Rational aggression is a psychological form of aggression when a group of individuals is used as a tool of harming others. It takes the form of gossips, rumors, exclusion from groups, manipulative relationships, and even negative body language. This type of aggression has a devastating effect on the victims’ self image since it undermines his/her personal needs and the goals of early life. These are needs in social inclusion, positive self-esteem, and development of a significant friendship. There are certain unique signs that can be used to identify perpetrators and victims of rational aggression. These are their cliques and rational aggressive behaviors and the way of affecting their victims. Victims normally show signs of distress while the perpetrators are very popular and command power. This study focuses on the nature of the way the girls behave in school and in other social places, their cliques and rational aggressive behaviors, and they manner in which the victims are affected. The research explores the concerned subject by reviewing a couple of literature and research studies.
In our society today, we are observing a media-induced obsession and experience of girls. In the early 90’s there were some stories of teenagers being shortchanged, silenced, or at a risk of having low self-esteem. Nowadays, however, these stories are very different and rather paradoxical. These stories are based on how the girls rule, how they are empowered and thrive academically, and have liberty to do whatever they feel like doing. Simultaneously, girls have gone wild; they are becoming mean and are even resorting to violence in search of recognition or in order to make a mark in the society. In several ways, the current creation of girlhood is complex and in most cases, it goes unquestioned. More significantly, various individuals have constructed a familiar story about the girls as if they all experienced similar circumstances and opportunities (Wood, 2007, p. 4).
Most of the stories about bullies in school are centered on the images of boys who are sullen, physically aggressive with numerous social problems, and have low self-worth. Even though these types of bullies do not exist, social realities are more complex. A lot of bullies resort to secreted, tortuous social violence to hurt others. These bullies often possess well-developed social skills, high self-worth, and can manipulate others while appearing innocent at the same time. Simmons (2003) explains that clandestine aggression is not all about concealing the identity, it also entails feigning innocence. This type of behavior also known as rational aggression is a more common among girls than boys (p.4-5).
According to Mouttapa, Valente, Gallaher, Rohrbach, & Unger (2004), bullying is a form of violence which is a result of the discrepancy of power. Victims in most cases are often defenseless and do not retaliate at all. Boys and girls display aggression in diverse ways. Boys normally tend to be physical or employ straight oral aggression; however, girls show aggression in indirect ways. In most cases they do not engage in physical aggression or a verbal attack but employ calculated tactics such as excluding their victims from their groups and exposing them to public humiliation (p.316). A number of theories have attempted to explain the disparity between boys and girls. One of these theories is the developmental theory of female aggression. This theory posits that boys are socialized to be authoritarian and to display explicit physical and verbal aggression. On the contrary, girls are socialized to be cultivating and to direct their energy on developing and maintaining relationships. This is the reverse of socio-cultural aggressive behavior. Since both boys and girls possess aggressive impulses, girls tend to conceal their intent to harm the others and carry out their aggression in a culturally acceptable, stealthy way (O’Neal, 2008, p. 5). Some studies show that parents tend to reward their sons for exhibiting physical and verbal aggression, and their daughters for displaying interpersonal and social skills (Wood, 2007, p. 164-165).
It is shocking how girls tend to reject their parents and teachers and rely on their friends, even if they are the cause of their misery. They tend to conform to the expectation of the group so that they are not kicked out. Most high school girls are at the adolescent stage, a period where they are undergoing significant social and psychological development. Their main priority here is social acceptance. They struggle to be the members of at least one group where they can share secrets and seek for physical and emotional support (Simmons, 2003, p.4-5).
However, previous studies show that these friendships or groups can be a double edged sword; they can be positive or negative. These friendships help girls to survive the adolescent stage. Many make through this stage because of the care and support they receive from their very few good friends. Sometimes these groups set very good standards and a code of conduct which each member must adhere to; failure to these may result to exclusion. The main beneficiaries in this case are the Wanna Bees who will do anything just to impress the Queen Bees. In a case where the Queen Bees demand upright behaviors and adherence to the standards of friendships, it helps those at the fringe to take control of their lives (Wiseman, 2002, p. 3).
