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Monday, February 22, 2016

The Young Bitch and Relational Aggression

Young women acting tough – this is the “queen bitch” image that seems so pervasive in society today. It seems that more and more girls adopt and project not just a strong sexual identity but also an aggressive, “don't fuck with me” image.

To be quite honest I find it disturbing and unattractive; however, I regularly see “bad girls” with highly assertive postures on the streets, in music videos, and in films. “Sugar and spice” seems to have taken a hike. Today, I'm searching for answers about female aggression.

Clinical psychologist Ditta M. Oliker says ...

The words now associated with female aggressive behavior include: excluding, ignoring, teasing, gossiping, secrets, backstabbing, rumor spreading and hostile body language (i.e., eye-rolling and smirking).

Most damaging is turning the victim into a social "undesirable". The behavior and associated anger is hidden, often wrapped in a package seen as somewhat harmless or just a "girl thing". The covert nature of the aggression leaves the victim with no forum to refute the accusations and, in fact, attempts to defend oneself leads to an escalation of the aggression.”

(Ditta M. Oliker, Ph.D. “Bullying In the Female World.” Psychology Today. September 03, 2011.)

An intriguing line of research suggests that relational aggression may lead girls into trouble. For about a decade, University of Minnesota researcher and psychologist Nicki Crick, PhD, has been studying relational aggression, her term for a behavior she has seen in girls as young as age 2.5 years old.

Crick says while physically aggressive, youngsters use physical threats as agents of harm, relationally aggressive girls treat relationships as harm agents, “much like pawns on a chessboard.” Gossiping, withdrawing affection to get what you want, and using social exclusion to retaliate against a friend are all examples.

While some boys exhibit relational aggression, they tend to show hostility with physical actions. Girls show relational behavior far more often, Crick finds. The behavior appears to be motivated by the desire to maintain an exclusive friendship or relationship, she adds.

Crick says that relationally aggressive girls display "hostile attribution bias," the tendency to interpret events in a paranoid manner. That's true for physically aggressive kids as well. But while physically aggressive youngsters show this tendency in relation to physical threats, relationally aggressive youngsters do so only in relational contexts. For instance, a relationally aggressive girl may overhear two girls talking about having a party and assume she has been deliberately excluded.

(Nicki R. Crick, Jennifer K. Grotpeter and Maureen A. Bigbee. “Relationally and Physically Aggressive Children's Intent Attributions and Feelings of Distress for Relational and Instrumental Peer Provocations.” Child Development Vol. 73. July-August 2002.)

Clearly, relational aggression can be a proactive behavior, used in such a way to achieve a goal such as status or popularity. It can also be used reactively, as a response to frustration or provocation.

In pre and early adolescence, much value is placed on friendships and social connections; thus, relational aggression is seen during these years. Aggressive behavior in girls from ages 3 to 5 tends to be more direct, but by early adolescence it starts becoming much more covert. Some studies (Craig Hart, Brigham Young University) claim 17 percent to 20 percent of preschool and school-age girls display such behavior.

(Chris Hawke. "Study: Mean Girls Start As Tots.” CBS News. May 07, 2005.)

Aggression in relational contexts becomes more common at the same time that children develop a more complex understanding of their social worlds. It can continue into the adult workplace.

The "mean girls" are highly liked by some and strongly disliked by others. They are socially skilled and popular but can be manipulative and subversive if necessary. They are feared as well as respected.

These types of aggressive acts have been largely overlooked until recently.

In the past, many of these behaviors were dismissed and seen as “rites of passage” or even normal behavior. However, the harmful effects are being recognized as anything but normal. In fact, the National Education Association reports that as many as 160,000 kids miss school every day out of fear of being victimized by such behaviors.

While relational aggression can take many forms, some of the methods include:
* Malicious gossip and spreading rumors
* Cyberbullying
* Manipulative affection
* Alliance building  
* Ignoring Intimidation
* Exclusion Taunts and insults

One source identifies these prevalent roles within the hierarchy of relationships in most group situations:

The Queen

Her friends do what she wants, and she is not intimidated by other girls. She is often manipulatively affectionate. The Queen defines right and wrong by the loyalty or disloyalty around her. She believes her image is dependent on her relationships and she gives the impression that she has everything under control.

The Sidekick

She feels the Queen is the authority who tells her how to dress, think, feel, etc. The Sidekick rarely expresses her personal opinions. Her power depends on the confidence she gains from the Queen.

