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Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls [NOOK Book]

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REVISED AND UPDATED
WITH NEW MATERIAL ON CYBERBULLYING AND
HELPING GIRLS HANDLE THE DANGERS OF LIFE ONLINE   When Odd Girl Out was first published, it became an instant bestseller and ignited a long-overdue conversation about the hidden culture of female bullying. Today the dirty looks, taunting notes, and social exclusion that plague girls’ friendships have gained new momentum in cyberspace. In this updated edition, educator and bullying ...
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Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

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Overview

REVISED AND UPDATED
WITH NEW MATERIAL ON CYBERBULLYING AND
HELPING GIRLS HANDLE THE DANGERS OF LIFE ONLINE   When Odd Girl Out was first published, it became an instant bestseller and ignited a long-overdue conversation about the hidden culture of female bullying. Today the dirty looks, taunting notes, and social exclusion that plague girls’ friendships have gained new momentum in cyberspace. In this updated edition, educator and bullying expert Rachel Simmons gives girls, parents, and educators proven and innovative strategies for navigating social dynamics in person and online, as well as brand new classroom initiatives and step-by-step parental suggestions for dealing with conventional bullying. With up-to-the-minute research and real-life stories, Odd Girl Out continues to be the definitive resource on the most pressing social issues facing girls today.   READING GROUP GUIDE AND TEACHER’S GUIDE available at www.marinnerreadersguides.com
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Why are girls becoming more aggressive in their everyday lives, and how is it affecting their overall self-esteem? Rachel Simmons, a Rhodes scholar who has painstakingly researched female bullying and the psychology of girls, feels that girls' aggressiveness is just as harmful as that of boys but is much harder to recognize. How can parents and teachers help with this growing problem?
The New Yorker
Catherine Hardwicke’s new film, “Thirteen,” has once again raised the issue of adolescent girls’ social rituals, especially the more brutal aspects. The same topic propels two recent books, Rachel Simmons’s Odd Girl Out and Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman. According to Simmons, adolescent female culture is fraught with treachery and strained niceties (“alternative aggressions,” she calls them) that are more reminiscent of a sixteenth-century court than a sweet-sixteen party. Wiseman, whose book has been released in paperback, includes a set of charts that plot “power plays” and track the ascendance of a socially dominant girl, a “Queen Bee” among the drones. But by collecting the byzantine stories of betrayal, both authors provide a tonic to social isolation: as Simmons puts it, “What crushed girls was being alone.”

Linda Perlstein came to a similar conclusion in her interviews with Maryland middle-schoolers in Not Much Just Chillin'. For all their rebellion, experimentation, and body piercing, kids still want to be reached by their coaches, teachers, and even parents. “Wanting to be independent is not the same as wanting to be left alone,” Perlstein writes. The sixth to eighth graders she interviews have complex opinions on justice, religion, and mortality -- while adults fret over whether video games create irrational fears of violence, students formulate sophisticated responses to events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11th. And one seventh-grade girl is equally philosophical about love: “The one for you could be two years old right now, or ninety. My soulmate could’ve been Benjamin Franklin.” (Lauren Porcaro)
Publishers Weekly
Although more than 16 years have passed, Rhodes Scholar Simmons hasn't forgotten how she felt when Abby told the other girls in third grade not to play with her, nor has she stopped thinking about her own role in giving Noa the silent treatment. Simmons examines how such "alternative aggression" where girls use their relationship with the victim as a weapon flourishes and its harmful effects. Through interviews with more than 300 girls in 10 schools (in two urban areas and a small town), as well as 50 women who experienced alternative aggression when they were young, Simmons offers a detailed portrait of girls' bullying. Citing the work of Carol Gilligan and Lyn Mikel Brown, she shows the toll that alternative aggression can take on girls' self-esteem. For Simmons, the restraints that society imposes to prevent girls from venting feelings of competition, jealousy and anger is largely to blame for this type of bullying. It forces girls to turn their lives into "a perverse game of Twister," where their only outlets for expressing negative feelings are covert looks, turned backs and whispers. Since the events at Columbine, some schools have taken steps to curb relational aggression. For those that haven't, Simmons makes an impassioned plea that no form of bullying be permitted. (Apr. 30) Forecast: This subject has received much media attention lately, with a 'New York Times Magazine' cover story two months ago and the March publication of Emily White's Fast Girls ( Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
Approached from the viewpoint of working through past problems, this book relates the author's experiences of being shunned by a close friend and her eventual realization of her own abusive treatment of another girl. Quoting from her introduction, "Now is the time to end another silence: There is a hidden culture of girls' aggression in which bullying is epidemic, distinctive, and destructive." She researched this phenomenon for three years, conducting interviews with perpetrators and victims and leading many discussion groups with young girls to find out why this happens and gain some insight into the motivation for the ways girls handle their fear and anger. She points out the difference between aggression in girls and boys and the difference in the cultural reactions to these behaviors, and she highlights the insidious nature of what is happening wherever girls live out the dynamics of social life. Her victims' stories are often related in their own words. Straightforward, clear, and insightful, this book tells about the pain and isolation that bullying causes among school age girls, gives various reasons why they use it, and makes an attempt at supplying some responses to this long ignored problem. It could be emotionally painful to find yourself in these pages, but it could be helpful to realize that it is widespread, and there is a need to become aware of the dynamics and how to combat the problem. The book is weakest in the area of concrete responses, perhaps because of a general lack of experience in this area. One chapter deals with how parents and teachers can approach it, and one chapter deals with better attitudes than we have traditionally used in relating to loved onescaught in these power plays. The book is well indexed and footnoted and an extensive bibliography will guide the reader to more information on the subject. It would be valuable to any collection, professional or regular, for raising consciousness about the problem. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Harcourt, 301p. notes. bibliog. index.,
— Ann Hart
From The Critics
Boys use direct physical and verbal behavior to bully others, says Simmons, but society denies those weapons to girls, so they deploy backbiting, exclusion, rumors, name-calling, and manipulate psychological pain on target victims. Drawing on her training in political science and women's studies, she explores epidemic, distinctive, and destructive aggression of girls. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
Praise for ODD GIRL OUT

"There has not been so much interest in young females since psychologist Mary Pipher chronicled anorexics and suicide victims in her 1994 bestseller, Reviving Ophelia."—The Washington Post

"Provocative . . . Cathartic to any teen or parent trying to find company . . . it will sound depressingly familiar to any girl with a pulse."—Detroit Free Press

"Encourages girls to address one another when they feel angry or jealous, rather than engage in the rumor mill."—Chicago Tribune

"Peels away the smiley surfaces of adolescent female society to expose one of girlhood's dark secrets: the vicious psychological warfare waged every day in the halls of our . . . schools."—San Francisco Chronicle

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547351025
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/1/2003
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 96,292
  • File size: 623 KB

Meet the Author

Rachel Simmons
RACHEL SIMMONS, best-selling author of Odd Girl Speaks Out and The Curse of the Good Girl, is an educator and cofounder of the Girls Leadership Institute. A Rhodes Scholar, she has appeared on Today, Oprah, and other major shows, including her own PBS special, and writes frequently for Teen Vogue.
www.rachelsimmons.com
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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER one

THE HIDDEN CULTURE OF AGGRESSION IN GIRLS

The Linden School campus is nestled behind a web of sports fields that seem to hold at bay the bustling city in which it resides. On Monday morning in the Upper School building, students congregated languidly, catching up on the weekend, while others sat knees-to-chest on the floor, flipping through three-ring binders, cramming for tests. The students were dressed in styles that ran the gamut from trendy to what can only be described, at this age, as defiant. Watching them, it is easy to forget this school is one of the best in the region, its students anything but superficial. This is what I came to love about Linden: it celebrates academic rigor and the diversity of its students in equal parts. Over the course of a day with eight groups of ninth graders, I began each meeting with the same question: "What are some of the differences between the ways guys and girls are mean?"

