Reviewed in Canada 🇨🇦 on May 27, 2003
Aggression has always been assumed to be a problem only in male circles of friends, where disagreements are often visibly and violently resolved, both at home and in school. Females of all ages are held to certain expectations of niceness, calmness, and friendliness with one another. Within our schools throughout the past, and certainly now, that assumed niceness among girls is not as common as many parents, teachers, and researchers would hope to find. Although it often manifests itself in different forms, the level of aggression, as Rachel Simmons details in her book, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, is much higher than any of us may have imagined. This book offers "a glimpse of the back alleys and hidden corners of girl bullying, to begin the process of naming and understanding it. The difference in comparison to male patterns, as Simmons explains, is that female patterns of aggression s are usually much more discrete, much harder for those uninvolved to see, or to detect. This hidden aggression has developed as a result of the cultural expectations of girls in our society. Young females are often forced to put forth two personalities; the nice, non-aggressive personality which is used in the presence of adults. The harsh, mean, back-stabbing personality used to express their anger is used in relation to peers, in order to gain control and popularity.
Within circles of female friends in most school environments, as Simmons excellently exposes in her research, there is a constant battle for friendship, popularity, and belonging with the certain cliques, or groups. The constant struggle to belong forces young girls to rely on methods of teasing, rumor-spreading, alliance building, and secret-sharing, in effort to win the friendship of those students who are most popular. Through speaking to hundreds of young girls, currently involved in the harmful workings of female aggression, along with adults who were subject to the harmful effects of female aggression as young girls, Simmons was able to uncover the harmful ways in which girls use friendship as a weapon to gain control and inflict pain towards those with whom they are angry. The immense fear of being alone, or having no friends, is felt so strongly by young girls that they will often subject themselves to unhealthy friendships with aggressive peers rather than be alone.
The important question, we as parents and educators, must address is how to reform society as to allow girls a healthy outlet for their aggression. The discrete, non-aggressive personal attacks they are waging against one another daily in our schools is often more damaging than we have been willing to admit in the past. Simmons points out that we must allow our girls to express their anger and discontent with situations and with one another freely and outwardly. As we hear personal stories of how aggressive female bullies affected the lives of the many girls who offer their voices to this piece, we begin to understand the struggle between 'nice' and 'strong' that our society forces girls to deal with. Many channels for the expression of anger are eliminated within this struggle for young girls. "We are telling our girls to be bold and timid, voracious and slight, sexual and demure. We are telling them to hurry up and wait. But, as in the game of Twister, these girls eventually end up in impossible positions and collapse" (115). Any attempt at assertiveness, at standing up for oneself, as Simmons explains in Chapter 7, is viewed through the lens of traditional female roles as 'mean' or 'bitchy.'
The refusal of parents to address issued inherently embedded both the personalities of bullies and victims is discussed eloquently by Simmons near the end of the book, where she discusses the refusal of parents to admit that their children are not perfect. Whether it is their daughter who is being victimized, or who is doing the victimization, parents 'fear that others will judge their mothering abilities based on their children's behaviors or problems. This refusal to openly discuss the feelings associated with being bullied, forces young girls to bottle-up their emotions, and continue to put on the face of happiness and content.
This book tells the stories of many who have felt the pain of female aggression in many instances, and offers excellent suggestions on how parents, teachers, and girls themselves should deal with the aggressive, hurtful acts of other girls in their lives. Simmons certainly could have spent more time discussing ways in which we, as educators and adults, could lead society toward developing different expectations of female behavior, allowing girls a voice to express their feelings and anger, and releasing our young girls from the pressures of 'niceness' that have forever guided their actions. I also believe that her excellent work could have been raised to the next level is she could have spent more time researching and discussing the differences in aggressive patterns within schools not situated in middle class settings, where she spent a majority of her time.
Overall, I certainly recommend this book to many parents of female students, and to all teachers within the K-12 environment. An eye-opening look into what we have all seen or experienced in some form, ODD GIRL OUT: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, begins the dialogue about alternative aggression, and provides and excellent platform for initiating the movement toward change.