The Gossip

She is extremely secretive and deems to be friends with everyone. The Gossip gives the impression of listening and being trustworthy but uses confidential information to improve her position. She tends to get girls to trust her because when she gets information, it doesn’t seem like gossip.

The Floater

She moves freely among groups and doesn’t want to exclude people. The Floater avoids conflicts. She is more likely to have higher self esteem, as her sense of self isn’t based on one group. She may be pretty, but not too pretty; nice, but not too sophisticated. People genuinely like the Floater. She may actually stand up to the Queen and she may have some of the same power as the Queen. However, the floater doesn’t gain anything by creating conflict and insecurity as the Queen does.

The Bystander

She is accommodating and often finds herself having to choose between friends. The peacemaker who wants everyone to get along, the Bystander doesn’t stand up to anyone she has conflict with – instead, she “goes along” to get along. She may be conflicted with doing the right thing and her allegiance to the group. She often apologizes for Queen’s behavior, but she knows it is wrong. She may even hide her accomplishments, particularly academically, to fit into the group.

The Wannabee

She thinks other girls’ opinions and wants are more important than hers. The Wannabee can’t tell the difference between what she wants and what the group wants. She is desperate for the “right” look (clothes, hair, etc.). She loves to gossip. The Wannabee will do anything to be in the inner circle of the Queen and sidekick. She often gets stuck doing the dirty work of the Queen and the Sidekick. She may be dropped if she is seen as trying too hard to fit in. She likely feels insecure about her relationships and has trouble setting boundaries.

The Target

She is helpless to stop other girls’ behavior. The Target feels excluded and isolated, and she masks hurt feelings by rejecting people first. She feels vulnerable and humiliated and may be tempted to change to fit in. The target is the victim of the group. Girls outside the group may tend to become targets just because they’ve challenged the group or because their style is different or not accepted by the group. The Target may develop objectivity, which may help her see the costs of fitting in and decide she’s better off outside of the group. She may choose her “loser” group, and know who her true friends are.

(“Mean Girls- Realities of Relational Aggression.” Girls.pdf)

Researchers are studying possible parenting influences on relationally aggressive behavior. Psychologist Craig Hart, PhD, of Brigham Young University, is comparing levels of reported physical and relational aggression in young children and the degree of parental coercive behavior, such as spanking and yelling, and controlling behavior, such as withholding love to punish a child.

While no one has shown a tie between high levels of relational aggression and girls' propensity to break the law, psychologists in the juvenile justice system say they see the behavior all the time.

(Tori DeAngelis. “Girls use a different kind of weapon.” American Psychological Society. July/August 2003.)

Parenting characteristics shown to be associated with relational aggression include the following:

  Psychological control strategies (Casas et al., 2006;Nelson et al., 2006)

  Parental maltreatment (sexual abuse for girls only; Cullerton-Sen, Cassidy, Cicchetti, Crick, & Rogosch, 2009)

  Authoritarian parenting styles (Casas et al., 2006)

  Permissive parenting styles (Casas et al., 2006)

  Physical coercion (Hart et al., 1998; Nelson et al., 2006)

  Lack of paternal responsiveness (Hart et al., 1998)

  Insecure attachment behaviors (Casas et al., 2006)

  Lack of paternal involvement (i.e., time spent with fathers; Updegraff et al., 2005)

  Lack of parental warmth (Updegraff et al., 2005)

  Lack of concern regarding children’s use of relational aggression (Ohan & Johnston, 2005; Werner et al., 2006

Here are some bullying behaviors exhibited by girls:

Middle Childhood:

  Say “We’re going to be in a group and you’re not going to be in it.”

  Pretend you don’t see the kid.

  Tell a lie about them that they didn’t do.

  Tell your friends not to be that kid’s friend.

  Say “I’m not going to be your friend anymore.”


  Talk about them behind their backs and to their face, exclude them.

  Pretend to be friends with them, then stab them in the back.

  Tell them what you think of them in front of their friends so they get embarrassed.

  Ignore them, don’t return phone calls.

  Try steal their boyfriend.

Early Adulthood:

  Women hurt other women by the amount of affection from men they receive. For example, saying “Mark called and he likes me better than you.”

  Build up a coalition of other people against the person.

  Talk about them and try to ruin their friendships with others. Gossip, gossip, gossip.

