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Lesleymac recommended this book to me, and when I saw it at Half Price Books while selling off some of my collection, I picked it up.

Rachel Simmons decided to write Odd Girl Out because she couldn't find much, if any, published research on the ways in which girls torture each other while growing up (and let's face it, some never stop). So she decided to do some research, talk to current and former victims of female bullying, called "relational aggression," meaning shunning, ostracism, rumor-mongering, exclusion, whisper campaigns, "accidental" bumpings...

I read a lot of books on horrible stuff. I read books on rape, rape survival, Female Genital Mutilation, child abuse, animal abuse, human atrocities, serial killers... I have never read anything as triggering as this book. There have been times, while reading it, I started to have problems reading the words, and realized that I was shaking so hard that it was literally impossible to read the words. It made me cry on more than one occasion. Some of the stories in this book could have been mine, word for word.

I'm going to warn you that if you were a victim of orchestrated girl bullying in your youth, this book is going to make you cry, and quite possibly have nightmares. It will also point out to you all the ways in which you are NOT over it. The ways in which the means you developed to survive in your teens are still your coping mechanisms now. Particularly telling for me was realizing that while I have no problem confronting men or women I don't know well, that I will still swallow things that bother me if the people who do them are good friends, because I don't want to be a bitch, or make them mad, or make them not like me.

So, as gut wrenching a read as this is, I highly recommend it to help you get a handle on your current behavior, or for no other reason than to know you weren't alone.

And if you have girl children, I can't recommend this enough. Although right now I'm reading the chapter on how parents feel when their daughters are the victims of girl bullying, and it's kind of pissing me off. Partially because I see my mother's reactions to it. Because parents are still saying shit like "Ignore them and they'll stop" or "You need to develop a thicker skin." Because I'm seeing the teachers and administrators are still blaming the victim, telling them that this wouldn't happening to them if they'd try harder to fit in, had better social skills, whatever... When, if you read this book, you see that the lack of social skills is rarely the impetus for the most cruel behavior. The parents who are more concerned with what the neighbors will think if they put their kid in therapy, than the damage being done to their child.

But, I'm not done with the parent/teacher chapter yet, so it could redeem itself. If nothing else, read it as an example of what not to do if your kid is bullied.

I've said before, your child may not want you to intercede on her behalf, but the most powerful, saving thing you can do for your daughters is to believe them. One of the strains running through this book is that the victims of relational aggression are often not believed because the bullies are "just not that kind of girl." For the love of all that is holy, if your daughter is being bullied and thinks highly enough of your relationship that she tells you, BELIEVE HER! Even if you do or can do nothing else. Believe her.

Don't tell her to toughen up, don't tell her to ignore it. Tell her you believe her, and that you will step in if that's what she wants. At the very least, tell her teachers to keep an eye on the situation. Girls are really good at acting under the radar, because our society acculturates them to that. Teachers need to know to look for the subtle things if they're ever going to see them.

Again, I highly recommend this book. If you're in the Seattle area, the U-dicrict Half Price Books has several copies.
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The latest death laid at the feet of bullying, is the suicide of 15 year old Phoebe Prince: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/2010/03/29/2010-03-29_phoebe_prince_south_hadley_high_schools_new_girl_driven_to_suicide_by_teenage_cy.html

Phoebe had recently moved to the US from Ireland, and committed the greatest of great sins of dating a popular boy. Because of this her fellow classmates began a campaign of abuse towards her that ultimately led to her taking her own life.

There but for the grace of God...

I'm gonna warm you right now, this one gets LOOOONNNGGGGGGG...

Elementary school wasn't bad, apart from some teasing I received after trying to save earthworms after rainfalls ("Worm Girl"), I didn't catch too much crap in spite of developing early and being one of the smart kids who got bussed to a multi-school program for the academically talented. This was due in part to the fact that I was pretty jock-y for a nerd, and also because when the school bully tried to pull me off a swing, I kicked him in the face and quite possibly broke his jaw.

Let me elaborate, I was at the top of the arc of my swing, which was really damn high, and he kept trying to grab my legs and yank me off my swing onto the gravel below. On the way up, after he'd nearly taken one of my shoes off, I swung my foot out and connected with his face. Down he went. Funny, he left me alone after that.

Then we moved across the country. I got to be the new kids, and it sucked a lot. Still the teasing wasn't too bad, partly because the school bully had a crush on me and would beat up people who gave me a hard time, even if he himself couldn't bring himself to actually talk to me. But it was manageable.

