Eugene Cho

When girls bully girls and women bully women.

First of all, if it’s not clear by my name or by the facial hair on my face, I’m not a girl.

Now that we’ve got that cleared up, you might be wondering why I’m writing a post entitled, “When girls bully girls and women bully women.”

I’m doing so because it’s causing…

great pain and damage.

Bullying happens in many places and happens in both genders. By writing about girls and women, I’m not implying that it happens only among girls or women because that would simply not be true but what I’m discovered as a pastor is that more women than men (by far) are negatively impacted by the bullying they’ve encountered in their younger years as an adolescent, teenager, or even as a college student. In fact, you could also host a conversation about how this translates to how adult women treat other adult women. For example, there’s competition, envy, and jealousy among Career Women and of course, there’s the “Mommy Wars.”

But, let’s focus on young women for now:

  • Did you know that a girl is bullied every 7 minutes in America?
  • Almost 1/3 of girls are directly involved in bullying – and on a regular basis. About 77% of students have been verbally bullied in some way.
  • 43% of girls fear harassment in school bathrooms.

And the numbers go on.

Recently, I had a long conversation with one of my daughters about how she was doing. I was stunned that she recalled – in such a graphic and precise manner – a very painful memory of some girls verbally “bullying” her and isolating her because she looked different (as an Asian). The incident took place over 4 years ago!

In my now 21 years of ministry, there’s been a consistent trend of pain and scars due to past and current forms of “bullying.” While I don’t want to make a sweeping generalization, this is one way how boys and girls and men and women can differ in how they go about ‘bullying’ -

Bullying as Emotional Violence

Girls bully by using emotional violence. They do things that make others feel alienated and alone. Some of the tactics used by girls who bully include:

  • anonymous prank phone calls or harassing emails from dummy accounts
  • playing jokes or tricks designed to embarrass and humiliate
  • deliberate exclusion of other kids for no real reason
  • whispering in front of other kids with the intent to make them feel left out
  • name calling, rumor spreading and other malicious verbal interactions
  • being friends one week and then turning against a peer the next week with no incident or reason for the alienation
  • encouraging other kids to ignore or pick on a specific child
  • inciting others to act out violently or aggressively (source)

What do you think?

Agree or disagree?
Is this over-hyped?
Do you have any personal stories?

Healing and Finding Kindness

Recently, I’ve been encouraged by some of the women from our church’s Women’s Community Group that have chosen to discuss and pray through this. In that process, they’ve chosen to host  a film screening of Finding Kind – a documentary about girls bullying girls. If you’re anywhere around Seattle, we’d love to invite you to the free screening at the Q Cafe this Friday. Doors open at 6.30pm and the film starts at 7pm.

One of the lines from the trailer that really stood out was this simple and beautiful truth. Oh, how this could change the world:

“We may not all be beautiful. We may not all be smart. We may not all be talented…but we can all be kind.”

“Jessica” – one of the women in this Quest Women’s C-Group volunteered to share her personal story of being bullied on my blog.

“Jessica’s Story”

Girl bullying has been a part of my life since I can remember. My most vivid memories of times where I felt the emotional and psychological hurt of bullying and inflicted that upon others was during my middle school years.

At age 11 (sixth grade), I still had the luxury of recess but honestly I hated it with all my heart. This year I remember aching to be a part of a group of girls who hung out every recess but whose whole existence revolved around ostracizing other girls. I was new to the school and the summer before I had been what I considered “best friends” with the lead of this group of girls.

This group was all blonde-haired and blue-eyed girls, which obviously was the way you were supposed to look but I having long brown-black hair and brown eyes I was not going to fit. It would have been different (I am not going to say acceptable) if this group of girls had just told me to go away, make some fun of my hair, and not allow me to hang out with them. But that is not how this type of bullying works.  The girls (including my best friend) would invite me to hang out with them at recess and maybe even pretend to be my friends for a few days before ditching me at a moments notice or making up some reason they could no longer hang out with me. Some of the reasons: my hair did not match theirs; my name has now been considered a bad word and they would get in trouble with the teachers for saying it, buying the wrong color Adidas jacket, and spreading to the entire school that I was a witch (in a predominantly white school, I was the only one with long black hair).  The group would then literally run and hide from me anytime I went to go find them… a harsh reality, which resulted in me skipping recess. I remember coming home weekly and crying to my parents about how I didn’t have any friends. It never occurred to me to try and make other friends because the effect this type of bullying has puts the pedestal on the bullies, that they are the only ones worthy of being friends.

