More on female bullying


In the comments to that last post regarding It's a Girls World, my friend Scand asked an interesting question. As I have been a bully myself, what would I have said I was angry about, if asked, during my bullying days?

I wish I had an answer. But I don't. Part of the problem is that my experiences with bullying, both as a victim and a perpetrator, are very hazy. I know I came home from school crying and never wanted to go back and had no friends at times, and I know I participated in a "slam book" and was a terror to other girls at other times, but I don't have any really specific memories--certainly no memories that are clear enough that I can tap into how I felt at the time.

I'm surprised by how clear man women's memories of their childhood bullies seem to be, and I wonder what it means that mine aren't. I honestly don't feel like I was scarred for life by being bullied as a child. It was horrible at the time, I'm sure, but I don't think I suffer from it as an adult. Many women clearly do. What made my experiences different? Was it just that I didn't undergo the kind of terrorizing that some women did? Or is it that I was sometimes on the other side as well?

As I mentioned in my previous post, I believe that one of the root causes of female-to-female bullying and aggression is unresolved anger. Women aren't allowed to be angry, and we have ever so much to be angry about. I think this is part of the reason girls who don't fit a stereotypically feminine mold are often singled out for aggression--they make a good target for other girls who wish, consciously or not, that they didn't have to fit that mold either. Even as an adult, with what I hope is more awareness of my motives and behavior than I had as a child, I can sometimes feel myself becoming angry and resentful at women who are somehow able to live outside of boundaries I feel corralled by. Could the same thing that makes me resentful as an adult have made me a bully as a child? Is that part of the equation?

As I mentioned before, there seem to be two current leading theories of why girls bully each other. The first is Simmons' theory, that girls are not taught how to argue or fight in a healthy way and so they begin to act in mean, petty, passive-aggressive ways. The second, discussed in Leora Tanenbaum's Catfight, is that female aggression is based largely on competition. Women and girls are nasty to each other out of jealousy and competition for scarce resources (time, jobs, men, whatever). Tanenbaum's reasoning resounds with me as much as Simmons' does, but again, I think there is more to it. I think it may be less about "scarce resources" and more about resentment of other girls and women who seem to be getting off easier when it comes to being female.

I truly believe that just being born female in this world is enough to keep you mad for a lifetime. The unending, heartbreaking unfairness of it is enough weight all by itself to piss me off, before any details even come into play. As women, we are reminded a thousand times a day that we are considered inferior, and that everything is going to be harder for us simply by virtue of our sex. So perhaps seeing other women seem to deal with it easier, not be bothered by it, or fit naturally into roles that we have to contort ourselves into feeds into this anger, and we (wrongly) target those women for being better contortionists, rather than blaming the guys who created the boxes.

It's not a perfect theory by any means, but instinctively it feels reasonable to me. As a 27 year-old woman who has given a lot of time and thought to being a woman, I can admit that I'm angry all the time. Every day. And it is a lot to carry around. I hope that I don't take it out on other women, but if I am honest with myself, I know at times I have. And how much harder is it if you can't admit that you're mad? Or if you don't even know you're mad, or you do, but you have no idea why? It's not really surprising that the helplessness and confusion leads to misguided rage.

But how to get beyond the rage--or, better yet, use it for something constructive? That's the real question. And I still don't have an answer. For myself, all I can do is try to take people one at a time, for who they are. Try to err on the side of kind. But I know it's not enough. It's never enough.

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April 2012

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