From periods one through eight, I heard the same responses. "Girls can turn on you for anything," said one. "Girls whisper," said another. "They glare at you." With growing certainty, they fired out answers:

"Girls are secretive."

"They destroy you from the inside."

"Girls are manipulative."

"There's an aspect of evil in girls that there isn't in boys."

"Girls target you where they know you're weakest."

"Girls do a lot behind each other's backs."

"Girls plan and premeditate."

"With guys you know where you stand."

"I feel a lot safer with guys."

In bold, matter-of-fact voices, girls described themselves to me as disloyal, untrustworthy, and sneaky. They claimed girls use intimacy to manipulate and overpower others. They said girls are fake, using each other to move up the social hierarchy. They described girls as unforgiving and crafty, lying in wait for a moment of revenge that will catch the unwitting victim off guard and, with an almost savage eye-for-an-eye mentality, "make her feel the way I felt."

The girls' stories about their conflicts were casual and at times filled with self-hatred. In almost every group session I held, someone volunteered her wish to have been born a boy because boys can "fight and have it be over with."

Girls tell stories of their anger in a culture that does not define their behaviors as aggression. As a result, their narratives are filled with destructive myths about the inherent duplicity of females. As poet and essayist Adrienne Rich notes,2 "We have been depicted as generally whimsical, deceitful, subtle, vacillating."

Since the dawn of time, women and girls have been portrayed as jealous and underhanded, prone to betrayal, disobedience, and secrecy. Lacking a public identity or language, girls' nonphysical aggression is called "catty," "crafty," "evil," and "cunning." Rarely the object of research or critical thought, this behavior is seen as a natural phase in girls' development. As a result, schools write off girls' conflicts as a rite of passage, as simply "what girls do."

What would it mean to name girls' aggression? Why have myths and stereotypes served us so well and so long?

Aggression is a powerful barometer of our social values. According to sociologist Anne Campbell, attitudes toward aggression crystallize sex roles, or the idea that we expect certain responsibilities to be assumed by males and females because of their sex.3 Riot grrls and women's soccer notwithstanding, Western society still expects boys to become family providers and protectors, and girls to be nurturers and mothers. Aggression is the hallmark of masculinity; it enables men to control their environment and livelihoods. For better or for worse, boys enjoy total access to the rough and tumble. The link begins early: the popularity of boys is in large part determined by their willingness to play rough. They get peers' respect for athletic prowess, resisting authority, and acting tough, troublesome, dominating, cool, and confident.

On the other side of the aisle, females are expected to mature into caregivers, a role deeply at odds with aggression. Consider the ideal of the "good mother": She provides unconditional love and care for her family, whose health and daily supervision are her primary objectives. Her daughters are expected to be "sugar and spice and everything nice." They are to be sweet, caring, precious, and tender.

"Good girls" have friends, and lots of them. As nine-year-old Noura told psychologists Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan, perfect girls have "perfect relationships."4 These girls are caretakers in training. They "never have any fights...and they are always together....Like never arguing, like 'Oh yeah, I totally agree with you.'" In depressing relationships, Noura added, "someone is really jealous and starts being really mean....[It's] where two really good friends break up."

A "good girl," journalist Peggy Orenstein observes in Schoolgirls, is "nice before she is anything else-before she is vigorous, bright, even before she is honest." She described the "perfect girl" as

the girl who has no bad thoughts or feelings, the kind of person everyone wants to be with....[She is] the girl who speaks quietly, calmly, who is always nice and kind, never mean or bossy....She reminds young women to silence themselves rather than speak their true feelings, which they come to consider "stupid," "selfish," "rude," or just plain irrelevant.5

"Good girls," then, are expected not to experience anger. Aggression endangers relationships, imperiling a girl's ability to be caring and "nice." Aggression undermines who girls have been raised to become.

Calling the anger of girls by its name would therefore challenge the most basic assumptions we make about "good girls." It would also reveal what the culture does not entitle them to by defining what nice really means: Not aggressive. Not angry. Not in conflict.

Research confirms that parents and teachers discourage the emergence of physical and direct aggression in girls early on while the skirmishing of boys is either encouraged or shrugged off.6 In one example, a 1999 University of Michigan study found that girls were told to be quiet, speak softly, or use a "nicer" voice about three times more often than boys, even though the boys were louder. By the time they are of school age, peers solidify the fault lines on the playground, creating social groups that value niceness in girls and toughness in boys.

The culture derides aggression in girls as unfeminine, a trend explored in chapter four. "Bitch,""lesbian," "frigid," and "manly" are just a few of the names an assertive girl hears. Each epithet points out the violation of her prescribed role as a caregiver: the bitch likes and is liked by no one; the lesbian loves not a man or children but another woman; the frigid woman is cold, unable to respond sexually; and the manly woman is too hard to love or be loved.

Girls, meanwhile, are acutely aware of the culture's double standard. They are not fooled into believing this is the so-called post-feminist age, the girl power victory lap. The rules are different for boys, and girls know it. Flagrant displays of aggression are punished with social rejection.

At Sackler Day School, I was eating lunch with sixth graders during recess, talking about how teachers expected them to behave at school. Ashley, silver-rimmed glasses snug on her tiny nose, looked very serious as she raised her hand.

"They expect us to act like girls back in the 1800s!" she said indignantly. Everyone cracked up.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, sometimes they're like, you have to respect each other, and treat other people how you want to be treated. But that's not how life is. Everyone can be mean sometimes and they're not even realizing it. They expect that you're going to be so nice to everyone and you'll be so cool. Be nice to everyone!" she mimicked, her suddenly loud voice betraying something more than sarcasm.

"But it's not true," Nicole said. The room is quiet.

"Anyone else?" I asked.

"They expect you to be perfect. You're nice. When boys do bad stuff, they all know they're going to do bad stuff. When girls do it, they yell at them," Dina said.

"Teachers think that girls should be really nice and sharing and not get in any fights. They think it's worse than it really is," Shira added.

"They expect you be perfect angels and then sometimes we don't want to be considered a perfect angel," Laura noted.

"The teacher says if you do something good, you'll get something good back, and then she makes you feel like you really should be," Ashley continued. "I try not to be mean to my sister or my mom and dad, and I wake up the next day and I just do it naturally. I'm not an angel! I try to be focused on it, but then I wake up the next day and I'm cranky."

In Ridgewood, I listened to sixth graders muse about what teachers expect from girls. Heather raised her hand.

"They just don't..." She stopped. No one picked up the slack.

"Finish the sentence," I urged.

"They expect you to be nice like them, like they supposedly are, but..."

"But what?"

"We're not."

"I don't go around being like goody-goody," said Tammy.

"What does goody-goody mean?" I asked.

"You're supposed to be sitting like this"-Tammy crossed her legs and folded her hands primly over her knees-"the whole time."

"And be nice-and don't talk during class," said Torie.

"Do you always feel nice?" I asked.

"No!" several of them exclaimed.

"So what happens?"

"It's like you just-the bad part controls over your body," Tammy said. "You want to be nice and you want to be bad at the same time, and the bad part gets to you. You think"-she contorted her face and gritted her teeth-"I have to be nice."

"You just want to tell them to shut up! You just feel like pushing them out of the way and throwing them on the ground!" said Brittney. "I wanted to do it like five hundred times last year to this girl. If I didn't push her, I just walked off and tried to stay calm."