In 7th grade this same group finally accepted me and I came running in an instant (like I said the bullies are the only ones worthy of friendship). But things in this culture of girl bullying don’t change, and sad to say that I then engaged in bullying another girl the EXACT same way that I was during that year. I look back and feel disgusted with myself for being a part of this cycle.  Before, the end of the year I realized what I was doing and made friends with the girl being bullied and still talk to her to this day. I am no longer friends’ with this group of girls but know they had a lasting effect on other parts of my life.

It would be a sad story to just hear about this type of bullying but the real effect is the hurt that girls carry with them in response. The effect for me resulted in extremely low confidence in my teenage years and an inability to trust many of the circles of friends that I made. I remember still having the idea of blonde-hair and blue eyes being engrained (for many reasons, but one I attribute to this group of girls) as the epitome of beauty and hating the way I look. I remember dying my hair blonde and researching colored eye contacts and saving my allowance for them.

There have been countless other times in my life where I have felt the effect of bullying in my life including today. I believe that this is an important topic to discuss because we are created to live in a community that builds each other up and I know the power of female friendship, now from experience, can overcome hurt that this broken world brings.

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27 Responses

  1. Peter says:

    Totally agree… it’s a sad thing… and it’s not just limited to girls or women… bullying knows no bounds… including countries… I hear that it’s far worse in South Korea… so bad that there are lots of suicides and movies made based on such sad stories…

    Having said that, I have gone through my share of being bullied… I want to say that a certain amount is good as it (unfortunately) prepares you for the real world. I’d still like to see it gone some day…

    • Amy says:

      Yes very true! I remember as a 12 yr old other girls telling me they were going to kill me, throwing paper & pencils at my back in class, making fun of my appearance…. I am sure this happens all the time but it puts terror into a person that is hard to remove later.

  2. As the father of a daughter who has been the target of just this kind of bullying, this article is well put.

    The challenge is, really, what we parents can do to counsel our children when this stuff happens. So far, we’ve managed with our daughter to mitigate most of the damage, but I hope and pray that it is enough…

    • Eugene Cho says:

      In doing more research, I’ve been surprised at the low % of authority intervention – particularly among teachers and administrators. Parents certainly need to do their part but w/o school leaders doing their part, it’s incredibly difficult.

  3. chrisscott25 says:

    Good post! One thought, is it possible that it seems like girls are bullied more because it’s acceptable for girls to express their emotions, like pain or hurt? And that for boys this is a sign of “weakness”, making them more likely to keep it to themselves?

    • Eugene Cho says:

      I think you’re right. The % of boys and girls being bullied are similar but I think it’s how the bullying takes place.

      The % and stories are even worse when it comes to bullying and exclusion around issues of obesity, sexuality, and physical normality.

      Regardless, it’s wrong.

  4. cometothewell says:

    I was both fortunate and painfully unfortunate in regards to bullying. I grew up in NM and was always tall, so I never fit in. My mother, who had been a popular girl in her school days, expected that I would be friends with the popular crowd, and there were some cases in which I was–some kids, boys and girls, who appreciated that I was smart and caring.

    But for the most part I was bullied, usually by older kids because the kids my age were mostly afraid of me (I was really tall!).

    In junior high it was the worst. As a sixth grader (still elementary in those days), I had been a champion sprinter, already under recruitment at the high school level. My coach brought a girl from the junior high track team, their top sprinter that year, and had me race her for some recruiters. At 200 M we crossed the finish line neck and neck. At 400 M, I left her in the dust. This 7th grade girl had gone to state that year in the 400M dash (really rare in those days), and she ate my dust!

    Believe me, when I got to junior high the next year, she made my life a living hell. What bullying I had undergone before was magnified about 100 fold, and many her rich and popular friends were in on it. And because of a situation within my family (and in spite of my potential), I was never allowed to be on the track team. So I was at her mercy.

    Unlike the story above, I never had any desire to be part of the crowd that hurt people. And while not all of the popular kids acted that way, they implied their assent to it by hanging out with the kids who did. What my mother didn’t understand was that the “undesirables” I befriended were the kind, intelligent, musical and artistic kids, the people who encouraged me when people hurt me.

    Kids learn it from grownups. Period. So grownups need to understand how their actions, snarky comments, railing at bad drivers, ranting about people different from themselves, etc., might be affecting the children around them. I grew up alright, but like your daughter, 30 years later I can still tell in great detail many of the things these “mean girls” did to me over the years. It never goes away.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      Thanks for sharing this.

