Since the beginning of my own experience with girl bullying in middle school, it has always struck me how few people have even heard of this as a specific issue. But what baffles me more is the amount of men and women I’ve encountered who seem to refuse to deem this as “bullying.” Too often I hear people blame these behaviors on the fact that “all girls go through this,” claiming they’re just being hormonal, going through a phase, or my least favorite: “girls are just bitches.” This attitude is so problematic to me, and one that I consider our largest roadblock in bringing awareness and change to this issue.
The significance of calling these behaviors “bullying” stems from several factors. I think a lot of what this has to do with is gender stereotypes and expectations. We struggle to acknowledge that girls can be powerful, cunning, or abusive because of the notion that girls should be dainty and subservient. Yet, we’re perpetuating the “bitch” stereotype; it’s contradictory, and sends an extremely confusing message to young girls on who and what they’re “supposed” to be. Similarly, the claim that they are just being hormonal trivializes the very real struggles of puberty. We need to support all adolescents as they navigate the physical, and emotional, changes their bodies are enduring, and not brush it off as something that seems to turn them into an out of control monster.
Our society and education system has increasingly adopted a “zero tolerance policy” when it comes to bullying. But the traditional definition of bullying does not account for the alternative aggressions that girls specifically engage in. So not only do these programs and policies alienate girls and leave them struggling to see their own issues represented and addressed, but when we actually refuse to even label their behaviors as “bullying,” we essentially are declaring that it is something that will be tolerated, and even worse, that it’s just expected of girls.
The generalization that all girls behave this way and are catty and bitchy by nature also leads to the perpetuation of these behaviors. It lets girls off the hook for treating others poorly with the caveat that they’re just doing the inevitable. And on the other side of things, we’re telling victims of girl bullying that what they are experiencing is not serious nor worthy of discussion, and is something that should be tolerated, endured, and expected.
Bullying is not a rite of passage. It should not be tolerated, in any form, by any individual. If we continue to normalize these behaviors, we are teaching our girls that they are destined to abuse, and be abused. We are silencing the girls who should be empowered and encouraged to speak up, and we are emboldening and justifying the bullies. Let’s expand that zero tolerance policy to all forms of bullying and stop being so afraid to call this what it is.