Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

by Rachel Simmons

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When boys act out, get into fights, or become physically aggressive, we can't avoid noticing their bad behavior. But it is easy to miss the subtle signs of aggression in girls—the dirty looks, the taunting notes, or the exclusion from the group-that send girls home crying.
In Odd Girl Out, Rachel Simmons focuses on these interactions and provides language for the indirect aggression that runs through the lives and friendships of girls. These exchanges take place within intimate circles—the importance of friends and the fear of losing them is key. Without the cultural consent to express their anger or to resolve their conflicts, girls express their aggression in covert but damaging ways. Every generation of women can tell stories of being bullied, but Odd Girl Out explores and explains these experiences for the first time.
Journalist Rachel Simmons sheds light on destructive patterns that need our attention. With advice for girls, parents, teachers, and even school administrators, Odd Girl Out is a groundbreaking work that every woman will agree is long overdue. 6 X 9.

About the Author

Rachel Simmons graduated from Vassar College in 1996, where she studied Women's Studies and Political Science. In 1998, she received a Rhodes Scholarship from New York State to study at Oxford University where she began her research of female bullying and the psychology of girls. She has worked in politics in Washington and New York City and currently lives in Brooklyn.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402527876
Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date: 07/28/2002
Edition description: Unabridged, 7 cass., 12 hrs. 15 min.
Pages: 25
Product dimensions: 4.30(w) x 6.10(h) x 2.70(d)

About the Author

RACHEL SIMMONS, best-selling author of Odd Girl Speaks Out and The Curse of the Good Girl, is an educator and cofounder of the Girls Leadership Institute. A Rhodes Scholar, she has appeared on Today, Oprah, and other major shows, including her own PBS special, and writes frequently for Teen Vogue.

Read an Excerpt

The Hidden Culture Of Aggression In Girls

The Linden School campus is nestled behind a web of sports fields that seem to hold at bay the bustling city in which it resides. On Monday morning in the Upper School building, students congregated languidly, catching up on the weekend, while others sat knees-to-chest on the floor, flipping through three-ring binders, cramming for tests. The students were dressed in styles that ran the gamut from trendy to what can only be described, at this age, as defiant. Watching them, it is easy to forget this school is one of the best in the region, its students anything but superficial. This is what I came to love about Linden: it celebrates academic rigor and the diversity of its students in equal parts. Over the course of a day with eight groups of ninth graders, I began each meeting with the same question: "What are some of the differences between the ways guys and girls are mean?"

From periods one through eight, I heard the same responses. "Girls can turn on you for anything," said one. "Girls whisper," said another. "They glare at you." With growing certainty, they fired out answers:
"Girls are secretive."
"They destroy you from the inside."
"Girls are manipulative."
"There's an aspect of evil in girls that there isn't in boys."
"Girls target you where they know you're weakest."
"Girls do a lot behind each other's backs."
"Girls plan and premeditate."
"With guys you know where you stand."
"I feel a lot safer with guys."

In bold, matter-of-fact voices, girls described themselves to me as disloyal, untrustworthy, and sneaky. They claimed girls use intimacy to manipulate and overpower others. They said girls are fake, using each other to move up the social hierarchy. They described girls as unforgiving and crafty, lying in wait for a moment of revenge that will catch the unwitting victim off guard and, with an almost savage eye-for-an-eye mentality, "make her feel the way I felt."

The girls' stories about their conflicts were casual and at times filled with self-hatred. In almost every group session I held, someone volunteered her wish to have been born a boy because boys can "fight and have it be over with."

Girls tell stories of their anger in a culture that does not define their behaviors as aggression. As a result, their narratives are filled with destructive myths about the inherent duplicity of females. As poet and essayist Adrienne Rich notes,2 "We have been depicted as generally whimsical, deceitful, subtle, vacillating."