      You wrote:

      “Kids learn it from grownups. Period. So grownups need to understand how their actions, snarky comments, railing at bad drivers, ranting about people different from themselves, etc., might be affecting the children around them. I grew up alright, but like your daughter, 30 years later I can still tell in great detail many of the things these “mean girls” did to me over the years. It never goes away.”

      That needs to be read by everyone.

  5. Well put, Eugene. I agree. Many kids learn about bullying and “power-tripping” from their parents and the cycle perpetuates itself. But the damage from the emotional trauma has often times already been done. Many of us as adults are often informed by these negative childhood experiences. I also agree with some of earlier comments about about how these experiences help us prepare for the “real world” but there should be at least some basic minimum level of civility and kindness that we ought to exhibit to each other, particularly as kids.

    As for concerned parents to bullied kids, other than toughing it out or switching out schools, I’m not sure what alternatives are available.

  6. Peter says:

    Also, while it is largely dependent upon the parents, I also think it’s in our innate nature… call it original sin, if you will. My own kids will tend to shut out other kid(s) and I have to jump in to correct that kind of behavior.

    I think in the end, we all have to keep reminding our own kids that such behavior of alienating someone or bullying cannot be and shall not be tolerated.

  7. Ann F-R says:

    Thank you for bringing attention to this problem, Eugene. May you & your wife guide your daughters well through these troubling waters. Girl bullying is insidious because there is frequently no visible physical evidence, and the damage is internal, to our psyche, sense of person, worth as a girl/ woman. It’s not unlike the issue of psychological trauma &/or traumatic brain injury to soldiers; it’s only evidenced through behavioral changes and emotional markers such as depression, moodiness, withdrawal, anger, self-loathing, etc. Most people know how to tend to physical wounds, to some extent, but feel really helpless when confronted with emotional trauma. I think that explains some of the lack of intervention by authorities – “who said what to whom?” is really difficult to ascertain. Large class sizes combined with fewer wise teachers who spot the problems and liars make situations worse.

    Both I and my daughter experienced bullying by other girls when we were young. Even as adults, the patterns are still there in gossip, slander, rumors and ostracizing of others. I remember one of the most unhelpful things ever said by an adult was, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me!” That is a simply awful thing to tell a child who is feeling horribly wounded in her (or, his) heart by others.

  8. Jason Cormier says:

    As a father of two little girls this post gutted me.

  9. kcwebgirl says:

    i was bullied as a kid. and i even experienced some bullying from adult associates recently that left me confused. then i remembered that shows like bad girls club, basketball wives and real housewives all glorify mean-girl behavior. it’s sad and so damaging.

  10. [...] "When girls bully girls and women bully women" – Eugene Cho [...]

  11. Charis says:

    Sending this link to my teenage daughters…

    On your daughter remembering that long ago experience in vivid detail, that is my experience with traumatic events as well. Luke records this phenom with Mary (Jesus’ mother) Luke 2:19 and 51.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      Charis:

      We hosted the film screening tonight. So good to see so many young teenage girls there – many with their moms.

      Very encouraging.

  12. Lori says:

    Bullying is such an emotional trauma that can leave lasting scars for a lifetime. One of my children was subject to bullying all his life in school. I will say that the school did make efforts to intervene, but they couldn’t walk around school all day and fend off the bullies. The scary thing about bullying is that is contagious. When kids see another kid bullying someone, they all get on the band wagon.

    When I was Jr. High I witnessed a horrifying incident of extreme bullying. A young girl who was well endowed and known to be a rather loose girl, was walking across campus while kids, mostly boys, surrounded her, hawking up flem and spitting it all over. It was hanging from her hair and clothes. The names they called her and the things they yelled at her I cannot utter. The girls began to chime in. I was so horrified and felt so helpless. Regardless if the rumors about her were true or not, this was beyond reason and sanity. It breaks my heart to think of the damage this did to that poor girls soul.

    • Eugene Cho says:

      Lori,

      Thanks for sharing this. Pains me to even read this…

    • Jennifer A. says:

      In all honesty why just because a girl is well endowed she is “loose”…. women of other breast sizes are also taunted as words of a demeaning value. be e all have sex and love lives. Also the girl getting spit on if it was me learn to fight back. No one should be treated like that for how God made her…. amazing & I’m sure she has her own confidence girls naturally endowed like myself and the girl you mentioned can hold our own.

  13. Jennifer says:

    i just hope we all get better so we can all have some peace in a life. Seriously!

