PLAYGROUND AS BATTLEGROUND :
The Roots of How Men and
Women “Do” Conflict
you are a girl, the playground isn’t a bully pulpit. If
you are a boy bully you are not only accepted, but among the more
popular kids in school. Hang on a minute. Does this sound like
a double standard? A study at Purdue University by child-development
expert Laura Hess shows that a marked sex difference exists when
it comes to styles of handling conflict as early as elementary
school. According to Hess “…woe to the girl who is
overly aggressive…Our research shows that girls who are
disruptive and aggressive are at a much greater risk of being
rejected by their peers than are their male counterparts.”
Boys are indeed more aggressive than girls. Drive by an elementary
school playground and observe the boys throwing each other on
the ground, grabbing and hitting each other.
....What do you see the girls doing?
Playing cooperatively in groups. Boys also organize themselves
into hierarchical groups more than girls do. There is always a
designated leader and the rest are left to jockey for 2nd and
3 rd positions by acting tough and aggressive. When girls want
to seek social justice on the playground they will act out by
employing indirect aggression. For example a study by child psychologists
Jessica Giles and Gail Heyman revealed when girls want to be mean
to a boy “telling” was the modal response. This is
a social action of retributive justice and a form of indirect
aggression. Boys will demonstrate more direct aggression by attempting
to physically hurt others. Girls employ what they have already
learned and do well. They will use relational methods to damage
the cohesion or intimacy goals of the group, especially if it
is other girls! Boys are socialized to value status and seek victory.
The training ground is often the playground where supervision
by adults is not as intense as in the classroom. They are freer
to express and test out the norms of dealing with conflict. From
the playground to the workplace we see this scene played out.
be a 3 Part Series (May,June and July newsletters) that will address
how men and women handle conflict.
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