The way in which people interact always fascinated me. Of course, during my early adolescence, I was just as confused as the next girl as to why my friends acted so mean at school. Beginning as early as second grade, our class was populated with cliques of girls who paraded around at recess and yelled at others for sitting on their slide, or wearing the same sparkly shirt as they did. Even at such a young age, the issue of girls fighting for power and social status was prevalent, and I wanted to know exactly why.
Years later, the complex, hierarchical, and sometimes demeaning ways in which women interact are more present than ever. Female aggression within groups is a topic which has seemed to become so incredibly normalized that it is not considered to be much of an issue in our society today. In any school setting, we don’t learn much more than the simple rule of ‘No Bullying Will Be Tolerated’. Young girls will nod their heads in agreement and continue on their way, interacting with those around them in a seemingly harmless way to outsiders. However, taking a closer look, female interactions are intertwined with subtle criticisms, slander, judgement, exclusion and gossip. What kind of school and home environment will allow this harmful behavior to thrive? What social expectations are set in place that have girls tearing each other down to feel a sense of satisfaction? What role do certain factors, such as age or self-confidence, play in this issue? Most importantly, how can we transform toxic school environments into places where young girls can feel empowered by loving themselves and one another?
I decided to pursue this topic of independent research in order to ask questions that will spark a sense of self-reflection in the community and encourage conversation as to why such harmful behavior is present and tolerated. Living in a world in which aggression and hatred seems to be more prominent than ever, I believe that it is our job to work towards creating a positive change that can benefit the high school atmosphere, as well as the world outside of it. Over the course of the next few months, I will be conducting an action-based research plan, composed of interviews of my peers on their high school experience, anonymous questionnaires, discussions, personal story-telling sessions in which girls tell their own experiences, and more.
At this point on my research timeline, I’m stacking up on all the information I can get my hands on, from the influence of social media on our generation, to comparisons of teenage cliques to tyrannical rulers throughout history. Currently, I’m making my way through Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons, which discusses the psychology of traditional bullying and cyberbullying. In contrast, I’m learning what it means to be a positive and uplifting leader in the book Power vs. Force by David R. Hawkins. Even though my stack is nearly 12 books high and nearly toppling over, I’m more excited than ever to get to the bottom of such a complex and relevant topic which affects our everyday interactions with those in our lives.