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Don't Let Mean Girls Be Cool Girls!

By Nicola Freeman

For a number of schools, the promise of a new academic year has been overshadowed by stories of bullying and hazing, as new students are subjected to cruel and often sexually-charged rituals if they want to be considered "cool". These headline-grabbing tales reached a high point last week with revelations that a top-ranked school in New Jersey had maintained an Internet-fueled "slut-list" to single out girls for special treatment.

However, as the New York Times reported, to be on the list was not necessarily a reason to be ashamed. Instead, as one recent graduate explained: "Being on the list means you are rich, you wear expensive clothing, and probably fall under the general umbrella of attractiveness." Despite the fact that to be on the list suggested a certain level of promiscuity, it actually raised the status of these girls among their high school peers, equating sexual activity with popularity.   

Hazing rituals with sexual overtones will come as no surprise to many female college graduates who endured similar treatment as part of their sorority initiations. However, it's cause for alarm that such behavior is taking hold with younger and younger students – some of  the girls on the slut list at the New Jersey high school were as young as 14.

The fact that the Internet and technology played a major role in establishing and perpetuating the slut list will also come as no surprise. When everyone has a cell phone camera and a Facebook account, it's easier than ever for the mean girls to take charge, posting inappropriate photos and spreading rumors until fiction is regarded as fact.

Other schools have been quick to recognize the additional danger that technology poses to adolescent girls. Paradise High School in California recently asked freshman girls to attend a three-day workshop, "Celebrating Sisterhood", which was developed by administrators in response to numerous conflicts involving harassment and bullying among the school's female students.

Conflict and harassment between girls looks very different from conflicts between boys, according to Assistant Principal Pam Ogren. "While boys tend to be more physical in their conflicts and have it over and done with after a fight, conflicts between girls can stretch for months and are much more subtle," she said. Gossip, secrets and information are their arsenal. With girls, "information is almost like money".

In the Paradise High School workshop and other preventive programs, girls are taught the difference between true friendship and relationships that they think they need but are ultimately against their best interests. Administrators try to demonstrate that you don't have to be mean to be cool, and that any relationship where one girl wields power over another is not friendship but an exercise in manipulation.     

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