broadsideblog

Girls With Enemies Do Better

In behavior, education on May 19, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Interesting study cited in The New York Times:

In a series of recent experiments, a group of psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, recorded mutual dislike among 2,003 middle school students. Unlike previous studies on the same topic, these researchers also compared children who reciprocated a fellow classmate’s dislike with those who did not. Students who were not named at all on anyone’s blacklist were excluded from this analysis.

This comparison found that the girls who returned classmates’ hostility scored significantly higher on peers’ and teachers’ ratings of social competence. They were more popular and widely admired. The boys who did the same scored highly on teachers’ ratings of classroom behavior.

“You have several options, as I see it, when you become aware of someone else’s antipathy,” said Melissa Witkow, now at Willamette University in Oregon, the psychologist who led the study. “You could be extra nice, and that might be good. But it could also be awkward or disappointing, and a waste of time. You could choose to ignore the person. Or you can engage.”

She said the study suggested that “when someone dislikes you, it may be adaptive to dislike them back.”

I’ve blogged here about being bullied and how traumatic that was for me. But being disliked — which happens to all of us — is different from being bullied.

I was sent off to boarding school at eight and summer camp at the same age. An only child, I wasn’t used to being teased or fighting with siblings, so running into haters was a new experience. And, when you share a room for many months with four or six other girls — one or more of whom are nasty — you’ve got nowhere to run or hide. The closet? The bathroom?

I still remember a blonde girl named Stephanie and a dark-haired Kathy who were mean. Mean! But it was sort of fun to throw their energy right back at them. It’s not pleasant to discover not everyone likes you, but if they did, you’d probably be way too accommodating. Whenever Stephanie started sharpening her tongue, I was ready with a retort. I actually bit Kathy’s finger once, hard, when she was stupid enough to stick in my face and dare me to. She didn’t make that mistake twice.

Fighting for yourself — when not against a team of relentlessly toxic bullies — is a useful skill. Girls are too often taught to “be nice” when being tough, smart and ready and willing to defend yourself, verbally or even physically, is a better option. Like knowing how to cook or clean or change a tire, it’s a useful life skill.

  1. I wish I knew more about the students who were not named on anyone’s blacklist. Occasionally I aspire to that status but I realize I’d have to scrub the last remnants of my personality away and I can’t bring myself to do it.

    I had big brothers who didn’t treat me like glass and a mother who, herself, was respected by many and disliked by a good number. (People in leadership positions never have a cadre of 100% friends.)

    I didn’t and still don’t rise to the popularity apex in any large group (I sure didn’t when in school) but when in small groups in which the weakest member could be identified (give me a break here, this is what pre-adolescent girls do) I did things like sing “Would you like me to fart in your face?” and play the same on my clarinet until she being serenaded called her mom in tears to leave the sleepover and go home. And at another such event, I accused the least-worldly and most mama’s-girl type of “making lesbian-like advances toward me” till she also called her mom and took her cold-cream-and-curlers self home.

    I am a pretty nice person in reality and in the present, although some think I’m a b*tch because I’m not a doormat; I wonder where those girls are today and if they ever toughened up. No doubt they did not have big brothers or simply might have come from homes in which “being nice” was modeled extensively for them and valued highly, and they simply lacked my skills honed so sharply for aggravating others because aggravation had been inflicted on me so regularly.

  2. “I am a pretty nice person in reality and in the present, although some think I’m a b*tch because I’m not a doormat; I wonder where those girls are today and if they ever toughened up. No doubt they did not have big brothers or simply might have come from homes in which “being nice” was modeled extensively for them and valued highly, and they simply lacked my skills honed so sharply for aggravating others because aggravation had been inflicted on me so regularly.”

    Lots to think about here.

    I hate goody-goody girls and have met plenty of them. I agree that many women who are not doormats are labeled as bitches. Fair? Not really.

    I think what we’re really (?) talking about here is a non-girly, i.e. boyish, way of dealing with people you don’t like — i.e. in their face or to their face. Girls and women, (which is why I often get along so much better with men) tend to backbite or gossip; i.e. they can’t handle direct confrontation, which is a much more “male” style. I’m a lot more comfortable with someone who’s an utter bitch to me — at least it’s very clear where she’s coming from — than some syrupy fake friendliness.

    And, aggravating others as you’ve had done unto you….very familiar. I learned my verbal jousting skills in a tough family and at boarding school. That, also, sets you apart from many women who speak in dulcet tones and may have been punished severely for directly and clearly expressing anger or less-sunny feelings.

    How many girls or women are still raised to believe “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything” versus…Mae West..? “If you can’t say anything nice, come sit beside me.”

  3. I’ve always felt that if you were hated for something, you were doing something right; ie, making a point no one has made before, or believing in something, or being able to hold your own, or having the self-confidence to not be what cphooker calls a doormat, or just being really good at what you do….

    You can’t stop people from disliking you, and the sooner you realize that the better you will be (in my opinion any way).

    It’s funny, between the age of 19 – 24, I forgot about this…. and it’s just now that I’ve quit smoking that I’ve regained this knowledge/confidence.

  4. Maybe quitting smoking had something to do with this? Glad you rediscovered it.

    My mom, granny and stepmother are/were all very tough cookies and didn’t give a rip if they were uniformly loved, so I saw this behavior modeled. I decided at the age of 16 I’d rather be respected than liked. I have people who like me but I’d rather earn respect than easy, often fickle “friendship.”

    Fruz anyone who literally fled Communism is a pretty determined woman, no?

  5. “I decided at the age of 16 I’d rather be respected than liked. I have people who like me but I’d rather earn respect than easy, often fickle “friendship.”

    I’m the only woman in a male dominated workplace, and although I usually get along with men far better than with women, I’ve come to realize that a woman in a place of power is disliked by many. Rather than try and be “friends” with everyone, commanding respect by not taking any BS gets me much further. Some may call me a bitch, but I know they’re just intimidated by my strength and that some even secretly respect me.

    Here’s to not being a doormat and rolling over!

  6. Shanon, good for you. I know women who have worked in such environments and I have a lot of respect for how lonely that is. It’s tiring being under such a microscope, but at least you know what they expect.

    I find this faux drama of strong/powerful/in authority woman being threatening SO boring, but it says a lot about male ego or insecurity. I crewed a lot on racing sailboats (usually 90 % male) and once it was clear I was fully competent and had a good sense of humor, things were fine.

    I play coed softball and if a guy gets bossy, I laugh him off. I think men test one another constantly and wait to see how a woman reacts. If you don’t defer or crumble, it can win you respect, after which I think can come affection.

  7. I think not being liked is good for a person. I’ve met too many people who were generally liked by everyone growing up, and it comes as a shock to them when they can’t just smile and be nice and get by as adults.

    Not everyone will like you. It’s a fact. I’m usually one of those people who won’t like you at first as a rule. I may never like you. I accept that not everyone likes me because I generally don’t mince words and waste time fluffing feelings when I could be doing something more productive. I enjoy healthy banter, and I also enjoy just not interacting with people I don’t get along with.

    There’s a difference between being civil for the sake of keeping a healthy work environment, etc, and just taking crap from someone. As you said, throwing it back and not reverting to a crumbled mess can get you a lot of respect.

  8. Suzanna, I suspect much of how women and girls handle not being liked is modeled by their family, especially their mothers and other older female relatives. And their Dads…My Dad made clear, as did my maternal grandmother, that if I had an opinion I’d better be prepared to defend it, not expect people to nod prettily and agree.

    I think people throw a lot of crap at girls and women as a test — will she cry? freak out? run away? fight back? Maybe best of all, laugh them off.

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