After reading yesterday’s article in the Washington Post about “What Happens When Mean Girls Girls Grow Up?” we started doing some research. At the end of the article the author, Laura Sessions Stepp, makes reference to a positive model for girl behavior called “Gamma Girls.” Unlike Mean Girls, Queen Bees, or Wannabes, Gamma Girls are self-possessed, follow their own paths, and are defined by being well-adjusted. They lead through cooperation instead of intimidation — exactly the kind of tweens we’re trying to raise.
The term “Gamma” comes from the third letter of the Greek alphabet and is known in science as being one of three or more closely related chemical substances. A Gamma Girl is independent and well-rounded — she jumps from group to group socially. She is a friend to everyone and “characteristically talks about activities they’re doing for others, not for themselves” (think Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde). Gammas are planners and detail-oriented.
A bit of background:
These terms appear to have been coined by Post writer Laura Sessions Stepp in a 2002 article titled “Alpha Girls: In Middle School, Learning to Handle The ABCs of Power.” She described three groups: “Alphas,” stars who define teen life and determine who will be excluded; “Betas,” who worry that they’re not in the in crowd; and “Gammas,” student council president types who care more about what they do than how they appear. (If you follow “The Clique” series, consider Massie as the Alpha, Alicia as the Beta, and Claire as the Gamma. I can’t take credit for this point — my eldest tween pointed this out to me during our discussion for this post.)
Later in 2002, Susannah Meadows wrote an article in Newsweek about Gammas in high school titled “Meet the Gamma Girls.” Rosalind Wiseman’s seminal book, “Queen Bees and Wannabes” also came out in 2002, as did Rachel Simmons’ “Odd Girl Out.” (We wonder: What was in the water that year?)
Then mentions of Gamma Girls seem to die down. The movie “Mean Girls” (the first one, not the recent “Mean Girls 2”) came out in 2004 and was based on Ms. Wiseman’s Queen Bees book. In 2007 the “Everything Parent’s Guide to Raising Girls” referenced Gamma Girls albeit briefly, and the Meredith Corporation, a media publishing company (with titles such as Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies Home Journal) created a marketing division called Gamma Women to study this consumer target group amongst adults. There seems to have been little to no discussion on this group again until yesterday.
To the present:
There’s been a nearly ten-year history of well-educated folks studying this phenomenon, and at first I was kicking myself for not being aware that there was a middle-path of raising a Gamma Girl for parents of tweens to follow. Then I remembered that my eldest tween was only five years old in 2002, so I wasn’t paying attention to any of the issues surrounding tweens at that time.
But still, I have to ask: What happened to the Gamma Girl?
Why is our discussion dominated by Mean Girls and bullies? Are we guilty of the same situation plaguing our teachers — that we fuss and fret over the “problem kids” and end up ignoring everyone else in the middle because they’re doing just fine?
Or is the Gamma Girl essentially the over-pressured and over-worked SuperGirl? Is it possible to raise a Gamma Girl without stressing her out on a “Race to Nowhere” or becoming a Tiger Mom ourselves?
We’re going to be exploring these issues in the coming days and weeks as part of our continuing mission to discuss positive experiences for tween girls. We welcome your comments and value your input to this important discussion. Are you a Gamma Girl or raising one? What are you doing that’s working well?
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