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Experts see ``mean girls'' phenomenon in Measles killing

Associated Press Writer

October 18, 2002, 11:04 AM EDT

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Researchers who are drawing attention to "mean girls" _ girls who are psychological bullies to other girls _ see the phenomenon carried to extremes in the death of a New Milford teenager.

Police say that Maryann Measles, 13, was gang-raped and murdered by a group of young men _ a plot allegedly organized by their girlfriends.

The girlfriends were upset that Measles had had sex with their boyfriends, and the young men were worried that Measles would pursue statutory rape cases against them, police said.

Eight people, including three women in their early 20s, have been charged in Measles' death. They have not yet entered pleas.

Women who have been studying girl-on-girl aggression said the Measles case was rare but not surprising, given the way society and teenage culture treat girls.

"Stealing someone's boyfriend is seen as one of most hideous things a girl can do to another girl, and that's because we live in a society that puts a big premium on a girl having a boyfriend. It's a big part of her identity," said Rachel Simmons, author of "Odd Girl Out," one of several books published recently on aggression in girls.

"It's a big threat and cause for retribution if you suspect someone is trying to move in on your guy," Simmons said.

Simmons and other experts also said girls really are not different from boys when it comes to acting out their aggressions, although girls are more likely to spread rumors and ostracize another girl than to beat her up.

But, they said, girls are not immune to the increasing amount of violence in American society.

"Society has put this fragile and precious label on girls, which is why a lot of their violent actions are ignored," said Shanterra McBride, director of programs and education for The Empower Program, a Washington-based group that aims to end girl-on-girl aggression.

Social scientists have focused research on "mean girls" in their early teens, although the culture of bullying and aggression can continue into later years.

Measles' alleged assailants, although in their 20s, included high school dropouts who reportedly engaged in drug and alcohol abuse and promiscuity. Measles was only 13.

"It's often the case that the younger, more attractive girls may be seen as threats by the more senior girls," Simmons said.

Another researcher, Phyllis Chesler, said that female-on-female aggression is seen in many cultures, including dowry burnings in India and female genital mutilation in Africa.

"Like men, women are as close to the apes as to the angels. We're not better. We're a little different, but not better," said Chesler, author of "Woman's Inhumanity to Woman."

Competition for the attention of males can even be seen in primates, where some females are known to kill a rival's infants or injure rival females.

Throughout human society, women are taught that men are better than them, and that they have to do whatever they can to get a man, Chesler said.

Women have been complicit in rapes, either by organizing rapes of enemy women during wartime or by failing to report and help prosecute men who rape others, she said.

Among American teenage girls, it is common for a clique to ostracize a girl by spreading rumors that the girl is a slut.

Violence also happens, McBride said. Some girls form gangs and physically harm others.

"Girls are not immune to taking matters into their own hands. We expect it from boys, but not from girls, which is unfortunate, because we ignore a lot of the signs girls have out there," McBride said.

Copyright 2002, The Associated Press

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