February 24, 2003

Female 'bullying' is subject of Simmons' keynote

By Eric Rangus erangus@emory.edu

Best-selling author Rachel Simmons will keynote Emory’s Women’s History Month celebration, Monday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m. in Cannon Chapel. Following the lecture, Simmons will sign copies of her book, Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls.

The book, which spent nearly two months on The New York Times’ best-seller list last summer, explores the long-ignored social problem of bullying among girls. Also referring to the subject as “alternative aggression,” Simmons said that not only do girls inflict pain on each other through name-calling, manipulation and silence, but such behavior can cause difficulties later in life.

“If you don’t know how to compete in a healthy way, you aren’t going to know how to succeed,” Simmons said. “It’s important to have that awareness. In the business world, for example, assertiveness is important.”

“In my opinion, this is not exclusive to young girls,” said Jenny Williams, special programs assistant at the Emory Women’s Center. “Women do it, too. Many women haven’t been given the option of using other tools as a means of expression. They’re taught to be manipulative because there are ways that it pays off and strict costs if their behavior is more overt.”

Simmons, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., graduated from Vassar College in 1996. She double-majored in women’s studies and political science, and also worked in the office of then-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. She won a Rhodes Scholarship in 1997 and, after working on the re-election campaign of New York Sen. Charles Schumer, attended Oxford University. At Oxford, Simmons studied female aggression; it was from that work which sprung Odd Girl Out.

When the book, her first, was released last year, it not only was accepted commercially but touched off a great deal of interest in the subject. Simmons appeared on news programs such as Dateline NBC and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Simmons now travels extensively lecturing on the subject and is director of a leadership camp for girls and young women.

The experience was quite a payoff for someone who describes herself as a “recovering overachiever.” Unhappy at Oxford, Simmons left school there to write Odd Girl Out. She also had been accepted by Yale Law School, but passed that up as well.

“I felt very vindicated,” said Simmons, who added that not many of her friends or family agreed with her decisions. “You feel like you can do what you want and still come out ahead.”

Simmons said she will address several topics in her lecture including the cultural underpinnings of bullying, an outline of previous research and class and racial aspects of the subject.

“People connect to this book because its story is so common to us—what it’s like to be a bully, a victim or, more likely, both,” said Williams. “Simmons gives us the vocabulary and tools to talk about these issues openly and clearly for the first time. Her work is applicable in a broader sense for anyone who grapples with manipulative behavior and covert aggression, be they male or female, adult or child, victim or aggressor.”






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