Nonetheless, these friendships can be crushed by overwhelming breakups and betrayals. These often result in confusion, frustration, humiliation, sadness, and insecurity. Beyond the immediate pain, the predicaments experienced after a break up from a group can lead to the development of behavioral patterns that can deny the victim a prospect of having a healthier relationship. Media is the major contributor of aggressive behaviors among the young and adolescent girls. Most of the programs and movies shown on the TV channels claim to empower the female gender; however, they depend on gender-stereotyped representations, such as an aggressive and mean girl (Cooper, 2001, p. 350).
Wiseman (2002) persuades parents to develop an adolescent brain by viewing the world from a young girl’s point of view and appreciating her world. School girls are encouraged to be floaters in the pecking order, which means they should not gauge their self-worth on the group acceptance. They should not exclude others and be tied to a particular member of the group, therefore they ought to accept themselves for whom they are. Most parents do not want to accept that their daughters are victims or perpetrators of aggression and victimization. This is due to the fact that they always view their children’s behavior as their own reflection and cannot stand to see them deviate from what they would like them to be (p.5 ).
Aggression among the Adolescent School Girls
According to Owens, Shute, & See (2000), rational aggression among school girls is dominant at the adolescent stage. Adolescence is a very significant stage in the social and psychological development of girls. It is the time when there is an increase in peer interactions, significance of close friendships, and the commencement of genuine romantic relationships (p.67-68). Friendship becomes more vital than parents as they contribute significantly towards the self concepts and wellbeing. There is excessively high priority on social acceptance at this stage (Cole & Cole, 2001, p. 6).
A study conducted by Besag (2006) established that teenage girls consider friendship as very important, and the breakup of friendship has serious psychosocial repercussions. In his study, he established that most girls went through a run of best friends throughout their life, from childhood to teenagehood. However, these friendships fluctuated numerous times and out of the sample, he found only one original pair of best friends who were still together (p.535).
According to Simmons (2006), many conflicts and cases of bullying among the girls originate from emotions associated with friendship, for instance covetousness, distrust, regret and resentment. The generally reported reason for the break-up of best friends is the intervention of a third party (a girl) in between the best friends. Since membership in a friendship alliance is exclusive, it is only set aside for those who have proved to be worthy of trust and confidence to create an emotional attachment (p.8). However, the inconsistent nature of girls trust is frequently broken, resulting into conflicts and aggression. In most cases, a supportive friend may keep out the target girl from her group, call her spiteful names, spread rumors, gossip about her, and even send her unfriendly messages (Owens et al., 2000). Victims normally are not capable of escaping the network of social relationship in which the bully operates, more so because they were once friends in the past (Besag, 2006, p. 539).
Brinson (2005) found out that the members of groups dominated by aggressive girls normally care and assist themselves. She also observed an extreme level of intimacy and sharing of secrets among the group members, which puts each member at a risk as such secret information can be used against them by the aggressive girls. The risk is increased by the fact that these groups are highly exclusive and the followers in most cases have very few external friends whom they can turn to if banished. The dynamics of these cliques thus results in girls complying with their code of conduct or standard for the fear of being excluded (p.170).
According to Duncan (2004) study, popularity is connected to heterosexuality attractiveness. The study also established that girls use rumors and other forms of aggression to gain popularity. Taking into account the increased concern with the social status, most girls in high school become rivals with one another for popularity and attention of their male counterparts (p.144). Duncan (2004,) also found out that besides the need for popularity and attention, competitive environment in academics and sports is another source of aggression in high schools (p.149).
