Gossiping, cyberbullying, "slut-bashing" — girls may not often handle their aggression by punching people in the face, but they have many weapons in their arsenal to cause tremendous pain to others (usually other girls).
So what to do about it? Author Bonnie Burton decided there needed to be a book about mean girls addressed to teens themselves and not just to their parents and teachers, so she wrote Girls Against Girls: Why We Are Mean to Each Other and How We Can Change.
Written in a conversational manner that doesn't talk down to teens but also doesn't try too hard to sound like them, Girls Against Girls reads like something an older, wiser sister who took feminist theory courses in college would write. If you're a teen, you'll get the sense Burton gets you and what you may be going through. (Adult women may find themselves recognizing some of the same behaviors from women in their lives!) To find out what you can learn from Girls Against Girls,
"We live in a culture right now that pits girls against each other. We are brought up socially to be in competition with each other — who has the best body, more boyfriends, better clothes. And this kind of competition can be devastating on female friendships because it emphasizes a mentality that there isn't enough to go around." — Jessica Weiner, author and advice columnist
"Women and girls are taught that it's not OK to be proud of themselves. . .so instead of accentuating their positive traits, they accentuate other girls' negative ones, scoring social points not with their own accomplishments, but by honing in on the faults of others."— Kate Izquierdo, music editor San Francisco Bay Guardian
Although Girls Against Girls operates on a "Sisterhood Is Powerful" premise that suggests women are kind of obliged to be nice to each other for the feminist cause (which may rankle some), I like that Burton zeroes in immediately on the social and cultural contexts that create so-called mean girls. It's not because girls are wired to be catty or vicious to other girls (although hormones and superior communication skills play a part) — it's because we're taught to be nice, not to express anger, to be competitive with other girls, and perhaps because we had a female role model who passed down her mean girls attitude. All of this is a recipe for the girls against girls' wars in school that can include gossiping and escalate to online threats, such that a girl may fear for her safety.
The book is divided in six parts that explain why there are mean girls, how they're mean (cyberbullying didn't exist when I was in junior high or high school — thank God!), how you can deal with it, and when to know that you need to ask an adult to help you. There's also a useful chapter on developing better communication skills (one of the real subjects of the book) and what things you can do to contribute to girl culture rather than ripping it to shreds. All in all, a book a girl these days could use.