While boys will torment other boys with overt acts of violence, girls will use indirect tactics such as back-stabbing, note-passing and excluding peers. Girls grow adept at cam- ouflaging their cruelty from authority figures; they learn to torment their victims through slang, the silent treatment and a glare known universally by any middle-school girl as “The Look.” They may start rumors about her, or tell her they love what she’s wearing in a tone that says exactly the opposite.
“It’s a hurt that goes really, really deep,” Miller-Boschert says. “There’s no black eye, but it cuts through the soul. You have to ask: Why don’t we help our own gender?”
Girl-to-girl bullying is probably at its peak in sixth and seventh grades, when peer acceptance is at a premium and social hierarchy is being established. But Miller-Boschert has found bullying tactics develop years beforehand. She’s heard several stories of clubs formed by 4-year-olds, who refused to let another girl into their precious preschool circle.
As girls age, their “games” can grow more underhanded. Miller-Boschert relates the story of a grade-school class in which the popular girls wielded their influence with school supplies. Every day, the teacher chose students to hand out colored pencils to the rest of the class. When the popular
girls distributed the pencils, they purposely doled out the prettiest colors to girls in the “in” group. Girls on shakier ground would sit at their desks in fear, dreading that they’d be handed a drab brown rather than a popular pink. A student’s color status could change from day to day.
On the extreme end, peer bullying can make school intol- erable. In one case, a scapegoat was tormented so severely by other girls that her parents relocated her to another state to live with her aunt. The school remained so divided by the incident that parents and community members got involved. Finally, the girl’s family wound up moving.
In some instances, technology adds a whole new dimen- sion to peer persecution. Junior high and high school kids across the country use well-known sites such as Xanga.com to create blogs in which they “flame,” or attack, other stu- dents. In the country school days, girls gossiped by passing notes. Today, their “notes” reach hundreds of online users
and they can pass them with virtual anonymity.
“We have this not-in-my-backyard thinking,” Miller- Boschert says. “It does happen here.”
A girl can become a target for any number of reasons, from wearing the wrong clothes to speaking her mind. The requirements for middle-school popularity are manifold: The girl must be pretty and thin, she must date a “cool”