Mean girls grow up.

A interesting one I read in the Sunday Washington Post.

I don’t really blog very much about my experiences of growing up in Bridgewater, Somerset County, New Jersey. In my younger days, it was a place in transition. (I wasn’t in transition, it was.) Somerset County, about 40 miles southwest of New York, had been a center of dairy farming up until about the 1960’s. Where there were people, the were in small towns (boroughs). In one of them, my family goes back about four generations.

What moved into Somerset County, starting in the 1960’s, were many people from closer into New York who came out to Somerset when the interstates opened up. 287 and 78 — my Japan readers might need this handy map.)

Still others came from God knows where, and primarily because AT&T, the old phone company monopoly, set up a bunch of office parks.

So what you had were these city people–city whites–and still others from everywhere, who’s claim to fame was that they had an AT&T corporate badge. They were a “manager” at a dinosaur monopoly, which I guess ranked them equal to, what, a viceroy in 16th century France. (They sure did act the part, usually.)

All you need to know about the sociology of Bridgewater is to drive through parts built after, say, 1965, and notice how it’s all the same big four-bedroom colonial on an acre of land, where the two-car garage is half the size of the whole house. (Oh my! They have an attached garage!)

So I grew up in this sort-of hyperaggressive, $50 millionaire environment, that was alien to the community that had existed there before. My family was obviously not any part of that. And it wasn’t exactly pleasant, because that sort of culture breeds the sort of bullying that comes from people who are either trying to one-up you because there’s no difference, or drag you down because they don’t want to see anyone other than them go up, or who think the way up is by elbowing, because that’s how their parents got to be $50 millionaires who live in the house with the attached garages.

(BTW, I think the real, real monetarily successful people around Bridgewater left there for places like Princeton or Mendham. They didn’t stick around. If you measure success in how you live your life and treat other people though, then, yes, of course, we had plenty enough of those, too. Most places do if you look.)

Man, I ran into a batch of “mean girls” when I did student politics in the early 1980’s, and so the concept has always fascinated me. With men, outright aggression usually has this wide circle drawn around it. You can’t just go up and slug somebody, but male aggression just has these wider boundaries and more solid double lines.

Female aggression though–and people in contemporary times are much more frank about admitting it exists and can be a problem–is a whole different category. It’s a lot more indirect and much more psychological. Since women can’t resort to certain kinds of violence easily (and neither can men, either, but the perceptions are different), they simply resort to other means.

Since the internet is used by some as a means of psychological violence, the “cyberbullying”, I think it’s interesting that some people are studying and commenting on the current young generation and what they do with the techology.

[More later–with a couple more zings at Bridgewater culture and a Japan twist.]

[Update 2/22/11: So I have been thinking about this one a bit. As I said, I had a rough time getting through high school. And though life along the way can be a challenge, some of the people I grew up with, I wonder how they look at themselves in the mirror every day. You meet some really nasty people in the adult world, but still not as cutting as some you meet in the teenage world. Hopefully, as the article says, they “grew up”.

I used to think that aggressive female behavior was just a product of up-and-coming Bridgewater. But then I read about inner city high schools, and on the other hand, saw the kinds of groups I met at Penn (its own blog post, but basically in the ’80’s, Long Island, West Chester and Greenwich CT cliques acted like that piece of Philadelphia was theirs by birthright.) This sort of nastiness, I concluded, is an everywhere phenomenon.

Going back to that article, it says the “Gamma Girls” are becoming their own force, and the Alpha Girls are seeming a bit dated. Fantastic, maybe. In the early ’80’s, it was all Alpha Girls, and I think society was encouraging that as a way to “equalize” the sexes, without thinking about the ramifications. (Now, single guys sit home doing internet and single women wonder where the men went.) As you who read me know, civil rights and fairness are one thing, crossing lines and general nasty, disrespectful and undercutting behavior just to do it are another. This is what the ’80’s girls got taught. Like, entitled to be a bitch, and you better not have any objections to that.

One thing I had noticed about Japan is that the sort of outright physical aggression is really frowned upon. I don’t think it’s so much the “legacy of World War II” as it is the fact that a lot of people live close together and have to cooperate to make society go. But, like with teenage girl society, the violence just gets sent into indirect routes; and, I would say in Japan, the men are better at it than the women.

I was amazed at how of psychological threats are used in Japan for men to try and get their way. With us in the foreign community, it was just as simple as, “hey, you really don’t count here anyway”, which I think is safe to say is a message that’s constantly tolerated in Japanese society. There’s even more to it though. The whole jerry-rigged economy with labor law enforcement you have to fight to get, is another form of head game. The thing where they don’t people go home at quitting time. The constant use of other people to try and achieve an end against someone else. Who gets ignored and who doesn’t. Who counts and who doesn’t. It’s just so very much like women-fights. Japanese guys are tough, but this is the only really acceptable avenue they’re given, and so they go at it with gusto.

(Lawyers do this sht, too by the way. I think that’s one reason I lasted over five in Japan, where others pack it in sooner.)

It is good to see that sociologists are studying female anti-social behavior in all different income, ethnic and racial groups. I’d like to see these kinds of topics brought into the general media more, and not just be a feature issue for the Sunday paper.]