Odd Girl Out is a 2002 work on sociology and psychology written for the general public, on the subject of why and how adolescent girls engage in bullying. It was written by Rachel Simmons and based on her fieldwork in ten different middle schools and high schools.

The book has a lot in common with two other works, Reviving Ophelia and Queen Bees & Wannabes, and the author is associated with the "Ophelia Project". The book uses mostly case studies to illustrate the causes and courses of female-on-female bullying, which usually takes the forms of gossip, exclusion, teasing and other forms of covert or "alternative aggression", rather than the physical violence that male bullying stereotypically involves. The book also describes these patterns of bullying as not only coming from dedicated bullies, but as being strategies that almost all girls, from all backgrounds, will engage in to some extent.

I had mixed feelings about this book, as I did about its two aforementioned companion volumes. There was part of this book that spoke to me directly, because even though I am not female, I have been on the receiving (and occasionally giving) end of some forms of "alternative aggression". For example, the following quote crystallized the hurt I felt myself, from receiving the "silent treatment":

"If you can't tell someone why you're mad, you can't get a rebuttal. You win."
But despite the fact that the book illustrates certain things quite well, I feel that it falls short on explanation. The central thesis of Reviving Ophelia is that girls are prone to emotional troubles, the central thesis of Queen Bees & Wannabes is that girls form cliques, and the central thesis of this book is that girls can be mean, and often in devious ways. Putting aside the question of how truthful these statements are, few people would say that any of them is something that is outside of the scope of popular culture or folk psychology. We all (hopefully) know that women can be mean, so what else does this book bring to the table?

In many ways, the book begs the question. For example, it states that women engage in alternative aggression because they are "socialized" to not display overt aggression or anger. But "socialization" is not some obscure outside force like cosmic rays that influences women, it is just a byword for the interactions that they have, formed by their values and desires. So to say that women are socialized to avoid overt anger is just another way of saying that women avoid overt anger. And the answer to that question involves a lot of psychological and sociological explanation that is not present. I am not saying this book needs a section detailing the hermeneutic ontology of identity, but... this book, does, indeed, need a section detailing the hermeneutic ontology of identity.

And that not being provided, the book is a well-researched, well-written work that details its subject matter very well, and provides some moments of crystallization, but which does not go too far below the surface of the phenomena it describes.

Author: Rachel Simmons
Publisher: Harcourt
Pages: 296
Year Published: 2002

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