Rating - 4: worth reading multiple times (buy it)
This is one of those Important Books. You get held to a higher standard when you are consciously being Important. Odd Girl Out clears the bar. Every woman I know who has read this has recognized herself or someone she knew in every single item in the book.
Odd Girl Out is another book where the subtitle says it all: "The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls." Since direct conflict is not part of being a "nice girl," aggression is expressed indirectly and socially through the sort of carefully concealed abuse that is obvious to the victim but under the radar of teachers and parents. Ms. Simmons displays a war where the weapons are betrayal, deceit, and isolation.
Just to be clear, this is a good book for men to read, too. Hey guys, this is what happens when you are not looking. If you want to understand the way that women speak and interact, few things will give you insight like this. If you want to know what your daughter is about to go through, here you go.
I find the book most valuable in its descriptive aspects. Nothing here is strictly unknown, by which I mean that if I asked you about any particular incident or way that girls interact, you could say, "Oh yeah, I know that." The value comes from pointing out all those things that are only obvious upon reflection and putting them all together in a way that displays them as a coherent topic rather than a series of isolated issues. What happened to you or your daughter was not just something that happened, but rather one example of a larger pattern that receives little official notice.
Does it go a little too far? Yes, but then when you average that with "not noticed at all" (times the number of people who will read the book), odds are against your going too far. Yes, Ms. Simmons explicitly says that "I don't want to be your friend anymore" is a form of aggression and/or bullying, as is just not telling someone when you want to stop being friends. Yes, she says that keeping secrets is bullying as is revealing secrets, and having no one to tell your secrets is a problem, too. Yes, she explicitly calls for regulation against alliance-building. No, having one page of "sometime it isn't bullying" after 250 pages of "silence is aggression" does not balance the scales.
Part of the problem there is what she calls a lack of language or vocabulary for discussing female aggression. Treating this properly will probably involve creating some jargon or technical terms, just because words like "aggression" and "bullying" already have connotations that make them work imperfectly. Ms. Simmons alternately describes aggression as something to be expressed and something to be avoided and in a few places confuses (by my definitions) being aggressive and being assertive. With any luck, she has worked out a bit more of the necessary language in the follow-up book or at her institute. The core of the message is solid, but poor individual expressions or fringe examples can make it look like dismissable extremism.
So some notable bits:
Male aggression creates clear winners and losers without necessarily creating enmity; now that the pecking order is established, we can proceed with our lives. With female aggression, the enmity is the point. It would not really hurt if she could move on after you started hurting her.
Male aggression is usually individual. Female aggression is social. For boys, the point is to win alone, man-to-man. For girls, the point is to build a coalition; once everyone is on your side, you have won, whatever the merits of the case.
Combining those two, who is the odd girl out varies from day to day. Someone can be isolated from the group and persecuted for a week or two, then it is someone else's turn. No one knows how we pick who is on top and who is completely out this week. Which peccadillo is to be attacked this time, since we have a store of them built up from the past decade?
I found the story of Erin and Michelle most notable, because it parallels perfectly the standard story in which the schoolyard bully gets what is coming to him. The kids he has been pushing around stand up to him, and he gets pushed around; the ending of Back to the Future, for example. It is a triumphant moment where the oppressed become the winners. In Odd Girl Out, it happens with female aggression; the former bully is described in sympathetic terms as a victim, and the rebels are now bullies not victors. It demonstrates both the differences between the genders' perspectives and the important point that the story of Odd Girl out has no winners, only degrees of losing. If you want to get the entire book in ten pages, flip to "Erin and Michelle: Two Faces in the Mirror?" in chapter 3.
The text does bear the unfortunate hallmarks of a degree in women's studies. I mean, the movie made from the book was on Lifetime. If you know them, you probably know how to read past them. If not, you probably will consider them as stylistic oddities.
On the whole, worth reading, and recommended for anyone of either sex, adolescent or older.