Monday, June 30, 2008

Everyone Does It

Forgive a little wandering in introduction of my point. I was intrigued by Megan McArdle's offhand point under 2), recounting how girls in groups pick an out-girl that everyone picks on. This is true? I have heard mothers complain about how cruel girls can be, but I never put it into a pattern or a theory-of-everything. I forwarded the above link to a psychologist friend of about my own age, asking about this girl behavior. She is much more liberal than I, but a bright and open-minded person who often has interesting insights.

Perhaps I should have picked a different female psychologist of my own age-cohort or something. This one was notably defensive in her reply. She expressed some annoyance that feminist had become an unattractive label to women over the last twenty years. She related it to Susan Faludi's book Backlash - society had resented the growth of women's power and had moved to drain and belittle feminism. In contrast, she saw feminism as having always been inclusive and affirming.

My first thought was "What year was that, that feminism was inclusive and affirming?" I was also around for the beginning of that and was a deeply socialist person who wanted to remake society in the direction of feminism. But even then there was scalding anger directed at all males, sympathetic to the cause or not. I chalked it up to it being a new movement, not quite focused and brimming with personal angers, but figured that was normal and unremarkable. The women of my experience who identified most closely with feminism were bright, thoughtful, usually pleasant women. I figured that the rising batch of younger feminists would sort all this out in the next decade or so and develop a broad, fairly coherent political philosophy that I would quite obviously support.

I keep thinking that has happened, but every few months something comes up that shoots this down. It's not just the public feminists, writing books and heading up organizations. I expect them to be a little extreme, a little outrageous. The original essay goes over the top, but not frighteningly so. But read the comments. Not just some of the comments, but long successions of them. Holy crap. Feministe, firedoglake, Bitch, PhD, and most of the women at HuffPo wish real evil on people who disagree with them.

And in person, where people are more polite, it's that swift, scalding anger from otherwise affable women defending them. Most of these have excellent social skills and politeness, so you have to be alert to the burn. To the manner born, and all that.

Does everyone do the same? Are gay people just fine regular folks until you get on gay topics? Are Christians generally fun until you tread on their holy toes? Black people, environmentalists, anti-taxers - are we all mostly pleasant, warm, sociable people until that soft area is poked and we turn mean?

BTW, I really am asking about that all-female societies thing from Ms. McArdle's essay. Was that how camp was, through highschool? Girl's dorms? Female professions? When and how does it go away - or go underground?


Anonymous said...

"Not just some of the comments, but long successions of them. Holy crap. Feministe, firedoglake, Bitch, PhD, and most of the women at HuffPo wish real evil on people who disagree with them." Well, the Master did not command His followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them because that's what people naturally do. Just the opposite, of course. I suspect that, in an increasingly secular and post-Christian world, we are going to find out the hard way that treating one's opponents fairly is really a Judeo-Christian value.

Anonymous said...

allow me a segway from elc's last comment - from today's science section, on moral hypocrisy findings (excerpt below):

"On average, they judged it to be unfair for someone in the other group to give himself the easy job, but they considered it fair when someone in their own group did the same thing."

Chris said...

I have not read the linked article, but have experience with this dynamic. My daughter was part of a group during high school. They were mostly girls, with a couple of boys. One of the boys had a major crush on my daughter, but she wasn't interested in him romantically, so he got a girlfriend, who joined the group, along with the other boy's girlfriend. The results were entirely predictable. The girlfriend became jealous of the attention that my daughter received from the boy, and instigated an ostracizing of my daughter from the group. The boys went along because their girlfriends wanted it, and we all know that teenage boys do whatever their girlfriends want, under threat of withholding affection. The rest of the group made what appears to be an undiscussed decision to allow my daughter to be thrown out, in order to maintain the cohesion of the rest of the group. It was quite interesting, in some ways. It would have been more interesting if it happened to someone else, but there you have it.

Needless to say, the group did not function as well as before, because my daughter had been the center of it, drawing in the disparate elements that make up any social group. Her original friends eventually came back to her after realizing their mistake. Such are the hard lessons we learn in our youth.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, all this Lord of the Flies stuff, that assumes most kids grow up and mature to realize the error of their ways. I've often heard it said how vicious the youth can be to one another - and recall it and witnessed it throughout my early years. But behind every bully who beat me up, or jealous girl who helped gang-up on the shy, sweet and vulnerable lady, was most often at least one parent who fostered that behavior. I believe it probable that the only reason such cruelty is not so prevalent in adulthood isn't because of some sort of self-enlightenment, but rather simply because priorities change to making money and obtaining things - as well as being aware that the consequences of the same actions committed in youth (legally or otherwise) make it less appealing. So that it's not so much "look how mean kids are to eachother" as it is "look how mean humans can be to their fellow kind when the opportunity arises"
Cheers, Tom

Chris said...

I was not making a "Lord of the Flies" reference at all. My point was not that some of the other girls "matured" and changed their behavior, it was that I had personal experience with girl group dynamics.

Tom, your comment that adults simply change their priorities is undoubtedly true, but I would posit that the reason children have more opportunity to exercise their selfish nature is because their victims are unskilled in how to handle this type of attack. People do learn how to cope with bullies and manipulators over time, whether their coping mechanisms are healthy or not.

Anonymous said...

Witnessing the psychological harm (and perhaps irreparable damage) done to young innocents during my upbringing, I contend that it's not so much that they learn how to cope or even fight back such abusers, as is it that the once-bullies move on to bigger, more rewarding conquests in life - leaving their victims in the dust so to speak. Seen it time and again, but not as much cynical by it as resigned to saying "that's the way it is" in an impirically curious sort of way. It's all most interesting - with my not meaning to negatively criticize any particular view of the subject. Cheers, Tom

Anonymous said...

I'm late to the party, but AVI, you might be interested in reading Odd Girl Out, a book I just recently read which studies how bullying works in female groups. It is psychological and social, rather than physical as usual with boys - the pattern is to kick the targeted girl out of her relationships (or make her think this is about to happen). The girl often persists in the friendship or clique, because there are occasional overtures - just enough to give her some hope - and the alternative of having no relationships at all is too horrifying.

Contra TomG, I don't think girls stop bullying when they grow into women. The dynamic in adulthood doesn't seem all that different to me, and I've seen it in pretty much all all-female groups throughout my life.

It gets less damaging, I think, because girls begin having emotionally intimate relationships with the opposite sex as well as the same sex, so it's harder to threaten to withdraw all relationships.

I don't think it's related to feminist ideology per se, but Megan is absolutely right about what goes on and how it's done. And yes, you sometimes see the same sorts of things in professional groups among intelligent adults. I watch my back carefully in groups that are predominantly women for more or less this reason - which come to think of it is a pretty rotten thing to say about my own sex, but there you are.