Since the dawn of time, women and girls have been portrayed as jealous and underhanded, prone to betrayal, disobedience, and secrecy. Lacking a public identity or language, girls' nonphysical aggression is called "catty," "crafty," "evil," and "cunning." Rarely the object of research or critical thought, this behavior is seen as a natural phase in girls' development. As a result, schools write off girls' conflicts as a rite of passage, as simply "what girls do."

What would it mean to name girls' aggression? Why have myths and stereotypes served us so well and so long?

Aggression is a powerful barometer of our social values. According to sociologist Anne Campbell, attitudes toward aggression crystallize sex roles, or the idea that we expect certain responsibilities to be assumed by males and females because of their sex.3 Riot grrls and women's soccer notwithstanding, Western society still expects boys to become family providers and protectors, and girls to be nurturers and mothers. Aggression is the hallmark of masculinity; it enables men to control their environment and livelihoods. For better or for worse, boys enjoy total access to the rough and tumble. The link begins early: the popularity of boys is in large part determined by their willingness to play rough. They get peers' respect for athletic prowess, resisting authority, and acting tough, troublesome, dominating, cool, and confident.

On the other side of the aisle, females are expected to mature into caregivers, a role deeply at odds with aggression. Consider the ideal of the "good mother": She provides unconditional love and care for her family, whose health and daily supervision are her primary objectives. Her daughters are expected to be "sugar and spice and everything nice." They are to be sweet, caring, precious, and tender.

"Good girls" have friends, and lots of them. As nine-year-old Noura told psychologists Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan, perfect girls have "perfect relationships."4 These girls are caretakers in training. They "never have any fights...and they are always together....Like never arguing, like 'Oh yeah, I totally agree with you.'" In depressing relationships, Noura added, "someone is really jealous and starts being really mean....[It's] where two really good friends break up."

A "good girl," journalist Peggy Orenstein observes in Schoolgirls, is "nice before she is anything else-before she is vigorous, bright, even before she is honest." She described the "perfect girl" as the girl who has no bad thoughts or feelings, the kind of person everyone wants to be with....[She is] the girl who speaks quietly, calmly, who is always nice and kind, never mean or bossy....She reminds young women to silence themselves rather than speak their true feelings, which they come to consider "stupid," "selfish," "rude," or just plain irrelevant.5

"Good girls," then, are expected not to experience anger. Aggression endangers relationships, imperiling a girl's ability to be caring and "nice." Aggression undermines who girls have been raised to become.

Calling the anger of girls by its name would therefore challenge the most basic assumptions we make about "good girls." It would also reveal what the culture does not entitle them to by defining what nice really means: Not aggressive. Not angry. Not in conflict.

Research confirms that parents and teachers discourage the emergence of physical and direct aggression in girls early on while the skirmishing of boys is either encouraged or shrugged off.6 In one example, a 1999 University of Michigan study found that girls were told to be quiet, speak softly, or use a "nicer" voice about three times more often than boys, even though the boys were louder. By the time they are of school age, peers solidify the fault lines on the playground, creating social groups that value niceness in girls and toughness in boys.

The culture derides aggression in girls as unfeminine, a trend explored in chapter four. "Bitch,""lesbian," "frigid," and "manly" are just a few of the names an assertive girl hears. Each epithet points out the violation of her prescribed role as a caregiver: the bitch likes and is liked by no one; the lesbian loves not a man or children but another woman; the frigid woman is cold, unable to respond sexually; and the manly woman is too hard to love or be loved.

Girls, meanwhile, are acutely aware of the culture's double standard. They are not fooled into believing this is the so-called post-feminist age, the girl power victory lap. The rules are different for boys, and girls know it. Flagrant displays of aggression are punished with social rejection.

Table of Contents


Chapter One The Hidden Culture Of Aggression In Girls
Chapter Two Intimate Enemies
Chapter Three The Truth Hurts
Chapter Four She's All That
Chapter Five The Bully In The Mirror
Chapter Six Popular
Chapter Seven Resistance
Chapter Eight Parents And Teachers
Chapter Nine The Road Ahead

Reading Group Guide

1. More than once in the Introduction to Odd Girl Out, author Rachel Simmons refers to her book as a "journey." What kind(s) of journey-taking is she suggesting? And what sort of journey did you, as a reader, experience? Where did this book take you? Someplace new? Someplace familiar? Both? Explain.