However, in seventh grade... oooohhh, seventh grade.

My best friend went back to being friends with her former best friends, twins who didn't particularly like me. After ignoring me for the first month or two of the school year, she called me a slut.

Word spread like wildfire. I was a slut. I had slept with the football team, basketball team, teachers, coaches...

I was 12 and still a virgin.

In fact, I was a virgin until I lost my virginity in a rape three years later.

Also in seventh grade my complexion exploded. I still have scars from the acne I had in jr. high. Developed early (38 B by 8th grade), too smart, bad skin, and then that slut thing. Oh, yeah, junior high was a fucking party.

Popular boys would pretend to like me, and then recoil in horror if I spoke to them. Male classmates would unhook my bra in class so many times I finally just started reaching up under my shirts to re-hook it instead of fleeing to the bathroom. You have no idea what a fucking revelation front clasp bras were. Oh, and after I discovered those, they contented themselves with trying to see how far forward they could stretch their hands over my sides to my breasts, pulling my hair and running their fingers down my neck. Most other girls wouldn't speak to me outside of class. I was shoved into walls, against lockers. I learned really early on to not relinquish my grip on anything I owned ever, and wore my backpack backwards so I could lock my arms around it. I once had my purse kicked up and down the halls until all the make up I had in it was crushed. One time at the urging of a frenemy, I wrote a note to a boy I liked, only to have him rip it up and throw it in my face on the bus where I couldn't escape. A boy in my AP English class in 9th grade threatened to rape me, in class while running his hands up my legs.

My husband, once while looking through some of the t-shirts I'd kept from that time period (Duran Duran), was puzzled by the holes they all had across the shoulder blades, at relatively uniform distances. "How far apart are the barbs in barbed wire?" I asked him. "I used to dive under and through barbed wire fences to get away from people chasing me." I once spent nearly an hour hiding in a badger hole out in the desert, waiting until the jocks who had chased me out there went away.

Classmates would sneak up on my house and pound on my bedroom windows in the middle of the night, yelling "SLUT!" There was only one abortive TP-ing attempt, because we had a big dog.

I did have some friends. The stoner girls. I'd help them with their homework, they got my back, and introduced me to the wonder that was marijuana. Wonderful substance pot, made all the pain go fuzzy and fade out for awhile. I always find it kind of funny that the one time my dad did accuse me of smoking pot was the first night in many, many months I'd actually been straight around him.

They just didn't want to know.

In ninth grade, when we were 14, the best friend who had turned on me, starting this whole thing, got pregnant.

Guess who the only person who'd talk to her when everyone else found out, was?

Yeah, this sucker right here. That was, incidentally, the same year I was hit by a car driven by one of our classmates. In Idaho you can get a limited license (driving during daylight hours only) at 14 since much of it is still farm country.

By this time I'd heard the refrain of "If you ignore them they'll leave you alone," from parents and teachers so many times I didn't even bother to tell anyone until years later.

In 8th or 9th grade my folks put me on Accutane, which cleared up the acne, but left the horrific scars. I refused to leave the house, even just to get the mail, without full make up for years. Something my father used to tease me about mercilessly. I will say one thing for Accutane, it works. I've not had skin problems since, and the scars have finally mostly faded to the point where they're barely noticeable even to me. Although I still laugh when anyone tells me I have beautiful skin.

By midway through 9th grade, my pregnant friend had been sent to the special school for unwed mothers in our city. I am totally not shitting you, these still existed in the 1980s. It wasn't an alternative school or any shit like that. It was specifically for unwed teen moms.

Now, I did have some friends. Other misfits, the nerdy girls the preppy girls would pick on. Sometime in the middle of 8th grade, my stoner girl friends had succeeded in imbueing me with the philosophy, "Fuck 'em. They think I'm scum anyway, what's it gonna hurt?" This was how they got me to smoke cigarettes and pot for the first time. I took it upon myself to stand up for the downtrodden, and fuck with the popular girls, openly. By this time I'd developed a reputation as a psycho by proxy, after one of my good friends had gone after her bully with a knife in class.

Trust me. This was a step up.

Basically, the guy was one of those nerdy, weaselly little dorky shits who thinks his parents' money will buy him popularity, and when it doesn't tries being a complete douche to those he views as lesser in a desperate bid to prove how cool he was. He'd started a months long campaign of bullying against my friend, calling her a slut, a whore, crazy, because she was adopted he played on that, telling her that her mother had given her up because she knew she'd be a crazy stupid whore just like her. Yeah, it got pretty fucking vile. And like me, she tried going to her parents and school counselors with no results.

