Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (Simmons)

I will say right up front that I love Simmons’ research. Her topic needs more voices. She’s not a great writer. Her knack for moving between anecdote and analysis is not always fluid, nor is the balance between the two. These writing issues make it challenging to read the book straight through, but her research and her suggestions are necessary for everyone who knows, works with, teaches girls. (On the cover, The Boston Globe tag reads, “Required reading for young girls and their mothers.” I’d say it ought to be required reading for everyone.) She asks key questions – what language do we have – as teachers, parents, and educators – to name and create policy about bullying? She writes, “Schools lack consistent public strategies for dealing with alternative aggressions. In the absence of a shared language to identify and discuss the behavior, student harassment policies are generally vague and favor acts of physical or direct violence” (35). I wanted to push back here. How do you make a rule about mean looks (one form of alternative aggression)? Or alliance building? How do you enforce them?

Not surprisingly, she has some words about the impact of the media. She argues that “[i]n a culture that cannot decide who it wants [girls] to be, girls are being asked to become the sum of our confusion. Girls make sense of our mixed messages by deciding to behave indirectly, deducing that manipulation — the sum or power and passivity – is the best route to power. The media reinforces this culture of indirection, prompting duplicity and evasion in girls” (116).

I also had the opportunity to hear her speak recently. She suggested a class activity that asks students to “Draw a picture of a bully.” I also liked that she had positive language. She is not just anti-bullying; she wants to cultivate relationships between and among girls based on healthy intimacy.

She believes that relationships are the fourth “r,” or that they should be.

She pointed out some problematic aspects of social media in that it allows you to put forward the best version of yourself, and it takes private relationships public. And kids, Simmons argues, are “relationship addicts.”

For parents, she had these pieces of advice –

“If your kids like your technology policy, you’re probably doing something wrong.”

“You can’t be the parent that is the friend.”

“We don’t want to be the parents we loved as teens.”

“If we, as adults, don’t look at ourselves, then we will continue to help push the emotions of girls underground.”

She wondered what would happen if we explored these two questions:

How does society expect a good girl to look and act? If girls meet the current cultural expectations for girls, where will their strong feelings go?

But Simmons is not only good at asking questions, she seeks to provide some suggestions. Chapter 9 contains plenty of suggested language to use (and avoid) with girls. She also cites The Ophelia Project and The Empower Program as excellent resources.



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