Try as they might, most girls can't erase the natural impulses toward anger that every human being knows. Yet the early research on aggression turned the myth of the "good," nonaggressive girl into fact: The first experiments on aggression were performed with almost no female subjects. Since males tend to exhibit aggression directly, researchers concluded aggression was expressed in only this way. Other forms of aggression, when they were observed, were labeled deviant or ignored.

Studies of bullying inherited these early research flaws. Most psychologists looked for direct aggressions like punching, threatening, or teasing. Scientists also measured aggression in environments where indirect acts would be almost impossible to observe. Seen through the eyes of scientists, the social lives of girls appeared still and placid as lakes. It was not until 1992 that someone would question what lay beneath the surface.

That year, a group of Norwegian researchers published an unprecedented study of girls. They discovered that girls were not at all averse to aggression, they just expressed anger in unconventional ways. The group predicted that "when aggression cannot, for one reason or another, be directed (physically or verbally) at its target, the perpetrator has to find other channels." The findings bore out their theory: cultural rules against overt aggression led girls to engage in other, nonphysical forms of aggression. In a conclusion uncharacteristic for the strength of its tone, the researchers challenged the image of sweetness among female youth, calling their social lives "ruthless," "aggressive," and "cruel."7

Since then, a small group of psychologists at the University of Minnesota has built upon these findings, identifying three subcategories of aggressive behavior: relational, indirect, and social aggression. Relational aggression includes acts that "harm others through damage (or the threat of damage) to relationships or feelings of acceptance, friendship, or group inclusion."8 Relationally aggressive behavior is ignoring someone to punish them or get one's own way, excluding someone socially for revenge, using negative body language or facial expressions, sabotaging someone else's relationships, or threatening to end a relationship unless the friend agrees to a request. In these acts, the perpetrator uses her relationship with the victim as a weapon.

Close relatives of relational aggression are indirect aggression and social aggression. Indirect aggression allows the perpetrator to avoid confronting her target. It is covert behavior in which the perpetrator makes it seem as though there has been no intent to hurt at all. One way this is possible is by using others as vehicles for inflicting pain on a targeted person, such as by spreading a rumor. Social aggression is intended to damage self-esteem or social status within a group. It includes some indirect aggression like rumor spreading or social exclusion. Throughout the book, I refer to these behaviors collectively as alternative aggressions. As the stories in the book make clear, alternative aggressions often appear in conjunction with more direct behaviors.

beneath the radar

In Margaret Atwood's novel Cat's Eye, the young protagonist Elaine is seated frozen in fear on a windowsill, where she has been forced to remain in silence by her best friends as she waits to find out what she had done wrong. Elaine's father enters the room and asks if the girls are enjoying the parade they have been watching:

Cordelia gets down off her windowsill and slides up onto mine, sitting close beside me.

"We're enjoying it extremely, thank you very much," she says in her voice for adults. My parents think she has beautiful manners. She puts an arm around me, gives me a little squeeze, a squeeze of complicity, of instruction. Everything will be all right as long as I sit still, say nothing, reveal nothing....As soon as my father is out of the room Cordelia turns to face me...."You know what this means don't you? I'm afraid you'll have to be punished."

Like many girl bullies, Cordelia maneuvers her anger quietly beneath the surface of her good-girl image. She must invest as much energy appearing nice to adults as she will spend slowly poisoning Elaine's self-esteem.

Some alternative aggressions are invisible to adult eyes. To elude social disapproval, girls retreat beneath a surface of sweetness to hurt each other in secret. They pass covert looks and notes, manipulate quietly over time, corner one another in hallways, turn their backs, whisper, and smile. These acts, which are intended to escape detection and punishment, are epidemic in middle-class environments where the rules of femininity are most rigid.

Cordelia's tactics are common in a social universe that refuses girls open conflict. In fact, whole campaigns often occur without a sound. Astrid recalled the silent, methodical persistence of her angry friends. "It was a war through notes," she remembered. "When I wouldn't read them, they wrote on the binding of encyclopedias near my desk, on the other desks; they left notes around, wrote my name on the list of people to send to the principal." This aggression was designed to slip beneath the sight line of prying eyes.

Most of the time, the strategy works. Paula Johnston, a prosecutor, was dumbfounded at the ignorance of her daughter's teacher when Paula demanded Susie be separated from a girl who was quietly bullying her. "[Susie's teacher] said, 'But they get along beautifully!'" Paula snorted. "I asked her to move Susie, and she moved one in front and one behind! She would say, 'Everything's wonderful; Susie's adorable,' and meanwhile, Susie's in the library hiding."

A Sackler sixth grader described her attempt to expose a mean girl to her teacher. "[The teacher] said, 'Oh my gosh! You in a fight? How can that be!'" At every school I visited, I heard stories of a teacher being told of a girl's meanness, only to respond, "Fight? She'd never do that!" or "I'm sure that's not true!" or "But they're best friends!"

Covert aggression isn't just about not getting caught; half of it is looking like you'd never mistreat someone in the first place. The sugar-and-spice image is powerful, and girls know it. They use it to fog the radar of otherwise vigilant teachers and parents. For girls, the secrecy, the "underground"9-the place where Brown and Gilligan report girls take their true feelings-are hardly unconscious realms. In the film Cruel Intentions, Kathryn cloaks her anger in syrupy sweetness. In a bind, she decides to frame another student because, she purrs, "Everybody loves me, and I intend to keep it that way." Later, surreptitiously snorting cocaine from a cross around her neck, Kathryn groans, "Do you think I relish the fact that I have to act like Mary Sunshine 24-7 so I can be considered a lady? I'm the Marcia-fucking-Brady of the Upper East Side, and sometimes I want to kill myself."

In group discussions, girls spoke openly to me about their intentionally covert aggression. When I visited the ninth graders in Ridgewood, they threw out their tactics with gusto, prompting the semicircle of bodies to lean forward, nearly out of their desks, as eager affirming cries of "Oh yeah!" and "Totally!" filled our fluorescent white lab room.

Walk down the hallway and slam into a girl-the teacher thinks you're distracted! Knock a girl's book off a desk-the teacher thinks it fell! Write an anonymous note! Draw a mean picture! Roll your eyes! Send an instant message with a new username! Steal a boyfriend! Start a rumor! Tell the teacher she cheated!

"You step on their shoe. Oops!" Jessie squealed in a girly-girl singsong voice. "Sorry!"

"You walk past someone and you try to bump them. You say, 'Excuse you!'" The girls laughed in recognition.

"The teacher says she didn't mean it, she just bumped into her," Melanie explained, "but the girls, they know what it is because it happens so much."

"Girls are very sneaky," said Keisha. "Very."

"We-are-sneaky!" Lacey crowed, emphasizing every word.

The next day, the Ridgewood sixth graders met. The freight of the good-girl image still weighed heavily upon them, and they lacked some of the boisterous energy and sarcasm of the ninth graders. Their voices were hesitant and halting. Amy was brave.

"The teachers don't say anything. They don't expect it. They don't think we're doing anything, but..." She paused.

"But what?" I asked. I was getting used to sentences abandoned midway.

She was silent.

"The teachers think girls behave better," Elizabeth explained.

"Does that make a difference in how people get in trouble?" I asked.

"Some people call each other names and stuff and the teacher wouldn't believe it. They would say, so-and-so did this to me, and the teacher would say, 'No, she didn't.' Some teachers have pets, and you say, 'She called me a bad name,' and the teacher says, 'No, she wouldn't do a thing like that.'"

Leigh said, "Some girls act real good around the teachers, and then when they do something bad, the teachers don't believe it because they never seen them do it."

