The Fem Spot

Bleeding to get in

Posted in News by femspotter on January 30, 2010

January 30, 2010

I’ve never been much of a joiner, but lately I’ve been considering joining a women’s club in a neighboring town. What does that mean? Well, for starters, joining such a group represents my desire to socialize with other members of my sex. I haven’t always been very good at that. Nursery school teachers remarked at how I would play alongside other children rather than with them. But joining a women’s club would also mean the opportunity to participate in organized charity work, book club meetings, yoga, etc. without having to take the initiative to find these activities on my own.

Sounds like a plan. I’ll join a women’s club.

In college, I didn’t pledge sororities, which in principle should offer the same comforts: friendship, challenges to one’s altruistic nature and motivation to be active. I had a couple of girlfriends from high school who went to the same college and decided to pledge a sorority to enhance their social circle so that they wouldn’t rely on only each other for company. Good idea. I think they endured some hokey initiation ritual and then became fast friends with several young women in the sorority and even roomed with them for their remaining three years.

Meanwhile, over in my dorm building at Boston University, my neighbor cried herself to sleep several nights in a row because a high school sweetheart of hers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) had drunk himself to death while pledging a fraternity. We on that specified subject floor all silently concluded that the Greek system was flawed – especially for young men – and inwardly congratulated ourselves on being film geeks, often-blocked writers and dark artists instead of joiners. We certainly weren’t headed for sports teams, the military or even religious cults…yet. We were safe from hazing. And as a woman, even knowing how shallow and vicious girls could be – threatening to beat me up because my sweatshirts were Hanes® and not Champion® brand, and calling me names because I was chubby, and telling me that they’ll “be (my) best friend” in exchange for secrets that they then blabbed all over school, etc. – I felt certain that hazing was a male problem, something women are exempt from.

But let’s be clear about the word “hazing.” It doesn’t simply mean prerequisite achieved or initiation performed. According to Dictionary.com, hazing means “subjection to harassment or ridicule.” And in some cases, that harassment and ridicule has resulted in death. While a boy I knew had pledged a fraternity and was beaten with a paddle until his ass cheeks were bright red and blistered, so much so that he couldn’t sit or lie down for days; the MIT chap had passed out in a drunken stupor, vomited in his sleep and choked to death…all in the name of acceptance.

According to StopHazing.org: “Hazing is an act of power and control over others – it is victimization. Hazing is pre-meditated and NOT accidental. Hazing is abusive, degrading and often life-threatening.” And hazing is a problem for women as well as men.

The New York Times reported in “Girls Just Want to Be Mean” that psychologists have traditionally assumed that boys are more naturally aggressive than girls, and therefore more prone to engage in hazing.

That consensus began to change in the early 90’s, after a team of researchers led by a Finnish professor named Kaj Bjorkqvist started interviewing 11- and 12-year-old girls about their behavior toward one another. The team’s conclusion was that girls were, in fact, just as aggressive as boys, though in a different way. They were not as likely to engage in physical fights, for example, but their superior social intelligence enabled them to wage complicated battles with other girls aimed at damaging relationships or reputations – leaving nasty messages by cellphone or spreading scurrilous rumors by e-mail, making friends with one girl as revenge against another, gossiping about someone just loudly enough to be overheard. Turning the notion of women’s greater empathy on its head, Bjorkqvist focused on the destructive uses to which such emotional attunement could be put. ‘Girls can better understand how other girls feel,’ as he puts it, ‘so they know better how to harm them.’

So, while we should be warning our daughters about the risks of rape, date rape and other forms of violence from men, we should also be warning them about the emotional wounds that women can and do inflict. And if we know girls who possess “superior social intelligence,” we have to teach them not to be mean.

Remember Jesse Logan’s story? She was an 18-year-old high school senior who sent a text message containing nude photographs of herself to her boyfriend. But after she and that boyfriend broke up, he circulated the pictures to high school girls knowing that they would be cleverly mean about them. True to form, those girls were mean; and poor Jesse hung herself at home in the lonely privacy of her bedroom. Armed with plenty of ammunition – the secrets and insecurities we wish to hide – mean girls can and do fire again and again at will.