2. Simmons bases much if not most of her data in Odd Girl Out on interviews and visits she conducted over a one-year period with girls from ten different American schools. As a class, identify, describe, and discuss these schools. Which school is most like your own-and how so? Which is least like your own-and why?

3. Near the beginning of Chapter Three, Simmons writes: "Girls don't have to bully [to] alienate and injure their peers...The word bullying couldn't be more wrong in describing what some girls do to hurt one another." Why does the author find this term inadequate? What other term(s) would you use instead? In addressing these queries as a class, reflect on both your own experiences and the idea of "alternate aggressions" (which is explored throughout this book).

4. Look again at the Ideal Girl/Anti-Girl chart that Simmons helps a group of girls at a leadership workshop compose in Chapter Four. As a class, create your own such chart, with everyone contributing traits and qualities for each of these two types. Then compare and contrast the chart your class made with the one appearing in Chapter Four. What lessons can you draw from looking at these two charts side-by-side?

5. In presenting a book that names, studies, and categorizes "the hidden culture of aggression in girls," Simmons often looks back on her own girlhood experiences to make a point,provide a detail, or give an example. Nowhere is this more evident than in Chapter Five ("The Bully in the Mirror"). Explore the memories Simmons shares with us about her friends Anne and Jenny. What regrets does she express concerning these relationships, and-despite these regrets, or maybe because of them-what wisdom does Simmons pass on to us? Where else in the book do we see the author uncovering truths that can be applied to all girls by revealing certain truths about her own girlhood?

6. As a class, discuss Chapter Six ("Popular"). In particular, consider the connections-both explicit and implicit-that might be made between popularity and deception.

7. Reread the section in Chapter Eight called "When Cultures Collide." Then, talk openly and candidly with your classmates about moments of alternative aggression that you have experienced with girls of an ethnicity or race different from your own. Do your experiences-or those of any of your classmates-reflect those of Jasmine? Ntozake? Tiffany? Jacqueline? Anyone else in Chapter Eight? How so?

8. In Chapter Nine, Simmons "offer[s] strategies to combat alternative aggression, including new directions for policy making and teaching. Most of the suggestions came directly from the parents, school officials, and survivors of bullying" Simmons met during her research. Reviewing these strategies as a class, point out which ones seem most realistic, helpful, and workable. Why do the strategies you have thus chosen seem viable? That is, what is it that makes these particular strategies seem convincing and effective to you?

9. In her Conclusion, Simmons writes: "Most of the behaviors mapped out in this book-nonverbal gesturing, ganging up, behind-the-back talking, rumor spreading, the Survivor-like exiling of cliques, note passing, the silent treatment, nice-in-private and mean-in-public friends-are fueled by the lack of face-to-face confrontations." As an independent project, write a short essay in which you describe a key moment in your life when you stood up to someone face-to-face-or else write about a time when you wish you could-or would-have stood up to someone.

10. Take a fresh and creative approach to what you have learned, about yourself and about all girls and young women, from Odd Girl Out. As a direct and honest response to this book, communicate your own ideas and impressions about girl bullying in a short story-or else express them in a poem, depict them in a drawing or painting, or set them to music. Remember to include in your creation the feelings and notions (and memories?) that came to you while reading this book. Be prepared to share your work of art with your classmates.

Copyright (c) 2003. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.

