Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

30 December 2011

Book Review: Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons (Revised Edition)

The newly revised and updated edition of Odd Girl Out is a must have for every person who is parenting or educating a girl.

This was the first book I grabbed once my fall classes were over. A bookshelf of books have been taunting me since August, but this is the one I had to read first. Why? I think it's because I have a daughter. She's eight and in the 3rd grade and we've already had two incidents involving bullying. The first was in preschool and the second was last year. Both incidents were handled by teachers are administrators in a manner that Simmons suggests in Chapter 12: the road ahead for teachers and administrators. That chapter gives some wonderful suggestions on how to set up a school or even a classroom to be as bully-proof as possible. Obviously no place can be bully-proof, but one thing that Simmons points out is that one way to address bullying is to have a transparent and predictable system of consequences. If a student knows that Sally and Maria are the teacher's favorite and nothing they do gets them in real trouble, that student feels disempowered to act and report bullying she may be experiencing or witnessing. Having a consistent system of consequences also sends a clear message to students who bully that it will not be tolerated.

Simmons doesn't advocate for a zero-tolerance policy that gets 7-year-olds expelled, rather a zero-tolerance policy that is just that, zero-tolerance for bullying a classmate.

As a kid I had my share of girlfriends, but at recess I was more prone to hang with the boys playing softball, football or plain old wrestling. I can't recall being bullied on the playground the way Simmons reports, I guess I'm lucky. Or maybe because the girls from my school were working class and we were all tough in our own ways. I can't recall more than a couple of girls who were overly girly. That said, I can see the girly girls in my daughter's life.

Her first experience with bullying was from a girl who was trying to enforce gendered clothing. The kid was told that when she wore pants, she was a boy. Once reported, the teachers had a great conversation with the kids about kids being able to wear whatever they wanted. Clothing does not make one a girl or a boy.

Three themes really struck me as key things to remember from this book.

One is that schools have relied on girls to maintain a certain peace for years. Without most girls maintaining that peace, the whole classroom would be chaos.To ask teachers to be aware of the quiet manner girls bully each other is asking teachers to realize that their classrooms are as out of control as they sometimes seem.

And second is that this peace that we see in girls is really silence. Society teaches girls to silence their feelings in order to "be good." Simmons outlines how this silence works in girl-on-girl violence is really just training for being in a violent relationship later in life. Because being BFFs with a girl who bullies you IS VIOLENCE.

Bullying is not just how girls are. Not if we decide that it ends today. HERE. NOW. When we teach our girls to get over it, that "that's how life is, wait until your boss is a bully," we are teaching our girls to ignore that voice in their head and heart that says, "This is wrong. Walk away."

The last theme is one that a friend and I were discussing a few weeks ago. Why are women afraid to promote themselves? I know that I can look back at my childhood and know that being "all that" was frowned upon. Pride in one's work could only be taken so far. I use to write email updates to family & friends until someone very close to me wrote asking why I only send emails when I have something to brag about. That comment still keeps me from writing updates to people I know what to know what's going on with me. Especially people who aren't connected to me via social media. Simmons really digs into how promoting oneself breaks one of the cardinal rules of being a girl -- fit in. You can't fit in if you let people know how awesome you are.

Simmons updated her book to include a great chapter on cyberbullying. If you don't have time to read the whole book, skip right to chapter four: bff 2.0: cyberbullying and cyberdrama and chapter nine:  parents speak. But you really should read the whole thing. 

Warning women reading this will experience flashbacks to high school. Men who read this may have a lot of WTF moments. Either way, I highly recommend this to everyone with a girl in their lives. Get yourself a copy at Powells or IndieBound.


Disclaimer: I requested this book for review. 

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2 comments:

Thanks again for giving me the heads up about this on facebook. We're dealing with bullying in our homeschooling community and it's been difficult because there isn't an authority to go to to demand policy changes. Mostly it's been about avoidance but our HS community is SMALL and total avoidance isn't realistic, especially when it means missing out on some great opportunities. We're still figuring it out.

Oh goodness! Bullying in a homeschooling community? Good luck, my friend.