"Boys don't care about getting into trouble. They think they're all bad and don't worry about it. They don't care if they got in trouble, but girls don't want anyone to know they got into trouble," Maura said. "Girls worry about how they're going to look. They have more of a nervous system than boys." The room tittered.

Tina raised her hand. "A girl in my class passes notes and never gets in trouble for it. Around the teacher she acts all sweet and stuff."

"Everybody writes notes," Sarah Beth added. "Teachers are so stupid. They don't get it. You can see it. It's easy."

Kim said, "Girls can be passing notes during class and the teacher will find out about it. She won't get them in trouble because they're like one of her best students. Most of the girls in her class are but the boys usually aren't."

Torie sat up on the back of her chair, elbows on her knees. "If girls are whispering, the teacher thinks it's going to be all right because they're not hitting people. If they punch, they get sent to the office. Teachers think they're not hurting you," she said, looking cautiously at her classmates, "but they are."

At once I was reminded of scary movies in which only children can see the ghost. The adults pass through the same rooms and live the same moments, yet they are unable to see a whole world of action around them. So, too, in classrooms of covertly aggressing girls, victims are desperately alone even though a teacher is just steps away.

Sixth period was about to end. Jenny's stomach clenched harder with each loud click of the wall clock. She never jumped when the bell rang. Although she prided herself on her good grades, Jenny stopped paying attention five minutes before class ended. Still, at 1:58 her heart started to race. By 1:59 she was short of breath.

Through the cracks between her straight brown hair she watched the other seventh graders get up. As usual, she pretended to be slow and preoccupied. She shuffled her pencils noisily in the cool metal air inside the desk, buying time. In a moment she would be free to leave.

Ever since Jenny arrived two months ago from San Diego, the popular clique at Mason Middle School had decided two things: first, that she was a major threat to their status, and second, that they were going to make her life miserable.

She had moved reluctantly with her family to the small ranching community in Wyoming four days after the end of sixth grade. In San Diego, Jenny had gone to a huge city school and had mostly Mexican friends. She spoke fluent Spanish and loved the warmth and friendship of Mexican culture. She never minded being one of the only white students in school.

That everything was different in Mason was an understatement. There were eight hundred white people in the whole town. Everybody knew each other's business, and outsiders were unwelcome. So it didn't matter to Brianna and Mackenzie that Jenny's entire family had grown up right in Mason. Even though Jenny spent her summers riding tractors through their families' fields with her grandfather, the town alderman, she may as well have been born on a spaceship.

Brianna and Mackenzie were the queen bees, and they presided over the seventh grade. Brianna was the prettiest, Mackenzie the best at sports. Their favorite hobby was having a boyfriend. Jenny wasn't really interested in a boyfriend, but she still liked hanging out with the guys. Mostly she liked to play soccer and basketball with them after school. She liked to wear jeans and T-shirts instead of makeup and miniskirts.

She had barely introduced herself when Brianna and Mackenzie gave her a code name and started calling her Harriet the Hairy Whore. They told everyone Jenny was hooking up with the boys in the woods behind the soccer field. Jenny knew that being called a slut was the worst thing in the world, no matter where you lived. No one was even kissing yet. It was the lowest of the low.

Brianna and Mackenzie started a club called Hate Harriet the Hore Incorporated. They got every girl to join except two who didn't care. All the members had to walk by Jenny in the hallway and say, "Hhiiiiiiiiii...." They made a long sighing noise to make sure she knew they were sounding out the initials of the club: HHHI. Usually two or more girls would say it and then look at each other and laugh. Sometimes they couldn't even say the whole thing, they were laughing so hard.

Then Brianna got the idea to charge into Jenny as she walked the hallways. The other girls followed suit. Wherever Jenny was between classes, a girl would body slam her, knocking Jenny's books, and sometimes Jenny, to the ground. If someone was watching, they'd pretend it was an accident. Even though Jenny was small for her age, only four foot eleven, she decided to start smashing the others first, figuring they'd stop. They didn't. She ended up with a lot of bruises, missing papers, and an uncanny ability to predict when the bells would ring. There was no teacher in the hallway to see.

She tried to shrug it off the first few days, but by the end of the week, Jenny burned with embarrassment and fear. What had she done? It seemed like Mackenzie and Brianna had suddenly made it their goal in life to ruin her. Nothing like this had ever happened before. In San Diego, she had three best friends. She had always been good at everything but not because it was easy. She strove for success in everything she did. In her head she heard her father's voice: "If you try hard enough, you can do anything." This was her first failure.

It was her fault.

She knew she'd never touched a boy, but maybe there was something really wrong with her. There were two other new girls in seventh grade, and they were doing just fine. They worked hard to fit in, and they did. They bought the same clothes and listened to the same music as everyone else.

Jenny closed her eyes. They also let Mackenzie and Brianna and the others determine who they would be. Jenny didn't want that, at any price. She wanted to keep speaking her mind. She liked her California clothes and Mexican embroidered shirts. Maybe she didn't want to try hard in the ways you had to in seventh grade. Her father was right.

Jenny began to weep quietly in her room not long after she realized there would be no end to her torture. She managed to wait until her homework was done, and then she cried, silent always, her sobs muffled by her pillow. There was no way she'd tell her mother, and certainly not her father. She felt nauseous just thinking about telling her parents she was such a reject.

Every day was an endless battle. She was exhausted trying not to cry, stiffening her body against the hallway attacks, sitting through lunch after lunch alone. There was no one else to be friends with in the grade because everyone, the few that there were, was against her. Her cousin was a year ahead of her and felt sorry for Jenny. Sometimes she let Jenny hang out with her clique. It was small consolation that they were the popular group of the eighth grade. In fact, it seemed to make Brianna and Mackenzie even angrier.

One night Jenny's sadness left no room for her fear, and she picked up the phone. Jenny called Brianna, Mackenzie, and a few other girls. She asked each of them, "Why do you hate me?" They denied everything. "But why are you doing the Hate Harriet the Hore club?" she pleaded.

Their voices were light and sweet. "We don't have a Hate Harriet the Hore club!" each one assured her, as though they were telling her the earth was round. They were so nice to Jenny that for a second she didn't believe it was really them. Then she could almost feel her heart surging up through her chest. The next morning, she actually looked forward to getting out of bed. It would be different now.

Then she got to school.

"Hhhiiiiiiiii...!" Slam.

Jenny blinked back tears and locked her jaw. She hated herself for being surprised. She should have known. The strange thing about it was, even though she was used to it, this time her heart felt like it was breaking open. Brianna and Mackenzie had seemed so genuine on the phone. And Jenny, stupid, stupid Jenny, she muttered to herself, had imagined herself at their lunch table in the back of the cafeteria. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," she repeated through gritted teeth, raising her books as a shield as she made her way into homeroom.

One day, months later, searching through desks after seeing the girls pass it around in homeroom, Jenny found the petition. "I, Mackenzie T., promise to Hate Harriet the Hore forever," it said. Every single girl in the class had signed it, and it was appended with a long list of reasons why everyone should hate her. Jenny's eyes bore into the paper until the words blurred. She suddenly felt dizzy. The weight of her anguish was too heavy. She couldn't take it anymore. Jenny felt like her world was crumbling. She went to the principal.

Mr. Williams called Brianna, Mackenzie, and some of the others into his office. They glared at her for weeks but said nothing. HHHI was officially disbanded.

Jenny struggled through seventh grade alone. Because the meanness of her peers was almost invisible, not one teacher had noticed or intervened on her behalf. Because she was a new student, it was difficult to observe changes in her behavior and character. Her parents had known something was wrong, but had they asked her how she was, Jenny told me, "I would have told them, 'Fine.'"

