Brutal Boys vs. Mean Girls
Exploring gender differences in bullying trends
By Michelle Covington
One of the reasons bullying can be difficult to pinpoint for educators in a school setting is that it doesn’t always look the same from case to case. The methods of bullying change from bully to bully. Methods of bullying also tend to look dramatically different between the genders.
Overall, bullying is more common among boys, but it can be harder to spot among girls, who are more likely to engage in relational aggression rather than physical aggression. These types of bullying are no less damaging to the victim. Sometimes they are actually more damaging and longer lasting.
Need a reminder of the types of bullying? You can still find them on our first bullying blog post.
As parents and educators, we need to be on the lookout for all kinds of bullying regardless of the gender of the bully. No anti-bullying strategy is complete without targeting bullying in all of its iterations.
Bullying rates by gender
Statistics show that boys are almost twice as likely to bully as girls. Approximately 25% of boys report being regularly bullied, while only 20% of girls are regularly bullied. There is room for argument, however, in these statistics. Much of the interpretation comes down to the definition of bullying.
Males tend to bully more overtly and more physically. They are more likely to be caught bullying, and their behavior is more likely to be categorized as bullying because it fits in the more traditional definition of what bullying is. Female bullying tends to occur behind the scenes and in more subtle ways. Their particular brand of bullying does not always get included in the bullying definition.
When it comes to cyberbullying, the statistics flip flop. Thirty-eight percent of girls report being bullied online while only 26% of boys experienced cyberbullying. This kind of bullying seldom happens in isolation, however. Most teens who are cyberbullied are also bullied in person.
So, while statistics are valuable in assessing the problem, it’s hard to make claims based on them about which group bullies more. The more important lesson to learn from them is that we have much more to look out for than the occasional shoving match.
While bullying by both sexes involves similar levels of aggression, the ways aggression is expressed usually differ between the genders. Boys prefer the direct method of bullying face-to-face. They use their physical power over the victim in an attempt to gain status or control. They may engage in fights, or use the threat of physical violence to torment their victims. They may also damage a victim’s property to enhance their threat.
Research also shows that boys are more accepting of bullying than girls. Boys may even admire bullies. This is likely due to the socially constructed view that physical aggression is part of being masculine—the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality. When we socialize boys with the idea that they must dominate others to prove their masculinity, we breed the very tendencies that lead to bullying and dating violence. It is important both at home and in the classroom that we have conversations about masculinity as well as the appropriate levels of aggression and their proper outlets.
When you’re at home, take notice of what is on television or what your teen is listening to. How is masculinity being portrayed in what your teen is watching or hearing? Discuss why behavior like Simon Cowell’s and Chef Ramsay’s constitute bullying and why Jay-Z‘s violent lyrics don’t make him more masculine.
If you’ve seen the movie Mean Girls, you know the stereotype of the female bully. Like the girls in the movie, female bullies are much more likely to engage in social bullying, also called relational bullying. Unlike the movie, most victims are incapable of rescuing themselves. Female bullies often attack through rumors, exclusion, teasing and insults. They are also more likely to gossip about their victims online. The goal is to damage the victim’s reputation and isolate them from others.
Girls’ social currency lies mainly in their appearance rather than their physical strength like teen boys. Because of this, girl bullies attempt to tear down the appearance of their victims in any way they can.
Because these forms of bullying are more secretive and subtle, girls are less likely to get caught bullying. There is less physical behavioral evidence for parents and teachers to witness, so attacks can be longer and more severe than male bullying.
With a recent rash of teens taking their own lives over relational bullying, it is more evident than ever that we need to address this form of bullying just as much as we address physical bullying. Be aware of how girls talk to one another and don’t be afraid to intervene. Ask them why they feel the need to be mean to other girls. Make sure you are always available to listen when your teen is having relationship problems with her girlfriends and don’t dismiss them as teen girl drama.
Remember that these are not hard and fast rules on what bullying looks like. They are trends. It’s important to pay attention to the social dynamic of your teens and dialogue with them about what healthy behavior and healthy relationships look like.
For further reading on this topic, checkout:
If you’re not already signed up to receive this bullying series via email, sign up here.
Did you find the information in this blog post valuable? You can help us keep the information coming, by donating to Just Say YES. If you’re not already signed up, consider joining our newsletter list for more information on topics related to teen risk behaviors. You can also keep up with us every day on Facebook and Twitter.