Life

Girls’ Underground War

  When I was 8 years old, a girl bullied me. My memory of that year is very vague, time passes, and I don’t want to think about it, and the memory becomes fragmented.
  I was in the third grade, with braids and a lisp. In the eyes of the teachers, I was a child who was rushing and rushing. I always finished long division exercises and map quizzes in one go, and then got wrong questions that should not be wrong. But I just like being the first to finish.
  So did my friend Abbie. She was popular, and we weren’t particularly close. I still don’t understand why she tortured me like that. She started by whispering about me to my best friend and quickly convinced him to ditch me and play with other girls. After class, we went to the community center for dance lessons together, and Abby wooed my friends and persuaded them to stay away from me too.
  Walking into the center theater, I rushed towards them frantically, panting. Among the rows of silent chairs, on the stage, I was always chasing their brisk leaving footsteps, listening to the bursts of laughter going away.
  Day after day, I stand in half-dark hallways, stairwells, and parking lots. My memory of these places without exception is that of me standing there alone. Before dinner, my mother was cooking, so I cried to her. This kind of distress is difficult to resolve. At that time, I felt that I was the only girl who had experienced this kind of pain. This is what I remember best.
  After 16 years, I went to England for postgraduate study. One rainy day, I got on my bike and went to the library trying to figure out why Abby did that to me. It’s hard to tell what exactly drove me there.
  Parts of this memory seemed grossly out of balance to me: on the one hand, I couldn’t remember too many details; Really. It’s something that will never fade with other childhood memories, and I figured I needed to fill that void.
  I shared this memory with my friends at school late that night. After a casual late-night snack, six friends and I confessed to having an “Abby” haunting us in our past. It was thrilling to discover that we had all been through the same predicament. Friends, like me, have thought for years that this was the only thing that happened to them.
  Armed with this knowledge, I cautiously rode out onto the slick streets, confident that there must be books waiting for me in the library explaining girl bullying and why. The first few rounds of computer searches turned up nothing, which I blamed on my poor search skills, maybe I just “dash and dash” again.
  Then I asked the librarian for help, and it turned out that it wasn’t my problem. Articles abound about aggression and bullying by boys, but not a lot about bullying by girls. No studies, no parent manuals, no cute guides for kids. I sat down to read the paper and couldn’t see myself or Abby at all in what most researchers call bullying. I was first surprised, then disappointed.
  I emailed everyone I knew, asking them to forward it to as many adult women they knew as possible. I asked a few simple questions: “Have you ever been tortured or teased by another girl? Tell me what it felt like. How has that experience affected you today?” Within 24 hours, my The inbox was filled with replies from all over the United States. The letters came back more and more, as women told their stories in the online world, with strong emotions flowing between the lines.
  Even through the computer screen, their pain was as lingering and lingering as my own. Women I had never met told me that I was the first to know the story. It took me a long time to understand that it was because I was the first person to ask them. Silence is deeply embedded in the fabric of women’s experience.
  Only in the last 30 years have we started telling the shocking truths about women’s lives, addressing rape, incest, domestic violence and women’s health issues openly. Although these issues have always existed, it is only through public awareness, policy and awareness that they have no place in our culture today.
  It’s time to break another silence: There’s a covert culture of aggression among girls, one plagued by bullying that’s unique and devastating. Unlike aggression between boys, aggression between girls does not manifest itself in direct physical or verbal language. Our culture does not allow girls to be exposed to open conflict, so they are forced to engage in non-physical, indirect, covert forms of aggression.
  Girls cause psychological pain in their victims through gossip, exclusion, rumors, name-calling and manipulation. Unlike boys, who typically bully casual acquaintances or strangers, girls tend to attack people from close circles of friends, making the aggression harder to identify and exacerbating the victim’s pain.
  In this culture of covert aggression, girls resort not to fists and knives but to body language and relationships. In this world, friendship is a weapon, and not talking to someone for a day hurts more than yelling at someone. Few gestures are more distressing than a friend turning away.
  In a culture of covert aggression, where anger is rarely expressed verbally, each day at school can feel like walking into a whole new social minefield, shifting permutations without warning.
  During conflict, girls attack others with language and a sense of justice that only they understand. Behind the intimacy of female friendship lies a secret land of rage, nourished by silence. This is the world I want to lead readers into.

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