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Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture Of Aggression In Girls (2003)

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (2003)
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3.82 of 5 Votes: 5
ISBN
0156027348 (ISBN13: 9780156027342)
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English
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mariner books
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Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture Of A...
Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture Of Aggression In Girls (2003)

About book: this book was pretty awesome! my expectations weren't that high, so i walked away more impressed than i expected to be. it explores the uniquely girl ways that girls are aggressive to one another, contrasting against previous research on aggression & bullying that has been male-dominated & male-focused. at no point does the book devolve into making biological essentialist arguments about female brain chemistry or anything like that. it's all about the way that girls are socialized to be feminine & how that impacts their relationships with aggression & the causes of aggression (jealousy, competitiveness, etc). the author argues that a key element of female socialization is the way girls are encouraged to be nice. this cuts them off from developing a healthy & straightforward relationship with anger & aggression. rather than throwing down & fighting each other in the streets, they bully each other by spreading rumors, using secrets to enhance their own social currency, isolating other girls socially, etc. pretty much any girl reading this book will recognize behaviors that she has participated in, as either an aggressor or victim (or both). this book kind of opened my eyes a little bit to the reasons why pretty much every woman i have ever met has felt the need to let me know she finds me intimidating (& some men have told me this as well). even as a child, i had little interest in being "nice" in the way that niceness is traditionally defined. i've always been pretty in touch with my feelings of anger, & i've always been pretty direct about expressing those feelings. this is a departure from traditional feminine gender norms, & it has inspired feelings of intimidation in the women around me. i mean, i already kind of knew this before i read the book, but the information in the book helped me make sense of it more clearly. the book explores the way that female socialization encourages girls that are victims of girl aggression to internalize their feelings of confusion & self-doubt, setting them on a path to continue to have dysfunctional relationships with people of all genders. the author is vehement about the possibility that girl aggression may cause victims to confuse bullying behavior with love & acceptance, setting them up for abusive adult relationships. it closes with tips for parents on how to recognize & address female bullying, & ideas for school administrators on how to crack down on it. i had a few quibbles with this section, because it espoused an adult response that is in keeping with parenting strategies that, in my opinion, stunt a child's ability to deal with the fact that life isn't perfect & that they're going to have to learn to fight their own fights at some point. i mean, judgment calls need to be made, & when a child has been so thoroughly victimized that they have fallen into a depression (or at risk for something that serious), someone needs to step in to help. but i have noticed a trend in many adults five to ten years younger than me--they seem unwilling to confront the possibility that unfortunate things that happen to them might be their fault in some way, they seem unwilling to hear that they are ever wrong about anything, they seem to be incapable of hearing criticism without interpreting it as a personal attack. so i don't think parents necessarily do their kids any favors by validating every single emotion their kids express without reservation.i definitely agree with the author's argument that most studies on bullying, aggression, & anger are excessively male-focused, but it's also true that playground fights are not the only ways that boys express aggression. i have seen many of the same behaviors among men & boys described here as tenets of girl aggression. i was a victim of a lot of these types of aggression when i was a kid, & it was boys who spread the most vicious rumors about me. girls kept them going, but boys came up with them & got the ball rolling. it's also worth noting (as the author does, to a limited degree) that these types of girl aggression don't disappear once a girl is done with school. i've been out of school for almost sixteen years, & i have still experienced all of these types of aggression in my circles of adult female friends. i definitely think that girls are socialized to have a uniquely dysfunctional relationship with feelings of aggression, & that we all need to work on re-training ourselves to be more in touch with feelings of anger, resentment, jealousy, etc. if that's the take-away, i agree. issues i had with the book: it was at times so relentlessly repetitive that i almost fell asleep. it read like a twenty-page final paper for college that had been expanded into a 270-page book. the writing was very mediocre. i don't expect great prose when the author is quoting an eleven-year-old, but the in-between bits where the author explored her conclusions based on interviews were gratingly tedious. & i agree with other reviewers that pointed out that most of the girls profiled in the book were largely trying to fight their way to top of the popularity heap. i think a big reason why i didn't really identify with anyone in the book (victim or bully) is because i never tried to be popular. those rumors i mentioned kids spreading about me? they were rife, & they were vicious, & i never heard about any of them myself until several years after they'd disappeared. i'm sure they affected the way kids interacted with me at the time, but no one ever actually said anything at all to my face--probably because i wasn't really trying to be friends with anyone other than kids that tried to be friends with me. even when the victimized girls described the lowest of their lows, they seemed to mostly involve being ostracized from the clique they wanted to be in, & being forced to eat lunch with social inferiors. it's hard to have sympathy for that kind of situation.i kind of walked away thinking that most of the girls profiled in the book were just brats. not evil demons...just bratty kids whose parents let them get away with murder, maybe because their parents never really came to terms with their own dysfunctional social desires.

