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Health & Pregnancy

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Girls Just Wanna Be Mean

Girls Who Bully
WebMD Feature

"They made it seem like something good, like an invitation or something," she says. "They were smiling. I opened it and it was written in all different colors of inks and handwriting, saying we don't want to be your friend, don't look at us, don't call us, don't come near us. Everyone put it a different way -- they all wrote it."

It still hurts like fire to remember the incident. "Sticks and stones can hurt for a lifetime," nods Phyllis Chesler, MD, a retired professor of psychology at City University in New York and author of Woman's Inhumanity to Woman.

Time was, the word bully applied to boys who stole lunch money from their weaker classmates. But increasingly, researchers are finding that girls are becoming frighteningly adept at "relational aggression." This is the term professionals use to describe the Byzantine ways girls use gossip, innuendo, social leverage, and court intrigue as ruthless as the Medici for entertainment and social advantage. The kids call it "outcasting."

According to a report titled "Hostile Hallways" issued by the American Association of University Women, 76% of students have experienced non-physical harassment and 58% have experienced the physical variety. This treatment can even push students to suicide in extreme cases. There has been at least one case in Canada. On the reverse side, in a study in Scandinavia, 60% of those classified as bullies went on to collect at least one criminal conviction.

(Pierced) Earmarks of a Bully

Are female bullies disadvantaged losers trying to boost their self-esteem? Quite the contrary, according to Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence and founder of The Empower Program, a 13-year-old organization to help boys and girls defend themselves. "Often it's girls with high self-esteem who are mean to others," Wiseman says.

"It's the cute, popular girls who do this," Kelsey agrees. "They do it because they can, not because they need to."

Chesler says it may be that the outcast girl is different in some way, maybe even because she was elected to class office or made cheerleader. "She won't have time to emotionally groom the others, so she's out." Not being able to afford the "in" designers or shoes can tarnish a girl. "There are so many rules in school, unwritten rules, anyone is bound to break some. It's easy to make a mistake," Wiseman says.

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