In social groups of status and hierarchy, relational aggression (“a type of aggression in which harm is caused by damaging someone’s relationships or social status,” according to Wikipedia) often swells underground. In the pressurized atmosphere of a teenage girl clique, the ground can erupt when fears and insecurities (compounded by hormones) frequently predominate.
Ashley Lauren Samsa, a high school teacher in the south suburbs of Chicago, has written an article on www.tolerance.org which examines the dynamics of peer groups from an educational perspective. She links to a quiz on the subject which explores the character traits of girls in cliques, and suggests ways to address certain problems — like bullying and abuse — by bringing them into open discussion.
She writes, “While teachers can easily see bruises or cuts — the physical evidence of bullying — it is more difficult to see emotional pain.”
The opportunities for conflict are personified in the cast of characters found in most girl cliques. Each member’s role manifests itself in a scenario comparable to a high-stakes soap drama: The so-called “villains” can be easy to spot — as well as the victims.
So, too, can the heroes. The role (or label) used to describe a “Floater” represents a secure individual who is flexible, charitable, and not easily intimidated. She refuses to be restricted to a single group of friends, and is genuinely liked and respected by her peers — without intimidating them. She will not sacrifice herself for social status and can accommodate all types of people.
In contrast to the Floater, eight labels you might wish to avoid are described in Rosalind Wiseman’s original (but still relevant) work, Queen Bees and Wannabes. Here’s an introduction to each of them…
- Queen Bee. She rules the roost with an iron hand. She can be affectionate and charming with some people — but often cruel and intolerant with others. Often she will dominate her relationships with friends, teachers, and parents. Her main goal is to gain power over others. Often in this process she loses a true sense of self, which is supplanted by her own self-image, and a general cynicism of human nature.
- Wannabe/Pleaser/Messenger. These labels share similar and frequent characteristics of most girls, either inside or outside the clan. She’ll do anything to win the blessings of the Queen Bee, and is terrified of losing her social rank. She will often “suck up” to others of higher stature…even if it means spreading lies and gossip about a Target. She feels compelled to “fit in” and compromised by the need to be relevant and accepted.
- Banker. Harmless on the surface, but cool and calculating inside, the Banker plans and observes meticulously, acting out of her own self-interest. She has schemed to become a ‘listener’ to her peers, pretending to be their pal, and secretly ‘banking’ the information she hears for her own ambitions. She has gleaned enough personal data from members of the clique to pose a substantial threat to their social status, and the others have learned to fear her disclosures.
- Torn Bystander. She is terrified of the Queen Bee and dislikes her, but is easily intimidated by her influence. She’s not good at saying “no” to her peers, and wants everyone to just get along. Often she finds she must choose between the approval of the clique and her own personal interests, and often “dumbs” herself down so as not to appear too bright or threatening.
- Sidekick. She is closest to the Queen Bee and represents her Second-in-Command. The Queen Bee is her authority figure; not her parents or other adults. She mimics the Queen Bee’s clothes, style, and goals — and uses her influence to control others in the clique. She gains popularity by endorsing the Queen Bee’s level of power over others. The disadvantage is that she may eventually forget who she is.
- Target. For whatever the reason, the Target has been branded as a “loser” and has been isolated by the other girls to be humiliated and scorned. She feels helpless and rejected, and is pessimistic about her chances of success. Her self-esteem takes a beating. If she discovers her inner strength, she will learn to feel empathetic towards others who are similarly downcast.
The profiles, above, may sound harsh and unflattering, but that’s because struggling personalities subjected to peer pressure often lose a true sense of themselves. For a girl who’s in a clique or destined to be, it’s safer to chuck these labels (if she can) to pursue the label marked Floater. (In principle, the Floater doesn’t share the “exclusive” mentality found in most similar organizations or clans.)
Most labels are fluid and ubiquitous, in the grand scheme of things. As Samsa concludes in her article, “we all take on different roles in different peer groups. Sometimes we might participate in relational aggression; other times we might be the target or a bystander. These roles are not set in stone and will change throughout our lives. We must remind our students that it’s OK to take on a different, unfamiliar role in order to break the cycle of relational aggression.”
Adolescence can be a stormy period, riddled with uncertainty and despair. Most members of a girl clique eventually find their path to maturity, despite their angst-ridden childhood. To aid them on this journey, teachers like Ashley Lauren Samsa (and others) continue to fight their battle to render the mortal storm of youth as painless as possible.