‘The power to squash people’: understanding girls’ relational aggression
While researchers and concerned adults alike draw attention to relational aggression among girls, how this aggression is associated with girls’ agency remains a matter of debate. In this paper we explore relational aggression among girls designated by their peers as ‘popular’ in order to understand how social power constructs girls’ agency as aggression. We locate this power, hence girls’ agency, in contradictory messages about girlhood that, although ever-present ‘in girls heads,’ are typically absent in adult panic about girls’ aggression. Within peer culture, power comes from the ability to invoke the unspoken ‘rules’ that police the boundaries of acceptable femininity. We thus challenge the notion advanced by Pipher and others that girls’ empowerment entails (re)gaining an ‘authentic voice.’ In contrast, we suggest that such projects must be informed by an interrogation of how girls are positioned as speaking subjects.