There is little sugar but lots of spice in journalist Rachel Simmons's brave and brilliant book that skewers the stereotype of girls as the kinder, gentler gender. Odd Girl Out
begins with the premise that girls are socialized to be sweet with a double bind: they must value friendships; but they must not
express the anger that might destroy them. Lacking cultural permission to acknowledge conflict, girls develop what Simmons calls "a hidden culture of silent and indirect aggression."
The author, who visited 30 schools and talked to 300 girls, catalogues chilling and heartbreaking acts of aggression, including the silent treatment, note-passing, glaring, gossiping, ganging up, fashion police, and being nice in private/mean in public. She decodes the vocabulary of these sneak attacks, explaining, for example, three ways to parse the meaning of "I'm fat."
Simmons is a gifted writer who is skilled at describing destructive patterns and prescribing clear-cut strategies for parents, teachers, and girls to resist them. "The heart of resistance is truth telling," advises Simmons. She guides readers to nurture emotional honesty in girls and to discover a language for public discussions of bullying. She offers innovative ideas for changing the dynamics of the classroom, sample dialogues for talking to daughters, and exercises for girls and their friends to explore and resolve messy feelings and conflicts head-on.
One intriguing chapter contrasts truth telling in white middle class, African-American, Latino, and working-class communities. Odd Girl Out is that rare book with the power to touch individual lives and transform the culture that constrains girls--and boys--from speaking the truth. --Barbara Mackoff
From Publishers Weekly
Although more than 16 years have passed, Rhodes Scholar Simmons hasn't forgotten how she felt when Abby told the other girls in third grade not to play with her, nor has she stopped thinking about her own role in giving Noa the silent treatment. Simmons examines how such "alternative aggression" where girls use their relationship with the victim as a weapon flourishes and its harmful effects. Through interviews with more than 300 girls in 10 schools (in two urban areas and a small town), as well as 50 women who experienced alternative aggression when they were young, Simmons offers a detailed portrait of girls' bullying. Citing the work of Carol Gilligan and Lyn Mikel Brown, she shows the toll that alternative aggression can take on girls' self-esteem. For Simmons, the restraints that society imposes to prevent girls from venting feelings of competition, jealousy and anger is largely to blame for this type of bullying. It forces girls to turn their lives into "a perverse game of Twister," where their only outlets for expressing negative feelings are covert looks, turned backs and whispers. Since the events at Columbine, some schools have taken steps to curb relational aggression. For those that haven't, Simmons makes an impassioned plea that no form of bullying be permitted.
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