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Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of…

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls (2002)

by Rachel Simmons

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The newly revised and updated edition of Odd Girl Out is a must have for every person who is parenting or educating a girl.

This was the first book I grabbed once my fall classes were over. Why? I think it's because I have a daughter. She's eight and in the 3rd grade and we've already had two incidents involving bullying. The first was in preschool and the second was last year. Both incidents were handled by teachers are administrators in a manner that Simmons suggests in Chapter 12: the road ahead for teachers and administrators. That chapter gives some wonderful suggestions on how to set up a school or even a classroom to be as bully-proof as possible. Obviously no place can be bully-proof, but one thing that Simmons points out is that one way to address bullying is to have a transparent and predictable system of consequences. If a student knows that Sally and Maria are the teacher's favorite and nothing they do gets them in real trouble, that student feels disempowered to act and report bullying she may be experiencing or witnessing. Having a consistent system of consequences also sends a clear message to students who bully that it will not be tolerated.

Simmons doesn't advocate for a zero-tolerance policy that gets 7-year-olds expelled, rather a zero-tolerance policy that is just that, zero-tolerance for bullying a classmate.

Three themes really struck me as key things to remember from this book.

One is that schools have relied on girls to maintain a certain peace for years.

And second is that this peace that we see in girls is really silence. Society teaches girls to silence their feelings in order to "be good."

Bullying is not just how girls are. Not if we decide that it ends today. HERE. NOW. When we teach our girls to get over it, that "that's how life is, wait until your boss is a bully," we are teaching our girls to ignore that voice in their head and heart that says, "This is wrong. Walk away."

The last theme is one that a friend and I were discussing a few weeks ago. Why are women afraid to promote themselves? I know that I can look back at my childhood and know that being "all that" was frowned upon. Pride in one's work could only be taken so far. Simmons really digs into how promoting oneself breaks one of the cardinal rules of being a girl -- fit in. You can't fit in if you let people know how awesome you are.

Simmons updated her book to include a great chapter on cyberbullying. If you don't have time to read the whole book, skip right to chapter four: bff 2.0: cyberbullying and cyberdrama and chapter nine: parents speak. But you really should read the whole thing.

Warning women reading this will experience flashbacks to high school. Men who read this may have a lot of WTF moments

Read the full review at my blog, Viva la Feminista.
  roniweb | May 30, 2019 |
As a teacher of grades 7-9 I can assure you girls are more aggressive than boys, never forgive, and are very underhanded. If you have a daughter, you must read this book. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
Rachel Simmons says that, "There is a hidden culture of girls' aggression in which bullying is epidemic, distinctive, and destructive." Adolescent female culture consists of manipulation, treachery, and strained niceties, which she calls “alternative aggressions.” To research and interview girls about bullying in Odd Girl Out, Simmons spent over three years in a total of 10 different schools. The schools were in two urban areas and a small town. She interviewed more than 300 girls and 50 women. Many of the interviews consisted of discussion groups with girls in schools.

Simmons offers a detailed portrait of how "alternative aggression" is used by girls as a weapon to control and bully other girls and the damage it inflicts on the victims self esteem. Simmons feels that societal restraints on girls expressing negative feelings or anger helps perpetuate the vicious cycle of bullying. Simmons writes, "it forces their aggression into nonphysical, indirect, and covert forms. Girls use backbiting, exclusion, rumors, name-calling, and manipulation to inflict psychological pain on target victims."

With many examples of the pain and isolation bullying causes, Simmons makes an impassioned plea that no form of bullying be permitted. She has one chapter discussing better ways to respond to a girl being bullied and open up communication between parent and child. Odd Girl Out includes chapter notes, an extensive bibliography, and an index.

While I found Odd Girl Out extremely interesting, I also noted several weaknesses. The most obvious weakness is in the lack of professional data. Simmons uses the stories/interviews of girls to support her conclusions, but these stories are merely narratives, not hard data. The other major weakness is the lack of any course of action and specific responses that need to be taken. Since it was originally published in 2002, I would hope that a more detailed course of action has been researched and is being implemented.

