An essay in the esteemed (web) pages of Scientific American recently has caused a cascade of female anger.
The author, research psychologist Jesse Bering of Queen's University Belfast, attempts, in a rather inflammatory way, to chart the "natural" basis of teen girl bitchiness.
Bering, a gay man, has done himself no favours by referring to teenage girls as engaging in "bitchery" throughout his essay, as well as a few choice comments like this one when giving a talk to primary aged girls:
"And if this little pigtailed girl is anything like the rest of her gender, in just a few years' time she will unfortunately morph into an eye-rolling, gossiping, ostracising, sarcastic, dismissive, cliquish ninth-grader, embroiled in the classic cafeteria style bitchery of adolescent female social politics."
In essence, Bering summarises research that really, no reasonably-minded person could possibly dispute too vociferously - that "social aggression" in females appears to be innate and common, especially in the age-group that was traditionally of prime child-bearing age and looking to attract mates: 15 - 19 years old.
His post on the subject, followed by one in which he had to apologise on a few fronts, have prompted a large amount of negativity from (mainly) women who continue to believe that a woman is not born, "she's made".
In other words, social conditioning and lack of social power are more responsible for women choosing to display aggression with bitchiness, back-stabbing, gossiping and other tools of the weak.
Whatever the reason, it is undeniable that bullying, backstabbing and reputation-wrecking gossiping do occupy the minds of many teenage girls, and many parents are in despair trying to deal with it.
As Bering points out, this kind of aggression, naturally, often flies under the radar of teachers, parents and other authority figures, and it can therefore be much harder for individual girls to deal with outright acts of aggression.
For myself I know that high school was often a miserable time of being hated, shamed and humiliated by other girls. And those were the ones who simply detested me.
As far as the inner circle went, we were hating, loving and snubbing each other with such frequency it was amazing any of us managed to actually pass exams or even get to class.
I had always thought that it was largely down to the boys at my co-educational, public high school. They were a constant distraction, right from the age of about 10 when many of us started noticing and wanting to be noticed, and whether one could attract boys or not certainly created a pecking order that girls used their various social skills to keep firmly entrenched.
As a parent of a daughter now, I am constantly being told to be afraid of my daughter's adolescence, as if it's going to be a tsunami of angst and hatred. Boys may turn a bit later, I'm told, but it's girls that you really have to watch out for.
Yes, yes, I know. I was one, I know what a nasty, silly little cow I spent most of my time being and if it wasn't for my father's strict discipline I would have made my poor mother's life a complete misery.
And yet, I think there is another way to try and fight this scourge of teen female aggression, which I firmly believe IS about boys.
I think I might try this approach:
A) Boys are cool. But they are not worth losing your dignity over, at least not yet.
B) This is the way a good friend acts, and that friend will stay true to you no matter what happens. Treasure her.
C) You are a beautiful girl, about to turn into a lovely woman. Getting boys to sleep with you is not the goal of womanhood, and it doesn't mean that you are beautiful or popular even if they do.
And failing this, I think I might resort to another time honoured method...
GIRLS ONLY SCHOOL!
- Dita De Boni
Pictured above: The teens in 'Mean Girls' took nastiness to a whole new level.