Are Adults the Real Bullies?
by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Adolescent girl-on-girl bullying in America has dominated the news headlines following the tragic suicide of Phoebe Prince, an Irish student new to South Hadley High School in Massachusetts. After briefly dating a popular football player, Prince endured months of hallway and Internet slurs from a cabal of seven other girls before hanging herself in mid-January. Debates rage about teacher, student and societal culpability, with at least one anti-bullying consultant, Barbara Coloroso, blaming administrators at South Hadley High School. Other experts are shining an intense spotlight on the myth (or reality) of mean-girl female violence.
These public discussions, coupled with another dominant news headline about girls – the indisputable fact that girls academically outperform boys at the secondary and collegiate levels -- highlight the unique, complex pressures on girls in America today.
A politically incorrect reality that became obvious from my work as an editor at Seventeen Magazine is that adolescence generally presents more paradoxes – and thrills – for girls than boys. Girls’ bodies change and mature earlier and more dramatically than boys. Girls confront the intoxicating power of femininity and sexuality while simultaneously absorbing the reality that rape, unwanted sexual attention, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases threaten them far more dramatically than their boyfriends. Drilled into girls’ psyches are incessant feminist messages that good grades, starting positions on varsity sports teams, Juilliard-level piano skills, and high test scores are critical to even the playing field in a world riddled with gender discrimination and lingering, latent systems and networks that favor y-chromosomes. A combustible cocktail for any humans, especially ones with less than two decades under their Bebe and Juicy Couture belts.
Slice of life example: Two days ago, my preteen daughter offered to venture out into our urban DC neighborhood in search of a birthday cake for her eight-year-old sister. What a wonderful growing-up-girl gesture, I thought: she’s demonstrating maternal and independent instincts simultaneously! Surely applying to medical school would soon follow. After reminding her to take her cell phone, I wished her good luck and went back to reading Stop Bullying Now!.