My latest post dealt with the necessity of acknowledging that girls bully and the significance of labeling these behaviors as such. But now I’m going to shift gears and contradict that notion; we need to find a new term for “girl bullying.” It’s a term I often use when giving the elevator pitch for my business goals, or sharing my own personal experiences. But in a lot of ways, I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of what we’re talking about, nor a powerful enough term to command the attention and care this issue needs.
So let’s begin with what I personally mean when I say “girl bullying.” The largest distinction I see between girls’ aggressions and our traditional concept of “bullying” is that girls tend to engage in more covert, psychological attacks. It is rare (in my experience and knowledge, at least) that girls will outwardly name-call and tease in public settings, or engage in direct, physical violence. A lot of this stems from the societal expectations placed on women; a woman is expected to be nice and to withstand challenges and arising emotions with grace and a calm demeanor. We need to dispel this belief, first and foremost. This is not a realistic expectation of any individual. Anger, fear, sadness, confusion – just to name a few – are natural, necessary emotions that need to be felt and processed in order to develop a stronger sense of self and one’s relations to the world and people around them. This is not to say that anger should inherently lead to violence, or that fear should inherently lead to avoidance. But by restricting females to uphold such “ladylike” qualities, we are denying them of the opportunity to learn appropriate coping skills, and are ultimately damaging their views of self, relationships, and related matters. The repression of physical expressions of anger/jealousy/etc. is what often leads girls to act out in these nuanced ways.
“Girl bullying,” in my mind, is synonymous with psychological warfare in many ways. So much of my experience with the issue existed almost entirely in subtle aggressions that became further and further distorted in my own mind. And what’s most unsettling about this is that psychological bullying is so invisible to the outside eye. The ramifications of emotional abuse are often greater than physical because they can intensify and wreak greater havoc after the impact. A common theme with victims of this phenomenon is the feeling of going crazy; we often want to assume the best intentions in others, so when the actions are so subtle, yet so manipulative and impactful, it’s almost easier to assume we’re overreacting or creating this false narrative.
So while the word “bullying” can hold weight in many contexts, I don’t quite think that weight is as heavy as what we’re describing here. As I wrote in my last post, it’s become almost a common misconception that bullying is just a rite of passage. While I don’t think that should be the case with any individual, I doubt that anyone who hears of the specific and calculated nuances of girls’ aggressions would agree with this sentiment. My belief that we need to develop a new term for this behavior stems largely out of my desire to educate others on the matter and make this a more widely heard, and understood, concept. Bullying is too broad a term, and too dismissed as a “blanket statement,” to really create waves and effect change.
I’m still working on finding a more appropriate term for the issue. I need to continue to challenge myself – as I think we all should – to narrow in on what this issue really encapsulates and how we can best identify it; the convenience of calling it “girl bullying” will not move us forward. Many of the books I’ve read on the topic discuss “alternative aggressions” as a title, though I still think it’s essential to additionally comprise the gender component. In the meantime, let’s focus on holding ourselves accountable to gaining specificity on what it is we’re discussing and what exactly we’re fighting for.