The 'mean girl' myth

Despite the South Hadley High bullying case, there is no epidemic of “mean girls” attacking other girls, write Mike Males and Meda-Chesney Lind in a New York Times op-ed.

We have examined every major index of crime on which the authorities rely. None show a recent increase in girls’ violence; in fact, every reliable measure shows that violence by girls has been plummeting for years. Major offenses like murder and robbery by girls are at their lowest levels in four decades. Fights, weapons possession, assaults and violent injuries by and toward girls have been plunging for at least a decade.

If one group is more prone to violence, it’s middle-aged men and women, they write, but you don’t hear about “mean middle-agers.”

Of course, Males and Lind are looking at criminal acts, which are easier to track than the typical girl-on-girl harassment, which is mean but not criminal.

About Joanne


  1. Also, by tracking only criminal acts they are restricting their data set to incidents that get reported to police. The violence that occurs in my school building never gets taken care of criminally. The district is loathe to involve law enforcement, and parents seldom do either.

    Worse, however, is that students try to keep things among themselves, despite the viciousness. We know what’s going on, but the students hide enough of it that there’s seldom enough evidence to act.

    The real data has simply never been collected. To conflate evidence not found with evidence not existing is sloppy research on their part.

  2. Right. Because they’re called mean girls, not criminal girls. They tease, exclude, rumor monger, and humiliate. They don’t mug, rape, steal, or assult.

    Geeze, get a clue NYT.

  3. Some of this subtle meanness continues into the workplace. Some of the stories I’ve heard have made me wonder how much of today’s gender discrimination is perpetrated by women on other women.

    Katharine Beals

  4. Cranberry says:

    Agreed. The mean girls don’t generally stoop to violence. They don’t have to. They might influence others, i.e. boyfriends, to take violent action against a rival.

    I notice they didn’t cover the rates of slander or libel cases.

  5. My husband was gobsmacked this morning, reading this op-ed.

    Kids bullying kids in school (or on the internet) isn’t a crime & isn’t tracked in crime statistics.

    Get a clue is right.

  6. I remember a mean girls scenario that failed; the target of the mean girl could have cared less what the mean girl said, the target was both self-confident and popular and the accusations were factually irrational. What was not immediately apparent was that the mother of the mean girl was at the bottom of her daughter’s behavior. That aspect of the situation became increasingly apparent, as the mom’s behavior became increasingly bizarre and incoherent, with the eventual result of the daughter’s (and mom’s) departure from the (athletic) team.

  7. Apples and oranges. Psychological violence (i.e. meanness, bullying and harassment) usually doesn’t show up in crime statistics.

  8. What do you expect about the NYT’s. It’s very sad – when I was a kid it was a good, if pretentious, paper. Now it’s a tendentious birdcage liner.

  9. I agree with Momof4 that sometimes mothers are at the root of these sorts of girls behavior. Other girls who get involved with a ringleader in bullying others are often in thrall to the ringleader. On their own, some of these other girls know it isn’t right and wouldn’t do it. But when they get into a group, they want to be approved of by the ringleader, and will do whatever she tells them to in order to please her.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    You’d think it wouldn’t be necessary to point out that the article had nothing to do with the supposed subject.
    Forty years ago.

    I am reminded of the NYT article about how 51% of the women in this country are unmarried and liking it.
    Turns out they had to start with fifteen-year-olds, include widows, and, to get over half, count married women whose husbands were deployed.

    Why anybody bothers to read that rag is beyond me.

  11. Hey NYT haters –yeah, the paper is imperfect, but I’d love to hear you name one better comprehensive newspaper. USA Today?

  12. The “best” among a list of propaganda rags doesn’t make it worthy of the name newspaper.  There may be N of them worth reading for information, and N=0 isn’t an unrealistic number.

  13. Richard Nieporent says:

    Hey NYT haters –yeah, the paper is imperfect, but I’d love to hear you name one better comprehensive newspaper. USA Today?

    The Wall Street Journal

  14. Richard,

    I admit the WSJ is a good paper. But why do you think it is superior to the NYT? Is it just the ideological slant of its editorial page?

  15. Richard Nieporent says:

    I admit the WSJ is a good paper. But why do you think it is superior to the NYT? Is it just the ideological slant of its editorial page?

    Simple. I can distinguish the news articles from the editorials.

  16. The NYT is the best newspaper in the world. And it has serious problems, notably bias, and, frequently, an inability to handle numbers correctly. (I don’t make a point of searching for them, but I often find that the articles don’t agree with the graphs illustrating them — and few of the graphs are terribly complex.)

    The most serious problem at the NYT — in my opinion — is that the newspaper’s leadership does not appear to realize that they have serious problems.

    (As for the WSJ, I often read it, but do not find the news pages any less biased than the news pages of the NYT. On the other hand, its editorials are written by people living (mostly) in the real world.)

  17. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ben F.
    They’re all bad.
    Next question.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by JoanneLeeJacobs. JoanneLeeJacobs said: New blog post: The 'mean girl' myth […]