Girls - They are Different
In the last newsletter we discussed the Queen Bee incidents as a form of bullying and manipulation. Initially it could be thought that the difference is cultural, girls and boys have been taught to behave that way. We give boys aggressive toys and girls things like dolls and toy kitchens to prepare them for their future roles. Or maybe we just see what we expect to see, boys being boys and girls being girls. Despite this inclination to dismiss differences except on the grounds of an undeniable misogynistic norms of society I contend there is an evolutionary history that has resulted in differing responses to stress.
If we accept that early childhood abuse and the consequential Post Traumatic Stress Disorders drives dysfunctional behaviour then we need to look at some information. When you study the school level data around abuse and dysfunctional behaviour, despite the incidents for abuse being higher for girls than boys, the number of boys being suspended or placed in a specialist setting far outweighs that of girls. This is because the boys act out, are aggressive while the girls internalize, are compliant. The reality is there is a difference that is impossible to ignore.
The best explanation I have heard about this difference is an evolutionary view that in early times, once humans generally became the dominant species one of the greatest threats for survival was attack from another tribe. When this occurred, the victors would kill the males and take the women and children as trophies. Sadly, this practice has echoes in modern conflicts where atrocities such as the killings in Bosnia were predominantly of males and the recent incidents of the abduction of school girls in Africa reflect this difference.
When you examine the suspension data in schools, the boys do outnumber the girls across the age ranges but at the onset of puberty, the time we move from childhood, the number of boys suspended for aggressive behaviour dramatically increases. This implies that for the best chance of survival the children of both genders have adapted certain behaviours; women would become compliant and the men fight or flight. Not always were male children taken in some instances they were also killed. This behaviour is not confined to our species; it is common practice in a lot of herding animals such as the great apes and lions.
One of the tragedies of this ‘difference’ is that despite suffering more abuse the girls are neglected. Because the boy’s behaviour demands attention the bulk of the resources provided for dysfunctional students are focused on dealing with boys. As a teacher, a compliant girl frozen in her mind, is so much easier to deal with than a boy who is abusing you. However, both boys and girls are in serious need of attention and support but only boys tend to get it.
This explains why the girls use more covert, passive methods to get their needs met albeit in dysfunctional ways.
Although we referred to some of the tactics when discussing the Queen Bee phenomena these are not only used for that social arrangement, the girls can use them in isolation. The following is some of the ways they are used:
- These can be a judgmental remark or a passive gesture where the opinion of one girl is ignored. Most effective when carried out in front of the whole group.
- Making jokes that are funny to everyone else but not the victim. When challenged instigator often appears indignant, “Can’t they just take a joke?”
- Any type of physical, social or psychological rejection is hurtful to the victim. It has been demonstrated that the same parts of the brain are activated as when they are physically hurt.
- The cold shoulder, this is subtle and therefore effective. Easy for the instigator to deny any involvement. Another way to achieve this is to attract the victim’s friends away by welcoming them into what appears to be a more attractive group.
- Destroy the girl’s network of friends isolating her. The easiest for adolescent girls is to destroy her sexual reputation. The use of technology has made this so much easier to do and the lack of direct contact somehow makes the aggressors more blazon in their attacks.
Attachment is undoubtedly one of our most powerful drives and during these adolescent years these are in a state of flux. It is a time when we move away from our parental homes and a major instinct is to begin to search for a partner. This begins with the formation the group that we think reflects our needs. As mentioned at the beginning girls and boys are different, that is not to say boys have it easy to establish these attachments but I would contend that their ‘roles’ are more defined, girls have to work within their cohort to find where they fit.
For girls with a history of abuse and neglect this means they come to the cohort already at a great disadvantage. Their sense of shame (see Newsletter 14 - Toxic Shame – 3 July 2017) makes them believe they are not as good as the other girls and will always be vulnerable. However, all girls will benefit from being taught the dynamics of group interaction and using the Queen Bee as a model we can make all the girls aware of the dynamics of relationships.
Some of the ‘topics’ can be:
- ‘Good popularity’, what is it and how is it different from ‘bad popularity’?
- Fear is not the same as friendship
- The need to respect each other’s right to a safe, secure and happy learning environment
- What are the characteristics of the girl everyone wants to be. Discuss what is right, and wrong with this
- What are the characteristics of the girl everyone does not want to be. Discuss what is right, and wrong with this
Throughout these Newsletters I promote the belief that happy, safe and secure students are better learners and will succeed at school. At my last school we ran a program exclusively for the girls which included surveys, meetings with parents and placing those girls identified as playing the roles in the Queen Bee Model and teaching each group about the dynamics and consequences of their behaviour. This was extremely successful except for those who were identified as ‘Queens’. They showed little or no remorse and were quite satisfied to be identified as the ‘top’ even if it was top of a toxic grouping. I suspect other drives are at play with these girls.
Another thing we did at my school and suggest all schools should adopt this policy. Every proactive program we initiated to address antisocial behaviour had to have at least equal numbers of girls and boys. This meant we had to learn to identify those girls who hid their suffering as opposed to the boys who readily demonstrated theirs with acting out behaviour. Girls do get abused more than boys and in our patriarchal society girls get less chance to access help. Great teachers know this and all teachers should know this!