You’ve never met Britt McHenry.
She hasn’t hurt anyone you know. In fact, as far as anyone can tell, she hasn’t caused physical harm to anyone. Yet you hate her. You actually felt your blood pressure rise as you watched the video of her berating a towing lot employee. When you heard ESPN suspended her for a week, you celebrated. “Good,” you said. “She got what was coming to her.”
As the media spends this week dredging up every indiscretion in McHenry’s past, stop and ask yourself just one question: Why are you so angry?
To recap: McHenry may or may not have been provoked by a towing company employee, at which point she made some cruel statements. She insulted the employee’s education and physical appearance and tried to make herself look better at the employee’s expense. It was all very inappropriate and utterly wrong, and hopefully McHenry has learned that when you’re in the public eye, you have a responsibility to not act like a total douche.
But people are now calling for McHenry’s termination. Despite the fact that the video was heavily edited and despite the fact that she wasn’t on the air at the time, she’s being portrayed as an entitled brat who should be punished further than the suspension she's already faced. She’s been tried in the court of public opinion, where it doesn’t really matter if you’re guilty or innocent. All that matters is what the public thinks.
There’s just one problem with that. The public isn’t unbiased. We are made up of our own experiences and, when it comes to beautiful entitled people, many of us have negative experiences of our own. In fact, if you've ever been condescended to by someone who perceives herself to be better than you, you'll probably have an immediate reaction to the Britt McHenry in that video.
When many of us watched that video, we put ourselves in the employee’s place. We heard the woman on the receiving end was a single mom of three and imagined ourselves on the losing side of that tirade. Despite the fact that all of the employee’s comments were conveniently edited out of the video, we were sure that McHenry was the mean girl in this situation. Without even knowing anything about the larger story, we immediately knew everything we needed to know about Britt McHenry.
She was the girl who made fun of you in sixth grade for your chubby calves. She was the girl who breezed onto the cheerleading squad every year when you didn’t even make callbacks. She was the girl who dated the boy you liked—the football player who didn’t even know you existed.
I was fortunate. Despite the fact that I grew up in a wealthy area, the popular girls in high school weren’t mean to me. Today those popular girls are my friends on Facebook. They congratulate me when I have a writing success. They like my photos and have even personally messaged me just to say hi. When you leave high school, all of those walls between you completely disappear. The playing field is leveled. You can forget all of those resentments and move forward, thinking of each other as classmates and friends.
Or can you?
Do we ever really get past our own insecurities? Is there ever a point when we can go back to our high school reunion and really feel equal to the homecoming queen or the captain of the football team? Can we eventually look at someone like Britt McHenry and laugh, knowing she has no idea what she’s talking about?
She’s an ESPN reporter. She’s “famous,” to a certain extent, and fame seems to be important to a large portion of the population. She also has a master’s degree, which she certainly seems to think makes a person a more valuable human being. If you don’t agree, you should be able to laugh at her naiveté and shallowness and think, “Silly woman. She has a lot to learn about life.”
“Take the high road and be nice to people,” McHenry posted online just before the video was leaked. If McHenry was, in fact, taking the high road herself, she would have responded more carefully. Instead, McHenry seemed to see herself as better than the employee, based on the fact that she has better teeth, a better education, and a job that puts her on national TV on a regular basis.
Chances are, the tow lot employee simply saw McHenry as an angry customer who was standing between her and her next break. Speaking as someone who once worked in retail, I can tell you that most of the time, angry customers just become stories you retell in the break room for laughs.
When I think of the girl I was as a teenager, I don’t think of myself as less than those tanned, blonde popular girls who always seemed to have their lives together. I think of how much I undervalued all of the things I did have going for me. They say nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent. Yet for some reason, some of us still let the Britt McHenrys of the world get under our skin, whether we’re 16 or 86. In an instant, we can be transported back to that chubby-cheeked high schooler who had to have been delusional for thinking she could ever make the cheerleading squad.
Perhaps the answer isn’t to fire Britt McHenry. Perhaps the answer is to ask ourselves why we care what Britt McHenry thinks. She is, after all, a 28-year-old television sports reporter who hasn’t even learned that when a sign warns not to leave your car overnight, you probably should heed the warning.