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Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls Paperback – 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 188 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

chapter one
the hidden culture of
aggression in girls


The Linden School campus is nestled behind a web of sports fields
that seem to hold at bay the bustling city in which it resides. On Monday
morning in the Upper School building, students congregated languidly,
catching up on the weekend, while others sat knees-to-chest
on the floor, flipping through three-ring binders, cramming for tests.
The students were dressed in styles that ran the gamut from trendy
to what can only be described, at this age, as defiant. Watching them,
it is easy to forget this school is one of the best in the region, its students
anything but superficial. This is what I came to love about Linden:
it celebrates academic rigor and the diversity of its students in
equal parts. Over the course of a day with eight groups of ninth
graders, I began each meeting with the same question: “What are
some of the differences between the ways guys and girls are mean?”
  From periods one through eight, I heard the same responses.
Girls can turn on you for anything,” said one. “Girls whisper,” said
another. “They glare at you.” With growing certainty, they fired out
answers:
  “Girls are secretive.”
  “They destroy you from the inside.”
  “Girls are manipulative.”
  “There’s an aspect of evil in girls that there isn’t in boys.”
  “Girls target you where they know you’re weakest.”
  “Girls do a lot behind each other’s backs.”
  “Girls plan and premeditate.”
  “With guys you know where you stand.”
  “I feel a lot safer with guys.”
  In bold, matter-of-fact voices, girls described themselves to me as
disloyal, untrustworthy, and sneaky. They claimed girls use intimacy
to manipulate and overpower others. They said girls are fake, using
each other to move up the social hierarchy. They described girls as
unforgiving and crafty, lying in wait for a moment of revenge that
will catch the unwitting target off guard and, with an almost savage
eye-for-an-eye mentality, “make her feel the way I felt.”
  The girls’ stories about their conflicts were casual and at times
filled with self-hatred. In almost every group session I held, someone
volunteered her wish to have been born a boy because boys can
“fight and have it be over with.”
  Girls tell stories of their anger in a culture that does not define
their behaviors as aggression. As a result, their narratives are filled
with destructive myths about the inherent duplicity of females. As
poet and essayist Adrienne Rich notes,4 “We have been depicted as
generally whimsical, deceitful, subtle, vacillating.”
  Since the dawn of time, women and girls have been portrayed
as jealous and underhanded, prone to betrayal, disobedience, and secrecy.
Lacking a public identity or language, girls’ nonphysical aggression
is called “catty,” “crafty,” “evil,” and “cunning.” Rarely the
object of research or critical thought, this behavior is seen as a natural
phase in girls’ development. As a result, schools write off girls’
conflicts as a rite of passage, as simply “what girls do.”
  What would it mean to name girls’ aggression? Why have myths
and stereotypes served us so well and so long?
  Aggression is a powerful barometer of our social values. According
to sociologist Anne Campbell, attitudes toward aggression crys-
tallize sex roles, or the idea that we expect certain responsibilities to
be assumed by males and females because of their sex.5 Riot grrls and
women’s soccer notwithstanding, Western society still expects boys
to become family providers and protectors, and girls to be nurturers
and mothers. Aggression is the hallmark of masculinity; it enables
men to control their environment and livelihoods. For better or for
worse, boys enjoy total access to the rough and tumble. The link
begins early: the popularity of boys is in large part determined by
their willingness to play rough. They get peers’ respect for athletic
prowess, resisting authority, and acting tough, troublesome, dominating,
cool, and confident.
  On the other side of the aisle, females are expected to mature into
caregivers, a role deeply at odds with aggression. Consider the ideal
of the “good mother”: She provides unconditional love and care for
her family, whose health and daily supervision are her primary objectives.
Her daughters are expected to be “sugar and spice and everything
nice.” They are to be sweet, caring, precious, and tender.
  “Good girls” have friends, and lots of them. As nine-year-old
Noura told psychologists Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan, perfect
girls have “perfect relationships.”6 These girls are caretakers in
training. They “never have any fights . . . and they are always together.
. . . Like never arguing, like ‘Oh yeah, I totally agree with
you.’” In depressing relationships, Noura added, “someone is really
jealous and starts being really mean. . . . [It’s] where two really good
friends break up.”
  A “good girl,” journalist Peggy Orenstein observes in Schoolgirls,
is “nice before she is anything else—before she is vigorous, bright,
even before she is honest.” She described the “perfect girl” as

the girl who has no bad thoughts or feelings, the kind of person
everyone wants to be with. . . . [She is] the girl who speaks quietly,
calmly, who is always nice and kind, never mean or bossy. . . . She
reminds young women to silence themselves rather than speak
their true feelings, which they come to consider “stupid,” “selfish,”
“rude,” or just plain irrelevant.7

