Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Are you a Bully?

Now it is time to end the silence: There is a hidden culture of girls’ aggression in which bullying is epidemic, distinctive and destructive. It is not marked by the direct physical and verbal behavior that is primarily the province of boys. Our culture refuses girls access to open conflict, and it forces their aggression into nonphysical, indirect and covert forms. Girls use backbiting, exclusion, rumors, name-calling, and manipulation to inflict psychological pain on targeted victims. Unlike boys, who tend to bully acquaintances or strangers, girls frequently attack within tightly knit networks of friends, making aggression harder to identify and intensify the damage to the victims.

The book Odd Girl Out: the Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons describes the hidden culture of aggression, where girls fight with body language and relationships instead of fists and knives. In this world, friendship is a weapon, and the sting of a shout pales in comparison to a day of someone’s silence. There is no gesture more devastating than the back turning away. Beneath a chorus of voices, one girl glares at another, then smiles silently at her friend. The next day a ringleader passes around a secret petition asking girls to outline the reasons they hate the targeted girl. The day after that, the outcast sits silently next to the boys in class, head lowered, and shoulders slumped forward. The damage is neat and quiet, the perpetrator and victim invisible.

Students and parents expect schools to be safe, where students can learn and teachers can teach in a warm and welcoming place, free from bullying, intolerance and violence. Teachers and support staff have the right to a safe and harassment-free workplace under their collective agreements. Students however have no special protection and must rely upon adults to keep them safe. As adults and parents, we have a responsibility to ensure incidents of bullying are reported and action is taken. If nothing is done, the problem will likely get worse.

Researchers have found signs of an apparent connection between bullying and suicide in children, according to a new review of studies from 13 countries. Nevertheless, there is no definitive evidence bullying makes kids more likely to kill themselves. Still, “once we see there’s an association, we can act on it and try to prevent it,” said review lead author Dr. Young-Shin Kim, an assistant professor at Yale University School of Medicine’s Child Study Center. According to international studies, bullying is common and affects anywhere from 9-54% of children. In the United States, many have blamed bullying for spurring acts of violence, including the Columbine High School massacre.

Lori Drew of St. Louis, MO., allegedly helped create a false-identity My Space account to contact Megan Meier-13 years old, who thought she was chatting with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Josh didn’t exist. Drew was talking to Megan via the Internet to find out what Megan was saying about her daughter, who was a former friend. Megan hung herself at home in October 2006 after receiving Drew’s cruel messages, including one stating the world would be better off without her. This is an extremely rare case of an adult woman posing as a teenage boy but the cyber bullying is very real and very hurtful, notes CBS technology analyst Larry Magid (2008). “About one-third of teens say they have been bullied or harassed online and though suicide is rare, there are plenty of cases where it has led to depression and extreme anxiety”.

Public awareness of bullying has grown in recent years, propelled by the tragedies of youth gun violence. The national conversation on bullying has trained its spotlight mostly on boys and their aggression. Defining bullying in the narrowest of terms, it has focused entirely on physical and direct acts of violence. The aggression of girls, often hidden, indirect, and nonphysical, has gone unexplored. It has not even been called aggression, but instead “what girls do.” Yet women of every age know about it. Nearly all of us have been bystanders, victims or bullies. So many have suffered quietly and tried to forget. Indeed, this has long been one of girlhood’s dark, dirty secrets as described by Rachel Simmons. Nearly every woman and girl has a story. It is time to break the silence and change the story.

What greater gift can we give girls than the ability to speak their truths and honor the truths of their peers? In a world prepared to value all of girls’ feelings and not just some, girls will enjoy the exhilarating freedom of honesty in relationships. They will live without the crippling fear of abandonment. It is my hope that as they, and any woman who has ever been the odd girl out, will step forward and not be a victim but instead an example to others --- By being true to themselves and supporting each other our young girls can become positive role models and leaders.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. We need to teach our girls to be strong, not to be victim's. Great article.

Anonymous said...

Bullying among females is a problem. Your assertion that it is cultural is likely false. It's roots is far more likely biological. Females must stop blaming society and men for their biological propensities.

Linda MacDonald Glenn said...

I don't think that either Rachel Simmons or Charlene were asserting that this is solely a cultural issue -- it is the old 'nature vs nurture' saw. Humans have had violent propensities based in biology since the beginning, probably a remnant of our primate ancestors. But it is through culture mores and laws that we at least make an effort to control these 'biological propensities.' Otherwise, as Thomas Hobbes said, life would be 'nasty, brutish, and short.'