The word "bully" conjures up the image of a muscular boy who picks on others kids half his size on playgrounds, in the lunch room, and in school hallways.
Erase that image and consider this one:
Today, a bully is just as likely to be a slim, pretty, popular, stylish girl.
A movie about the subject. Mean Girls, released this year, featured a girl who was a hit with an A-list girl clique until she started to like one of the member's ex-beaus. She was soon bullied and shunned by the girl group. The movie, meant to be entertaining and funny, spurred discussion - including on the Oprah show - about girl-on-girl bullying.
According to the National Mental Health Association bullies can be either gender, but boys tend to bully more often and more physically than girls. Girls, the association states, tend to resort to bullying tactics that include slander and rejection.
But Mariah Harris, 13, said girls who bully can be just as physical as boys.
"More girls got in trouble for fighting than boys at my school," said Miss Harris, an eighth-grader at Robinson Junior High School.
Her cousin, Alivia Burton, 13, an eighth-grader at Horizon Math and Science Academy, agreed.
"I've seen girls pushing other girls, pulling their hair, and start fighting with them. Some girls, if they don't like you they'll talk about you and pick on you," she said.
Last spring girls on a touch football team in a Chicago suburb were caught on tape pummeling other girls with their fists and pushing their faces down into mud. Five girls were hospitalized, including one who suffered a broken ankle and needed 10 stitches. The incident was a hazing initiation for junior girls going into their senior year.
And girl-on-girl bullying doesn't recognize any borders. In Perthshire, in the United Kingdom, a 17-year-old girl won a landmark court order last year to stop girl bullies from terrorizing her at school.
Last fall, the federal government launched the National Bullying Prevention Campaign, designed to help parents, teachers, and young people deal with "school-yard" bullies. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services discovered that a majority of children over the age of 9 see bullying as a major problem in their lives.
According to spokesmen for both the Toledo Public Schools and the Sylvania Schools, conduct and anti-harassment policies address the subject of bullying among students. Toledo schools spokesman Diane Irving said there is a new disciple code of anti-harrassment policies, based on Ohio Civil Rights Commission standards; it will be in place this fall. Part of the disciple code states that a child shall not physically, orally, or in written format threaten or intimidate another student or staff member. In Toledo schools, physical assault calls for mandatory expulsion. Less serious offenses are handled at the school level and could range from detention to suspension or expulsion.
Nancy Crandell, a spokesman for the Sylvania district, said the system also has an anti-hazing policy. There is latitude on penalities, which could range from conflict resolution discussions and detention up to suspension or explusion.
Recent books written by women have also have served to focus discussion on girls who bully. They include Queen Bees and Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence, by Rosalind Wiseman (Crown, 2002); Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, (2002), and Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write about Bullies, Cliques, Popularity, and Jealousy, (2004), both by Rachel Simmons (Harcourt Brace & Co.). Simmons, a political scientist, writes that because women have been historically discouraged from showing aggression, and young girls are often taught that expressing anger directly is bad, they often resort to "secret acts of meanness."
Esther Williams, an anger management counselor and author of Breaking Down the Wall of Anger (Youthlight Inc., 2001), said that the ways in which girls bully can be very painful.
"Boys are more likely to do physical bullying, but girls typically do the isolation or the shunning," said Ms. Williams, who conducts anti-bullying workshops at schools across the country.
According to a 2001 report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly one-third of students in the United States experience bullying as a target, perpetrator, or both.
Friends and Bowsher High School juniors Kia Wiggins and Jewell Penn, both 16, said girl bullying is very real and usually involves jealousy and competition at its core. "We are more self-conscious at this age, and girls will get jealous of other females, about what you have on or who you go out with," said Miss Penn, who said she was ostracized by other girls when she won the 2004 Miss Toledo Teen USA crown.
Miss Wiggins added that most bullies are usually victims themselves. "There's always that one group or that one individual that has the mentality that they have to fight and have attention. They put on this front, but on the inside their probably hurting and suffering from low self-esteem."
The National Mental Health Association describes bullying as a form of violence that usually occurs when there's an imbalance of power favoring the bully. Bullying also involves attempts to cause discomfort or injury and can include name-calling, making faces, obsence gesturing, malicious teasing, threats, rumors, hitting, kicking, pushing, choking and exclusion.
Wiggins and Penn walked over to a music video screen displayed in an athletic-wear store in a local shopping mall and pointed to the scantily clad women dancing around a rapper as part of the reason why young girls and even adult women compete with each other and form cliques to exclude one another. "It's about an image that people see on TV, and girls my age believe that they have to fulfill that image. But those images are ones that we are never going to be, it's just fantasy," said Miss Wiggins. "The guys have that same pressure, too."
"If you don't look like those [music video] girls and someone else does, girls get jealous. As a teenager, it's hard enough to find yourself and find friends to fit in. Sometimes teens don't even want to bully, but you lose yourself in other people," added Miss Penn.
Alexandria Nicole Smith, 15, a sophomore at St. Ursula Academy, said she's seen bullying occur more during the middle-school years than in high school.
"The female aspect of bullying usually involved more manipulation, getting talked about for what you wear or how you wear your hair. And there's a lot of gossiping about other girls," she said.
Her friend, Debo Savion Olosunde, Jr., 15, a sophomore at St. John's Jesuit High School, said at his all-boys school bullying is rare because it is not tolerated by the administration. However, during his middle school years, bullying was done by both boys and girls, usually by students who were in a popular group. Chelsie Crawford, 14, a freshman at Cardinal Stritch High School, said she has been a victim of the bullying Mr. Olosunde describes during her middle-school years.
"I used to get picked on by the older kids. It was everybody, both boys and girls, they'd walk behind you and say something mean," she said.
The federal goverment's anti-bullying campaign researchfound that, overall, nearly 30 percent of all children ages 11 to 15 have been a victim or a bully. Research also discovered that while girls engage in more indirect or emotional bullying, both both and girls are involved in both physical and emotional bullying.
"Bullying is no longer 'give me your lunch money.' With girls it's turned into 'I don't like what you have on' and competition," said Miss Penn.
Contact: Rhonda B. Sewell at: firstname.lastname@example.org