It would seem that boys can also be vicious – the boyfriend instigated the taunting of Logan; and after a recent incident of sorority hazing at my second alma mater Rutgers University in New Jersey, it would also seem that girls too can be violent. This month, Rutgers suspended the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority and authorities arrested six members after severe hazing was reported by several pledges. The claim: hazing included beatings with a 1′ x 6″ wooden paddle, and starvation. One pledge was so badly injured that she ended up in the hospital. The six members who have been charged with aggravated hazing, an indictable offense, are free on $1,500 bail. They are all adults and could face up to 18 months in jail if found guilty.

Make no mistake: this is not an isolated incident. Recent hazing incidents have been reported at Drake University in Iowa and  Rider University in N.J., to name a couple. And according to HazingStudy.org’s “Hazing in View: College Students at Risk,” 55 percent of college students experience hazing and, in 95 percent of said cases, the hazing goes unreported. Like in instances of rape, women (and men) must be encouraged to speak up about hazing. It is harmful and possibly deadly.

No matter how badly you want to be accepted – and as women we know from fashion, television and movies that to be part of an elite group (the skinny girls) is something we think we need because the alternative is so rarely spoken of or even seen unless it’s full of ridicule  (witness a bloated Kirstie Alley on magazine covers, for starters) – we cannot allow other girls and women to encourage us to be victims. We have to learn to love ourselves as we are. And if necessary, we have to feel empowered to be alone or to start our own groups based on the aforementioned positive tenets: friendship, altruism and well-being.

I’m excited about the prospect of joining a women’s club for those healthy reasons, but I’m not bleeding to get in. The minute a wooden paddle comes out or a snicker is made about my clothes, I’ll be headed for the door.

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13 Responses

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  1. faemom said, on January 30, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    I have always maintained “boys are stupid and girls are evil.” Boys might beat each other up, but girls seek to destroy someone’s life. I remember reading in a book a quote that went something like this, “Cats and women are the same; we don’t kill the person we hate, they would never know they lost then.” Girls are taught by their parents and teachers that they have to good, nice, be friends with everyone, be popular. Then when it back fires, people look away. Why did it take until the turn of the century to realize how mean girls and women can be to each other? It’s not like it was knew. I could go on and on. About how many mean girls don’t grow up. About how we need to have more orginizations dealing with the problem of mean girls in middle school. About things that have happened to me, my friends, my mother. Femspotter, you hit a nerve.

    • femspotter said, on January 30, 2010 at 10:48 pm

      It’s a raw nerve for me too. I’ll always ponder/write about the mean things women do to each other. What sickens me most is that we don’t seem to grow out of it when we’re 10, 12, or 15. Some women will always be mean to other women. I’m 30 and I’ve been reduced to a sobbing teenager by certain nasty radfems online!

      • faemom said, on January 31, 2010 at 10:33 am

        Exactly. I was thinking the same damn thing. After middle school, I refused to associate with girls who were mean; in high school, I left my circle for a month because of the mean girls. I came back when the circle kicked them out. In college, I wouldn’t tolerate it and said so to the mean things girls said or did. But when I started dating my husband, he’s “best girl friend” was a mean girl who would flirt with him, touch him, feed him alcohol to make me jealous. His best friend married a woman who had to be the center of attention all the time, picking the time to meet, only dressing once we were at their place, picking the restuarant she wanted without making resevations, pouting and whining if we suggested another place instead of waiting an hour to be seated. The sick part was all the women in the group were wised to her mind playing games; the guys loved her. These women were in their thirties. We need organizations to help all women.

    • femspotter said, on January 31, 2010 at 11:55 am

      Do you think it has something to do with women historically being underdogs and now as a consequence being territorial over what we perceive as single chances here or there to achieve alpha status? Do we beat up on each other because we fear losing power, which is available to women in limited quantities only?

      • faemom said, on February 1, 2010 at 1:34 pm

        I’ve thought long and hard about the things women do to each other. Is it natural/biological? Like the need to secure the best mate amongst the competition? Or is it social/cultural? Like we are taught we don’t have the chance to be the alpha so we fight amongst ourselves for the little power given us. Read some of the Bible. Many of the women are horrible to each other, look at Jacob and his wives Leah and Rachel. They were catty women. So does this mean women have always been this way? Or does it mean we have always been taught and preceived this way?