In this book, Rachel Simmons argues that girls are socialized to be conflict-avoiders and have limited outlets for expressing their anger or aggression. Instead, they work at appearing "nice" and "sweet" and express their aggression in subtler ways that float beneath the radar of those around them -- rumor-spreading, alliance-building, using body language to exclude others, etc. Girls form large cliques and will often choose one of their own to scapegoat for no apparent reason -- a little like "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. It seems to be a means of increasing their security in their bond if they can gang up on someone else. Of course, this security is an illusion because you may well be the next scapegoat. But hey -- it beats being (gasp!) alone.I thought Simmons' thesis was interesting, her research thorough, and her writing tight and focused. I found the book provocative and reminiscent of many of my experiences. There were some differences for me, which might be attributable to my having attended an all-girls' high school. Certainly, competition over boys was irrelevant. I believe there was competition over friendship with particular girls, but I think the stakes were lower and the behaviors less intense. Maybe that's why I don't remember suffering the way the girls in Simmons' book did, even though (or maybe because) I surely was not one of the popular girls.I did wonder about some of the examples she cited -- they seemed extreme and dramatic, and I wondered whether there were other factors to which we were not privy. For example, many of the girls she described became depressed and near-suicidal upon being ostracized from their group of friends. While I wouldn't minimize the pain of this experience, I wondered what other factors might have contributed to both the ostracization and the extreme reaction. Did these girls have other emotional or family problems? I also thought Simmons' observation that confident, attractive girls are often both the perpetrators and the targets of relational aggression was interesting. However, it was hard for me to believe that a confident, attractive girl would be so undone by relational aggression from her friends, as opposed to simply approaching another group and merging with them.Simmons also includes an interesting chapter with suggestions for how parents and teachers can help. Although I liked her suggestions for parents, I felt that her suggestions for teachers were a little unrealistic. As she acknowledges, relational aggression is subtle and very difficult to spot, much less to intervene with. How can teachers make rules targeting relational aggression when the behaviors are so subtle?Overall, I definitely think the book is worth reading. If this topic interests you, it's probably one of the better books out there.
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Reviews
Marianne
I picked up this book in attempt to help my daughter deal with the girl bullies in her class. Every scenario illustrated on how girl aggression slips under adult radar was proven...as I read about it, I shared the information and incidents with my daughter's teachers, only to watch their faces pucker in surprise and denial. In the end, though, it worked out. The teachers paid closer attention, the bullies were brought to task and the entire grade participated in an event they labeled Black Out Bullying. This book is a good resource, if hard to wade through. I recommend it.
