Last evening I was reading in an unschoolers' blog post about girl cliquishness -- she said that when her girls were in a certain age range (unfortunately a pretty broad one,) in *all* the social outlets they had to deal with this and that just as often as not her own girls were the problem. She seemed to think that this is just the way it is, and this bothered me so much that I woke up this morning thinking about it. I don't like it so I don't want it to be true. I mean, there was a time when racism was the norm -- probably for most of human history in which people have had contact with groups different from them. Not so long ago in this country it was not only the norm, but it was culturally accepted. I have no doubt there were people who believed (and still believe) that it is just human nature, or has an evolutionary basis. In other words: It's just the way it is. But increasingly people are coming to understand that it is overwhelmingly a learned, social phenomenon.

If that's true about the girls (and I fear it is) it makes it very hard to accept. It seems like it would be easier if I did believe that it is something wired into them. But as it is I'm disgusted and dismayed at seeing my own daughters learn to be part of it, either as the ones doing the ostracizing or the ones being ostracized. And just to be clear, I'm not talking about thinking everyone should be friends with everyone else. Real friendship is a rare thing and can't and shouldn't be forced. And I'm not talking about accepting everyone, even if their behavior is offensive and hateful. But there's no question that the most moral and conscientious way of being around other people socially -- that is, people who are are not offensive and hateful, and regardless of how else they look or act -- is to be considerate and kind. Now, still that doesn't necessarily mean fully inclusive -- we're all naturally drawn to certain people, those we're familiar with, those we find common ground with. And some of us are shy and tend to be quiet in groups or new situations. But that's a very different thing from treating a prefectly decent person as if they're unpalatable, or invisible, or a social liability. Intelligent adults just don't do that, and if they do, *they* are the ones who are ostracized. But we have different standards for kids. "That's just the way it is."

My greatest fear is that my girls will learn to be the ones treating others callously. My second greatest fear has already come to pass -- that they will be the social outcasts. They are learning that they are second-class. That they are not as good. That they are unattractive. None of which is true -- it's all context. What makes me angry is their reaction to it -- to become desperate to be accepted by these others, to become grasping. It makes me furious to see them following someone around who is ignoring them. I want them to have more self-respect than that. They deserve better than that. I am so mad at them, for their own sake -- but is that fair? They are little girls. Is it even rational?

And then I think, well, I went through the same thing, and I turned out... okay? Picture a little girl, sweet but incredibly not socially savvy. Picture her round pasty face with small features, her black-rimmed glasses, her square body that won't fit into the cute little girl fashions. There were long periods of time when I had no friends, and it was clear that my presence was undesired, that I was deemed an untouchable, at best invisible. Do you know what that feels like? Well, don't even try to guess if you haven't been there, because I assure you the reality is worse than what you can imagine. But here I am, many years later, and I do have friends, I am comfortable in our community socially, I am in love, I have people who love me. And still, lingers, a sense that I am unlikable and unworthy, and that all people are untrustworthy. My guard is up always, and I am stingy with my affection. I will not be the one chasing after others, never again.

And that is an uneasy, mean sort of existence. It protects me but doesn't give me comfort.

I want to take them away. I do not, because I fear that not even having a chance to find that friend who loves you is worse than learning that you're lesser or better than others. And I think that I'm wrong to do so, but it seems something is lost either way.