  2. […] warns us of the dangers of hazing in Bleeding to get in at her blog The Fem Spot. There’s a particular focus on the harm young women do to each […]

  3. big little brother said, on February 11, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Hey Sis!
    Great posting! This type of aggressive behavior is a major problem. In psychological terms it is referred to as Relational Aggression vs. Physical Aggression. For many years in developmental studies it was believed that aggression was solely physical and that girls were not aggressive. What is known now is that while physical aggression does obvious phyiscal and emotional damage, relational aggression is often much more covert and in many ways much more devastating and a tactic more often employed by girls than by boys. Hazing behaviors are really the tip of iceberg and the most widely publicized. Some of the most dangerous relational aggression type behaviors are the rumor spreading, social manipulation, and trust betrayal activities…Mean Girls is one of the best pop culture examples I have ever seen. I wish that I could say that these behaviors are a manifestation of childhood and adolescence and that we grow out of them but we don’t, I mean some of us do. There was a case a year or two ago that comes to mind when a mother got online and pretended to be her daughter or son and harassed a 13 year old girl going as far as to suggest to her that she kill herself because no one liked her, that girl did kill herself.

    For better or worse it has been my observation that the social environment and politics of high school are a training ground for the majority of the world at large. Those of us that survive it come away from it with an awareness and sensitivity to it that the perpetrators will never have. And here’s the kicker, see believe it or not I don’t think that most people pay close enough attention to the personal experiences of other people. I don’t think that most people stop to wonder what the impact of their actions will be…in the moment they don’t think they are wrong or that their behaviors are hurtful and after the fact, depending on an array of factors, personal and social, they may still not think that they have done wrong to another. Cognitive Dissonance, we will consciously and unconsciously go out of our way to validate our own beliefs, going so far as to invent or deny and repress facts.

    Aggressive behaviors are linked to the very fabric of our nature as animals. Aggression as viewed from a developmental and evolutional perspective is a problem solving tool when survival is the name of the game (a very egocentric game). It is instinctual and very effective during times of scarcity, it ensures action on the part of the individual towards need fulfillment. Now our culture has evolved to the point where the vast majority of us don’t have to go far to obtain our basic needs and our technology has given (for right or wrong) almost complete mastery of our environment unfortunately it appears that our psychology has a long way to go to catch up. So we study it, and we try to educate each other, and we try to teach our children how to interpret it, understand it, cope with it and relish in being who they are. Until enough of the survivors pass on what they have learned aggressive behaviors will continue to be tolerated so long as it does not make the papers.

    • femspotter said, on February 11, 2010 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks! I agree about Mean Girls. Brilliant! And I have a very clear picture of its writer Tina Fey being on the receiving end of many a cruel joke in high school as I was. So what do we teach our daughters and how? Is there a way to avoid becoming an agressor? Is there a way to avoid becoming a victim?

      • big little brother said, on February 12, 2010 at 11:58 pm

        I really don’t know…I think we just have to try to show them how to be happy with who they are as individuals and trust that they will find the group that accepts them for who they are but I really don’t know. Awareness and honesty to and with self and others, I think are the only ways to try and break the cycle. Its a hard question because on the one hand we want to protect our children and shelter them and on the other we have a recognition that they are going to have to get dirty, make mistakes, get bruised, and sometimes broken to get stronger. There is no easy answer.

  4. faemom said, on February 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Did you read the article about the sorority that the dress code was leaked and how very petty and shallow it was?

    • femspotter said, on February 14, 2010 at 4:06 pm

      I can’t seem to find it. Can you provide a link?

  5. big little brother said, on February 24, 2010 at 10:06 am

    http://www.thebostonchannel.com/education/22653526/detail.html?hpt=T2

    Sad story, the town has mobilized in the wake of this tragedy and hopefully it will prevent it from happening again.

    • femspotter said, on February 24, 2010 at 11:15 am

      BLB, thanks for sharing.

      This is terrible! Mean girls destroy lives.

      Here’s an excerpt:

      “Prince is thought to have committed suicide after allegedly enduring abuse online and in school from female classmates who were upset that Prince, 15, a sophomore who had recently moved to the U.S. from Ireland, was dating a senior football player.”

      Why are girls this cruel? I am glad they were expelled and I hope it resonates with them and sets a precedent that this type of emotional bullying will not be tolerated.


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