Willa
A month or so ago I heard a news story about a girl bullying episode that ended in tragedy, both for the victim who committed suicide out of despair, and the perpetrators, who were tried in court for their aggression. This haunting story was what made me request several books from interlibrary loan on the subject, and this one was the kind I was most interested in reading -- not a self-help or counseling so much, but written investigatively from an extended series of interviews with girls of various ages from various schools in middle America. From what the introduction says this book was one of the first written to discuss the subject. The author became interested in the topic after remembering her own early girlhood where several girls taunted and tormented her daily for several months. When she went to look up the research on the subject as a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford, she found ... nothing. Nothing had been written beyond a few brief monographs in small academic journals. So she set out to remedy the deficit, and since then books about girl bullying have become a small genre.The reason that girl bullying took so long to reach the sociological radar system, she says, is because it is not nearly as obvious as boy bullying, which has been depicted at least since Tom Brown's school days. She writes about how girls can be huddled together in pairs or little groups and look like the best of friends even when they are tearing each other to shreds.She describes how gossip works as a sort of barter system -- how girls rise farther into the circle of popularity by trading information about their peers, and how girls neatly avoid direct aggression by calling in allies to help them campaign against a victim. Victims are not always or even usually sociallly awkward types who don't fit in. Often they are new girls who are seen as a threat, or girls who used to be part of the group but were chosen as targets for sometimes very obscure reasons. One girl described how her victimization ensued after a sleepover in which her friend's brother sat next to her and talked for a few minutes. The author's theory is that society does not allow girls to be openly aggressive. From Day One they are expected to be "nice" even before being talented or intelligent or assertive. So they have no ordinary outlets for the aggression that every human feels. She describes how girls will let things go with other girls rather than tell how they feel, because the other girl will be hurt and in fact, deeply threatened by being confronted. These feelings build up over time and are often discharged by seeking the help of other friends "Emily is being so mean!" This is the starting dynamic of the gossip system that ends up as trading information. Other girls will get involved out of a kind of loyalty "Did you hear about Emily!" and so rather than being directly aggressive, they are being supportive of the friend. So lots of damage can be done without direct responsibility.I had reservations about the theory that society "refuses" girls ordinary outlets for aggression and so even the bullies are in a way victims. I think she is more perceptive when she points out that girls more naturally work in terms of alliances and "befriending" and groups, whereas boys interact more openly. She says how many girls told her "I wish I were a boy" because boys show aggression more openly and simply. Many researches into bullying behavior did not focus in on girl aggression because of the way the parameters of the studies were set up. An example is verbal repartee. Boys will verbally jostle and put down their friends. Studies described this as normal friendly behavior -- anyone who has brothers or sons sees the dynamic. Boys call each other names and put each other down and it's something of a bonding experience.The researchers would tend to put girl put-downs in the same category, as healthy social put-downs. But when girls put down girls in a joking manner, often it is really not a joke. The victim feels blindsided and then distrusts her own reactions when the other girls say "I was only joking!" The feeling of distrusting one's own reactions was described by many girls in the study.The author's concern is that the particular dynamic of girl-bullying is almost identical to what goes on in emotional abusive adult relationships. The bullies sometimes act kind to the victims in between being abusive. Bullies are often charming, attractive girls, the kind that teachers and parents love. The bullying isolates the victim from support and also messes with her very perceptions so that she blames herself and accepts the torment as justified. The book is not a self-help manual like some of the other ones that arrived from the library. Though it does include some suggestions for parents and teachers in one of the later chapters, it is mostly descriptive. As such, it is convincing in its case that girl bullying is no less hurtful for being covert and indirect. Several of those interviewed for the book were adults who still have vivid memories of their schooldays and often expressed that their lives were permanently affected by what happened in junior high.
Eilonwy
This book provided some really interesting insights into how girls carry a lot of pressure to be "nice" and "likable" (hmm, sound like critiques of fictional heroines anyone has read lately?), and how that pressure has the insidious side effect of crippling girls when it comes to handling conflict. The belief that one is supposed to be loved by everyone, all the time, is of course completely incompatible with the need to address differences or express one's own feelings or wishes. When differences or needs cannot be expressed in a safe or constructive manner, they're often subverted into something that doesn't necessarily look like what society identifies as "aggression," but which sure feels awful when you're on the receiving end of it. The author talks a fair amount about how we don't even have the vocabulary to describe the kind of clear, yet often ignored or unacknowledged (by adults), cruelty to which girls subject each other. What this book really underscored for me was that we need to be teaching conflict management to everyone from as young an age as possible. Because I haven't run into the problems described in this book only as a child -- I saw a number of them, ugly and close-up, back when I first joined an internet community in 2003. It was a real struggle for me and some of the other female members to get past the clash of "I need to make myself lovable to everyone! But I also need to express myself!", and some chaos and very hard feelings came out of it all in those early days. I've developed a much tougher hide since then, and, I hope, better skills at conflict resolution and disagreeing with people politely. But it sure would have been nice to have been taught those skills in school, instead of having to figure them out in trial-by-fire as an adult. I recommend this book to anyone who has been a girl or knows any girls.
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