Saturday, November 28, 2009

Odd Girl Out, the Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons

When Rachel Simmons , a white middle class rhodes scholar, was eight years old she was bullied by another white middle class girl. while attending Vasser majoring in political science and women's studies she kept finding herself distracted by her childhood experience with her bully. So she decided to research girl on girl aggression and came up with next to nothing. Noticing that there where mountains of research on boy aggressions she found herself confused and at more of a loss. So she sent out an email asking women to describe there own experiences and a day later found her email box full from women recounting their personal horror stories. Next she began researching the culture of (white middle class) girl aggression by interviewing girls age 10-14 at different private and public schools.

This book is woven together by Rachel's interviews, one story after the other of girls describing how they are bullied. I found it interesting because i could relate to many of the stories and it made my own current experiences not seem so crazy. I kept thinking about Rachel being in a canoe with a ruler and pencil trying to map out an ocean that has never been charted before. Her in a union suit alone in a human powered water craft with simple means and tools trying to map out a massive and powerful body of water.

I'm glad i read this book, it was a place to turn to when trying to understand and manage dealing with white middle class grown women that have under developed emotional intellect and an inability to be assertive and direct. It gave me clues to how and why most grown white middle class women behave and socialize the way they do and it layed before me many of the problems that we face having relationships with other women. seriously a heavy read.


Tobi Vail said...

Hi Kanako. I wrote you about this a bit already, but I wanted to say that your post got me re-reading Woman's Inhumanity To Woman by Phyllis Chesler (see my earlier review)...since I got annoyed by the author I didn't read every chapter that thoroughly. While the problems are there, I think there is still some interesting, useful stuff in this book.
She tries to use research from different cultures and not just focus on white, middle class girls/women, but I feel she doesn't adequately situate the findings in terms of the different contexts. However, she does talk about Carol Gilligan's work on adolescent girls, claiming that her initial research from the 70s/80s was done on white, middle class girls, later studies were done on girls of color and girls from working class backgrounds. I haven't looked at this myself, but thought it might be worth exploring.
On the other hand, maybe exploring some post-colonial feminist theory or third world feminism as it's sometimes called might be helpful in getting a less biased picture...
Anyhow, Chesler's book is not a total waste of time, as I might have implied my review. It's actually a really well-researched, ambitious book. I just reacted strongly to it on an emotional level and had a hard time being rational about its limitations. It is also just hard for me to face this stuff, because it's really depressing...I just checked out Odd Girls Out from the library but I think I like Woman's Inhumanity To Woman a little better so far. x TV

Tobi Vail said...

Oh, I should say that from what I've read of Chesler's book so far, it is really pretty hetero-normative. Did you find that to be true for Odd Girl Out as well?

CO said...

really very interesting. thanks kanako! this may not be the time or the place but could you write about "the problems that we face having relationships with other women."

V. Ortuño said...

CO, "the problems that we face having relationships with other women" - issues I've witnessed are insecurities, jealousy, personal experiences, prejudice, in this case - bullying, to name a few. All these conundrums may pertain to both lesbian and straight women alike.

Tobi Vail said...

Odd Girl Out and Woman's Inhumanity To Woman examine "internalized sexism" or sexism between women. Odd Girl Out focuses on middle class white girls (the same group Carol Gilligan's early studies were done on) examining how girls are indirectly aggressive towards each other. This happens via shaming, excluding someone from a social click and pretending like nothing has happened, gossip which is intended as character assassination or to damage someone's 'virtuous' reputation, blanking someone and upholding standards in a social group where if someone is perceived as having more power than the other girls they are punished (and ultimately excluded)...this adolescent behavior in girls is often repeated by adult women who have not unlearned this behavior and works to uphold patriarchy. It occurs in groups of women and studies say that it does not matter whether or not someone is a self-defined feminist or not, it still happens. This is why this writing is so important! If women are going to build lasting alliances, friendships, bands, organization or work together on any level we need to address jealousy, competition, self-esteem issues, hostility, cattiness and learn to identify behaviors and patterns we learned as young women that uphold patriarchy.
Bikini Kill tried to come up with a set of positive values for girls as an alternative to what we were taught growing up, but riot grrl still was fraught with these problems. The Women's Liberation movement was as well, as has been widely documented.
This stuff runs very deep among (at least certain prileged groups) or women and girls in the West. It would be interesting to see if studies have been done on women in groups (including feminist or revolutionary movements) in other cultures as well as what the data says on girls/women of color in the US.
Woman's Inhumanity To Woman talks a lot about female competition for a male sexual partner as having evolutionary significance as a possible motive, yet the assumption here is that everyone is that also needs to be expanded on and addressed.