Psychological research dating back more than sixty years concluded that frustration—blocking of goals—leads to aggressive behavior. Research from ethologists—the study of animal behavior—indicates that the territorial imperative leads to aggressive behavior to protect one’s territory. These principals apply irrespective of species and gender. Hence, girls’ aggression is best understood in the context of aggression in general. If aggression in girls is seen as on the increase, the factors related to such a conclusion are likely to be related to issues of goal development and the perception of territory.
When girls are noted to speak ill of other girls, the understanding from ethology is that the girls who are the recipients of the insults are likely to be perceived as potential threats to the others’ territory. For example, girls who might be seen as threats to another girl’s relationship with a boy are likely to be demeaned to lessen their threat. Girls who are seen as blocking another girl’s path to a goal object are also likely to be victimized and their value reduced. The notion is that insults, slights or other verbally aggressive remarks diminish the other girl and reduce the likelihood that another girl can be an effective invader of another girl’s right to what she feels is hers, whether that which is hers is what she feels she should be able to get or to accomplish or whether that which is hers is part of her perceived world.
Girls might become aggressive when they believe that a boy is theirs, that they are in a relationship with a boy. The boy then becomes part of their territory and the maintaining of the relationship a goal. When another girl is seen as threat to the relationship, that girl becomes a target for aggression. The aggression is designed to remove her from the perceived territorial relationship with the boy and to remove her from blocking the goal of maintaining the relationship. “Drama” follows. The girl who was originally victimized has an option of ignoring the insult or returning the insult. The insult is returned based on the perception that the boy is actually in her domain and is her legitimate goal. How each girl asserts, sometimes aggressively so, her prerogative in regard to the boy, can become a melodramatic circus of verbal and nonverbal behavior. These melodramas are rather scripted in the current culture and can consist of rather slanderous Facebook remarks, emails, texts (even “sexting”) and other kinds of rumor-mongering that is intended to diminish the value of the other. When one of the girls feels that her opponent has won the prize—has kept the boy in her territory, in the relationship, and has removed her as a barrier to the relationship—she is likely to diminish the value of the prize by similar means, such as deriding the boy for past behavior, starting rumors about him and ridiculing him in the presence of his peers or the girl who won him.
Hence, the cycle of increasing vindictiveness continues. Unfortunately, it can end in physical violence toward others—the boy or the girl—or against self, if the wound inflicted by the other is regarded as fatal. The phrase, “He’d be better off without me,” or “You don’ have to worry about me anymore,” can be code words for self-injurious behavior.
This kind of behavior in females is well-documented in human history, often in a tragic outcome when ill-fated lovers—Tristan and Isolde, Sampson and Delilah, Romeo and Juliet, Oedipus—cannot actualize or reach the goal of establishing a sought-after relationship. Perhaps technology has rendered these relationships simultaneously more trivial and more lethal than before.