NY Times on female cruelty (subscription req'd)
February 26, 2002 8:55 AM   Subscribe

NY Times on female cruelty (subscription req'd) This is an insightful examination of cruelty by girls struggling for power in complex Middle School social hierarchies. Many points made about "girls" here also apply to young adult women -- at least the ones I know. In our tabloidized, materialistic culture, might adult women abandon such behavior someday? Link posted by Voyageman on a discussion page yesterday. Thank you Voyageman.
posted by mcgraw (10 comments total)
What is of interest in the article is the distinction between what boys do (bully stuff) and girls (relational aggressiveness), and a lot of the latter is neatly brought into focus in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion--with great babes to look at.
Does Mcraw mean this takes place only in the US or in all industrialized nations or in various ways in other societies. The blame here seems to be upon our way of life. But others share this or aspire to it.
posted by Postroad at 8:59 AM on February 26, 2002

AsiaInsider's additional link in the comments section about alpha girls and power mentions a teen from Bulgaria who was quite familiar with this peculiar ritual.

And McGraw, adult women who grow up DO abandon such behavior. Speaking as a "survivor" of such rituals, it has nothing to do with tabloids and being materialistic, but everything to do with the cultural expectation of being "nice" and "not violent/aggressive" that young women pick up.

As an old boyfriend said, "You girls - you take everything so seriously. Guys just call each other an asshole and forget about it."
posted by xena at 9:22 AM on February 26, 2002

xena: Sounds like your old boyfriend wasn't the target of the male version of the rituals. We might not have vocalized our distress as much, and we might have called the tormentors assholes, but we haven't just forgotten about it. At least, not in my experience.
posted by bingo at 10:39 AM on February 26, 2002

All adults would stand to benefit if there were some method for training people in kinder, more truthful social habits in the 6th grade, when meanness and clique behavior start. It becomes pretty clear in the workplace that some people simply won't put up with "relational aggressiveness," and equally clear that there are other people will never be able to grow out of it.
posted by sheauga at 10:44 AM on February 26, 2002

It sounds to me like Wiseman is just perpetuating the problem, rather than doing anything to fix it. The viciousness is already there, and she's encouraging them to cough up even more of it, in an embarrassingly public forum. Why is there no instruction on what makes an acceptable apology? Why is she allowing them to use the apology sessions as another outlet for this aggression? It's like she's still in the middle of an experiment, and using these girls to mine new material rather than trying to make any kind of difference. Not only that, she's still participating in it- talking about what horrible little girls they are, how catty they are, and again, encouraging that behavior- she seems to relish it when these girls tear into each other. Adult sanctioned catfights, how very empowering.
posted by headspace at 11:09 AM on February 26, 2002

I think you're right, headspace. Wiseman should be shitcanned. Kill the queen before they hatch!
posted by dfowler at 12:08 PM on February 26, 2002

Man, I've never been happier about having been male in middle school and highschool, as well as being male now of course, than I am after reading that article. To sort of build on xena's ex-bf, when us guys wanted to hurt each other, we got into aruments and then fist fights and then we got over it and, half the time, repected the guy for swinging back. None of that indirect stuff.

I have a sister-in-law who is a High school counselor. not "guidance counselor", just a counselor. I used to wonder what the point was. After reading this article, I have more respect for what she does.

headspace: I think there's some value in discussing and offering guidance in these types of situations with those going through what is apparently a very tough time for girls.
posted by srw12 at 12:25 PM on February 26, 2002

I have a 12-yo daughter who has been on the receiving end of relational aggression and has learned to cope with it by not playing the game. She hangs out with the self-professed nerds now and she's very happy.

This is a great article and I'm forwarding it to a number of teachers I know. . .it gives a good frame of reference to a dynamic that anyone who has been around kids has seen.

I do not think that she's perpetuating the problem. . .she's holding up a mirror to these girls. Some will get it and some will not. But I think that the people who will most benefit are the girls who are "out." Hopefully they will see this and decide that there are better things to do than play the game.

My daughter learned this lesson very painfully (in the bathroom she was handed a "petition" signed by most of the members of her soccer team calling on her to quit) but for now she's learned it. So if other outsiders can learn it less painfully, I say hurray for people like Wiseman.
posted by Danf at 1:46 PM on February 26, 2002

I think there's a lot of value in teaching girls to understand the destructiveness of their behavior, as well as value in counselling the girls stuck on the receiving end of it. What I don't understand, and what makes me doubt Wiseman's motivations, is that she, the adult, already knows what kind of "apologies" she's going to get when she does these exercises. She knows they're going to have attack-apologies, why does she continue to solicit them? The girls who are being attacked have to suffer the abuse twice just to get to the actual lesson, and the girls on the attack get a conflicted message: go ahead and attack, no wait, that's not nice, stop it. In short, I think her goal is admirable, but I think her methods suck.
posted by headspace at 3:50 PM on February 26, 2002

Hopefully making up for my absurd double post today , here is Maureen Dowd's point of view captured in the International Herald Tribune, relating all this to grown women in business and politics.
posted by Voyageman at 10:58 AM on March 2, 2002

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