HHHI never resurfaced and Jenny adjusted well over the next several years. She became captain of the softball team and pep club president, but her pain stayed fresh and hidden as she waited patiently for revenge.

Brianna, her chief HHHI tormentor, had begun dating the most popular boy at Cheyenne High School in fifth grade. That was the way things were, Jenny said. "You pretty much picked who you were going to date when you were ten or eleven and that's who you dated until you left Wyoming." Eric was captain of the basketball team and everything else that was important at Cheyenne. Brianna had lost her virginity to him and wanted to marry him.

Jenny's chance came in the fall of her junior year, when she was asked to manage the boys' basketball team. She quickly became friends with Eric. "I made it my goal to steal him from her, and I did," Jenny said. "I know for a fact it had nothing to do with him. It had everything to do with taking what was important to her." Jenny and Eric dated secretly for a month before Jenny made him call Brianna from her bedroom and break up with her. I asked Jenny how it made her feel.

"I just had this feeling of victory. I wanted to rub it in her face. I felt really good that I had hurt her back," she said. "It's vindictive and it's sad, I know, but to this day I hate this girl and I wanted to hurt her." Today Jenny is thirty-two, and she feels neither shame nor remorse, only the anger that still smolders some twenty years later.

relationship and loss

At first glance, the stories of girls not being allowed to eat at the lunch table, attend a party, put their sleeping bag in the middle, or squeeze inside a circle of giggling girls may seem childish. Yet as Carol Gilligan has shown, relationships play an unusually important role in girls' social development. In her work with girls and boys, she found that girls perceive danger in their lives as isolation, especially the fear that by standing out they will be abandoned. Boys, however, describe danger as a fear of entrapment or smothering. This contrast, Gilligan argues, shows that women's development "points toward a different history of human attachment, stressing continuity and change instead of replacement and separation. The primacy of relationship and attachment in the female life also indicates a different experience of and response to loss."10 The centrality of relationship in girls' lives all but guarantees a different landscape of aggression and bullying, with its own distinctive features worthy of separate study.

To understand girls' conflicts, one must also know girls' intimacy, because intimacy and anger are often inextricable. The intensity of girls' relationships belongs at the center of any analysis of girls' aggression. For long before they love boys, girls love each other, and with great passion.

Girls enjoy unrestricted access to intimacy. Unlike boys, who are encouraged to separate from their mothers and adopt masculine postures of emotional restraint, daughters are urged to identify with the nurturing behavior of their mothers. Girls spend their childhood practicing caretaking and nurturing on each other. It is with best friends that they first discover the joys of intimacy and human connection.

Yet ours is a culture that has ignored the closeness of girlfriends. Many people believe girls should reserve their true emotions for boys, and that girls should channel their caretaking toward husbands and children. Anything up to that life stage is assumed to be practice, if not insignificant.11

In fact, it is the deep knowledge girls have of relationship, and the passion they lavish on their closest friends, which characterizes much of their aggression. The most painful attacks are usually fashioned from deep inside a close friendship and are fueled by secrets and once-shared weaknesses.

Moreover, the relationship itself is often the weapon with which girls' battles are fought. Socialized away from aggression, expected to be nice girls who have "perfect relationships," many girls are unprepared to negotiate conflict. As a result, a minor disagreement can call an entire relationship into question.

What do I mean by this? In a normal conflict, two people use language, voice, or fists to settle their dispute. The relationship between them is secondary to the issue being worked out. But when anger cannot be voiced, and when the skills to handle a conflict are absent, the specific matter cannot be addressed. If neither girl wants to be "not nice," the relationship itself may become the problem. And when there are no other tools to use in a conflict, relationship itself may become a weapon.

Since relationship is precisely what good, "perfect" girls are expected to be in, its loss, and the prospect of solitude, can be the most pointed weapons in the hidden culture of girls' aggression.

During her interviews with adults, sociologist Anne Campbell found that where men viewed aggression as a means to control their environment and integrity, women believed it would terminate their relationships.12 I discovered identical attitudes in my conversations with girls. Expressing fear that even everyday acts of conflict, not to mention severe aggressive outbursts, would result in the loss of the people they most cared about, they refused to engage in even the most basic acts of conflict. Their equation was simple: conflict = loss. Like clockwork, girl after girl told me twenty variations on the following remark: "I can't tell her how I feel or else she won't want to be my friend anymore." The corollary works like this: "I just don't want to hurt anyone directly, because I want to be friends with everyone."

Fear of solitude is overpowering. In fact, what victims of bullying recalled most to me was their loneliness. Despite the cruel things that happened-the torrents of vulgar e-mail and unsigned notes, the whispered rumors, the slanderous scribblings on desks and walls and lockers, the sneering and name-calling-what crushed girls was being alone. It was as though the absence of bodies nearby with whom to whisper and share triggered in girls a sorrow and fear so profound as to nearly extinguish them.

Girls may try to avoid being alone at all costs, including remaining in an abusive friendship. "You don't want to walk alone at recess," a sixth grader explained when I asked why she wouldn't stay away from a mean friend. "Who are you going to tell your secrets to? Who are you going to help and stuff like that?" An eighth grader, recalling a television documentary, remarked plaintively, "If a female lion is alone, she dies. She has to be part of the group."

As girls mature, the prospect of being seen alone by others becomes just as daunting. They know that "perfect girls" have "perfect relationships." "Walking through a hall and feeling like everyone's looking at you is the worst," a Linden ninth grader told me. "People who are alone are pitied and no one wants to be pitied. They're secluded. Something's wrong with them. Being seen as a loner is one of our biggest fears." Driven by the fear of exclusion, girls cling to their friends like lifeboats on the shifting seas of school life, certain that to be alone is the worst horror imaginable.

Every child, boy or girl, desires acceptance and connection. Most boys would not prefer or even tolerate being alone. Yet as girls grow up, friendship becomes as important as air, and they describe the punishment of loneliness in dramatic terms. "I was so depressed," Sarah explained. "I sat in class with no friends. Everything I cared about completely crumbled." A fifth grader said of her solitude, "It was like my heart was breaking."

it's just a phase

When thirteen-year-old Sherry's friends suddenly stopped speaking to her, her father, worried for his devastated daughter, approached a friend's mother to find out what happened. She was underwhelmed. "Girls will be girls," she said. It's typical girl behavior, nothing to be worried about, a phase girls go through. It will pass. "You are making a mountain out of a molehill," she told him. "What are you getting so upset about?"

Her remarks echo the prevailing wisdom about alternative aggression between girls: girl bullying is a rite of passage, a stage they will outgrow. As one school counselor put it to me, "It's always been this way. It will always be this way. There's nothing we can do about it." Girl bullying, many believe, is a nasty developmental storm we have no choice but to accept. Yet the rite-of-passage argument paralyzes our thinking about how the culture shapes girls' behavior. Most importantly, it stunts the development of anti-bullying strategies.

The rite-of-passage theory suggests several disturbing assumptions about girls. First, it implies that there is nothing we can do to prevent girls from behaving in these ways because it's in their developmental tea leaves to do it. In other words, because so many girls engage in alternative aggressions, they must be naturally predisposed to them. Bullying as a rite of passage also suggests that it is necessary and even positive that girls learn how to relate with each other in these ways. Rites of passage, after all, are rituals that mark the transformation of an individual from one status to another. So the rite of passage means that girls are becoming acquainted with what is in store for them later as adults. Because adult women behave in this way, it means it's acceptable and must be prepared for. (Many despairing mothers I spoke with, as well as those who shrugged off the bullying, confided a sense of consolation that their girls were learning what they'd come to know sooner or later.)

