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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons

An Eye-Opening Book - A Must for Parents and Teachers

Published in 2011 by Mariner Books.
This is revised and updated from the 2002 edition.

Rachel Simmons' Odd Girl Out helped open up a mostly hidden world for me, a dad and 22 year teacher. Sure, I have lots of experience dealing with kids, but I was missing some of this subtle meanness because I am a guy and the minds of  most guys just don't work this way.

Since Simmons completed her original work she has become a teacher and she can now add the perspective of an outsider to the tone of her original book which was based on a series of interviews with girls from around the country in a variety of schools.  The basic concept of the book is that girls bully one another in a way that goes under the radar in schools and at home. Unlike the overt taunting and physical violence that often happens in male bullying, girl bullying is more sly and includes such actions as shunning, sharing secrets, building alliances of friends against other girls and more.

Simmons provides personal stories that illustrate her points - these are the product of hours and hours of interviews with groups of girls and individuals and even her own experiences (she was bullied - an experience she vividly remembered and she also participated in a bullying, an experience she had forgotten, but was vividly remembered by her victim). The book is immensely readable and tragically depressing - it is the most profound and the saddest book I have read this year. It has given me  more clarity on the experiences of my daughter and of the girls in my classroom.

While these actions are not nearly as visible as overt classical male-type bullying, they can be just as devastating because the very people that these girls trust the most end up betraying them. Simmons includes a helpful "What to do if..." type guide for parents and for teachers that is organized by topic.

Rachel Simmons
Simmons and I disagree as to the root causes for this style of bullying. She consistently blames American culture's expectations for how "good girls" behave which means that aggression and  disagreement are shunted into less overt channels because good girls do not argue, do not fight and do not bring up unpleasant topics of conversation. That may well be true, but the only way to determine it would be to undertake research like she has done here in other cultures. She thinks she has done this by looking at Hispanic and African American girls in a couple of schools, but as a teacher who has spent half of my career in urban school districts, I think she has missed the mark on that one. I think that it may be more of an innate thing in girls. In some girls, the need to keep a relationship, even a hurtful one, may be more important than the need to live without fear. Of course, my thoughts also would need to be proven in cross-cultural studies.

Regardless, this book is a must-read for parents, teachers and administrators.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Odd Girl Out.

Reviewed on October 22, 2011.

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