Reading Group Guide prepared by Scott Pitcock

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Odd Girl Out 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 65 reviews.
McIntyrescollcompEMS More than 1 year ago
"Odd Girl Out" by Rachel Simmons deserves a five star rating. This book is so accurate on the hidden aggression in girls. Rachel Simmons is right on when she talks about why girls are so sneaky and why they treat each other so badly. She also talks about the different ways girls take each other down, the most common way is going right for the self esteem and then secluding them so they feel all alone. "Odd Girl Out" teaches parents of girls to look for the signs and don't just blow them off because it can be a big problem. This book is full of stories and interviews of girls who have been the bully or have been bullied and how they dealt with situations. I would recommend this book to every girl and every parent raising a girl.
tpinMcIntyre4inEng4 More than 1 year ago
Rachel Simmons' Odd Girl Out was an eye-opening read to say the least. Speaking as an 18 year old girl, I understood a lot of the things that were mentioned in the book. The mean giggling and loathing glances, the pretending to be friends and then gossiping behind the back, the cold-shoulder, all are things I'm sure we can relate to, whether we were victim or bully. This book was incredibly informative and revealed a lot about the true nature of girls and how, contrary to popular belief, they are capable of cruelty just like boys. The vivid way that Simmons' described her experiences with the girls was enjoyable to read, and I found myself truly understanding and connecting with a lot of their stories. Whether you're a teenage girl going through the same things, or a parent trying to figure out 'what's going on' Odd Girl Out will open your eyes and give an in-depth look at girl bullying in ways you've never imagined. Read the book; it's an experience you won't soon forget.
SoCalBookWorm More than 1 year ago
I recently re-read this after reading The Twisted Sisterhood (in which the author references Rachel Simmons a few times). I'd also seen a feature on Simmons in the New York Times newspaper about the great work she does with girls. The book is as powerful the second time! I recommend to anyone with a young daughter. Great tips and food for thought.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is amazing! it really tells you whats going on in some teenagers. I also recommend THE MOVIE its called the odd girl out! enjoy!!!!!!!!!!!
Katy Robbins More than 1 year ago
I had to read this for a class and I was surprised how well I liked it. It gets a little repetitive at times, but i recommend it to anyone who is a future or current teacher, mother, or anyone else dealing with young and adolescent girls.
Guest More than 1 year ago
All girls should read this, especially if they are being bullied. It shows how every girl has gone through some sort of bullying in their life. It also tells how they got through it and how it has affected them today. This book really helps explain why girls are the way they are and in a way that everyone can understand it. I loved all the personal stories from girls of all different ages. They really made the book move along and made it really interesting. Now, I notice different kinds of bullying and recognize things in real life that girls in this story really did and experienced. 'Odd Girl Out' has made me understand girl bullying in a whole new way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved the book when I read it.All the stuff in the book is true.Today girls are much meaner and agressive towards other girls.I know from experience since I too am a teenager.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book for a psychology project and fell in love. It opened my eyes to a world I was involved in, but didn't know existed. I now understand why girls act the way they do, and I now understand that I was not the only one who has had to suffer during my early adolecent years. I reccommend this book to teachers, parents, teenage girls, basically anyone who wants to understand the workings of the female mind.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I passed this book to every parent and educator/administrator I knew. Especially valuable for men who may not understand this female culture and its consequences.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Odd Girl Out is a wonderful book for moms, daughters, and teachers. Girls need a way to solve their own problems and moms and teachers need to know why the girls are getting in fights. This book explains all of the reasons. I was amazed at how much I agreed with everything that she wrote.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Few are as obsessed with appearance and cliques as they are in adolescence, but the effects seem to be long lasting. What this book has helped me with (a recent college graduate) is to better understand why I have become so sensitive to certain issues with female friends. This book explains girls insecurities and their motives for being a bully, a follower, or a victim. The amazing thing that I discovered is that at one time or another, I have played all three roles. Instead of pinning the title on girls of either being a 'bad' or 'good' girl, we can educate them on what is going on (which is what this book does) and confront it if the bullying occurs.