The third assumption emerges directly from the first two: it suggests that because it is universal and instructive, meanness among girls is a natural part of their social structure to be tolerated and expected. And there is one final assumption, the most insidious of all: the abuse girls subject each other to is, in fact, not abuse at all.

I have heard schools decline to intervene in girls' conflicts because they do not want to interfere in the "emotional lives" of students. This philosophy makes two value judgments about girls' relationships: it suggests that unlike aggressive episodes between the sexes, which are analyzed by lawyers and plastered on evening news programs, problems between girls are insignificant, episodes that will taper off as girls become more involved with boys.

Second, it trivializes the role of peers in children's development, turning into school policy the myth that childhood is "training for life," rather than life itself. A strategy of noninterference resists the truth of girls' friendships, remains aloof from the heart of their interpersonal problems, and devalues the emotional intensity that leaves permanent marks on their self-esteem.

Yet there is an even simpler reason why schools have ignored girls' aggression. They need order in the classroom. On any given day, the typical teacher is racing against the clock to meet a long list of obligations. She must complete her lesson plans, fulfill district and state standards requirements, administer tests, and occasionally find time for a birthday party. Like an emergency room doctor, the teacher must perform triage on her discipline problems. Disruptions are caught on the fly and met with swift punishment. Generally, boys are more disorderly. Girls, ever the intuiters of adult stress, know that passing a nasty note or shooting mean looks like rubber bands is unlikely to draw the attention of an exhausted teacher who is intent on completing her lesson plan.

When she sees a perpetrating girl, a teacher has little or no incentive to stop the class. Taking the time to address relational discord is not always as easy as yelling at a boy to remove his peer from the trash can. As a sixth grader explained to me, "Teachers separate the boys." Relational problems, however, demand attention to something that is more complex. Invariably, the teacher is far more concerned with the boys flinging balls of paper and distracting the other students.

Schools lack consistent public strategies for dealing with alternative aggressions. In the absence of a shared language to identify and discuss the behavior, student harassment policies are generally vague and favor acts of physical or direct violence. The structure of school days also complicates teacher intervention: in many schools, for instance, lunch aides supervise at recess, when bullying is rampant.

Since alternative aggressions have been largely ignored, their real-life manifestations are often seen through the lens of more "valid" social problems. For example, at many schools, the threat "do this or I won't be your friend anymore" is considered peer pressure, not relational aggression. In academic writings, researchers explain girls' manipulation of relationships as a form of precocity or a way to "establish central position and to dominate the definition of the group's boundaries." Some psychologists classify teasing and nasty jokes as developmentally healthy experiences. They call rumors and gossip spreading "boundary maintenance."13

Also common is the assessing of the targets of meanness among girls as having a social skills deficit. According to this school of thought, bullied children are obviously doing something wrong if they are attracting the social abuse of others. This usually puts the onus on the victim, who must toughen up or learn to integrate socially. Perhaps she is responding to social situations inappropriately, failing to "read" the feelings and attitudes of others correctly. Perhaps she needs to pay more attention to clothing trends. Perhaps she is too needy, daring, as one book lamented, to say "Let's be friends" instead of the more subtle "Let's go to the mall this weekend."

Relational aggression in particular is easily mistaken for a social skills problem. When a girl is nice one day and cruel the next, or is possessive, or overreacts to another child, the behavior can be interpreted as a sign of delayed development. This is an especially insidious problem because the victims may be encouraged to show patience and respect to their perpetrators. In the course of things, the aggressive aspect of the behavior is lost, and the perpetrator is left alone.

Most disturbingly, what the victim understands to be true about her own feeling of injury is denied by adults. Since perpetrators are often friends, girls, ever compassionate, spring easily to the rescue with their endless understanding shown human mistakes. Annie, who is profiled in chapter two, remembered Samantha, the girl who made her cry all night, with whom she was still friends. "Right now Samantha has a lot of friends and is more socially skilled," Annie explained. "But back then she wasn't really....If she had a friend, and if they said some slight thing to her, she would think that it was the most offensive thing that anyone's ever said to her. I don't think I really ever said [this was wrong]. I think she was trying to keep the friendship just as she could have it." In order to be a good friend, Annie showed compassion for Samantha's social limitations while shelving her own painful feelings.

Misdiagnosing bullying as a social skills problem makes perfect sense in a culture that demands perfect relationships of its girls at any cost. Social skills proponents claim that the best interactions are situation appropriate and reinforced by others, reflecting abilities in which girls are already well schooled. Indeed, the majority of female bullying incidents occur at the behest of a ringleader whose power lies in her ability to maintain a facade of girlish tranquillity in the course of sustained, covert peer abuse. She also directs social consensus among the group. As far as the social skills school is concerned, then, girl bullies appear from the outside to be doing A-plus work. At one school trying the social skills solution, for example, the mean girls were simply urged to be more "discreet."

The trouble with the social skills argument is that it does not question the existence of meanness, it explains and justifies it. As a result, it has helped alternative aggressions to persist unquestioned.

As they try fiercely to be nice and stay in perfect relationships, girls are forced into a game of tug-of-war with their own aggression. At times girls' anger may break the surface of their niceness, while at others it may only linger below it, sending confusing messages to their peers. As a result, friends are often forced to second-guess themselves and each other. Over time, many grow to mistrust what others say they are feeling.

The sequestering of anger not only alters the forms in which aggression is expressed, but also how it is perceived. Anger may flash on and off with lightning speed, making the victim question what happened-or indeed whether anything happened at all. Did she just look at her when I said that? Was she joking? Did she roll her eyes? Not save the seat on purpose? Lie about her plans? Tell me that she'd invited me when she hadn't?

Girls will begin summoning the strength to confront alternative aggressions when we chart them out in their various shapes and forms, overt and covert. We need to freeze those fleeting moments and name them so that girls are no longer besieged by doubt about what's happening, so that they no longer believe it's their fault when it does.

Copyright © 2002 by Rachel Simmons
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address:
Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.


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Table of Contents

CONTENTS

Introduction
Chapter One The Hidden Culture Of Aggression In Girls
Chapter Two Intimate Enemies
Chapter Three The Truth Hurts
Chapter Four She's All That
Chapter Five The Bully In The Mirror
Chapter Six Popular
Chapter Seven Resistance
Chapter Eight Parents And Teachers
Chapter Nine The Road Ahead
Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Acknowledgments
Index
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First Chapter

The Hidden Culture Of Aggression In Girls

The Linden School campus is nestled behind a web of sports fields that seem to hold at bay the bustling city in which it resides. On Monday morning in the Upper School building, students congregated languidly, catching up on the weekend, while others sat knees-to-chest on the floor, flipping through three-ring binders, cramming for tests. The students were dressed in styles that ran the gamut from trendy to what can only be described, at this age, as defiant. Watching them, it is easy to forget this school is one of the best in the region, its students anything but superficial. This is what I came to love about Linden: it celebrates academic rigor and the diversity of its students in equal parts. Over the course of a day with eight groups of ninth graders, I began each meeting with the same question: "What are some of the differences between the ways guys and girls are mean?"

From periods one through eight, I heard the same responses. "Girls can turn on you for anything," said one. "Girls whisper," said another. "They glare at you." With growing certainty, they fired out answers:
"Girls are secretive."
"They destroy you from the inside."
"Girls are manipulative."
"There's an aspect of evil in girls that there isn't in boys."
"Girls target you where they know you're weakest."
"Girls do a lot behind each other's backs."
"Girls plan and premeditate."
"With guys you know where you stand."
"I feel a lot safer with guys."

