Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of
Aggression in Girls
Cause: Aggression and conflict are an inherent part of the human
Cause: Aggression and conflict are an inherent part of the human condition
-- But females are socialized to be demure, soft spoken and nurturing and as a result are unprepared to negotiate conflict.
-- They are also profoundly concerned about retaining friendships and social networks (for their greatest fear is social isolation) and so girls do not resolve conflicts openly and tensions tend to build until some sort of “explosion” of anger that cannot be openly expressed.
“The intensity of girls’ relationships belongs at the center of any analysis of girls’ aggression.”
Result: Girls use a variety of interpersonal strategies to resolve their conflicts – the most damaging are relational aggressors in which friendship becomes a weapon
Most common forms of relational aggression:
“All that” -- Accusations of being “all that” can be the most damning – it argues that the person feels superior to others because of looks, wealth, grades, etc . . . the lesson becomes for girls not to stand out too much – an aura of assertiveness or confidence that defies the value of restraint and modesty are thus enforced – thus the jealousy of girls functions to police the actions of assertive girls and encourage their passivity
“Slut” or “skank” – accusations of excessive sensuality serve to reinforce that value that sex should be used only to further a relationship – it should not be indiscriminate nor solely for the pleasure of the girl
“Copying” – an especially effective tool for popular girls who are trying to dissuade a wanna’be’s attempt to become popular – also used as a means of expressing fear of competition
Ultimatums -- “Do this or I won’t be your friend anymore”
Barbed humor -- “I was just kidding” – humor can be a weapon as well as cutting jokes can deliver an injury that the victim cannot dispute or else will be called hypersensitive or lacking a sense of humor – males by contrast can joke with each other without fearing there is an aggressive component because if the other male was actually angry he had a wider variety of aggressive options
Non-verbal gesturing or body language (mean looks, turning your back, silent treatment)
These non-verbal attacks are especially damaging because they are easy to deny and deny the victim the chance of determining why the person is mad at her – makes the victim question her own ability to discern the social impact of her actions and thus hesitant and uncertain
They also ensure that the girl will not be able to resolve the conflict in a healthy way
It also creates the possibility of misinterpretation, where a distracted student who doesn’t see someone might be misinterpreted as giving someone the silent treatment (and possibly starting a conflict)
In addition, a friend may miss a non-verbal form of anger and so the offended girl then feels ignored and becomes even angrier
Alliances – friendships can become a form of aggression (or a means of conflict resolution)
Sometimes coalitions of girls (often who have repressed anger from previous incidents, perhaps even from years earlier) will form that exist to target another girl – the fear of social ostracism is thus lifted from aggressive behavior because the attackers are now a self-reinforcing group supporting each other’s social needs – as a result the group will be collectively far more cruel than an individual would be – girls outside of these original conflicts will join the coalitions for feelings of inclusion and comfort – So groups of girls will rapidly polarize into camps with those leading the coalition often gaining “popularity”
“Indeed, popularity itself is in large part defined by the ability of one girl to turn her friends against someone else.”
Middlegirls -- Sometimes go-betweens will be used to communicate feelings of injury between friends – these go-betweens will sometimes be uncomfortably caught in the middle or will delight in sharing the intimacy between the friends – sometimes can be burned as both sides try to gain her support
But even when a girl apologizes for some real or imagined slight it is often a product of fear (of losing the friendship or appearing mean) than any real reconciliation – so old conflicts become etched into memory to be recalled and reused when another conflict bubbles up
“She learns to store away unresolved conflicts with the precision of a bookkeeper, building a stockpile that increasingly crowds her emotional landscape and social choices.”
So the girls at the top of the pyramid are the happiest??
“It is a cutthroat contest into which girls pour boundless energy and anxiety. It is an addiction, a siren call, a prize for which some would pay any price.”
To maintain position friendships become assets or liabilities because one’s position is always vulnerable (and the popular girl is keenly aware of how quickly one’s social fortunes can fall, having been likely responsible for a few on her way up) – as a result the girl feels alienated from herself and from supportive, authentic relationships
Why don’t the adults stop it?
Little research into female bullying means that teachers are not trained to look for it.
“Good girls” have built such a reputation that teachers often don’t believe it when they are accused of doing mean things.
It is seen as a right of passage or “a phase.”
Teachers are already overtaxed in their efforts to maintain class order and “dirty looks” or note passing is often ignored – in addition, contacting parents over their daughter’s bullying can invite a costly conflict
Parents fear exposing their daughters to greater ridicule if they try to stop the bullying
Solutions (for parents and teachers):
- Recognize that this form of interpersonal violence is devastating to a girl’s self-esteem
- Help girls develop the skills for resolving interpersonal conflicts
Solutions (for girls):
- Talk with your friends about your fears of face-to-face aggression
- Recognize your own capacity for bullying and comfort your friends if they are bullied
- if your are bullied:
o Get help from friends, parents, teachers
o Terminate those friendships that are unhealthy
o Pursue your interests that do no focus on your existing social networks
o Believe that some day it really will end