By Jeanie Litteken
Q: My child is experiencing difficulty with another young girl in her group. The girl enjoys telling the group what to do, how to dress, what to say and how to think.
A: I’ve received this question more than once from participants in GenderSpeak Workshops and it deserves consideration. Most young boys are raised in a Hierarchical Structure. Boys’ games and activities are, in general, competitive team sports and as such are hierarchical in structure. Most young boys learn to relate with one another through the conflict and competition these activities provide. They also learn that in order to be successful, these games are organized with someone in charge (coach) who gives instructions to the participants (team members). This allows the group as a whole to reach the goal systematically and the participants learn valuable lessons regarding leadership. Central to the Flat Structure in which most young girls are raised is Relationship and their common activities of playing dolls and house reflect this focus. Close inspection of these activities reveals that they are typically taught to avoid overt conflict. Goals are still reached but with everyone providing input into how to best proceed. When someone in the group tries to be the “boss” friendship often becomes the casualty. The behavior the questioner is describing is more in keeping with what researcher Rachel Simmons, in her book Odd Girl Out, calls “female aggression”. Since young girls’ culture does not typically involve the lessons of leadership learned from conflict, leading can be seen as aggressive and negative. Ironically, what could be seen as natural leadership ability in a boy is experienced as problem bullying behavior in this girl. Such behavior will cost her friendships and she’ll have to learn different behaviors with her girl friends if she is to have successful relationships. GenderSpeak delves deeply into the two different cultures of men and women. The workshop’s foundation of research shows that being familiar with the lessons men and women learn in their childhood can not only lead to better workplace communication, but understanding those childhood lessons can give parents and teachers great insight into the needs and struggles of children in our lives.