Sunday, April 12, 2009


I've been thinking a lot about bullying lately, specifically bullying among girls and women. The more research i did on the topic, the more i found relating to bullying's effects on the victims, how girls bully, and the difficulty of breaking free of bullying. What i didn't find much of is WHY girls bully and how this bullying translates to adult female relationships.

Bullying among girls has been on the rise since the early 1990's. Also, the bullying isn't stereotypical physical violence you think of when "bully" comes to mind (though it can be). Bullying among girls usually takes on more subtle and calculated characteristics. The NCPC defines a female bully as a girl who "is popular, well-liked by adults, does well in school, and can even be friends with the girls she bullies. She doesn't get into fist fights, although some girls who bully do. Instead, she spreads rumors, gossips, excludes others, shares secrets, and teases girls about their hair, weight, intelligence, and athletic ability. She usually bullies in a group and others join in or pressure her to bully."

No wonder I came to the conclusion of "hating girls" in middle and high school. Obviously i didn't, because i am female myself, but it was the best way my 12 year old self knew to cope and to separate myself from the stereotypically female characteristics that were supposedly bad. You know, girls being portrayed as catty, oversensitive, and manipulative. Grown up me recognizes that not all women (and girls) are those things (though some sure can be...) but 12 year old me, who needed external validation, knew she'd get it most by identifying as little with stereotypically female traits as possible. I've heard women, again and again, note that "women (or girls) are so difficult to be friends with" or all their close friends are male because "men are easier to deal with." When i started to really think about this i realized we were being socialized to hate ourselves.

I think one of the biggest problems is girls aren't being taught the qualities they should be valuing. Qualities like cooperation, strength, diversity, warmth, respect, communication, responsibility, empathy, and many others. Instead, they're being judged based on their appearance, clothes, weight, and popularity (which fluctuates daily based on who's in their "circle" that day) and their actions to become popular based on those terms are only reinforced by movies, television, music, and toys.

Kimmi and Courtney talked about core self-esteem back in December. They discussed how it's created and nurtured and the dangers of being unaware of ones self-esteem or having false (merely outward) self-esteem as many "tough girls" do. Courtney has been working with the Dove Self Esteem Fund to raise self-esteem in girls and train dedicated adults to do the same. She mentioned a Dove nationwide study that found 7 out of 10 girls felt they didn't measure up in some way. Out of the girls that felt they didn't measure up, half engaged in negative behaviors like smoking, drinking, bullying, and disordered eating. Kimmi and Courtney also talked about the importance of responding honestly to our own feelings and being able to recognize them as apposed to rationalizing and pretending they are something else. This is a tough thing to do, especially for young girls. At that age, girls are often looking for external validation and not inward, at their actions, reactions, and emotions. But looking inward, and focusing on the positive values i mentioned earlier is what fosters self-esteem. However, if we're never taught to love our sisters, and we are taught that we don't quite measure up, how can we develop a strong sense of self, positive self-esteem, and close relationships with each other? Also, how can we begin to understand the damaging effects of bullying, especially in the way that girls bully, if we don't understand our own value?

So how does all this translate into adult female relationships? Well i think very similarly. I think core self-esteem and self acceptance has a lot to do with it, followed by having respect for others. Also, not knowing how to connect with people in a meaningful way and thus using "relationships" for manipulation and even punishment. I think a lot of times bullies get caught in a web of their actions and don't know how to connect with other women in genuine ways. They end up pushing others out and only having their negative thoughts and behaviors to focus on. This isn't necessarily their fault, like i said, girls aren't taught to develop honest relationships with each other from a young level.

Rachel Simmons wrote a great book on bullying, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, that is now referenced in most developmental psych classes. One of the terms Simmons uses is "relational aggression" which is described as any behavior intended to harm someone else through manipulation in relationships. As an adult, there are several adult women i know who utilize this. Some relational aggression tactics that are discussed in the book for adolescents and teenage girls, but i have witnessed adult women use, include: exclusion, ignoring, malicious gossip, intimidation, manipulation, alliance building, and cyberbullying. And though Rachel Simmons finally gave a much needed voice to young female bullying victims in her book, she doesn't address female bullying in adult relationships. To assume this behavior ends in adulthood, is naive.

