With a heavy heart (Odd Girl Out)


Odd Girl Out book coverAs anyone who has been anywhere near me recently is undoubtably sick of hearing, I just read this really great book. It's called Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. Basically, a writer took the time to talk to a bunch of groups of elementary-to-high school aged girls about how and why they are mean to each other. Teaching girls not to be aggressive, the author postulates (and I think she's right), backfires into girls putting their aggressions into all of this underhanded, backbiting meanness. Rather than just getting in an argument or a even a fight and getting it over with, girls spread rumors, exclude, keep secrets, use particular kinds of body language, "kill with kindness," etc. And it causes psychological damage that haunts us for the rest of our lives, sometimes sutble ways, sometimes in clear-cut ones, like abusive romantic relationships, self injury, and eating disorders.

Every single fucking thing in the book rang true to me, both from the perspective of the aggressor and from the perspective of the victim. The thing is, it didn't just ring true to my childhood memories, but to my interactions with women now. The fear of exclusion and of being talked trash about, the cliquishness, the jealousy, and the searing, barely hidden anger that underlies it all--it's all still here, and I am not at all sure that I am reacting to it any differently at 25 than I did at 15, or even at 5.

If it's here for me, is it here for other women? Is it poisoning our relationships with each other? Most importantly, how can we get past it? Can we talk about it without falling too deep down a well of recrimination? Can we lay our feelings at each other's feet, bare ourselves, and still live to tell about it? Can we learn to trust each other?

I'm caught up in trying to figure out what the first step could possibly be. The truth is that I am terrified of women. The truth is that I want more than anything else in the world to be able to love and cherish and trust other women, to be a part of a sisterhood, but I don't. And every time I think I am getting close, I get burned worse than the time before. And I don't know how to stop it, I don't know how to fight my way through the layers of bullshit that lie between me and my sisters. I keep trying, because really, what else can I do, but frankly I'm losing hope. We were taught from birth to fear each other, to hate each other, and to keep all of our rage to ourselves until we could find a suitably "feminine" outlet for it. We were doing it in kindergarten, and in middle school, and we're doing it now. How do we unlearn that? Individually and collectively, how do we get past what we've become?

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April 2012

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