Do Girls and Boys Bully Differently?

middle school boy being bullied in hallway near lockers
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Every day, kids are tormented, manipulated, ostracized, harassed, punched, pushed and humiliated. And yet every experience is unique depending not only on the type of bully but also on the gender of the bully. When it comes to bullying, boys and girls approach it very differently. For instance, girls tend to use more relational aggression while boys tend to resort to physical bullying.

This is not to say that girls won’t be physically aggressive or boys won’t exclude others, but there are tendencies in bullying that are influenced by gender. Here’s a closer look at what sets male bullying apart from female bullying.

Male Bullying

When it comes to bullying behavior, boys tend to be more physically aggressive than girls. Those with a tendency toward bullying will attack other people when they show weakness. Additionally, some male bullies, or alpha males, usually assemble a group of followers that are looking for acceptance. As a result, these boys, or followers, will often do anything or say anything just to maintain their position within the group.

Likewise, male bullies usually enjoy the status a fight brings them. Consequently, they may indulge in menacing behavior and typically are more direct when bullying others. When boys bully, they will bully both girls and boys. They also tend to be more open about their bullying behavior, which makes it much easier to spot male bullies.

This fact does not mean that boys do not engage in relational aggression though. There are plenty of male versions of the mean girl. To many people, this fact may come as a surprise. 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." What this means is that boys are conditioned by society to adopt a set of rules and behaviors that define what it means to be a boy.

These include things like being independent, macho, athletic, powerful, and dominant. If they do not display these characteristics or if they embrace things that are considered feminine, then they are considered wimpy. Consequently, being anything other than what society expects could make them a target for bullying.

Finally, bullying tends to end more quickly among boys than it does with girls. In other words, boys often let things go. But girls will often hold grudges.

Boys are more likely to bully and be bullied than girls. And they are more accepting of bullying behavior than girls. So, boys may still like a girl even if she bullies other people, and they may be friends with a boy who bullies others.

Female Bullying

Girls tend to bully other girls indirectly or by using relational aggression. As a result, they resort to verbal assaults, ostracizing, spreading rumors and gossiping — the epitome of mean girl behavior. Moreover, girls disguise their bullying and act in more passive-aggressive ways, which makes girl-on-girl bullying much more difficult to spot.

Like boys, girls also form groups around a leader. But in girl groups, especially cliques, the girls are in constant competition with one another. As a result, they never truly trust one another within the clique. For instance, the leader in the clique is often worried that at any moment she will lose her power to another member of the group that seems more worthy than she is. If this happens, the clique will form around the new leader.

Meanwhile, girls also experience sexual bullying more than boys. For example, girls are more likely to have rumors spread 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 from boys.

Most female bullies do not act alone. Instead, they tend to have accomplices or followers who support their behavior. Additionally, girls 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 boys and girls bully differently, it's important to be able to identify those differences. Otherwise, bullying will often go undetected, especially among girls. 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.

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