Recently, I read the book “Odd Girl Out,” by Rachel Simmons which discusses how girls handle aggression and conflict in social situations. However, could we apply these same premises and definitions of aggression to women as well? According to Simmons, girls are described 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,” (2011, p. 16). There are several types of aggression that both girls and women exhibit and use in dealing with conflict or individuals that they believe have wronged them. Rational aggression often results in ignoring or excluding a target from social situations. “Social aggression is intended to damage self-esteem or social status within a group,” (Simmons, p. 21). However, in my experience, I have been the target of indirect aggression coupled with a mob mentality. “Indirect aggression allows the aggressor to avoid confronting her target. It is covert behavior in which the aggressor makes it seems as though there has been no intent to hurt at all. One way this is possible is by using others as vehicles for inflicting pain on a targeted person, such as by spreading a rumor,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 21). As with indirect aggression, a mob mentality develops where a target is singled out by multiple individuals lead by one ringleader. “Ganging up is the product of a secret relational ecosystem that flourishes in an atmosphere where direct conflict between individuals is forbidden,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 80).
How do girls and women accomplish their social exclusions of others? “To elude social disapproval, girls retreat beneath a surface of sweetness to hurt each other in secret,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 22). It appears that both women and girls have deep issues in dealing with conflict. We have been taught to be nice or as the saying goes, “Sugar and spice and everything nice.” However, what is the expense of expressing our feelings and emotions in an honest and truthful way with those that we feel have wronged us? Why do we insist on hiding our emotions behind covert aggression and false smiles that are designed to hurt one another? I believe this is just the cowardly way out of dealing with conflict and misunderstandings which could be simply dealt with by utilizing an open-minded conversation.
By covertly dealing with our aggression towards others and not dealing with conflict or wrongs that we believe have been set against us, are we then bottling our feelings and dealing with these situations with hurtful behavior? Are we then being a bully? Are we, by example, teaching our daughters to bully? Our culture expects women and girls to act with a level of social civility on the outside; however, on the inside we are exhibiting and expressing vengeful plots against one another. “The majority of female bullying incidents occur at the behest of a ringleader whose power lies in her ability to maintain a facade of girlish tranquility in the course of sustained, covert peer abuse,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 36).
As I have discussed when we ran into a situation of social bullying with our daughter, we tried to intervene the best way we knew how at the time, giving her what we believed were effective tools in confronting and dealing with the situation without our direct intervention. “Currently parents face unacceptable barriers to supporting their daughters through social crises,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 267). If we give our daughters the tools to talk with each other versus talking about or hurting each other, their worlds would be an emotionally safer place. “Parents will raise stronger daughters who can know their own experiences as a shared, common chapter, and still grow up to cherish other women,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 267). I believe to accomplish this we must lead by example to our daughters as we deal with conflict among our female peers. We must also show our daughters empathy and compassion when they approach us with a conflict situation. The key is not to overreact but to open a conversation with them, working through resolutions and means of dealing with the conflict striving towards a healthy solution. In the instance of social bullying and our daughter, in retrospect, there are many things we would have done much differently as a means of support for her and to bring the situation to a better outcome.
However, although this may sound easy, opening the conversation or dealing with the conflict directly is the most difficult step to take. Do we have the strength and courage to contact that individual that we believe has wronged us to open a conversation? What is our fear of direct confrontation? I do not mean confrontation in the negative sense, but in the sense of a dialogue. A resolution may not even be possible; however, is it worth a chance at peace? But if the damage has already been done, is it worth the effort? If a mob mentality has already been established, is contacting the ringleader a viable solution? What if you were the one wronged; what benefits are there in contacting that individual and openly dealing with the situation? To use a saying by a very good friend of mine, in my most humble opinion, contacting the individual that has wronged you, opening a direct conversation, is far more productive then reverting to the childish antics of any form of female aggression.
Again, would it not be easier just to talk matters out and deal with the conflict head on versus convert revengeful actions against one another? We teach by example, if we practice these covert actions as adults, what are we teaching girls, our daughters, about dealing with conflict and about dealing with each other? I highly recommend reading the book “Odd Girl Out,” as it provides excellent advice and insight into raising responsible, respectful and strong daughters.
To end, I could not decide between two quotes so I opted to include both as they are quite germane to the social situation of aggression in women and girls.
An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.
Simmons, R. (2011). Odd Girl Out – The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. New York, New York.