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Queen Bees & Wannabes is a book by Roselind Wiseman, released in 2002, dealing with the sociology and psychology of adolescence. The book is predominantly, but not totally, about aspects of female adolescence. The book was popular, and generated a lot of buzz. The term Queen Bee seems to have entered the lexicon as a term for a pushy, manipulative girl or woman. After writing this, I was informed that Tina Fey based the script for her popular movie Mean Girls in large part on this script.

The book itself is several things. It is in a small way a sociological and psychological work, and it has some aspects of social and political critique. It is, at heart, however, a self-help book, aimed at parents of teenage girls, and a fairly standard self-help book at that. After the first few chapters sets up a model of how cliques work, and discuss how things from gossip to body image affect peer group dynamics, subsequent chapters deal with various scenarios that parents will guide their daughters through. These scenarios range from rumors and put-downs all the way up to what happens when the cops bust up the vodka and percocet-fueled house party your daughter is hosting while you are out of town. (Both of which, apparently, are bad things). All of this advice is sound, if somewhat obvious.

For me, the book has a few major gaps. One of the first of these is that the book is not a result of empirical research, at least not the type with controls. The author wrote the book based on her work with The Empower Program, a group that "trains youth to stop the culture of violence". While I am sure she has seen lots of patterns repeated, and some of them are fairly easy to see, this does not mean it is always the case. While graduate school has not corrupted me so much that I expect the whole book to be written in APA Style, I would like some more explanation of why some things that could be viewed as simplistic stereotypes should be seen as recurrent patterns of behavior. This is especially true because she claims that the typical roles and harmful social dynamics of adolescence occur across cultures, and I would be interested to see more data on whether this was the case.

Which brings me to the issue of the work's critical nature, and how wide and deep of a scope it is casting. For example, the book claims to be a fairly universal take at adolescence, but I wonder if the author has worked with children in home school alternative schooling, various forms of traditional communities, or students who entered community college early. In terms of numbers or significance, I don't think that adolescents going through a non-traditional educational path should be discounted. I think this especially is meaningful because while the book talks a little about how female roles could be shaped by the larger society, it isn't as critical as it could be in tying competitiveness into the values of the larger society. The school system is mostly taken for granted as a fact of life, and not as the hidden hand that encourages behaviors that it overtly condemns.

This seems especially odd to me because in some ways the book contradicts itself. Some years ago, I wrote as a joke that in one work of popular fiction, women have two personality types, "the weepy martyr" and "the manipulative party girl". Reviving Ophelia, the other popular book in this genre, goes under the assumption that girls are the first. This book seems to mostly be running under the second assumption. However, the author also states that girls tend to be diplomatic and eager to please others. So the author says that girls and women still have a role of being nice, even though the entire thesis of the book is that girls and women have the habit of using any means necessary to jockey for position. This seems like a bit of a contradiction, to me.

So while the book does raise some interesting points, it doesn't seem to raise them far enough. A popular book on how the trials and tribulations of adolescence are directly related to how society forces us to live how we do remains to be written.

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