Sample text for Odd girl speaks out : girls write about bullies, cliques, popularity, and jealousy / Rachel Simmons, [editor].
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THE SOUND OF A GIRL'S VOICE
I was worried about Emma. She'd been at my girls' leadership camp for three days and had barely spoken. She was twelve, with dark hair and soft, downcast eyes. Even though she sat with the other girls at meals, I couldn't tell if she was really making friends. She was short and quiet and easily invisible.
One afternoon, I led a lively discussion about bullying among girls. A few hours later, after swimming, there was a knock at my door. It was Emma. Delighted, I started to welcome her, and before I could finish my sentence she was telling me a story, something she had kept so secret she was afraid that even to greet me might change her mind.
It was Valentine's Day in fifth grade, and Emma had driven her best friends crazy with her crush on Zack. She hoped he knew how she felt, prayed for a card from him, doodled his name inside her notebook.
It was also the day after her best friend sat their clique in a circle at lunchtime and gave them each a grade out of one hundred. It was a weekly ritual that Emma anticipated with a mixture of dread and hope. Each time, she hoped she would make it out of the sixties and into C range. Yesterday, she'd gotten a fifty-nine, a point below passing.
Today, when she went to her locker during social studies, the curling, shiny red paper was there, protruding out of the locker door. Slowly, she opened the card. "Dear Emma," it read, "I love the way your fat spills over your jeans when you wear those tight shirts. Will you be my valentine? Love, Zack."
She looked out my window, then back at me.
"I can't stop thinking of that image, over and over again," she told me. Emma had been making herself throw up ever since.
I began consoling her frantically, but she only nodded. I wasn't entirely sure she could hear me. By dinner, I knew it didn't matter. Emma was talking and laughing with the other seventh grade girls. The next day, she began raising her hand in discussions. When it was time for the girls to run their own discussions, Emma convinced her group to return to the topic of girl bullying. She served as the moderator. Then, standing before more than thirty people, Emma told the other girls exactly what had happened to her.
To write Odd Girl Out, I met with hundreds of girls in groups. We'd sit on the floor in a circle, cross-legged and munching snacks. I figured girls would be more comfortable talking together about bullying, meanness, and conflict. I thought they talked about it all the time.
I was wrong. When I asked them questions about direct confrontation, there was silence. A hand crept into the air, and a girl confided her fear of losing friends. Another confessed she might say something she didn't mean. The others stared at her, hesitated, then raised their hands and started talking. Whispers skittered through the room.
It soon became clear that most girls thought they were the only ones afraid of losing friends, the only ones who felt like their world might end if they did, the only ones with secrets about being bullies and victims, with knots in their stomachs as they entered the cafeteria and wondered where to sit.
As their voices grew more confident, their relief was palpable. They hadn't talked about this at all, and it thrilled them to realize they weren't alone. Sitting with the girls, watching them watch each other, was one of the most exciting parts of the Odd Girl Out project.
I invited young writers to tell their stories of bullying and friendship because I wanted girls to talk directly to each other about the hidden culture of aggression. I wanted to give every girl a chance to be a part of those discussion circles.
In Odd Girl Out, I explored how our culture affects the ways girls show their anger. Through powerful messages sent by parents, teachers, friends, and the media, girls learn that anger will not be tolerated; that they must sit quietly and behave like perfect little angels; that they cannot be ugly to anyone; and that breaking any of these rules will bring swift, severe punishment.
But much as girls try, bad feelings can't be wished or forced away. As a result, many girls hide their anger, using body language (the silent treatment), relationships (ganging up and threatening not to be friends with someone), and indirect aggression (rumors, gossip, the Internet) to express their true feelings. Others stifle their feelings, becoming depressed, cutting themselves, or developing eating disorders.
When girls are mean to each other, most people shrug it off. Determined to keep its girls "sugar and spice and everything nice," society turns a blind eye to girls' aggression. "Girls will be girls," they say. Or, they cluck, "It's a phase all girls go through."
As a result, most girls suffer alone. Their situations aren't addressed, their pain is private, and their problems hidden. Now, that's changing. We're starting to think about what girls do as "aggression," not just a "rite of passage." Odd Girl Out and Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabees began building a public consciousness of what it means to be hurt in social, relational, or indirect ways.
