About the book
When boys act out, get into fights, or become physically aggressive, we can’t avoid noticing their bad behavior. But it is easy to miss the subtle signs of aggression in girls–the dirty looks, the taunting notes, or the exclusion from the group–that send girls home crying.
In Odd Girl Out, Rachel Simmons focuses on these interactions and provides language for the indirect aggression that runs through the lives and friendships of girls. These exchanges take place within intimate circles—the importance of friends and the fear of losing them is key. Without the cultural consent to express their anger or to resolve their conflicts, girls express their aggression in covert but damaging ways. Every generation of women can tell stories of being bullied, but Odd Girl Out explores and explains these experiences for the first time.
Educator Rachel Simmons sheds light on destructive patterns that need our attention. With advice for girls, parents, teachers, and even school administrators, Odd Girl Out is a groundbreaking work that every woman will agree is long overdue.
About the author
Rachel Simmons graduated from Vassar College in 1996, where she studied women’s studies and political science. In 1998, she received a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford University, where she began her research of female bullying and the psychology of girls. She is the cofounder of the Girls Leadership Institute and works internationally with schools to reduce bullying. She writes frequently for Teen Vogue.
1. More than once in the introduction to Odd Girl Out, Rachel Simmons refers to her book as a “journey.” What kind(s) of journey-taking is she suggesting? And what sort of journey did you, as a reader, experience? Where did this book take you? Someplace new? Someplace familiar? Both? Explain.
2. Simmons bases much of her data in Odd Girl Out on interviews and visits she conducted over a one-year period with girls from ten different American schools. Identify, describe, and discuss these schools. Which school is most like your own—and how so? Which is least like your own—and why?
3. Near the beginning of chapter three, Simmons writes: “Girls don’t have to bully [to] alienate and injure their peers . . . The word bullying couldn’t be more wrong in describing what some girls do to hurt one another.” Why does the author find this term inadequate? What other term(s) would you use instead? In addressing these queries, reflect on both your own experiences and the idea of “alternative aggressions” (which is explored throughout the book).
4. After reading chapter four and thinking about your own experiences with technology, perhaps you can begin to answer the questions posed by Simmons: “The question becomes whether or not we should view girls’ online behavior as a courageous or creative extension of their personalities, or an unattainable fantasy of who they wish they could be. If a girl can only express certain convictions or feelings online, is she still being ‘real’? At what cost does this duality come to her integrity?” What is the impact of this duality on girls’ relationships?
5. What role do social media play in your life? How do you think you can reduce some of the drama that results in relationships because of Facebook, texting, or anonymous comment sites like Formspring? Do you think your friendships would be better or worse without social media?
6. In presenting a book that names, studies, and categorizes “the hidden culture of aggression in girls,” Simmons often looks back on her own girlhood experiences to make a point, provide a detail, or give an example. Nowhere is this more evident than in chapter six (“The Bully in the Mirror”). Explore the memories Simmons shares with us about her friends Anne and Jenny. What regrets does she express concerning these relationships? Despite these regrets, or maybe because of them, what wisdom does Simmons pass on to us? Where else in the book do we see the author uncovering truths that can be applied to all girls by revealing certain truths about her own girlhood?
7. Looking at chapter seven (“Popular”), consider the connections that might be made between popularity and deception, and popularity and aggression.
8. Reread the section in chapter eight called “When Cultures Collide.” Then, talk openly and candidly about moments of alternative aggression that you have experienced with girls of an ethnicity or race different from your own. Do your experiences–or those of any of your peers–reflect those of Jasmine? Ntozake? Tiffany? Jacqueline? Anyone else mentioned in chapter eight? How so?
9. In chapter ten, Simmons provides tips for parents, in part because “when it’s your child suffering, rational thought can go out the window.” What advice did you respond to? How does your own past experience with bullying affect your ability to parent, or to interact with other parents or school officials?
10. Review as a group the strategies Simmons offers to combat alternative aggression, particularly how educators can improve school climate. Point out which ones seem most realistic, helpful, and workable. What makes these particular strategies seem convincing and effective to you?
11. In her conclusion, Simmons writes: “Most of the behaviors mapped out in this book–nonverbal gesturing, ganging up, behind-the-back talking, rumor spreading, the exiling of cliques, note passing, the silent treatment, nice-in-private and mean-in-public friends–are fueled by the lack of face-to-face confrontations.” Describe a key moment in your life when you stood up to someone face-to-face, or a time when you wish you could—or would—have stood up to someone.
Tips to further enhance your reading of Odd Girl Out
1. Visit www.rachelsimmons.com and watch Simmons’s “Real Girl Tip” videos. How do these tips further help your understanding of girl bullying and what you can do about it? Which were most helpful, and why?
2. For more on the changing technology landscape and how to handle it, log on to www.rachelsimmons.com and watch Simmons’s video series “BFF 2.0.” What did you learn? What advice or knowledge will you incorporate into your use of social media?
3. Look again, in chapter five, at the “Ideal Girl / Anti-Girl” chart that Simmons helps a group of girls at a leadership workshop compose. Try creating your own chart, with each member of your group contributing traits and qualities for each of these two archetypes. Then compare and contrast the chart you made with the one appearing in chapter four. What lessons can you draw from looking at these two charts side by side?
4. Take a fresh and creative approach to what you have learned from Odd Girl Out about yourself and all girls and young women. As a direct and honest response to the book, communicate your own ideas and impressions about girl bullying in a short story or poem, depict them in a drawing or painting, or set them to music. Remember to include in your creation the feelings and notions (and memories?) that came to you while reading the book.