Daniel.Estes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are two main starting points here about how young women deal with conflict: (1) It is socially unacceptable for them to act out aggressively, and (2) girls (compared to boys) typically fear social isolation above all else. Put these two together and girls will almost certainly trip up trying to navigate the contradictory scenarios they encounter. As long as young women aren't given a proper environment to create healthy friendships, the result will be a near-invisible struggle for power and bullying. Author Rachel Simmons makes her point early in the book and then proceeds through case study after case study which, while intriguing, only slightly adds to her thesis. The book feels overlong because of this.This hidden culture of aggression is real and very damaging though I still think the line between bullying and normal youth socializing is unclear.
shelleyraec on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read the first edition of Odd Girl Out about five years ago when my oldest daughter was in grade 4/5 and there were some real problems regarding bullying and power struggles amongst the girls in her year. While my daughter was not a direct target, nor a bully, it was a stressful time for her as two girls in particular aggressively manipulated the social hierarchy, girls switched alliances almost daily and the school seemed at a complete loss at how to deal with it. To help my daughter cope with the upheaval I read a number of books on the subject including Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls and Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence, both of which I also would recommend to parents and educators of girls.I chose to read this revised edition because my oldest daughter is now fifteen and as an avid (ie constant) user of Facebook, MSN and various online social communities. Additionally my youngest daughter is now eight and an awareness of online social communities is beginning to creep into her consciousness. As such I was particularly interested in Simmons inclusion of the dynamics of cyber-bullying and how I might be able to help my daughters navigate this social arena.The strength of Odd Girl Out is that it illustrates the experience of female bullying in a personal manner, with girls sharing their circumstances in their own words. I, like most women, recognised many of the methods girls use to control their social world. With hindsight, the daily drama of school seem mostly petty and irrelevant but I do still remember the intensity of the emotion that surrounded playground machinations ¿ the agony of being dumped by a best friend, the desire to be popular, and like most I have been both a victim and perpetrator (though largely an unwitting one)of the type of bullying and aggression Simmons examines. Odd Girl Out is a reminder of the seriousness with which girls interact with their peers.The new chapter that addresses cyber bullying/drama is interesting and I think is full of useful information, especially for parents who are not familiar with technology. I am a net-savvy parent who uses social media and have discussed the issues with my daughter but I know she doesn¿t see the consequences of a casual status update or online flirting the same way as I do, which is highlighted by the stories shared in this chapter. Later on in the book, Simmons discusses strategies for managing media in the lives of girls in practical ways, this chapter is particularly useful and as I am trying to walk the line between keeping an eye on my teenager¿s online activities without invading her social privacy too much, I found it informative and encouraging.The focus of Odd Girl Out tends to be on girls aged 11-13 and in particular those whose experiences are at the extremes of the issue but nevertheless I think it has relevance for those involved in any setting where girls aged 8 to 16 interact. Simmons grounds the research, giving the experiences of young girls, and the lasting effects, credibility and for a parent (or educator) I think it can provide a vocabulary for discussion and investigation.
jlcarroll on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you were Queen Bee on the playground, head cheerleader with all the right friends or simply the most popular girl in your class, this book is for you. If girls on power trips manipulated you through fear - or isolated you because you would not be manipulated - this book is for you. If your girlhood memories are tainted by secretly (or openly) abusive female "friends," this book is for you. If you're a parent raising a daughter, this book is for you. Although I did not experience the depth of pain described by some in Rachel Simmon's book, old hurts resurfaced, including those that affect my friendships with women even today. And, I am grateful for the opportunity to take a hard look at them. The author goes beyond "girls can be mean" to give us language that describes bullying, girl-style. By helping us define what it is, she also empowers us to address these alternative aggressions and effect change among schools, parents and our own, often vulnerable children.
touchthesky on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An incredible look into the hidden aggression of girls. Very thought provoking and even made me question my own methods of dealing with anger or "hidden" aggressions towards friends.Simmons asks questions and hunts for answers where many have been to afraid to venture. She travels across the United States and interviews parents, teachers, school administrators and hundreds of pre-teen and teenage girls.Her findings are fascinating and, at times, unbelievable. I would definitely recommended this to any parent who has daughters, seeing that Simmons gives explanations of how to help young girls deal with the emotional and traumatic loss of friendships. Though, many write it off as "a phase," our young girls need help and guidance so they know how to appropriate react in aggressive situations.As an aspiring educator, "Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls" opened my eyes to be come a better observer for when I have my own classroom. Even though hidden aggression is impossible to pin-point, Simmons gives serious warning signs and tips for teachers to decode a potential treat in the classroom. Girl bullying doesn't just affect one person, it affects all involved.