Although the many stories and interviews of victims and bullies might be helpful for those who need to feel they are not alone, I did become a bit weary of all the stories of victims. Just take note that all the interviews might not be for everyone. And if you are a teacher, you might feel Simmons is simplifying the dynamics of the school setting and unfairly targeting you as ineffective.

Additionally, Simmons herself noted another weakness. She "neglected to talk with more girls who do feel comfortable with anger and conflict." There are girls who will stick up for themselves and don't participate in the power play of these bullies. I was one of those girls. I would have also fit the description of one girl who said, "the quieter you are, the better off you are." I was quiet, but if someone tried to bully me I wouldn't tolerate it. (Perhaps it explains why my best friends were always boys.)

Finally, I think Simmons should have noted that many of the behaviors these girl bullies exhibit are carried into adulthood. There are plenty of women who still try to manipulate other woman. I'd call it passive/aggressive behavior rather than Simmon's "alternative aggression" but it's the same thing. Perhaps the only difference is that fewer adult woman tolerate that behavior in others.

Highly Recommended - those of you who feel the pain of being bullied or have a daughter being bullied might appreciate it the most. http://shetreadssoftly.blogspot.com/

( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
JP in seventh grade. We broke up because of a note and my period. I don't remember what was in the note. TR in fifth grade. She stopped talking to me, and would never tell me why. Then she forgot what I did. MR in eighth grade. We were mean to her. She was in, then she was out, then in, we were MEAN. Iris in third grade. Iris the virus. I'm sorry.

( )
  usefuljack | May 17, 2013 |
JP in seventh grade. We broke up because of a note and my period. I don't remember what was in the note. TR in fifth grade. She stopped talking to me, and would never tell me why. Then she forgot what I did. MR in eighth grade. We were mean to her. She was in, then she was out, then in, we were MEAN. Iris in third grade. Iris the virus. I'm sorry.

( )
  usefuljack | May 17, 2013 |
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The Linden School campus is nestled behind a web of sports fields that seem to hold at bay the bustling city in which it resides.
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Odd Girl Speaks Out is the sequel to Odd Girl Out.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156027348, Paperback)

There is little sugar but lots of spice in journalist Rachel Simmons's brave and brilliant book that skewers the stereotype of girls as the kinder, gentler gender. Odd Girl Out begins with the premise that girls are socialized to be sweet with a double bind: they must value friendships; but they must not express the anger that might destroy them. Lacking cultural permission to acknowledge conflict, girls develop what Simmons calls "a hidden culture of silent and indirect aggression."

The author, who visited 30 schools and talked to 300 girls, catalogues chilling and heartbreaking acts of aggression, including the silent treatment, note-passing, glaring, gossiping, ganging up, fashion police, and being nice in private/mean in public. She decodes the vocabulary of these sneak attacks, explaining, for example, three ways to parse the meaning of "I'm fat."

Simmons is a gifted writer who is skilled at describing destructive patterns and prescribing clear-cut strategies for parents, teachers, and girls to resist them. "The heart of resistance is truth telling," advises Simmons. She guides readers to nurture emotional honesty in girls and to discover a language for public discussions of bullying. She offers innovative ideas for changing the dynamics of the classroom, sample dialogues for talking to daughters, and exercises for girls and their friends to explore and resolve messy feelings and conflicts head-on.

One intriguing chapter contrasts truth telling in white middle class, African-American, Latino, and working-class communities. Odd Girl Out is that rare book with the power to touch individual lives and transform the culture that constrains girls--and boys--from speaking the truth. --Barbara Mackoff

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:53 -0400)

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Identifying the subtle means by which girls behave aggressively toward one another, a guide for young women, parents, teachers, and school administrators examines specific behaviors while explaining the importance of enabling girls to express anger and resolve conflicts.… (more)

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