Okay Kerc...here's what I wrote...beware this is really long!
The issue of girls and bullying is a complicated problem involving so many different issues, including but not limited to: age of onset, feelings of self worth, emotional intelligence, coping skills, verbal skills, insight, family dynamics, family/individual stress, impact of media/mainstream society, the atmosphere of the school, etc.
I believe teasing/bullying starts much younger than most parents realize. In fact as a larger problem I believe it starts easily in the fourth grade, but there’s evidence of problems much earlier. I do think different regions may impact the time of onset.
We are socializing our girls to behave in this “pecking order” manner. I say pecking order because I think this is a big crux of this issue. There are several reasons, but to start, because we (society, media, some families) place such an emphasis on looks and popularity as attributes of worthiness for our girls, they then may resort to harsh means to obtain this power. Not only do they go to lengths to make themselves fit this mold, but also then to try and undermine others in an attempt to elevate oneself further is the easiest strategy to make you top chicken (so to speak). This undermining may be picking on the girls that do not adhere to mainstream mores or just your average Jane who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The average Jane’s reaction though is paramount, which I talk about later. Media supports this stratified value system, and frankly benefits greatly from it. Think about it, if they can sell an image they will use whatever means necessary to do so…even if that means making your little girl feel a little less without her Susy Q lunchbox, so be it, the mighty dollar rules. Supply and Demand. If they can create this by making Janey seem lame without it, well there it is again. Then there’s the cover of magazines. These are not even real people! They are so modified using airbrush and Photoshop techniques that increasingly these images look more like mannequins than people. Check out this link: http://homepage.mac.com/gapodaca/dig...e/blonde1.html
, and this one: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/20...540121180.html
. So now we have this unrealistic image that we are trying to live up to, to attain, this image that further erodes our feelings of worthiness due to its’ focus on our “lacks” and the diminishing belief in our own beauty (inside and out). Finally, add the easy means of comparing ourselves to our peers to see how we stack up, with the negative side effect of always finding ourselves lacking, throw in “Alpha Bitch” who makes certain of it. Finally, look at what sells entertainment-wise, Drama. Females being catty, fighting over men, fighting for status…The more drama a show can deliver the better the ratings. And our girls are eating this up, using it as a primer on how to be cool.
So, now that we’ve created a fertile ground of insecurity, let’s add reality to the mixture. A child whose needs may not be fully met. Parents in the midst of a contentious divorce, death in the family, etc., both normal and beyond normal stressors. This child then has feelings that perhaps she struggles with communicating and coping. Instead she may choose one of two routes, one to be the bully, to maintain her sense of power and control by influencing others, or alternatively when targeted unable to respond in a manner that eliminates or at least decreases the bullying. There are things that we do that make us more “target-able.” Not that I’m saying blame the victim, absolutely not. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and shouldn’t. But if I give a big reaction to some girl who called me “wide-load,” well I’ve given her exactly what she’s wanting, power over my emotions and behavior. Now knowing she has this power, she will come to me again and again when she needs a boost, wants to make her friends laugh, or is simply bored. And of course there’s that girl, the one who bullies because she learned at a young age that it works. It kept people around her either through amusement, fear, or personal insecurities preventing their going it alone. This is not the girl that is having self worth issues, or family problems per se. That is not to say they are mutually exclusive. It is more though that there are those girls out there for which this is a system that works and it is not a reaction to something within them or their families.
To speak about the other side of the coin, the target is essential. I do not believe we can change the mean girls without changing how as targets we react. I think our girls are more target-able when their self-worth isn’t optimal, or when they feel disconnected or isolated. When they have such a huge need for belonging that it alters their choices and behaviors. That they alter themselves trying to fit in. Other factors include their ability to have insight both into their own thoughts, feelings, and reactions, as well as others including their tormentors. If I know that someone is trying to upset me to make others laugh to elevate themselves, then I also know it has nothing to do with me and I can ignore what they are saying about me. It is a rare child that can do this. Typically the reaction is one of hurt, surprise, and dismay. But this is an opportunity for us as parents to help them see more clearly what is going on in the situation, an opportunity to work on critical thinking skills. To help them evaluation the situation more objectively and determine what exactly are this girls goals. It is important to help our girls realize that often times teasers/bullies just keep trying random things until they hit something that is hurtful and garners a reaction. So, how comfortable we are with ourselves has a huge impact on how likely we are to react. If you were to tease me about being short you would get no reaction, but had you teased me about weight while growing up, well you would’ve scored. That is then where all future teasing would be directed. What makes this so easy to see for me as an adult is that being called “wide load” as a teenager and now looking back at my ridiculously skinny teenage self really highlight the randomness of the teasing and the fact it was more about the teaser than me. So, the more comfortable we are, the less we feel the need to fit in (a huge drive for many women, fueled by insecurities, society, and media) and the less likely we are to be concerned with what others have to say, especially if they are not someone close to us. But, we all have insecurities and sometimes it really is just a matter of putting on a poker face to prevent others from recognizing they’ve hit home.
So to try and summarize my soapbox diatribe… I think as a society we are creating this problem. I truly believe that if we could teach our girls to abandon this idea of a hierarchy we would empower women to a level unimaginable. To be able to work in community would be astounding. I think that a lot of girls when they engage in this behavior they are experimenting with how to elevate themselves. I think others are genuinely hurting and are lashing out in an attempt to diffuse their own anger/uncomfortable feelings. And I think there are others though that this is a system that works and they lack the empathy to see what they are doing. We make ourselves more target-able by our reactions. The better we feel about ourselves and the better we can refrain from reaction, the less likely we are to be targeted. However, sometimes though just because you are so amazing is exactly why you are targeted. Remember it’s not really about you though, it’s about this persons feeling of lack, whether it be power, or self worth. How many times has an attractive woman walked by and under your breath either in seriousness or jest have you muttered, “skinny bitch”? I guess the bottom line is, we take a fragile human being and attack them on multiple levels, set up a system of hierarchy that ensures heartache, and fail to teach them the skills they need to combat others deficits and resultant actions.
So what are my thoughts on how to address this issue? Eliminate as much media impact as possible, TV, glam magazines, etc. Talk about beauty coming in all shapes and sizes and without parameters. Working to understand others perspectives. When someone does something hurtful talk about her thoughts and reactions, process those and figure out what she would like to do about her feelings. But then talks about what we thought the other person’s goals were. Depending on their age, help her see that sometimes we change our reactions based on what we perceive the others goals. For example if I think Susy wants to hurt my feelings, I may not say to her, “Susy it hurts my feelings when…” and instead may say, “not cool Susy,” or say nothing at all. I hope to help her recognize true friends and how to be a true friend. And mostly that she lives in such a way that she can feel good about herself. And of course to role-play what to do when kids are mean and when to involve adults.
Reviving Ophelia – Mary Pipher
Queen Bees and Wannabees – Wiseman (I couldn’t actually get through this one, and really what I did get was just the idea of a pecking order, which I already knew).
Ophelia Speaks: adolescent girls write about their search for self – Sara Shandler – I haven’t read this but it’s a response to Pipher’s book and looks really interesting.
One Hundred Dresses – per Bec’s recommendation