the_hag on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
You know, this is actually a topic that is near and dear for my heart and it did have a lot of interesting examples and data...but like Fast Girls before it, this reads a lot like someone's research paper and doesn't really delve too far into the history of aggression (in boys or girls) beyond a barest basics that most people probably already know. Simmons also doesn't offer any statistics, she mentions repeatedly that there really isn't any research on this, but I felt like this was just a big book length article that focused on her own personal fascination with the topic and the scope of the book really doesn't go much beyond her own group of interviewees. I was also kind of annoyed by the great deal of repeated information, it's as if in the absence of statistical data to support her theory she just keeps saying the same thing over and over. I don't want to indicate that book isn't worthwhile, it just didn't cover ME...I was an outcast all through grade school and high school and this book addressed the dynamics of cliques and triad friendships, but not really those few genuine girls who are ostracized not as a result of climbing the social ladder and that was a bit discouraging for me, as I hoped to gain some insight into why my school years were like that, and while I learned a lot of interesting things about the dynamics of girl friendships, there was nothing in this book that really applied to what happened to me, so this book like Fast Girls it's another book that provides a chunk of information, and I'll have to keep reading to fully grasp the subject and make more headway in working out those issues in my life that relate to my socialization issues from childhood. Overall, I would recommend it, but it's not a one stop information source. This book, at best, only provides a partial explanation or source of information regarding aggression in girls and the largely ignored problem that goes on with girls (which starts WAY before high school). Read it, learn from it and read more...this is not where a reader should stop looking at this issue, it should be the start.
linuxchic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am about half way through this book and I think it is a MUST READ for both men and women. Every girl in the US (perhaps elsewhere) has been on at least one side or the other of a girl bully¿ usually most have been both. With as much progress as women have made, they are still suppressed from expressing themselves. This book was the result of a research project by Rachel Simmons and is a necessary look at girlhood and the experiences that woman have had and the challenges they face from their peers. Every manager, supervisor, executive, teacher, principal, father, grandfather, husband, boyfriend, mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle, sister, woman, daughter and brother should read this book. It was easy for me to remember my days of being bullied but until I read this, I didn¿t realize I had expressed aggressive behaviors of my own. I already knew I had to change some ways of looking at things with my daughters to help them from falling into the same trappings that plague women still today, I just didn¿t realize how many until I read this. I was shocked at how many unhealthy feminine ¿ideals¿ and stereotypes were ingrained in me until I saw it from this vantage.This book is currently on sale in the bargain books section at Barnes and Noble. It is a national bestseller and is an American School Board Journal Notable Book in Education.
drpeff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
confusing at times, especially when listing quotes from teenage girls. lots of quotes didn't make sense--i think that reflects that thought process of teenage girls. i enjoyed the subject matter & thought it was worthwhile thinking about it. i wish there was more discussion about bullies & how their mothers reacted to their behavior.
maryh10000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this didn't apply to me at all, since I was never a member of any group in elementary or high school. However, it was a great description of what I saw happening to my sisters, especially the youngest one. It mystified me at the time how she could be friends with someone one week, enemies the next, and friends again the week after. Now I have an idea what may have been going on.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This should be REQUIRED reading for educators in every school. As a parent of a child that was the "odd girl out" at times in her life, this book has given me knowledge and the tools to help my child through difficult points in her life. This book is worth its weight in gold.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was once odd girl myself When my coolest and awsomes bff was the just the train reck to my lif and later on she had just turn her back on me and started to become this person i dont know anymore i knew our friendship had to end So when i read this book i was like this reminds me of my and use to be bff So if u are betrad by a friend and hurt by them u should defenly read this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I know how it feels to be an odd girl out, i lost all og my hair the summer before my 6th grade year it wasnt fron cancer but it was from stress