When we think of bullying, the image that typically
comes to mind is one of physical violence and intimidation;
a schoolyard bully shakes down a smaller kid for his lunch
money or a junior high student is beaten up after lunch.
Girl Wars introduces the reader to relational
aggression (RA), a subtler but equally damaging form of
Relational aggression is defined as the use of
relationships to harm others. Since girls tend to be more
social than boys and are more likely to define themselves by
their relationships with others, the problem is most often
caused and suffered by girls. Most people can relate to the
tactics of RA even if they never put them into words. Did a
former friend once refuse to sit with you at lunch? That's
relational aggression. Did anyone ever spread a rumor about
you? That's another example of RA.
Since RA is less obvious than other forms of bullying, it
is important to recognize its characteristics. The authors
first define relational aggression, give numerous examples
and place it in the larger context of teenage development.
They then quickly move on to strategies to combat RA, which
include ways to build teens' self-esteem and conflict
resolution skills so that they don't fall prey to peers'
aggression and larger efforts to stem the culture that
encourages relational aggression. Expertly combining their
own observations with first-hand accounts from girls who
lived through RA, the authors create a compelling narrative
of an oft-overlooked social problem.
The book ends on a note of hope as the final chapter
recounts several successful programs that are fighting the
culture that leads to relational aggression. From Ophelia
Project clubs that provide mentoring to middle school girls
to a full-fledged camp experience that aims to improve
self-esteem and squash RA, there is an inspirational "you
can do it, too" tone to the examples. These stories are
followed by a wealth of resources in four appendices,
including websites, movies and books that either provide
support for those fighting RA or serve as illustrations of
key RA topics.
While Girl Wars is targeted to the parents
of teen girls, it should be required reading for anyone who
comes in contact with teenagers, especially teachers and
school counselors. By reading this book, anyone can become
more aware of relational aggression, recognize its signs and
take steps to combat it.