Where do girls learn relational aggression? Let’s look at how we socialize our girls. We tell them not to hit. We tell them not to raise their voice. We tell them anger is bad. How then do we expect them to release frustration, anger, resentment, jealousy? When boys engage in fist fights or blow their tops, people say: “well, boys will be boys” When a girl hits, or screams people say: “what is her problem? She needs to see a psychiatrist.”
Why are girls and boys treated so differently? Girls are, in general, more verbal. They use words earlier and learn the impact of those words at an earlier stage in development than boys do. We encourage girls to pursue quiet things: playing with dolls, arts and crafts, playing house or school. In sports there too the girls are encouraged to be cooperative, not aggressive. We leave them feeling like having a negative thought or feeling is a bad thing.
So when those negative feelings of jealously, anger, hurt arise, they only have one outlet left to them. Verbal intimidation, name calling, rumor spreading, cyberbullying, taunting, excluding are the natural tools a girl has in her arsenal. Body language is also an important aspect of relational aggression. Girls roll their eyes, toss their hair, waggle their head, giggle, slump, bat their eye lashes, give “the look” and so on.
By the time a girl is in third grade, she has perfected all of these modes of communication. The clique is well on it’s way to being in place by third grade as well. The clique leader, or “queen bee” as Rosalind Wiseman has named her (Queen Bees and Wannabes, Three Rivers Press, 2003) rules her court with an iron tongue. She can butter up a teacher one minute and put a girl down the very next. She determines who is in, who is out. The rules she makes regarding membership, clothing, hair, friendships, weight, even the courses a girl signs up to take, are all carefully monitored by the next in command who reports back to the queen bee and carries out her orders. The banker, another queen bee sidekick, keeps information on a variety of people, from the targeted victim, all the way up to the principal. This information is often kept in a journal like book referred to by many names but most often called a “burn book”. Having your name mentioned in this type of book is definitely not a good thing.
So, where do girls learn this stuff? It’s really not hard to find the source. Watch any mother-daughter interaction and you can tell right away if the girl is likely to be mistreating classmates and friends. Mothers and other important people in a girls life have an enormous influence on the girls future behavior. Take the following incident for example:
One day I was standing in a rather long line in the grocery store. Ahead of me was a mother with two children wearing soccer uniforms- one a boy and one a girl. Mom could not stay off the phone for more than 10 seconds. There was an elderly lady ahead of them. She slowly unloaded her cart, carefully went through her coupons and when the time came to pay, she carefully wrote out her check.
The mother in front of me was clearly annoyed. She tapped her foot, drummed her nails on the cart handle, and sighed loudly. Then she began complaining to her children about people not willing to live in the 21st century. The three of them were not worried in the least about being overheard as they whined about how long this was taking and how they were going to be late and why can’t people use credit cards like everyone else?…and on and on and on. I can’t tell you how proud I was of the cashier who held the check for this sweet little lady and how she told her not to worry and to take her time. She became increasingly more shaky as this family tantrum continued behind her. As she exited the line the mother in front of me practically ran her cart into the lady. My daughter and I loudly discussed how sweet and gentle the lady looked, how much she reminded us of my late mother who also never learned to use a check card and how incredibly rude some people are when they cannot give an elderly lady respect. If the family ahead of us heard, they took no notice (although the cashier and the folks behind us smiled and agreed). Perhaps we too were beneath them.
It is clear from this illustration, that this mother was teaching her children, her daughter in particular, that treating others as inferior to herself was appropriate. Her time was more important. She demonstrated the three components of bullying more perfectly than almost any child could
Bullying is defined as :
“a person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”
-Dan Olweus, author The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program
There are three important components in this definition:
- Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted negative actions
- Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time
- Bullying is an imbalance of power or strength
Bullying can take on many forms:
- Verbal: including derogatory comments and bad names
- Social: exclusion or isolation
- Physical: such as hitting, kicking, shoving and spitting
- Lies and rumors
- Money taken or belongings damaged
- Threatening or forcing someone to do things
- Racial slurs
- Sexual comments
- Cyberbullying (via cell phone or internet)
The mother in the example repeatedly tried to verbally intimidate the geriatric in front of her. By her physical size, youth, age and vocal ability, she wielded power over her. Her verbal intimidation was aggressive and negative and was definitely not something the lady wished to be on the receiving end of. Undoubted she treats other people this way as well.
People often misunderstand bullying as something that has to be repeated over time to the same person…I disagree. A person who bullies can victimize several people over a long period or short period of time. It’s their inappropriate behavior not the victim’s which is the focus of bullying.