Why do seemingly adult women engage in bullying? I think most of it is for the same reasons girls do - such as power, control, popularity, to become closer with someone else, manipulation, etc. But as adults, there is also often a competitive nature that goes along with bullying, as well as a sense of "keeping someone in their place." Both of these elements can somewhat be explained through socialization. We are constantly bombarded with messages of women competing with one another for men, jobs, fashion, appearance... We see a lot of this type of bullying at work or among "friends" during or after college.

Are you or your kids being emotionally bullied?? If so, below are some tips for parents and helpful links for resources. Also, feel free to share any stories you are comfortable sharing in the comments section.

Some Tips for Parents:

  • Involve girls in activities outside of school so they are exposed to different types of people
  • Encourage relationships with adults and other children who appreciate them for what they are
  • Be available to listen and don’t downplay the importance of an incident
  • Teach kindness and model that behavior
  • Talk about both sides of an issue. Girls may tell you about being a victim but not talk about being the aggressor
  • If your daughter is caught in the middle, encourage her to take the high road and support the victim, or at least not take part in the aggression
  • If necessary, see professional counseling.
  • Become computer savvy.
  • Do not allow your child to have a computer in their room or other isolated area. If they have laptops, set guidelines for where they can use it and the length of time they can use it.
  • Be aware of the online activities of your child
  • Research filtering and parental control programs for your computer
Some possibly helpful websites:


whatsername said...

Nice post.

I totally used to do the "I hate girls" thing too. :\

Renee said...

I think that it is great that you made a point about cyber bullying in the end because that has become the latest craze and there are no laws to deal with it. They tell parents to watch for pedophiles on line but sometimes those that are the most dangerous to our children sit right next to them on the school bus day in and day out. The more we know about what is going on with their lives the better we are able to intervene when things get bad.

Kandeezie said...

"we were being socialized to hate ourselves" - darn right! And we're being socialized to value males and male traits as superior. as if being a female is lacking something. and you are rewarded for learning early to not like females, even if that includes ourselves.

Perfect quote from "Why 'tomboy' remains a loaded word": "We are more comfortable with girls exhibiting supposedly masculine traits than with boys exhibiting supposedly feminine traits. I suspect this is partly due to greater fear that a boy who transgresses gender norms will be homosexual, and to the idea that a girl is `trading up' when she is boyish, since masculinity tends to be more highly valued in our culture than femininity." (

Lyndsay said...

Interesting entry. I did some research lately on the difference between self-esteem and self-acceptance. Very interesting. They've found people that bully can have inflated self-esteem but high self-acceptance is very beneficial for everyone.

phd in yogurtry said...

Deborah Tannen's work "You Just Don't Understand" purports that women use language to make relationship connections. Men use language to establish dominance. So it makes sense that girls/women bullying would take the form of hurting another girl via manipulating their relationships.

Smirking Cat said...

Girls are raised to not only hate themselves, but also to compete with each other to gain the attention and approval of males in regards to appearnance, sexuality, and other fluffy traits, while trivializing their own and other females' opinions and ideas.

FilthyGrandeur said...

i always wondered why i connected better with men, and i realized in college that i didn't feel like i had to compete with anyone. being around girls in school, i was always anxious, being constantly judged by them. i realized that there isn't this pressure with male friends, and in a mixed group of men and women, i found i was trying to compete for male attention. now i'm older, and like, what the hell was i thinking??

Anonymous said...

thank you for this post

Anonymous said...

Women attack with words, an evolutionary tactic, generally women are smaller than men so in order to inflict damage on the other gender they use verbal and emotional abuse.

You can't get good at verbal abuse if you don't practice on someone, so they attack other girls when young.