Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons

I initially debated reading this book. Having been on both the receiving and giving end of mean girl behavior in middle and high school (respectively), I wasn't sure that it could offer any insight past, "Wow, it really sucked that the girls I'd been friends with since kindergarten decided that being smart was un-cool in fifth grade and were so mean to me in sixth grade that I had to change schools," and "God, I was such a bitch in high school-- but at least no one messed with me." Most books about mean girls are long on wallowing and hand-wringing but short on cogent, logical explanations of why that behavior happens as well as how it can be mitigated or prevented in the future.

Needless to say, I was very pleasantly surprised by Odd Girl Out. Simmons not only discusses what it's like to be on the receiving end of female aggression, but also discusses what makes girls behave aggressively, portraying bullies in a fair but sympathetic light. Over and over, Simmons points out that it's possible to be both a victim and an aggressor, explaining the complicated dynamics that rule friendships between young girls. Her nuanced take on the issues involved is quite enlightening, as are the pages and pages of material she pulled from hundreds of hours of interviews with young girls and their families. In a particularly illuminating chapter ("She's All That"), she details an instance of aggression in which the "bully" member of a clique becomes shunned and tormented by her "victims," ultimately suffering a psychological and social breakdown.

Ultimately, Simmons makes a compelling argument that childhood female aggression, manifested in passive-aggressive behaviors like passing notes, mean looks, pointed exclusions, and rumor-spreading are the direct results of girls not being taught to express their anger productively. When "being nice" at all costs is hammered into someone's head over and over and over throughout their childhood, they become unable to articulate and cope with anger they may feel at a friend or acquaintance. Rather than setting a dispute immediately, girls allow their anger to fester, and seek out ways to hurt those who wronged them that won't interfere with their "nice girl" identity. The solution is therefore simple: abandon the ethics of niceness and teach girls to handle conflict productively. Easier said than done, no doubt, but Simmons makes a number of excellent, concrete recommendations to this end that have the potential to be quite successful.

Definitely worth reading. 4 out of 5 stars.

1 comment:

  1. Yay glad to see that you enjoyed this one! I remember liking it for the very reasons you mention :)