I read this rather interesting article today about the growing trend in girl bullies. It talks about how these bullies use psychological attacks to assert their superiority over their victims. The article also pointed out that it is typically girls with high self-esteem who perpetrate these acts, and the victim is selected because they received an honor the attacker did not (examples given include being elected to class office or being accepted to a cheerleading squad). According to the article, these events lead to a spark of jealousy that eventually causes the victim to be driven away from her friend.
So, now you’re probably looking at the title of this post and the description of this article and trying to figure out how the two connect. Let’s start by examining typically accepted female social interactions. Do you remember the old joke about girls always going to the bathroom together? This is the same idea. Women are naturally social, community-minded people. They want to work to support each other. In older times, this community bred sisterhood as women shared their experiences and their advice.
However, a change in the last century has also affected the dynamics of these groups. Where there might have been a respected elder in the past, there is now an alpha. Again, let’s start with a definition before looking at how this role affects the community dynamic. An Alpha, much like it is used in the non-human animal world, is a natural leader, recognized or otherwise. More than one Alpha in a group can often cause conflicts while the two Alphas sort out who will be the true Alpha for the group, although it is completely possible to have a group full of Alphas who figure out a way to exist peacefully with each Alpha having their own niche.
Please note that this alpha individual can be anyone in the group. In male groups, the alpha can often be defined by his need for power or superiority, or for his great wisdom, and it is often easy to discern the identity of the Alpha. In female groups, however, defining the Alpha is a bit trickier. More often than not, it a woman who has attained the respect of her peers and is looked to for advice. This seems very similar to the idea of the community elder discussed earlier. However, with women gaining a more equal footing with their male counterparts, they are also learning to play games by the men’s rules to continue to gain that footing.
These communities which once shared a bond of sisterhood and a hierarchy of elders and matrons now finds itself with a woman in search of her own power playing rather ruthlessly to get the power that she feels will further empower her. As the article points out, she is someone with a storng self-esteem. She also likely has a strong sense of self, which draws her companions to her in the hopes that some of that self-empowerment will rub off on them, too. And when the Alpha’s status is challenged by an up-and-coming Alpha, the Alpha’s response is to remove the threat. She can’t challenge her opposition to a friendly game of fisticuffs, as that would be unbecoming for a lady. To just shun someone in this day and age can have serious repercussions that are best avoided. So, the Alpha uses the last weapon in her arsenal: her leadership.
The Alpha sets an example to the rest of her community by starting to discredit the intended victim, understanding that as the others start to accept the discrediting comments as truth they will start to distance themselves from the victim. This, in turn, robs the victim of the security of the community, which is what has been a driving force for so many women. Without her community, without a support system to lean on, the victim goes to find another community to lean on. The Alpha’s job is complete. The threat is neutralized, and the Alpha can return to her happy status.
The article gives suggestions for how to watch for bullying or bullied behavior. It does little, however, to suggest suitable resolutions. These days, girls are being given every opportunity to become leaders in their fields, and yet they are no longer trained to handle issues politely, graciously, and delicately. Rather, they are bombarded with magazines filled with the latest gossip. They use online forums to post their own gossip, with little regard for facts or concern for how their words will hurt another.
Perhaps instead of promoting this behavior, we should be turning these girls toward better role models, better reading. They should be challenged from an early age to distinguish tabloid gossip from facts, to analyze these approaches from an emotional standpoint. As we refuse to tolerate boys fighting, we should also refuse to tolerate girls’ gossiping. The slam books from our own childhood that are starting to resurface for today’s generation need to be frowned upon. Instead, girls should be taught their written words are permanent and cannot be taken back, even if they are deleted.
As we guide boys to grow beyond the need to fight at the drop of a hat, we also need to guide girls to grow beyond the need to destroy someone through psychological games.