Rachel Simmons, 29, author of two books on girl bullying, has been on both sides of the playground fence: "I was both a bully and someone who was bullied. In particular my experience being bullied really stuck with me and hurt me. It was something that remained unresolved for me." Years later, while researching her book, Odd Girl Out, she got in touch with the girl she had bullied--and apologized. Simmons speaks to student groups and works with the Empower Program, which gives workshops around the country on preventing school violence. She spoke with Beliefnet about "expanding people's understanding of adolescent aggression-it's not just the stocky boy in the schoolyard who is going to kick your butt for your lunch money."

How do girls bully, and how is it different from the ways boys do it?

I want to avoid overgeneralizing, because there are boys who behave in the ways that I'll describe as the province of girls and vice versa. But it does appear that girls are less inclined to become physical and instead employ subtle, indirect, or relational forms of aggression. Relational aggression meaning you use your relationship as a weapon to get what you want. Around age three a kid says, "You give me that toy or I won't be your friend anymore." So you threaten to take away the relationship in order to compel someone to do something for you.

And then it can become more sophisticated-like instead of just taking away your relationship from someone, you can get other people to do that too. Girls also will be very secretive about their aggression and will be very hesitant to take responsibility for something. Even if you watch them doing it, they will deny to the death that they did something mean.

Is that because girls want to appear nice?

Yes, it's because girls are socialized to behave in this kind of way that is sort of physically and emotionally impossible-that is to behave like perfect little angels all the time. Of course, nobody is like that. So it forces them to take their aggression underground, but also to behave in very duplicitous ways-to appear on the outside as very sweet and nice. Of course, that's why the meanest girl in the presence of adults often acts like the sweetest, most charming person ever. As you can imagine, it complicates the process of reprimanding.

Why do adults believe that it's just not happening?

Most parents are in denial about their kids.

Which-either doing it or being victims?

Particularly doing it. The thing about moms in particular is they're very quick to identify that their child has been a victim. Just like they themselves are quick to say, "I'm the victim." But what they're not quick to say is, "I'm a perpetrator" or "My child is the perpetrator."

Yes, I can see that would be really hard to admit.

It's important to consider this issue in its cultural context-that good girls are nice girls. And if you're not nice, there is something wrong with you. You are deviant.

The bullying itself is really a sign of a couple of different things: one is that girls are not entitled to express their aggression in a direct way. In many ways the culture makes it immoral for females to be angry in a direct way. So what winds up happening is there are some girls and women, especially in the South, who actually believe that when you go behind somebody's back, that's the nice way to do it. Or, to say it with a smile-you know, do something really nasty with a smile.

The second thing is that aggression, especially in children is a reality. These are young creatures who are still developing their identities, whose emotions are often crude and passionate-look at the adolescent, for whom every day is the best day or the worst day of her life.

You wrote about bullying that happens in the electronic world-by email or IM-that this is sort of a new way that bullying takes place.

The internet is the perfect medium for a population that is both afraid of communicating directly and often unable to.

I see what you're saying. Because it's not face-to-face.

If you either cannot or don't feel entitled to say something face-to-face, well then, of course you'll go online. The trouble is, when you aren't looking someone in the eye, the severity of the incidents becomes much, much worse.

Can you give me an example of something that might happen on Instant Message?

Just things that you say to people that you would never say to their face like, "you're a fat, ugly whore." Or taking something that somebody tells you and emailing it to everyone you know, just throwing it out for instant gratification. The kinds of things that you say become a lot different.

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