By Melissa Norman, Founder & Executive Director of Girl CHARGE, Inc.
Ask any female if they have ever been disappointed by a friendship, if they have ever known the confusion and hurt of having other girls turn on them, and most will respond affirmatively. Beyond that, most will recall the incident with more clarity and emotion than they remember first days of school, birthdays or other seemingly important milestones. The pain rushes back as if the event took place yesterday. Female betrayal is certainly not a new phenomenon; yet every girl tends to feel as if she is the first victim. And so the vicious cycle continues.
I, too, have lucid memories of my own experience with relational aggression. While I was on the receiving end, some are bystanders and some are the ones creating the behavior. However, most girls do experience it in some role. As a teacher and counselor, I have grown increasingly exasperated of hearing adults excuse this behavior as “girls just being girls” or tales of “mean girls” and “Barbie brats”. At what point did we determine that it is acceptable for girls to ostracize and humiliate other girls? When did spreading rumors and gossiping become the norm in regards to female behavior?
Popular television shows and movies intended for a preteen/teen audience confirm the presence of girl bullying. However, they typically glamorize the role of the female bully instead of recognizing her behavior as cruel. Rather than helping our girls, the media tends to normalize the behavior even more, encouraging our girls to act in such a manner in order to be accepted or respected by others.
Schools across the country are quickly looking for a fix for this epidemic. Social bullying seems to be spiraling out of control, with the help of Facebook, texting and instant messaging. The discipline line between home and school is difficult to draw with cyberbullying and, until recently, schools have been reticent to get involved. However, we are now at a point where everyone must get involved- parents, teachers, neighbors, friends.
As women, it’s our responsibility to walk the talk. We tell our girls to avoid gossip, and as difficult as it may be, it is our responsibility to avoid it ourselves. We ask girls to include others who seem to be ostracized, and we need to reach out to them ourselves. Starting small with modeling what we expect from our girls seems like a baby step, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. Whether we realize it or not, girls look to us to determine their own behavior. What they see us do, they then do, too.
I heard a speaker discussing how amazing it is that women and girls continue to tear one another down and discourage one another. We are the ones who need to be encouraging, who need to be the cheerleaders for all girls. She asked us to stand shoulder to shoulder, and to not let any disparaging words or attacks in. I love this image of us, as women and girls, standing shoulder to shoulder with one another, fending off bullying behaviors, supporting one another and changing what we expect from our girls.