Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

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by Rachel Simmons

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When boys act out, get into fights, or become physically aggressive, we can't avoid noticing their bad behavior. But it is easy to miss the subtle signs of aggression in girls—the dirty looks, the taunting notes, or the exclusion from the group-that send girls home crying.


n Odd Girl Out, Rachel Simmons focuses on these interactions and provides language


When boys act out, get into fights, or become physically aggressive, we can't avoid noticing their bad behavior. But it is easy to miss the subtle signs of aggression in girls—the dirty looks, the taunting notes, or the exclusion from the group-that send girls home crying.


n Odd Girl Out, Rachel Simmons focuses on these interactions and provides language for the indirect aggression that runs through the lives and friendships of girls. These exchanges take place within intimate circles—the importance of friends and the fear of losing them is key. Without the cultural consent to express their anger or to resolve their conflicts, girls express their aggression in covert but damaging ways. Every generation of women can tell stories of being bullied, but Odd Girl Out explores and explains these experiences for the first time.

Journalist Rachel Simmons sheds light on destructive patterns that need our attention. With advice for girls, parents, teachers, and even school administrators, Odd Girl Out is a groundbreaking work that every woman will agree is long overdue. 6 X 9.

Author Biography: Rachel Simmons graduated from Vassar College in 1996, where she studied Women's Studies and Political Science.

In 1998, she received a Rhodes Scholarship from New York State to study at Oxford University where she began her research of female bullying and the psychology of girls.

In the course of her research, Simmons has directed a girls leadership camp for the Sidwell Friends School in Washington and has advised teachers in schools all over the country. She has worked in politics in Washington and New York City and currently lives in Brooklyn.

Editorial Reviews

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.
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
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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Read an Excerpt

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.

Meet the Author

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.

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Odd Girl Out 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 57 reviews.
McIntyrescollcompEMS More than 1 year ago
"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.
tpinMcIntyre4inEng4 More than 1 year ago
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.
SoCalBookWorm More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!!!!!!!!!
Katy Robbins More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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 More than 1 year ago
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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