined to stab someone is common at their age.
Hale's sources tell stories about in-school bullying, fights and the mental torture that breaks you down.
"Middle school sucks. It's a terrible time, and it would drive anybody crazy," said one 16-year-old.
"Girls are just mean when they're in middle school," adds another teen. "Middle school is where it really starts. I think it depends on how mentally strong you are, and how much you can take. But yeah. It can make you insane, I think."
Many are afraid to talk about how they really feel about the Slender Man stabbing because they don't want to be dubbed as a freak.
Says one girl:
"It's boring and scary to talk about at school because kids just react how their parents react, saying how fucked it is that small children are capable of murdering their own friends, and if you say the wrong thing, you're like a monster, probably...People want to pretend it's evil so that they look good, and also because they want to think something like this would never happen to them. They react how they think they should react because they're afraid to say it's just childhood boredom gone wrong."
As Hale points out, there is a difference between your run-of-the-mill bullying and stabbing your classmate 19 times in a premeditated attempted murder, but the idea that varying degrees of this kind rage and violence exists in many tween/teen girls is definitely worth some exploration. The mental anguish that middle school girls inflict on each other is often dismissed by grownups as a right of passage or girls just being girls, but the truth of the matter is that it can cause lasting trauma. The fact that many teens see a violent stabbing as an extension of that kind of meanness is troubling and not just in a hyped media circus way.
Girls need better, safer outlets to discuss their anger and be taken seriously to help keep them from lashing out (lest they turn to online forums like Reddit and creepypasta). Not to say that something like this would have prevented the Slender Man stabbing, but it would hopefully cut down on heartbreaking replies like this one:
When I asked if they'd ever seen girls get violent, most of the girls I interviewed laughed like I was the stupidest person in the world.
"Didn't you go to high school?" Eliza asked.
You can read Hale's full article here.
Image via Shutterstock.