Do Girls and Boys Bully Differently?

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Every day, kids experience bullying. They are tormented, manipulated, ostracized, harassed, punched, pushed, and humiliated. And yet every experience is unique depending not only on the type of bullying they experience, but also on the gender of the bully. When it comes to perpetrating bullying, males and females typically use different tactics.

For instance, research shows that females use more relational aggression, while males engage in physical bullying. This is not to say that females won’t be physically aggressive or boys won’t exclude others, but bullying does tend to be influenced by gender.

Why Understanding Gender Differences Is Important

Researchers have discovered that understanding the role that gender and gender stereotypes play in bullying is an important component of effective bullying intervention and prevention programs. For instance, gender identity can lead children to adapt and interact with their peers in different ways.

Gender stereotypes also play a role in bullying because they directly influence the socialization of young children into gender roles. Males are socialized to be strong and independent, while females are socialized to be understanding and sensitive.

Because of this socialization, males and females experience bullying differently—regardless of whether they are the aggressors or the targets. And kids that don't act according to the expected gender roles tend to be viewed negatively and are often targeted by bullies.

The two most common types of bullying that are influenced by gender are physical bullying and relational aggression. Even sexual harassment, which is often viewed as a legal issue instead of a form of bullying, results from perceptions about gender.

By understanding how bullying is influenced by gender, teachers, counselors, and parents can tailor their bullying prevention efforts and intervention strategies accordingly. They also should combat gender stereotypes starting when children are very young and offer a safe space for kids to be who they want to be.

Male Bullying

When it comes to bullying behavior, males tend to choose more physically aggressive methods than females. Those with a tendency toward bullying will attack other people when they show weakness.

Some male bullies even assemble a group of followers that are looking for acceptance. These followers will often do or say anything just to maintain their position within the group.

Likewise, these bullies usually enjoy the status a fight brings them. Consequently, they may indulge in menacing behavior and typically are more direct when bullying others.

Research also shows that males will bully both girls and boys. They also tend to be more open about their bullying behavior, which makes it much easier for parents and educators to spot.

This does not mean that boys do not engage in more subtle bullying, such as relational aggression. Most people do not associate manipulation, cliques, rumors, and ostracizing with boys. But it happens quite frequently. In fact, a boy's social status at school does not happen by chance.

A great deal of male bullying is influenced by the "boy code." Males are conditioned by society to adopt a set of rules and behaviors that define what it means to be a boy.

Society unfairly expects males (or anyone presenting as male) to be independent, macho, athletic, powerful, and dominant. Being anything other than what society expects could make a child a target for bullying by kids who expect these characteristics.

Bullying also tends to end more quickly among males than it does with females. Males are more likely to bully and be bullied than girls; and they are more accepting of bullying behavior than females. So, a male might still be friends or be in a relationship with someone even if they bully them or other people.

Female Bullying

Females tend to bully other people indirectly or by using relational aggression. This type of bullying usually includes verbal assaults, ostracizing, spreading rumors, and gossiping—the epitome of mean behavior. Moreover, people that engage in relational aggression disguise their bullying and act in more passive-aggressive ways, which makes this type of bullying more difficult to spot.

Like males, females also form groups around a leader. But in these groups, especially cliques, people are in constant competition with one another. As a result, the people in this group never truly trust one another within the clique.

For instance, the leader in the clique is often worried that at any moment they will lose their power to another member of the group that seems more worthy than they are. If this happens, the clique will form around the new leader.

Females also experience sexual bullying more than males. For example, they might experience rumors about sexual activity regardless of the validity of the claims. And they are more likely to be on the receiving end of sexual messages or harassment.

Most female bullies do not act alone. Instead, they tend to have accomplices or followers who support their behavior. Additionally, they will rally around the primary bully in order to gain more social standing in the group. They will give in to peer pressure and bullying even when they know it’s wrong.

A Word From Verywell

Because research shows that males and females bully differently, it's important to be able to identify those differences. Otherwise, bullying could go undetected. When this happens, the consequences of bullying are significant. In fact, the longer bullying goes on, the more severe the response and the longer it will take to overcome the bullying.

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.