Sunday, March 28, 2004

Review: Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons 

I've really got to stop reading Noodles' books. All they do is confuse me. Well, now that I think about it, some of my own books confuse me as well. But I digress. Odd Girl Out is about bullying amoung grade school age girls. That's not a subject which really touches me directly, never having been a girl nor oppressed by bullying. And if either of my daughters had been bullied in their relatively fleeting contacts with their peers, they never told me about it. (Trust me, I would hear about it. They never leave me alone.) Anyway, I had seen enough bullying in my life to be interested in the subject and since it was lying about the house anyway... well, I decided to have a read. Like the feminine mind itself (to indulge in stereotype), it was quite alien to me. As Ms. Simmons described the culture and mindset of the middle class girls of whom she was writing I felt like I was reading a science fiction novel. She writes about girls who are being socialized to be nice and quiet and gentle, and thereby have no legitimate outlet for their feelings of anger, ambition or independence. To cope, she reasons, girls have developed subtle ways of dealing with these negative feelings. She calls these alternative aggressions--teasings, shunnings and manipulations which escape the notice of teachers and parents. And schoolboys, too, I think. I know that when I was in school, I had no clue all this was going on! (Well, except in eighth grade when Lynn got dumped on so bad she transferred out. It was hard to miss that one.) As the book went on and the case stories were related, I just had to shake my head both in disapproval of the evil of which those children were capable and in disbelief that the victims didn't just haul off and slug their antagonists. (But of course, it's always easy to give advice about problems one never has had to face.) At one point, I had to ask Noodles (my resident expert on things girlish) if this was really true to life, or if this was a case of stringing together some exceptional horror stories to try and prove a point. She assured me that it absolutely fit in with her experiences and it was very helpful to her to know that the tsuris she endured was not unique. She also agreed with Ms. Simmons assessment as to why this bullying occurs. So I went back to the book, reading in a spirit of amazement. But, alas, that spirit didn't last. Eventually, Ms. Simmons presented a chapter on working class girls whom she interviewed--girls who have been raised to take care of and speak up for themselves. No alternative agressions there! To me, it illustrated that this phenomenon is less an inherent problem of being a girl than it is of the social structures in which they are placed. This made it harder for me to accept her suggestions for solutions. She didn't suggest any changes to the institutions of school or middle class society, but rather made suggestions as to how teachers might be made more aware of the existence and signs of alternative aggressions and how parents might be more supportive of their daughters who face this crap. Not bad ideas, really (though I have hard time accepting parenting tips from a childless twenty-something and a bunch of schoolgirls she's interviewed), but it seems like it really only addresses the symptoms of the problem. Noodles' solution, of course, was to recommit to homeschooling our girls. I must admit that it does work. But you can't expect our society as a whole to do that. (That was sarcasm, in case your web browser isn't set up to recognize the <sarcasm> tag.) Anyway, this was a very interesting read, y'all might want to check out.