As the month of September draws to a close, many young students are already starting to focus on what their mid-term projects will be, coming to terms with that mystery meat served up in the cafeteria, and getting into the rhythm of heavy amounts of school work after a summer of freedom. This is the life of a typical middle-schooler, and it doesn’t seem to have changed that much over the last twenty years. But one thing has ~ the prevalence and viciousness of girls getting bullied by other girls. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a new phenomenon by any means, it’s just that it seems to be taking a particularly virulent form now. Dangerous, even, but not just physically. All of us probably remember either seeing or even being a party to bullying, even before we reached the relative sanity of high school or college, but there is a not-so-subtle difference. Young female students seem to be showing more aggressiveness toward each other, and now with the flourishing of social media, the ways that they can inflict harm have become more cruel, more public, than ever before.
Typically, when we think of bullying, the image of some poor kid being pushed around on the playground comes to mind, but girls as a cohort tend to bully each other in less physical ways, especially as they get older. Young girls are emerging into adulthood not only by growing in mental and physical maturity, but also by grappling with the all-important issues of body image, and it’s close cousin, self-esteem. They are more vulnerable and hence, susceptible, to all the messages that we and their peers are sending them about themselves every day. So it makes it incredibly easy for an insecure girl to hurt another girl’s feelings, to crush her already fragile self-confidence, especially when it comes to sexuality.
The teen world in many ways tries to mirror the gravitas of the adult world, and that can translate into damaging rumors being accepted as fact. Assaults on reputation, or character assassination, is one weapon which some girls may use, especially out of jealousy. Other common methods are ostracism and harassment, in the form of name-calling. These can work particularly well when used as a group, to gang up on their target. Although the threat to a girl of being bullied and harassed by a fellow male student is very real, most bullying of girls is perpetrated by other girls. Facebook-posted, texted, yelled, and whispered epithets like ‘slut,’ ‘bitch,’ and ‘whore’ can have long lasting effects on the psyche and future ability to form healthy relationships. And sadly, perhaps because many adults have either been subjected to this treatment, or they were perpetrators themselves, not enough has been done about it. Next week, we’ll take a look a some of the ways a girl can effectively fight back, from Facebook to in-person encounters, so that she can regain her power as an emerging woman.