  14. Pam says:

    I am very interested in this subject and how it applies to the congregation of a church. I’m tired of small issues becoming crises between groups of women in our church. As part of a task force that is trying to address how our congregants relate to one another, I believe some training on the subject of such woman-to-woman tendencies would be helpful. Do you have any information or ideas on this?

  15. vanessa says:

    My manager, is afraid of people in the office, majority women. One colleague mentioned to me how one person she is manager over does talk down to her at meetings and actually said it was bullying to me. I’ve being monitoring my manager and the more I watch her the more i see someone that is afraid of certain people. My manager is very petite and unassuming. One manager is younger but a lot bigger than her, and I suspect this manager has bullied her and my manager is afraid of her. She once called my manager a good girl, which appeared condescending to me. The other day, a lady brought a baby into work. The lady that talks down to my manager went to one of the girls in my team saying this person brought her baby in come see it, but didn’t say it to my manager. I don’t think my manager knows how weak and afraid she comes across at times.

  16. Gee Gee says:

    uggh the grief of woman hood. I have no one to talk to and when I do express my point hen o one listens. So if it is first day at the job or 1,9999 time seeing the same gal causing the grief. I do my work at the job and walk away…………. home, spiritual or work. My life , your stife no one elses’ business but your own to make my own happiness and distribute my love and peace to others. dare to love and live as our Holy powers intended. not that hard……

  17. smallfry says:

    When a girl or woman bullies other females, it’s probably due to insecurity/jealousy, ignorance, immaturity, or even racism, or all of the above. I studied psychology during my undergrad years and I’ve been bullied since I was in elementary school and even in high school, my track coach bullied a group of us girls in her class to the point of verbal abuse more than a couple times…and as 14 and 15 year olds, we were confused about that but I don’t think any one of us ever told our parents or any school official or teacher simply because this woman was someone who was an authority figure.

    I started my education a year and a half early and on top of that, I have always looked young while also being the youngest in class. I’ve always been one of the shyer and quiet girls in my career as a student.

    I’m much older now but my roommate’s girlfriend tries to bully me, LOL. She’s about 10 years younger but we look about the same age, plus I am smaller in stature than she is and OoH! how she loves to stand in front of me and literally look down on me, LOL.

    She never finished high school, is a single mother who loves her child but doesn’t want the responsibility of a kid, and poor, so is fully dependent on her boyfriend, my roommate, for financial support even though she works full time. She is also passive aggressive plus I just found out she has only one girl friend, or one friend period–no wonder. I really pity her although at times, she is likely projecting her own insecurities onto me to make herself feel better about herself. I stopped saying hi to her completely, I am a friendly person by nature but stopped smiling as well because she looooves to ignore me.

    My advice to any parent with a bullied child OR if you have a child that is a bully, female or male, is to take them to a psychologist or encourage them to talk to a trusted teacher or pastor, etc., someone that they trust and feel comfortable with. This way, the feelings of bullied kids aren’t internalized into their sense of self and can be processed positively with an adult/ professional to guide them. As a child, we can be overwhelmed by emotion without the logic that adults have to off set these emotions. What should be understood is that these early bullying experiences can set the stage for more bullying later in life because your child may get used to being treated this way. I have seen both bullies and their victims really grow and become happy children with counseling and confidence building!

  18. annonymous says:

    My boss was asked to day to give a resource for a project, she spent 5 minutes explaining to the individual that we couldn’t. This individual and her boss then went to my bosses manager to persuade him to force my boss into giving a resource. This didn’t work, so they tried to manipulate her by inviting her to a project discussion meeting. My boss has been manipulated and bullied before into giving others what they want, she was worried so went to the two females who tried to manipulate her and spent a further 10 minutes explaining we don’t have a resource. She’s heavily pregnant and doesn’t need the stress. She passed me after this discussion, she didn’t notice me but she looked stressed and worried about what would happen at the meeting. I’m sure she was afraid she’d be bullied into caving in as she struggles with strong personalites and can be easily intimidated. They had a continguency plan it later transpired, however they still forced her to go to the meeting to tell her this when they could have come over and said it to her at her desk. This isn’t the first time women have tried to undermine her. I’ve seen other women intimidate and bully her. Not only her female management colleagues but women below her. It’s like some women see her as inferior and will do what they can to make her weak and vulnerable.

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Layover. San Francisco. Having grown up here, my heart still flutters. No other city like it. A quick, busy, & meaningful 26 hrs in Wash DC but managed to go for an hour walk for this view. One of the greatest monuments in the world. A true American hero. #AbrahamLincoln I may stand on different sides on several issues with this man but I'm committed to praying for my President.

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