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Posted: Nov 20, 2008 08:41


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The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls
By: Rachel Simmons
San Diego, CA:Harcourt Books:2002
ISBN-10: 0156027342

Reviewed by: Lon Woodbury

The quest resulting in this book began when the author looked at the increased interest in bullying and steps to control it. Most references were to bullying done by boys, making it appear to be primarily a male problem. She then looked to see if there was something comparable happening in girls' lives.

Through interviews with dozens of girls and women, and referring to her own self reflection of her childhood, she concluded there was an equivalent amount of aggression in girls, but it manifested itself in a significantly different manner.

While aggression by boys manifests as bullying which tends to be "in your face," quite obvious and frequently physical, aggression by girls is very indirect, not obvious or physical, and can be missed even by an adult trained to watch for it.

She starts with the implication that the urge toward aggression seems comparable between the sexes. She then asserts that there are two major factors which influence girls differently than boys, causing radically different expressions of aggression.

One is that girls are socialized to always be nice and never show anger. The result is that a display of anger is never acceptable, no matter what a girl feels. The author makes the case that this is a very deep seated inhibition girls understand and accept as just the way girls should act. The other major factor is that girls, and especially teen-age girls, are focused on relationships, with having "best friends" not only being extremely important, but most girls will do anything or put up with almost anything to have friends and especially to maintain friendships.

This is fertile ground for a manipulative female and is especially powerful between "friends" due to the importance most girls place in friendships and relationships. It can manifest itself in numerous ways that could be viewed as a type of shunning--suddenly ignoring another girl, a threat of cutting off an important friendship, or "talking behind her back," or silent glares, all done within the context of acting nice and as friends. These acts can have the impact of isolating the "victim." They make her wonder what she has done wrong to deserve this kind of treatment and can be devastating to the girl.

She reports dozens of interviews with girls who had suffered from these indirect "aggressions" whose lives were made miserable, often crying themselves to sleep every night. What she found to be even worse is that adult women who might understand this aggressive impulse from their own personal experience as young girls usually totally miss what is going on and are thus unable to provide any kind of support for the "victim."

The author calls for more study and recognition of this female form of "aggression," aiming at a greater understanding so steps can be taken to reduce this cause of misery. She also recommends better education to young girls that anger is not something to be hidden but to be accepted as a normal part of living. The author says that a major source of this "hidden aggression" is the refusal to acknowledge their own anger, which then just comes out in hidden and harmful ways.

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