“Girls’ are often their own and other girls worst enemies, and for some the rivalry defines their adolescence. I have watched time after time as a sweet, intelligent girl plots another girl’s humiliating downfall. It’s hard to admit, especially when the evildoer is your own child or one of her close friends.” – Rosalind Wiseman (2009, p. 20)
Girl bullies are often described as “the hidden bullies” because the tactics they use tend to be more covert and harder to spot. They are less likely to bully others physically, and so there are no bruises to document or violent scenes to observe. It can occur right in plain sight within full view of adults. Instead, girl bullies overwhelmingly use psychological weapons against their targets, which can be even more destructive than physical ones but leave no obvious signs. As one pair of university psychologists write, “Female bullying is typically more insidious, cunning, and difficult to spot than is male bullying.” (DeBord & Moore, 2011, p. 3)
Differences between girl bullying and boy bullying
Although bullying shares many of the same qualities whether it involves males or females, here are some of the ways girl bullying might differ from boy bullying:
A) What motivates girl bullies?
Girls more often bully as a means of reassurance and affiliation, whereas boys do such things more for power and dominance. Much of the girl bullying that takes place occurs either out of jealousy or disrupted friendships, whereas boys are more likely to pick on others they don’t know.
B) Girl bullies are better manipulators
Girl bullies tend to be more socially sophisticated, and thus are better when it comes to manipulating adults. They may be able to convince teachers that they are the victims, or put on a convincing show as the “good kid” in front of adults. Girl bullies may be well-liked among teachers, and females in general benefit from the fact that adults are less likely to discipline girls or see their behavior as problematic.
C) Girl bullies can get physical, too
Although girl bullies tend to utilize psychological warfare rather than physical tactics, this doesn’t mean they never act violently. In fact, researchers note that physical violence among girls in bullying situations has been trending upwards in recent years, and cases involving girl bullies can include things like gang attacks, knife fights, or other serious violence.
D) Female victims may be more sensitive
Some studies suggest that bullied girls are more likely to become suicidal than bullied boys. (Weller, 2011) Although it should be noted that in general, boys have a much higher rate of completed suicide. This indicates that bullying may affect girls more emotionally than boys, or that they are more sensitive to its effects.
Dealing with girl bullies
Since girl bullying is usually more targeted and less indiscriminate, the first step is to get to the source and uncover whatever hidden motivations are driving this behavior. Often times it is something based on a misunderstanding: a false rumor that got around, a he-said, she-said situation, or the manipulation created by a third party to turn one girl against the other. Only by playing the peacemaker and resolving these issues can you bring about an end to it all.
Of course, some girls are simply aggressive bullies who bully because they enjoy tormenting others. So it’s not always a case of resolving past conflicts or tensions.