Dear Blunt Monkey,
My cousin just started her senior of high school. She recently hooked up with a guy at a party, and all of a sudden her “friends” started spreading rumors about how she had sex with the guy and how she’s this big slut. The whole school thinks she slept with this guy even though they barely did anything. You have any advice to help get her reputation back?
Rumors, insults, and social ostracization are all forms of what are called “indirect aggression.” Unlike direct aggression (basically, punching someone in the face), indirect aggression is sneakier, exposes the assailant to less blowback, and is the preferred method of meanness among men and women as they get older and smarter.
But why are her classmates sending aggression her way in the first place? Well, it has everything to do with intrasexual competition…that is, girls competing with girls for available guys. Humans are social creatures, and somewhere a few thousand years back in our history some clever (and mean) girls and guys realized that if they could lower their rivals’ social status, they could make them seem inferior on the dating market and create more sexual opportunities for themselves.
For guys, the strategy is fairly straightforward. The cool, tough guys in school bully and denigrate those who are nerdier than them; the nerds become social pariahs and no girls will date them. Trust me, this strategy is highly effective…like many nerds, I was a virgin at graduation, despite my numerous accolades each year from “Model United Nations.” (I could solve famine in Sierra Leone, but I could not convince Sara to bone).
For girls, it’s a little more interesting. Young ladies seem to target their attacks not on nerds, but on girls who actually are pretty. Studies show that indirect aggression—rumors, demeaning comments, name-calling—actually are targeted most at girls perceived to be physically attractive. This is because attractive girls represent the biggest threats to other girls.
The effects of this bullying are two-fold. 1) Research indicates that victims of indirect aggression are more likely to have sexual relationships at a younger age. 2) Victims of indirect aggression have more sexual partners in middle school and high school.
Now from an evolutionary perspective, this is counter-intuitive…if someone has sex earlier, and with more people, they should technically be more reproductively successful, as they would pass on their genes to more kids, having started earlier and hooked up with more guys. But long-term, the effects are quite damaging. Turns out that tricking girls into having sex too young and with too many guys is the goal of the female bullies: this is why they brand victims as “sluts,” or say they dress like “whores.” The insults are a direct attack on the two things men value most in prospective mates: faithfulness and attractiveness. Through bullying and social ostracization, they have turned an attractive girl into someone who is perceived to sleep with anyone and who dresses in ways that highlight her infidelity. Worst of all, data shows victims of indirect aggression are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and psychosomatic illness, all of which likely conspires to make the victim insecure and more likely to seek social inclusion through any means necessary, including sleeping with guys in an attempt to become more popular and accepted. So even if you weren’t a slut to begin with, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The result is that the popular bullies have less competition for the true goal…gaining long-term relationships with high quality males. Or to put it another way: the captain of the football team makes out with the cute new girl at school, so the mean head cheerleader spreads a rumor that she’s a dirty slut. Now football guy doesn’t want anything to do with slutty new girl, and head cheerleader ends up dating him. In caveman times, this would have meant she actually got the resources and protection offered in a monogamous relationship, whereas the rejected girl would get nothing, except maybe a fatherless baby. Interestingly, research shows that the bullies don’t even need to be well liked for this strategy to work. Sadly, school age students seem content to grant social power to those perceived as strong, even if everyone hates them.
So what’s a girl to do? Here’s my advice to your cousin:
1) For starters, get your self-esteem straight. The whole reason you’re being victimized is because other girls find you threatening, which means you’re actually pretty hot and don’t need to fall into the victim mindset.
2) Don’t fall into the trap of becoming what people think you are. We all know that in middle school and high school, stories spread like wildfire as they travel through the rumor mill. A peck on the cheek in first period becomes a handjob by lunch, and by the end of the day even the principal heard you had a three-way with Cee Lo Green and the school janitor. So resist the urge to commit even mild sexual indiscretions with any guys who aren’t your boyfriend, as they might endanger your fragile reputation.
3) Fight fire with fire. Hopefully you have your own social network to combat vicious rumors. That’s most of the reason we humans form friendship cliques in the first place…it’s for social protection as much as it is for physical protection. If you have some, send your real besties out to correct the lies. Maybe they can even start some of their own.
4) If all else fails, get back to your cavewoman roots…and opt for some good old-fashioned direct aggression. The cheerleader might have more social status than you, but that’s just because nobody has the balls to challenge her. Why not knock her down a peg, literally, with a surprise catfight? Smack that bitch in the face, pull her hair, rip her earring out. If you beat her up good enough, she might be so humiliated she has to transfer schools. How’s that for ostracization! Oh, maybe your parents won’t agree with this advice, and maybe you’ll get suspended, and maybe you’ll even get a hunk of your own hair pulled out. But you know what? At least you’ll have stood up for yourself. That sends a powerful message to your classmates…think twice before spreading rumors about this girl.
In the end, remember this one thing: High School is, as scientists say, “just a bunch of fucking bullshit.” Nothing that happens there has any real impact on the rest of your life…unless you let it. If you want to be labeled a victim and have that haunt you through your reproductive years, I can’t stop you. But the truth is that after you turn eighteen you’ll probably never see 95% of those numbnards ever again. Keep your confidence up, your real friends close, and your GPA high, and in a year you’ll be off to commence your adulthood and have the best time of your life at some college on the other side of the country, where nobody knows your high school reputation and the future is as bright as you want it to be.
Just try not to suck any cocks your first week there.