The newest form of bullying among the high school adolescents is cyber bullying. Canadian Teachers Federation (2008) defines cyber bullying as the use of information communication technology to engage in disparaging, slanderous, humiliating, unlawful, and/or abusive conduct/ behavior. Nowadays, bullies can use e-mail, texts, chat rooms, online discussion boards, and social networking sites to target their victims. Bullies normally employ methods such as flaming (openly attacking their victims), cyber stalking, defamation, outing (painting the victim as gay), deception, and exclusion. Cyber bullying is more damaging than other forms of aggression since its very hard to identify and avoid the aggressor; the message reaches fairly a large number of people and it can produce a long-term psychological damage on the targeted person (Underwood 2003, p. 3).
Victims of the aggression normally tend to be extra sensitive, sad, vigilant, worried, silent, and withdrawn. They are generally apprehensive, have low self-esteem, and respond by withdrawing when targeted by others. As a result, they are very susceptible to victimization. The aggressors always believe that they canot retaliate (Besag, 2006, p. 540). In addition, Wiseman (2002) asserts that it is not easy for a parent to discover if her/his daughter is a victim since she can be embarrassed to admit it. Even under extreme circumstances the targets are usually not willing to tell their parents because they do not want their parents to view them as losers or nobody in the society (p. 35).
Queen Bees and Wanna Bees
According to Wiseman (2002), different roles take place within female groups or cliques, with the Queen Bee being the pinnacle of the pecking order and the Target being at the bottom of the hierarchy. The rest can take other numerous positions in the group or the clique. These positions include the Banker, Sidekick, Floater and the Wanna Bee (Messenger). The Bankers are those girls in a clique who use secrets and gossip to their advantage to climb the social ladder. The Sidekick answers directly to the Queen Bee and helps her to consolidate her subjects and maintain her position. Wanna Bees are those girls who are on the fringe of the group and are willing to do anything to gain favor from the Queen Bee (p. 3).
Queen Bees normally use fear and power as their weapon. Such a girl normally organizes the troops and uses her authority to keep everything moving. The Queen Bees maintain their self focus and are always ready to fix anyone who goes against the group’s standard and code of ethics. They mostly aim to seek attention and to be in charge or gain power. The only price they pay is loss of self, since they are always busy trying to maintain their image in the society. The Sidekick who is normally the Queen Bee’s best friend gains by being close to the Queen Bee. She is popular and is always included in group’s activities. However, as time goes by, she loses her significance and her own opinion. The Banker on the other hand, uses information to strengthen her position in the hierarchy and to gain trust from the others (Wiseman, 2002, p. 4-5).
Besides, Torn Bystander is a member of the clique who is normally caught between doing what the Queen Bee wants and her conscience. She always wants to maintain neutrality and wants to get along with everybody. She is also popular, but her popularity normally wanes since she gives up very easily and in most cases thinks of herself as of less gifted. The Wanna Bees also known as the Messenger/Pleaser will do anything to get along with the Queen Bee. She does everything in accordance with the Queen Bees demands. She has a feeling of belonging but has no self-worth and is always in trouble trying to conform to the others. The Target or the Victim is an excluded member. She is excluded from membership because of trying to challenge the top ranks in the hierarchy. She has no friends and does not want to admit that she is hurt due to feeling rejected. The Target can learn empathy, become more objective, and even find new friends. However, she normally feels defenseless and apprehensive because of the cruelty she experiences from the group members (Brinson, 2005, p. 172; Wiseman, 2002, p. 5).
According to Wiseman (2002) the best option is to be a floater. Floaters are girls with high self esteem who do not base their self-worth on how well they are accepted into the clique. They do not exclude others and are not tied to a particular member of the group, therefore, accept themselves for whom they are. Most parents normally believe that their daughters are floaters. This is because parents do not like to admit that their daughters are the mean ones or are on the other end of the band, detached and bullied (p. 14). Most parents view their children’s character as a reflection of their own and therefore always find it very hard to accept the fact that their children are not what they would like them to be. Wiseman (2002) further advices parents that even if their daughters are not floaters, it does not mean that they will not become remarkable women in the future or that they have not done a good job in bringing them up. However, if the parents do not accept their children the way they are, they will not be able to be good parents as their daughters want them to be (p. 30-31).