The thing that tipped her over the edge was, I believe, he touched her while saying this shit. And she went after him with a pocket knife in Spanish class, I believe.

The attack got my friend committed, and her parents to move to a different school district.

And me largely left alone. All I had to do for the most part was lunge quickly at most people to get them to back the fuck off. I started spreading my own rumors about kicking people's asses and cutting someone.

Worked. And was possibly why I got hit with a car, because they didn't feel safe coming at me without some sort of protection, like a 1970s station wagon. When I flew off my bike to land on the side of the road, they blazed off. The rest of the boys in the car laughed, but the driver looked like he'd seen death. He never fucked with me again. I think he realized the stakes were too high.

I picked myself up, walked my bike home, and told my mom I was sick to stay in bed for two days with an icepack on my hip.

I never told her, until after Columbine happened, when I said I didn't condone what those boys had done, but I damn well understood it. Then I told her about the car. She stared at me and asked why I hadn't said anything. "All you ever told me was ignore them and they'll stop, and it didn't work. You didn't stop anything. Why would I think you'd do anything then?"

Now, this is not entirely fair. She did have a talk with my best friend's mom at the end of seventh grade, and the open hostilities ceased, if we didn't manage to really be friends again until after she got pregnant and no one else would talk to her. And my mom was going through her own issues at the time.

In tenth grade we went to a big consolidated high school. In January of tenth grade, I lost my virginity in a rape, by my boyfriend. When he found out I'd been a virgin, instead of a slut "as advertised" he got pissed at me. Told me he never would have done that if he'd known I was a virgin. And we broke up shortly there after.

I didn't get near as much bullying shit in high school. I reconnected with my older stoner girl friends, and we ran as a pack. I also dated a real big, scary looking dude who'd been a 9th grader when I was in 7th, and who had apparently had a crush on me then, but thought I was too young. So, the bullying mostly stopped by then.

At the end of tenth grade, we moved to Ohio. It was ok. I got some shit for being from the cheap condos in an old money suburb of Columbus, but it wasn't too bad, not compared to Idaho.

3/4 of the way through that year (my junior year), we moved to Seattle. I think I got the least amount of bullying here. But by that point I'd developed a truly devil-may-care attitude about school and the other students. I passed my classes, but really, why give a shit about people I'd known less than a year, and who knew if I'd graduate from this one anyway? They just didn't fucking matter.

Honestly, moving probably saved my life. If we'd stayed in Idaho any longer, after the whisper campaign my rapist started about me, I'd probably have wound up suiciding, or accidentally OD-ing on something. By the time we left, I already had a pretty serious alcohol problem, and was smoking copious amounts of pot to self-medicate.

I've got a bunch more horror stories, but I can share those later.

I guess the big over-arching point her is that, bullying hurts, it sucks, it kills people. I only had one suicide attempt, which was interrupted by the family dog. But you know what? Knowing that one creature in the whole world would care, or miss me, if I died, got me to knock that shit off right quick.

Ok, I was still hurting myself in other ways. Hot candle wax, driving needles and pins through my finger tips and the skin of my thighs, up my inner arms... I used to heat them up in the candle flame to "sterilize" them. And there were the drugs, and the drinking. Lots of drinking.

I quit drinking shortly after I turned 21, for several years I didn't drink at all. Years later I taught myself how to drink in moderation, much as I've taught myself to actually eat. I do not have any more than three drinks. On those rare occasions I have let that slip, the drinking quickly becomes a binge and the hangovers are epic. So now, three drinks, that's it. Ever. And honestly, I just don't drink that much at all, now that I'm pretty happy with my life.

Bullying isn't something "everyone goes through," nor does it "toughen you up" or is just "part of life." Bullying like this, like I experienced, like what Phoebe reportedly experienced, is above and beyond schoolyard teasing. It's incredibly harmful. It leaves mental and physical scars that linger. I still don't like going out in public alone. I'm hyper-vigilant and always have a weapon.

I don't think I'll ever let that go.

Below are links to several other takes on what happened to Phoebe Prince and bullying in general. Sorry this wasn't more coherent, but I'll be completely honest, I started to tear up and had to stop several times. Maybe I'll edit it into something more coherent later, but now I just wanted to get this out there.

Yeah, I survived, but not everyone does. A lot fewer than you think.



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October 2012

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