In bold, matter-of-fact voices, girls described themselves to me as disloyal, untrustworthy, and sneaky. They claimed girls use intimacy to manipulate and overpower others. They said girls are fake, using each other to move up the social hierarchy. They described girls as unforgiving and crafty, lying in wait for a moment of revenge that will catch the unwitting victim off guard and, with an almost savage eye-for-an-eye mentality, "make her feel the way I felt."

The girls' stories about their conflicts were casual and at times filled with self-hatred. In almost every group session I held, someone volunteered her wish to have been born a boy because boys can "fight and have it be over with."

Girls tell stories of their anger in a culture that does not define their behaviors as aggression. As a result, their narratives are filled with destructive myths about the inherent duplicity of females. As poet and essayist Adrienne Rich notes,2 "We have been depicted as generally whimsical, deceitful, subtle, vacillating."

Since the dawn of time, women and girls have been portrayed as jealous and underhanded, prone to betrayal, disobedience, and secrecy. Lacking a public identity or language, girls' nonphysical aggression is called "catty," "crafty," "evil," and "cunning." Rarely the object of research or critical thought, this behavior is seen as a natural phase in girls' development. As a result, schools write off girls' conflicts as a rite of passage, as simply "what girls do."

What would it mean to name girls' aggression? Why have myths and stereotypes served us so well and so long?

Aggression is a powerful barometer of our social values. According to sociologist Anne Campbell, attitudes toward aggression crystallize sex roles, or the idea that we expect certain responsibilities to be assumed by males and females because of their sex.3 Riot grrls and women's soccer notwithstanding, Western society still expects boys to become family providers and protectors, and girls to be nurturers and mothers. Aggression is the hallmark of masculinity; it enables men to control their environment and livelihoods. For better or for worse, boys enjoy total access to the rough and tumble. The link begins early: the popularity of boys is in large part determined by their willingness to play rough. They get peers' respect for athletic prowess, resisting authority, and acting tough, troublesome, dominating, cool, and confident.

On the other side of the aisle, females are expected to mature into caregivers, a role deeply at odds with aggression. Consider the ideal of the "good mother": She provides unconditional love and care for her family, whose health and daily supervision are her primary objectives. Her daughters are expected to be "sugar and spice and everything nice." They are to be sweet, caring, precious, and tender.

"Good girls" have friends, and lots of them. As nine-year-old Noura told psychologists Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan, perfect girls have "perfect relationships."4 These girls are caretakers in training. They "never have any fights...and they are always together....Like never arguing, like 'Oh yeah, I totally agree with you.'" In depressing relationships, Noura added, "someone is really jealous and starts being really mean....[It's] where two really good friends break up."

A "good girl," journalist Peggy Orenstein observes in Schoolgirls, is "nice before she is anything else-before she is vigorous, bright, even before she is honest." She described the "perfect girl" as the girl who has no bad thoughts or feelings, the kind of person everyone wants to be with....[She is] the girl who speaks quietly, calmly, who is always nice and kind, never mean or bossy....She reminds young women to silence themselves rather than speak their true feelings, which they come to consider "stupid," "selfish," "rude," or just plain irrelevant.5

"Good girls," then, are expected not to experience anger. Aggression endangers relationships, imperiling a girl's ability to be caring and "nice." Aggression undermines who girls have been raised to become.

Calling the anger of girls by its name would therefore challenge the most basic assumptions we make about "good girls." It would also reveal what the culture does not entitle them to by defining what nice really means: Not aggressive. Not angry. Not in conflict.

Research confirms that parents and teachers discourage the emergence of physical and direct aggression in girls early on while the skirmishing of boys is either encouraged or shrugged off.6 In one example, a 1999 University of Michigan study found that girls were told to be quiet, speak softly, or use a "nicer" voice about three times more often than boys, even though the boys were louder. By the time they are of school age, peers solidify the fault lines on the playground, creating social groups that value niceness in girls and toughness in boys.

The culture derides aggression in girls as unfeminine, a trend explored in chapter four. "Bitch,""lesbian," "frigid," and "manly" are just a few of the names an assertive girl hears. Each epithet points out the violation of her prescribed role as a caregiver: the bitch likes and is liked by no one; the lesbian loves not a man or children but another woman; the frigid woman is cold, unable to respond sexually; and the manly woman is too hard to love or be loved.

Girls, meanwhile, are acutely aware of the culture's double standard. They are not fooled into believing this is the so-called post-feminist age, the girl power victory lap. The rules are different for boys, and girls know it. Flagrant displays of aggression are punished with social rejection.

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Reading Group Guide

1. More than once in the Introduction to Odd Girl Out, author Rachel Simmons refers to her book as a "journey." What kind(s) of journey-taking is she suggesting? And what sort of journey did you, as a reader, experience? Where did this book take you? Someplace new? Someplace familiar? Both? Explain.

2. Simmons bases much if not most of her data in Odd Girl Out on interviews and visits she conducted over a one-year period with girls from ten different American schools. As a class, identify, describe, and discuss these schools. Which school is most like your own-and how so? Which is least like your own-and why?

3. Near the beginning of Chapter Three, Simmons writes: "Girls don't have to bully [to] alienate and injure their peers...The word bullying couldn't be more wrong in describing what some girls do to hurt one another." Why does the author find this term inadequate? What other term(s) would you use instead? In addressing these queries as a class, reflect on both your own experiences and the idea of "alternate aggressions" (which is explored throughout this book).

4. Look again at the Ideal Girl/Anti-Girl chart that Simmons helps a group of girls at a leadership workshop compose in Chapter Four. As a class, create your own such chart, with everyone contributing traits and qualities for each of these two types. Then compare and contrast the chart your class made with the one appearing in Chapter Four. What lessons can you draw from looking at these two charts side-by-side?

5. In presenting a book that names, studies, and categorizes "the hidden culture of aggression in girls," Simmons often looks back on her own girlhood experiences to make a point,provide a detail, or give an example. Nowhere is this more evident than in Chapter Five ("The Bully in the Mirror"). Explore the memories Simmons shares with us about her friends Anne and Jenny. What regrets does she express concerning these relationships, and-despite these regrets, or maybe because of them-what wisdom does Simmons pass on to us? Where else in the book do we see the author uncovering truths that can be applied to all girls by revealing certain truths about her own girlhood?

6. As a class, discuss Chapter Six ("Popular"). In particular, consider the connections-both explicit and implicit-that might be made between popularity and deception.

7. Reread the section in Chapter Eight called "When Cultures Collide." Then, talk openly and candidly with your classmates about moments of alternative aggression that you have experienced with girls of an ethnicity or race different from your own. Do your experiences-or those of any of your classmates-reflect those of Jasmine? Ntozake? Tiffany? Jacqueline? Anyone else in Chapter Eight? How so?

8. In Chapter Nine, Simmons "offer[s] strategies to combat alternative aggression, including new directions for policy making and teaching. Most of the suggestions came directly from the parents, school officials, and survivors of bullying" Simmons met during her research. Reviewing these strategies as a class, point out which ones seem most realistic, helpful, and workable. Why do the strategies you have thus chosen seem viable? That is, what is it that makes these particular strategies seem convincing and effective to you?

9. In her Conclusion, Simmons writes: "Most of the behaviors mapped out in this book-nonverbal gesturing, ganging up, behind-the-back talking, rumor spreading, the Survivor-like exiling of cliques, note passing, the silent treatment, nice-in-private and mean-in-public friends-are fueled by the lack of face-to-face confrontations." As an independent project, write a short essay in which you describe a key moment in your life when you stood up to someone face-to-face-or else write about a time when you wish you could-or would-have stood up to someone.