“Good girls,” then, are expected not to experience anger. Aggression
endangers relationships, imperiling a girl’s ability to be caring
and “nice.” Aggression undermines who girls have been raised to
become.
  Calling the anger of girls by its name would therefore challenge
the most basic assumptions we make about “good girls.” It would
also reveal what the culture does not entitle them to by defining
what nice really means: Not aggressive. Not angry. Not in conflict.
  Research confirms that parents and teachers discourage the emergence
of physical and direct aggression in girls early on while the
skirmishing of boys is either encouraged or shrugged off.8 In one example,
a 1999 University of Michigan study found that girls were
told to be quiet, speak softly, or use a “nicer” voice about three times
more often than boys, even though the boys were louder. By the
time they are of school age, peers solidify the fault lines on the playground,
creating social groups that value niceness in girls and toughness
in boys.
  The culture derides aggression in girls as unfeminine, a trend explored
in chapter four. “Bitch,” “lesbian,” “frigid,” and “manly” are
just a few of the names an assertive girl hears. Each epithet points out
the violation of her prescribed role as a caregiver: the bitch likes and
is liked by no one; the lesbian loves not a man or children but another
woman; the frigid woman is cold, unable to respond sexually;
and the manly woman is too hard to love or be loved.
  Girls, meanwhile, are acutely aware of the culture’s double standard.
They are not fooled into believing this is the so-called postfeminist
age, the girl power victory lap. The rules are different for
boys, and girls know it. Flagrant displays of aggression are punished
with social rejection.
  At Sackler Day School, I was eating lunch with sixth graders during
recess, talking about how teachers expected them to behave at
school. Ashley, silver-rimmed glasses snug on her tiny nose, looked
very serious as she raised her hand.
  “They expect us to act like girls back in the 1800s!” she said indignantly.
Everyone cracked up.
  “What do you mean?” I asked.
  “Well, sometimes they’re like, you have to respect each other, and
treat other people how you want to be treated. But that’s not how
life is. Everyone can be mean sometimes and they’re not even realizing
it. They expect that you’re going to be so nice to everyone and
you’ll be so cool. Be nice to everyone!” she mimicked, her suddenly
loud voice betraying something more than sarcasm.
  “But it’s not true,” Nicole said. The room is quiet.
  “Anyone else?” I asked.
  “They expect you to be perfect. You’re nice. When boys do bad
stuff, they all know they’re going to do bad stuff. When girls do it,
they yell at them,” Dina said.
  “Teachers think that girls should be really nice and sharing and not
get in any fights. They think it’s worse than it really is,” Shira added.
  “They expect you to be perfect angels and then sometimes we
don’t want to be considered a perfect angel,” Laura noted.
  “The teacher says if you do something good, you’ll get something
good back, and then she makes you feel like you really should be,”
Ashley continued. ... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 301 pages
  • Publisher: FBApowersetup (2003)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0013L2DZ0
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (188 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,321,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on April 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is long over due! It has to be one of the most important books on female social behavior I've ever read.
Author Rachel Simmon's explains in graphic detail how boys tend to bully acquaintances or strangers but girls attack within tightly knit friendship networks, making aggression harder to identify and intensifying the damage to the victims so the impact can be felt well into adulthood.
Females fight with what is called "relational aggression": the silent treatment, exclusion, mean looks, rumor spreading, ganging up on a girl, manipulating relationships. In a girl's world, friendship is a weapon. A fist is weak when compared to the humiliation of a day of silence and rejection. There is no gesture more devastating than the back turning coldly away. Simmon offers advice on how to help young girls deal with this huge problem in our society.
My only real disappointment with this book is it assumes this vicious behavior stops when girls grow up and become women. This simply is not true. I know too many grown women who behave this way. My neighbor's behavior fits the definition of "relational aggression" to a `T' from the silent treatment and exclusion of her victims to the way she is overly concerned with her façade as a likable neighbor, wife, and mother. She is a wolf in lambs clothing. While the naïve decry school age girls as ruthless, I beg to differ, in adulthood, women are even worse, they are only more sophisticated at disguising their ruthless maneuvers.
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Format: Paperback
I read the first edition of Odd Girl Out about five years ago when my oldest daughter was in grade 4/5 and there were some real problems regarding bullying and power struggles amongst the girls in her year. While my daughter was not a direct target, nor a bully, it was a stressful time for her as two girls in particular aggressively manipulated the social hierarchy, girls switched alliances almost daily and the school seemed at a complete loss at how to deal with it. To help my daughter cope with the upheaval I read a number of books on the subject including Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls and Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence, both of which I also would recommend to parents and educators of girls.
I chose to read this revised edition because my oldest daughter is now fifteen and as an avid (ie constant) user of Facebook, MSN and various online social communities. Additionally my youngest daughter is now eight and an awareness of online social communities is beginning to creep into her consciousness. As such I was particularly interested in Simmons inclusion of the dynamics of cyber-bullying and how I might be able to help my daughters navigate this social arena.
The strength of Odd Girl Out is that it illustrates the experience of female bullying in a personal manner, with girls sharing their circumstances in their own words. I, like most women, recognised many of the methods girls use to control their social world.
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By A Customer on April 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I was never targeted in school, but both my sisters were. They've grown up to be covert bullies as a result. I guess they decided if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I've worked in offices with GROWN WOMEN who are displaying this emotional adolescent social dynamic. It's very disturbing because as much as I'd like to enjoy the company of women, I feel deeply distrustful of them. I think this book did a fine job of presenting this subject, except the author could have gone more into the fact that some girls never grow up and persist with this cliquish nightmare well into their 30's and 40's. I think, since the woman's movement is still relatively young, this is a transitional stage and soon, like artists, even traditional conservative women will bravely face the challenge to grow up and behave like evolved human adults instead of mean little schoolyard bullies. I wish I'd had this book to read long ago-it explained so much that no one talks about because of how invisible and insidious this behavior is. It's the victim that gets called bitter, oversensitive, and crazy. I hope every woman reads this so they won't role model this method of venting their aggressions to another generation of girls.
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By A Customer on May 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
The reviews already listed above on this book hit the nail right on the head. It is a very well written book. My 12 year old daughter and I have sat side by side and discussed it. She's enjoyed hearing about my own similar experiences as a little girl. I enjoyed openning her eyes to the hidden culture of the way girls tend to treat each other so that she would recognize it when she sees it directed to her.
The reason why I rated it 4 stars instead of 5 was because of my 1 disappointment. I wish the author had added a chapter about how to handle and come out a winner when you are the victim. It gives no advice on how to deflect the negative treatment, how to respond to it. How to basically shut the abusive treatment down so that the abuser can see that you know what she's doing and it's not going to work. I wish the author would come out with a second book on this topic.
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