odd 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.