We must continue that process, this time in girls' voices. Girls need to tell their own stories, to each other and to the world. This book is intended not only to help girls but also to be a powerful declaration, a kind of petition signed by girls.
My strongest memory of being bullied as a third grader was the feeling that no one had ever gone through what I had. If that was true, then it also was true that I was a loser of epic proportions, and that what happened was clearly my fault. Those feelings of responsibility marked me deeply. They had a huge impact on my self-esteem. I know I ended up writing Odd Girl Out because of them.
But I hadn't just been a victim. I did something terrible to a close friend when I was fourteen. As the years passed, I buried the memory deep inside my mind. I lied to myself and others about who I was, convinced I had never been anything but nice. Later in the book, I'll explore how hiding a real, human part of my personality damaged my ability to have healthy conflicts with my friends and nearly denied Anne the dignity of an apology.
When you realize the confusion, panic, pain, hurt, and anger you experienced is something that millions of other girls have gone through, it changes things. First of all, it's a lot harder to blame yourself as a victim. Second, when you understand your situation and see it as something relatively common, it gives you a context for your pain, not to mention some perspective. Finally, if you were a bully, understanding that aggression is normal can help you take responsibility for your actions and grow as a person in significant ways.
Telling her story freed Emma from silence and shame. It gave her back some of the joys of girlhood that had been taken from her. I know I can't erase the searing loneliness of being an odd girl out. Yet I hope this book will give girls a sense of community, an opportunity to share strategies and solace, and most of all, the knowledge that even the worst kind of heartbreak improves with time.
What Girls Do
A shake of the head, a roll of the eyes
The rumors the lies
They no longer play on your pride
But rip you up inside
This is what girls do
This is what they say
It is like this every day
The mothers reply
But that is a lie
Walking in the hall
Taking in it all
All alone no one home
Kids shouting, kids staring
All this torture I'm bearing
No one caring
Growing from the Pain
Grammar school is where aggression all began for me. I went to a little Catholic private school, in a little "dandy" town in New Jersey. Everyone was friends with everyone else; it was hard not to be, in a class of thirty-five! But even that had its downfalls.
It all started in the sixth grade when little groups and cliques of girls formed. I seemed to fit in with everyone, not because I was popular but because I was always the "nice girl." I won "nicest" in the yearbook and "most Christianlike" at church. But even being nice had its downfalls. People could easily take advantage of you and in my case this one girl, Alisa, somehow became my nightmare.
It all began when she started to become best friends with all my friends. I loved it at first because it became one "happy group" but little by little I noticed Alisa slowly acting differently toward me. Then the stories started. Lie after lie, rumor after rumor was created as I sat there in awe of why and what she was trying to do to me. It just didn't make sense. Another problem I had was that I was very shy and hardly stood up for myself because even when I tried, Alisa would often "shut me down" and turn things around once again.
My life seemed to be a bad dream playing over and over again in my mind. "Poor Alisa" tried to turn things around and accused me of doing what she had done
to me (which of course never happened). Then eighth grade graduation came. I thought I would finally be able to get away from the misery I was put through.
I remember sitting at home crying for hours, thinking how she got away with all she put me through and why she tried to make my life so miserable. Even when I went to my best friends for advice (which were also her best friends, conveniently), they would just say that they didn't want to get involved because no one wanted to get tied up in "Alisa's lies." Half of them had been there and no one wanted to go through it time after time.
I finally thought when high school came along it would end! But of course it didn't. Alisa followed me right to high school along with ten other girls from my old school. I made a promise to myself at that point that I wouldn't let her bring me down. This was my time to shine. My high school years were going to be memorable and I was going to be out there making friends, making memories, and making a future that no one, especially Alisa, was going to stop me from having.
The first few months were hell as she tried to hold on to every last strand of me she could. She began to realize that I didn't need to get caught in her little games anymore. I began to meet new people and make new friendships, and Alisa got jealous. Alisa was finally getting a taste of what I had always hoped for: the realization that she couldn't rule me anymore.
Months passed and our paths crossed but I kept my distance and watched what I said. I even began to feel bad for her because I learned what fueled her popularity. It was her meanness, and the only way she thrived was through it. I learned that the only reason she was popular was not because she was smart or nice or athletic or pretty (the so-called ideal popular girl), but because she was cruel. The reason people wanted to be her friend was to avoid confrontation.