10. Take a fresh and creative approach to what you have learned, about yourself and about all girls and young women, from Odd Girl Out. As a direct and honest response to this book, communicate your own ideas and impressions about girl bullying in a short story-or else express them in a poem, depict them in a drawing or painting, or set them to music. Remember to include in your creation the feelings and notions (and memories?) that came to you while reading this book. Be prepared to share your work of art with your classmates.

Copyright (c) 2003. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.

Reading Group Guide prepared by Scott Pitcock

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  • Posted January 20, 2009

    High School Review

    "Odd Girl Out" by Rachel Simmons deserves a five star rating. This book is so accurate on the hidden aggression in girls. Rachel Simmons is right on when she talks about why girls are so sneaky and why they treat each other so badly. She also talks about the different ways girls take each other down, the most common way is going right for the self esteem and then secluding them so they feel all alone. "Odd Girl Out" teaches parents of girls to look for the signs and don't just blow them off because it can be a big problem. This book is full of stories and interviews of girls who have been the bully or have been bullied and how they dealt with situations. I would recommend this book to every girl and every parent raising a girl.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 15, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Interesting and difficult to put down

    Rachel Simmons' Odd Girl Out was an eye-opening read to say the least. Speaking as an 18 year old girl, I understood a lot of the things that were mentioned in the book. The mean giggling and loathing glances, the pretending to be friends and then gossiping behind the back, the cold-shoulder, all are things I'm sure we can relate to, whether we were victim or bully. This book was incredibly informative and revealed a lot about the true nature of girls and how, contrary to popular belief, they are capable of cruelty just like boys. The vivid way that Simmons' described her experiences with the girls was enjoyable to read, and I found myself truly understanding and connecting with a lot of their stories. Whether you're a teenage girl going through the same things, or a parent trying to figure out 'what's going on' Odd Girl Out will open your eyes and give an in-depth look at girl bullying in ways you've never imagined. Read the book; it's an experience you won't soon forget.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2010

    Such a Seminal Book

    I recently re-read this after reading The Twisted Sisterhood (in which the author references Rachel Simmons a few times). I'd also seen a feature on Simmons in the New York Times newspaper about the great work she does with girls. The book is as powerful the second time! I recommend to anyone with a young daughter. Great tips and food for thought.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2008

    odd girl out

    this book is amazing! it really tells you whats going on in some teenagers. I also recommend THE MOVIE its called the odd girl out! enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 28, 2010

    unexpectedly good

    I had to read this for a class and I was surprised how well I liked it. It gets a little repetitive at times, but i recommend it to anyone who is a future or current teacher, mother, or anyone else dealing with young and adolescent girls.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2006

    This is a good book for all teenage girls to read.

    All girls should read this, especially if they are being bullied. It shows how every girl has gone through some sort of bullying in their life. It also tells how they got through it and how it has affected them today. This book really helps explain why girls are the way they are and in a way that everyone can understand it. I loved all the personal stories from girls of all different ages. They really made the book move along and made it really interesting. Now, I notice different kinds of bullying and recognize things in real life that girls in this story really did and experienced. 'Odd Girl Out' has made me understand girl bullying in a whole new way.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2005

    I loved it

    I loved the book when I read it.All the stuff in the book is true.Today girls are much meaner and agressive towards other girls.I know from experience since I too am a teenager.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2004

    I finally understand MYSELF!!

    I read this book for a psychology project and fell in love. It opened my eyes to a world I was involved in, but didn't know existed. I now understand why girls act the way they do, and I now understand that I was not the only one who has had to suffer during my early adolecent years. I reccommend this book to teachers, parents, teenage girls, basically anyone who wants to understand the workings of the female mind.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2004

    Finally Defined

    I passed this book to every parent and educator/administrator I knew. Especially valuable for men who may not understand this female culture and its consequences.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2003

    Awesome Book!

    Odd Girl Out is a wonderful book for moms, daughters, and teachers. Girls need a way to solve their own problems and moms and teachers need to know why the girls are getting in fights. This book explains all of the reasons. I was amazed at how much I agreed with everything that she wrote.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2002

    A Valuable Life Tool

    Few are as obsessed with appearance and cliques as they are in adolescence, but the effects seem to be long lasting. What this book has helped me with (a recent college graduate) is to better understand why I have become so sensitive to certain issues with female friends. This book explains girls insecurities and their motives for being a bully, a follower, or a victim. The amazing thing that I discovered is that at one time or another, I have played all three roles. Instead of pinning the title on girls of either being a 'bad' or 'good' girl, we can educate them on what is going on (which is what this book does) and confront it if the bullying occurs.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2002

    WOW what an eye opener from an 18 year old

    I really do have to say that I recommend this book to other teenagers my age, mothers, fathers and teachers. I was able to relate with so many of the horrible stories the book talked about. I finally saw the other side of the girls who I saw everyday be involved with the aggression of girls. This book has made me not want to be like other "girls." For the rest of my senior year in high school I hope to share this book with my classmates to prevent the continuation of at least one girl being the odd girl out. Moms, share this book with your daughter/s so she too can see for herself what I was seen. US GIRLS CAN BE CRUEL. AND YES TOGETHER WE CAN PREVENT IT!!!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2012

    Lexile? Didnt read it yet

    Whats the lexile? Doea anyone know?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2012

    Brilliant!

    This should be REQUIRED reading for educators in every school. As a parent of a child that was the "odd girl out" at times in her life, this book has given me knowledge and the tools to help my child through difficult points in her life. This book is worth its weight in gold.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2012

    Been there

    I was once odd girl myself
    When my coolest and awsomes bff was the just the train reck to my lif and later on she had just turn her back on me and started to become this person i dont know anymore i knew our friendship had to end
    So when i read this book i was like this reminds me of my and use to be bff
    So if u are betrad by a friend and hurt by them u should defenly read this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2012

    Home schooled

    Im 11 and im also home schooled(if you wondering home schooling is fun!) So i don't have ad meny bullys in my life
    But sum tims hormones git the best of me
    And i havent read the book

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2012

    Odd Girl Out

    I know how it feels to be an odd girl out, i lost all og my hair the summer before my 6th grade year it wasnt fron cancer but it was from stress

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2009

    Very Elightening

    This book help put into perspective some of the things my daughter has gone through in middle school. It was very honest and I appreciated the suggestions made. It also help me relax and not push my daughter into friendships that were toxic. As she goes into high school I'm sure I'll be rereading this.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2007

    A reviewer

    An excellent guide for teenage girls who desire to acquire an understanding of girl aggression often displayed throughout middle school. This book definitely furthered my understanding of why girls bully each other the way they do (passing notes, whispering, dirty looks..). I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to understand the silent bullying that many girls participate in. Rachel Simmons combines her experiences with many other middle school aged girls to help understand this concept.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2006

    Odd Girl Out

    ¿As girls grow up, friendship becomes as important as air¿ (Simmons 19). As girls grow, nothing is more important than their friends, yet they don¿t treat each other as valuable but rather as easily replaceable. Young girls are vicious bullies to each other, however this cannot be seen to the naked eye. Rachel Simmons was the target of bullying throughout her childhood. She wanted to find answers to why she was bullied, so Simmons ventured out to different middle schools all over the country to talk one on one with girls about their personal bullying situations. She writes of several stories these girls had shared with her. These stories are of the hidden attitude and behavior of girls such as the silent treatment, passing notes, mean looks, etc. By talking with the girls on a friendship level, Simmons is able to uncover some horrible experiences girls have been faced with.

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