odd girl out

odd girl out.jpgodd girl out: the hidden culture of aggression in girls, by rachel simmons

i’m not sure how i missed this book. it was published in 2002, and is absolute must reading for EVERY youth worker (male or female) and every parent of a girl.

it’s a tough read and an easy read. easy, because simmons is an excellent writer and fills the book with real stories of real girls. tough, because the real girls she profiles reveal a profile of aggression (almost universally experienced) that is so painful, so destructive, it’s difficult to read (especially if you care about teenage girls).

i had a great chat with my 13 year-old daughter, liesl, after reading this book. she was very open about how girls treat each other. i may be fooling myself, but i do think that liesl’s private school (a waldorf school, which is particularly nurturing and has no tolerance for mistreatment) protects her from the fullest extent of what this behavior would look like in the vast majority of schools. in fact, i could easily see liesl being the aggressor (the rumor-creator, the silent treatment-giver, the “we don’t like you” club-originator), were she in a different context.

the book talks at length about why this alternative aggression is so commonplace amongst girls. it also talks about why schools are so poor at addressing it. it’s a bit light on suggestions for what we all (who care about girls) can do about it – but there is some of this, especially near the end of the book.

given my passion for early adolescent ministry, i was intrigued to read that this behavior is at its peak during the young teen years. the author focuses all of her research on girls from 5th grade through 9th grade, with the “sweet spot” (bad choice of words, i suppose) between 11 and 14.

here’s one particular paragraph i found fascinating:

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 diffrerent history of human attachment, stressing continuity and change instead of replacement and seperation. the primacy of relationship and attachment in the female life also indicates a different experience of and response to loss. the centrallity of relationship to girls’ lives all but guarantees a different landscape of aggression and bullying, with its own distinctive features worthy of seperate study.

11 thoughts on “odd girl out”

  1. I read this book in the spring. You are right it really does open you up into a whole new world. I am passionate and girls ministry so this confirmed some of the things i have seen.

  2. This book has long been on my needs to be read list. I’ll have to move it closer to the top now! I just recently read Jodee Blanco’s Please Stop Laughing at Me which is her first person account of teenage bullying. It was very eye opening and heart breaking for me. I recommended all of our student’s parents read it.

  3. This is an incredible book. I’m glad you had the opportunity to read it. Girl bullying is so vicious. Now with the internet, we’ve had some interesting issues that have popped up regarding the online world. Thanks for reminding us about this book.

  4. In my past experience, I have always seen it the worst in girls in grades 6/7 (12-13 years old).

    My wife had to step out of ms ministry to girls because of the atmosphere that this book deals with.

  5. Jeff-
    Why did your wife step out of ms ministry? Could she not handle the issues of the girls? I would of thought that a mature women would help the situation. My female staff in my ms ministry handle these issues perfectly; because they know how to deal with the issues at hand.

  6. Josh:

    I think that it was that she did not see their problems and struggles as “real”. She knew that this would hur her relationship with them and she felt the ministry was “taxing” on her. So, instead, she focused on cooking dinner for the 40-50 coming (full-blown dinner) so we could sit and have fellowship as part of our night.

    She moved to serving to her giftedness and strength and we placed individuals with more compassion and heart for young teen lives into the group.

    In the end, a real win-win for everyone.

  7. Another good one, along the same vein, is “Queen Bees and Wannabees.” Excellent. The author has a newer one which I haven’t yet read, but sounds promising, “Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads.”

  8. Jeff:
    That makes total sense! Thanks for clarifying. I see the benefit in that type of ministry. It is very intentional and personal; something that I feel youth ministry should be.
    The hs youth pastor at my church is doing that exact thing-cooking dinner for the youth right after school and he has been having some awesome interaction and he feels like he is getting to know the youth alot better!
    May God bless you and your wife as you continue this awesome ministry!

    Josh

  9. Another interesting read in this vein is Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. The first edition of this book was the precursor to Odd Girl Out and Queen Bees and Wannabes.

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