I sit back now in amazement of why and how I let things get to the point they did; how I allowed someone to take over my life as she did. I do thank Alisa, though, because she showed me someone I would never want to be. I now treat my relationships very differently. I think before I say something dehumanizing or negative.
Even Alisa has changed. As my senior year comes to an end, I can say that Alisa and I are better now. We occasionally hang out with the same people and even talk now. Alisa seemed to grow out of her meanness, and I guess you could say I grew out of my vulnerable niceness.
Sometimes a person's only way to express their hurtful feelings inside is by trashing it all on someone else. It was very unfortunate for Alisa to leave me with negative memories of our grammar school years together, but it is uplifting to feel that in the end everything turned out okay. Without Alisa in my life, I wouldn't have grown into the individual I am today.
I Don't Know Where I Stand
I "flapped" my hand over the small square of paper. Hands sweating, face red, throat dry.
"What could I have possibly done?" I thought. My head felt dizzy and heavy. My eyes tight. Jaw clenched.
I pulled the square truth out of my pocket. My hands were sweating and the back of my neck felt tight.
One, two, three. I opened the first fold. My stomach knotted. I opened the entire thing. Skimmed it enough to get the idea of the whole thing. It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I skimmed it once more and refolded it into my pocket. Now my hands were shaking.
I had found out why. Why Sophie didn't invite me to her party.
It all started on a Monday, during lunch.
"So what do you want for your birthday?" Those were the words that started it all.
I knew Sophie's birthday was soon. But I didn't know if the words meant there was a party or there would be a party.
The next day I asked one of the people I knew Sophie would invite if Sophie was having a party.
"Yeah, this Saturday."
I was hurt. I was shocked. How could Sophie invite two out of the three people she eats lunch with every day?
I thought we were friends. I thought that because we went out to lunch every day we were friends. But I guess she didn't.
The next day I asked Ava if she was going to Sophie's birthday party, half expecting her to say, "Yeah, are you?" and half expecting her to blurt out a secret Sophie told her to keep.
Instead her face turned pale and "innocent-looking."
"Yeah," she said, biting her lip, as if Sophie had told her to keep a secret from me.
The next day, instead of eating with Sophie and her "birthday crew" I ate with Ramona, a friend I knew I could trust. We sat at a table right behind Sophie and her birthday crew, whispering about how they hardly noticed I was gone.
A few days later I asked one of Sophie's birthday crew why Sophie didn't invite me.
He looked as if Sophie had said something really nasty about me.
"Wait, just tell me a little bit," I said, with fear that I would start crying wildly.
"It's something in your personality that she doesn't like. And her mom doesn't like you for that, either."
What could I have possibly done to make Sophie's mom not like me? I don't even know Sophie's mom!
Finally at the last period on Friday I asked one of the birthday crew to write down why Sophie hadn't invited me. I opened the paper, which would reveal the truth. It read:
Sophie didn't invite you because she thinks you'll steal all the attention away from her and control the party. She also thinks you act like you're the only one who's allowed to be friends with Ava. This is the same reason Sophie's mom doesn't like you.
First of all, the guests would come to see her, not me. And secondly, I can't "control" the party. It's her party. And I'm the only one who's "allowed" to be friends with Ava? Ava's allowed to be friends with whoever she wants. I do admit I sometimes (sort of) hog her, but hardly ever.
The Monday after the party I asked a birthday crew member how the party was.
"What did you do?" I asked.
"Talked, watched movies."
"What did you talk about?"
"Yes, you did!"
"Come on, you're lying," I said, not really knowing I cracked something open.
"What did you say about me?"
"Sophie asked why you were upset."
"And what did you say?"
"I said you thought you didn't do those things all the time."
"And what did she say?"
After all that! After all that she put me through. After the worrying and the putting the pieces together she agreed that I don't (always) do the things she said I did. I still wonder if she's sorry she didn't include me in the party.
I still have friendship problems with Sophie and Ava. They leave me out or talk behind my back. Especially Sophie. I don't know where I stand with them. Part of me wants to be all "friendly" and doing everything together, but part of me doesn't. It will take a long time before I can ever even consider forgiving Sophie (or Ava).
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