It is a commonly held belief that girls are “meaner” than boys. That girls spread rumours, gossip and give other girls the ‘silent treatment’, while boys are more honest and deal with problems directly.

However, a recent study challenges this perception, and suggests that perhaps it’s time to focus less on the ‘mean girl’ and more on the ‘mean boy’.

The Canadian study surveyed almost six thousand 15-year-old boys and girls from six different countries. The findings show that almost half of the boys surveyed reporting using indirect aggression against their peers, as opposed to only 30 per cent of girls.

Indirect aggression is a form of aggression that isn’t necessarily observable. For example if someone spreads a rumour about somebody else but the origin is unclear. While direct aggression encompasses things like physical confrontations.

The study did not aim  to prove the common belief that girls are ‘meaner’ than boys wrong, rather it was an analysis of the distinct differences in the use of aggression between genders.

“We weren’t trying to prove or disprove, we were just trying to understand the dynamics in the relationship. There is a difference and it’s not that girls do it more it’s that boys do it more,” said the director of the study, Dr Sibyelle Artz.

In her research Dr Artz also found that boys were able to get away with indirect bullying because their teachers would turn a blind eye, believing that only girls were
capable of such behaviour.

“Teachers were coming with the notion that girls were so much worse, that girls were so mean, and that boys were so much easier to deal with because they were so direct,” said Dr Artz.

Boys commented in the study that teachers tended to only notice when they acted out physically.

Dr Judith Lattas, director of the Women’s Studies gender and sexuality program at Macquarie University, said she was pleased with the results of the study. According to Dr Lattas, the mean girl stereotype is continuing to grow and can have negative effects.

“It does confirm my suspicions in the relation to the way in which this whole discourse about mean girls has emerged in recent years. This idea that girls are manipulators behind the scenes and more deadly than the male – these are kind of ancient myths that I think are re-emerging now.”

By Jessie Goldie