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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 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
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.14(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 18 Years|
About 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.
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
“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 target 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,4 “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 crys-
tallize sex roles, or the idea that we expect certain responsibilities to
be assumed by males and females because of their sex.5 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.”6 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.7
“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
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.8 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
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 postfeminist
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 to 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
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 . . .”
“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.”
Table of Contents
Chapter One: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls 15
Chapter Two: Intimate Enemies 39
Chapter Three: The Truth Hurts 67
Chapter Four: Bff 2.0: Cyberbullying and Cyberdrama 103
Chapter Five: She’s All That 145
Chapter Six: The Bully in the Mirror 171
Chapter Seven: Popular 197
Chapter Eight: Resistance 219
Chapter Nine: Parents Speak 245
Chapter Ten: Helping Her through Drama, Bullying, and Everything in Between 269
Chapter Eleven: Raising Girls in a Digital Age 313
Chapter Twelve: The Road Ahead for Educators and Administrators 335
About The Book 397
About The Author 399
Discussion Questions 401
Tips To Further Enhance Your Reading of Odd Girl Out 405
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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"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.
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.
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.
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!!!!!!!!!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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