Cooper (2001) blames the girl’s aggressive behavior in the media. He explains that the media, especially the television and cinema, plays a major part in socializing the girls into viewing themselves through the lens of a mean girl or girl power. Through the media, girls are overwhelmed with the messages that educate them to view themselves and other girls in an aggressive manner. Some of the TV programs aired in the Disney channel and MTV send conformist messages of classed and racial-oriented femininity (p. 350).
According to Brinson (2005), Hollywood movies depict female aggression as an exclusive way through which girls and women can get what they want. They suggest that rational aggression is exclusive to women; while men can also be aggressors and victims of aggression. These programs tend to bring the worse in women and tend to reduce them to the level of teenage school girls (p. 168). In the light of these, Chesney-Lind and Irwin (2008) study established that cultural depiction of girls and girlhood also influences girls’ self perception. For instance, girls who borrow from their fashionable conversation when describing themselves and their friendship normally use terms and symbols to outline and construe their emotional lives in the past. These terms and symbols in most cases are always negative and portray a damaging construction of women. According to previous research, most girls criticized others and regarded them as spiteful and mean. These negative sentiments give the impression of how bad girls are. The study concluded that most girls use negative popular discourse about other girls so that they can exonerate themselves from the blame (p. 3).
In his study, Duncan (2002) explains that, rational aggression by adolescent school girls can produce short term and long-term effects on the victims. Victims of a recurrent act of aggression normally experience seclusion, apprehension, psychological stress, and low self esteem. He also affirms that bullying and victimization can cause apprehension and depression, eating problems, and poor performance in school. In some instances, students refuse to go to school or ask for the transfer to escape the acts of aggression. In such cases, students normally hide the truth from their parents and teachers for the fear of revenge by the aggressors or because of the feeling of shame and guilt (p. 137-138).
According to Simmons (2003), psychological abuse is more difficult to detect than physical abuse. This can further lead to doubts and self-blame, resulting into additional mental stress. In a case where the victim can not prove that she has been bullied, if the aggressor manages to conceal her action and intent, the victim normally feel defenseless and sees no point of taking further action or trying to fix the situation (p. 87). The damage caused by the act of aggression can last for a very long period of time. The victims and the perpetrators are both at risk of developing adjustment crisis that can last for a lifetime. This generally results into relationship problems, depression, and suicidal ideations (Wiseman, 2002, p. 35). A longitudinal study carried out by Pellegrini & Long (2002), demonstrates the connection between childhood and teenage aggression, sexual and workplace harassment, and abusive behavior in adulthood.
There are numerous ways how a parent can discover if her/his daughter is a victim or a perpetrator. If she is a victim, the parent should try to establish any sign of distress. These includes the victim hanging around by herself, watching too much TV alone, always complaining of not feeling well, wanting to stay at home, weaving a problem into a conversation, among others. Perpetrators in most cases walk in groups and are very popular. A parent whose daughter is a victim should be a good listener, not being judgmental or ridiculing his/her daughter, and give all the support needed, find out who can help the girl in school, and be cautious when handling the matter because it might fail and cause the victim more harm (Wiseman, 2002, p. 35; Cole & Cole, 2001, p. 6).
This study clearly shows that relational aggression is internally stimulated, compelled by a sense of threat or fear, and adopted largely by females, and represents behavioral dynamics that can be altered with the effort taken. Relational aggression usually transpires in the secreted culture of an adolescent girl’s social system. Moreover, it has driven females to form various cliques. Recently this issue has been addressed through workshops, after-school and community programs, resources for schools, and parenting books among others. Various strategies have been used to combat this issue among the adolescent girls. Young girls should be informed on the effects of relational aggression so as to gain the awareness on the significance and rationale it has in their development of friendships with other females.