by Rachel Simmons Harvest, 2002 Review by Liz Bass on May 14th 2002
Ever wonder what white, middle-class,
mid-grade girls are studying in school? In Odd Girl Out, we find out
just what the real curriculum is for this sub-set of students. Its each other.
Thats right. They study each other. And what do they hope to learn? For
starters, they hope to learn who is vulnerable and who is strong, because that
is the information they use to determine whos in and whos out.
In pre-Columbine days, the shifting alliances of the younger set might have
only grazed the edge of our societal radar screen, but in post-Columbine terms,
we have all become sadly aware of what kids do to each other in the name of
Author Rachel Simmons wakes us up to the
fact that aggression is not just a "boy thing." When she tells us how
girls "aggress," Simmons leads us to dark places in a hidden culture
where this activity thrives. In the hallways, lunchrooms, and playing fields of
middle schools we see the wrecked lives of those cast aside by their peers. In
one interview after another, we hear how it feels to be bullied. We hear the
stories of the girls who were accepted and then unceremoniously dumped. We also
hear from those who believed they had friends but discovered later they were
nothing more than the butt of jokes. There are parents the mix too. Theirs is a
special anguish, laced with dashed dreams and fears of bad mothering.
Who are the villains in the piece? Aside
from the young bullies, there are a surprising number of references to teachers
who "do nothing." One would think that these adults, acting in
loco parentis, would be the first line of defense for the victims
who suffer under their watchful eyes. But it is not so. Some of them say they
dont see or hear things untoward because they are too busy "covering the
material." And since girl-aggression is often indirect and furtive, some
teachers are not always convinced it even exists. The sin of non-cognition?
For Rachel Simmons, Odd Girl Out
is a labor of love. A victim herself of a third grade bully, she recounts the
events of her eighth year as if they happened yesterday. And her reaction is
not far-fetched. Many of the people she interviewed carry the same baggage far
into their adult lives. So invested is this author in this subject that she
seems unwilling to let it go. She wants to keep adding things to it long after
the sad revelations have lost their punch. Hence, the book is somewhat
overwritten. But a reader with an ounce of soul will stay with it anyway
because it is so obviously important to the author.
That said, Im still glad that Simmons
wrote this book. It is a monumental step toward solving a problem she points
out early on when she says: "The day-to-day aggression that persists among
girls, a dark underside of their social universe, remains to be charted and
explored. We have no real language for it."
Thanks to Rachel Simmons, now we are
beginning to learn one.
Liz Bass is a retired teacher and
principal living in Northern California.
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