Sunday, March 25, 2012

New Book, New Things to Worry About

I've finally gotten a copy of Odd Girl Out, which was in 2002 the first book to really discuss girls' hidden aggressive behaviors. I'd heard of relational aggression before, and read Queen Bees and Wannabees a few years ago, but Odd Girl Out is definitely giving me new things to think (read: worry) about.

I'm pretty sure that Twelve isn't a victim of girl bullying. She is fairly witty and is relatively good at repartee - at least with all of us smartypants adults. She comes home happy every day, has never once balked at going to school unless she's actually sick, and has an observable track record of not bothering to participate when other kids are mean. All in all, I am pretty sure that she isn't hiding a life of misery at school.

Pretty sure.

Mostly sure, fairly certain that, almost positive, nearly a hundred percent, probably sure ... aaaarrrghhh!

I could ask Twelve, but I can tell you right now what the answer will be: A big sigh (I'm so put upon by my mom who keeps asking all these annoying questions) and a dismissive, disinterested "No, mom."

I asked Twelve a couple of months back (in a very convincing offhanded manner because it had actually just occurred to me at that moment) if anyone was ever mean to her. With a note of incredulity in her voice, she replied "Of course not. I'm a head taller than everyone else" (It's so obvious, mom).

Okay, so Twelve doesn't act like a bullying victim or think she is one. Good. But what if she's the perpetrator? This I really do doubt. I used to worry that Twelve, being so smart and all, might use her powers for evil and be a mean girl, but now I'm pretty sure (fairly certain, etc) that she's not going to go there. I'm only a few chapters into Odd Girl Out (okay, and I also skipped ahead and read the last chapter), but I have figured out this much: Bullies are insecure. All that emotional manipulation and meanness is just the expression of very small, very scared souls who need to feed on other people because they aren't confident in who they are. Twelve is nothing if not confident in herself.

This may change as adolescence progresses - yes, thank you, I am aware of that. I read about that in Reviving Ophelia just like you, thanks for the reminder. I know that perfectly well-adjusted girls become nervous, insecure wrecks when the hormones hit. But Twelve has not experienced this particular change yet. She still likes to do her homework and read and putter around her room and rearrange her miniature hand sanitizers and come in the living room to sit on my lap. So I am fairly (mostly, almost) confident in stating that Twelve is not a bully. She simply does not need to be.

I've found myself thinking something else, as Rachel Simmons relates the experiences of eight, nine, ten, eleven year old girls who had been horribly manipulated and abused by other girls, supposedly their friends: This doesn't resonate with me at all.

The reason that it shocks me to learn that girls have started training to be manipulative wretches in third grade is that I didn't go to third grade. I was home-schooled until the seventh grade, when I enrolled in the local junior high, so I was twelve before I learned that people are mean to each other for no reason. I was well acquainted with being mean to my little brother because he was being annoying, of course, but I was also practiced in expressing my annoyance to him. There was none of this behind-your-back, subtle, you have no idea what you've done to upset me bullshit. You knock over my Barbie bathroom, I'm gonna get you. Period.

I guess I just don't have much of a frame of reference for the type of undercover aggressive behaviors that Simmons describes. I hated junior high school because the popular girls made fun of my clothes and picked on me, but at least they were open about it! I was miserable, but I had no illusions about trying to maintain friendships with girls that were being so mean. The enemy was clearly identifiable, even if I didn't have the verbal or social skills to call a spade a spade and deal effectively with the situation - i.e., make them stop.

Here's what I hope for Twelve. I hope that she gives attempted bullies the same response that she gives me when I bring up, say, the constraints of conventionally constructed gender norms: Disinterest, shrug, eye roll, walk away. I hope that she acknowledges conflict in a straightforward fashion: Quit knocking over my Barbie bathroom! I hope that she remains confident enough in her own self that the mercurial opinions of others won't matter so much: Jane is playing jacks with Mary today instead of with me? No biggie, I'll hopscotch with Sue.

You know what? All evidence suggests that Twelve is already doing these things.

Next term, I think I'll make a point to check in with her teachers about this again, but for now I think I'm going to finish reading Odd Girl Out and try not to find anything new to worry about.

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