  Give them the silent treatment. Act cold and bitchy.

  Seduce the person’s dating partner.

Relational aggression appears to be harmful, Relatively high levels of recreational victimization have been shown to be associated with the following:

  Peer rejection (e.g., Crick, Casas, & Ku, 1997; Cullerton-Sen & Crick, 2005; Ostrov et al., 2004; Schafer et al., 2002)

  Externalizing problems (e.g., Ostrov et al., 2004; Rudolph, Troop-Gordon, & Flynn, 2009)

  Depressive symptoms (e.g., Crick et al., 1997; Prinstein, Boergers, & Vernberg, 2001)

  Loneliness (e.g., Crick & Nelson, 2002)

  Cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana use (Sullivan, Farrell, & Kliewer, 2006 )

  Obesity (Pearce, Boergers, & Prinstein, 2002)

  Romantic relationship and dating problems (Pearce et al., 2002; Ruh, Crick, & Collins, 2002). Preschool and school-aged girls have been shown to feel more distress when confronted with relational conflicts and to view relationally aggressive acts as more aversive relative to boys (e.g., Coyne, Archer, & Elsea, 2006; Crick, Grotpeter, & Bigbee, 2002; Giles & Heyman, 2005)

  Girls (but not boys) have been shown to exhibit greater physiological arousal (increased diastolic BP) in response to relational conflicts (Murray-Close & Crick, 2007)

My View

I am not letting young men off the hook here. I am well aware of the “tough” attitude projected by so many young males. In fact, psychology researchers exploring relational aggression and victimization in 11-13 year olds and found adolescent boys have a similar understanding and experience of “mean” behaviors and “bitchiness” as girls. I am merely expressing my distaste for the relational aggression of young drama queens.

I think more parents need to pay attention to their children's aggressiveness. Pew research shows that empathy and kindness are low on the list of the traits that the majority of parents deem important for children right now. Most parents are much more interested in raising "hard working" and "responsible" kids than in raising kind and empathic kids. Shouldn't all of these traits be equally important?

The research shows that if we want to stop "mean girl" behavior, we must teach very young girls to be thinking, sensitive individuals who reject roles that encourage relational aggression. Since extinguishing the roles themselves seems nearly impossible, better knowledge of the destruction caused by these individuals should help young women understand the negativity of the “bitch” behavior.

A female rightly seeks empowerment. She gains this commodity when an outside source recognizes her potential or when a group or individual somehow recognizes her inherent power. Successful female leaders gain empowerment through education, not through bullying and threatening behaviors.

No doubt, a young woman faces many huge obstacles that males do not face. It is true gender discrimination exists and stifles the goals of females in many endeavors. Still, to abandon reason and resort to brute force does not increase a female's positive influence within her social circles or within her workplace.

"It takes a village to raise relationally healthy children," said Melissa Maras, co-author of a recent study on “mean girl” bullying and assistant professor in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology in the University of Missouri's College of Education.

Relational aggression is a complicated issue with many variables, including schools, families and individuals. She says parents and teachers should be aware of relational aggression so they don't unknowingly contribute to the negative behaviors.

The study used intervention titled Growing Interpersonal Relationships through Learning and Systemic Supports (GIRLSS) developed by MU researchers, in a 10-week program with group counseling, caregiver training and caregiver phone consultation for relationally aggressive middle school girls and their families.

Students, ranging in age from 12 to 15, participated in one 70-minute session per week that included interactive discussions, media-based examples, role-playing, journaling and weekly goal setting. At the end of the intervention, school counselors and teachers reported a decrease in relationally aggressive behaviors among the girls.

(Joni D. Splett, Melissa A. Maras, and Connie M. Brooks. “GIRLSS: A Randomized, Pilot Study of a Multisystemic, School-Based Intervention to Reduce Relational Aggression.” Journal of Child and Family Studies. 2014)

A female with a promising future who embraces relational aggression and the whole image of being a bad girl lacks confidence in herself. Playing a counterproductive part that has existed for countless generations, she lives in nothing more than an artificial reality within a social circle restricted by her own choosing.

Granted, she may achieve popularity with her bitchy status; however, she must carry 24/7 the load of resentment and hatred that weighs ever heavier on her young shoulders. I believe once she sheds the aggressive posturing, she will be open to the love and support that will allow a sweet transformation into a beautiful young woman.


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