Healthy Aggression in Girls

Written by Tabby Biddle

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Gray, called my mom at home one day to tell her that she was worried about me playing soccer all of the time with the boys at recess. “She’s the only girl and I’m afraid it’s too rough for her. She might get hurt,” she said. Thankfully my mom just reported this call to me, and made no judgment or set any rules that forbade me from continuing my recess behavior. The next day, I was back out on the soccer field.

whip-it-sceneLast week I went to see Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The story is about a teenage girl (played by Ellen Page) who has pretty much resigned her 17-year-old life to pleasing her mom through entering beauty pageants. She is suffering from boredom and self-esteem issues because she hasn’t found anything that really inspires her in her small Texas town. One day she tries out (in secret) for the roller derby and makes the team. She learns how to skate fast, weave in and out of other derby girls, do some tricks, and occasionally knock down some of her opponents. Ultimately she finds her power through the physical activity (and friendships) of the derby.

I am not advising knocking other girls down as a self-esteem tool, but I am suggesting that it is crucial for girls to have an outlet to express their physical drive and aggression.

Anger and physical aggression in girls and women are typically deemed inappropriate. We are taught to deny, suppress and hide these feelings. When they do show up, we tend to feel shame or guilt and try even harder to rein them in. This doesn’t always work out so well.

TheSecretLivesofGirls“Girls’ aggression comes out in other forms when it is reined in physically … Girls turn it against themselves: through eating disorders, self-mutilation, hypercriticism about their talents and bodies, and depression.” says Sharon Lamb, clinical psychologist and author of The Secret Lives of Girls. In other words, when not permitted to express their aggression outwardly, girls aggress against themselves.

The taboo of physical aggression for girls and women can show up in another form called “relational aggression.” You got it – The Mean Girls stuff. “This is not about guns. Rarely even about fists … the weapons are subtle and sophisticated — whispers, lies, the upward rolling of an eyeball, the kind of backstabbing that does not require a knife,” says Susan Wellman, national expert in the field of relational aggression and Founder of The Ophelia Project.

There is one place where aggression in girls is generally supported: sports. The GirlsSoccerroller derby is a fine example. The problem is that many schools across the country, in order to save money, have either eliminated their physical education programs or drastically cut them. Not only is this a physical health issue for girls (and boys), but a psychological one. “When we deny women aggressive possibilities, we potentially diminish their being,” says University of California anthropologist Victoria Burbank.

“Being a full human being means having the capacity for both compassion and anger and frustration. Along with the former comes the ability to care; with the latter the ability to act aggressively and be angry,” says Sharon Lamb.

What if girls could own their aggression and even felt entitled to it? What would that look like beyond the playing field? What would that feel like?

I don’t think I’ll be joining up with the roller derby anytime soon, but I am sure glad I played some soccer in my school days.


Tabby Biddle is a writer and editor specializing in helping women entrepreneurs and emerging authors get their message out. Additionally she is the founder of Lotus Blossom Style, a yoga lifestyle company created to support women in their personal transformation. She lives in Santa Monica, CA.


5 thoughts on “Healthy Aggression in Girls

  1. thanks for keeping up the conversation about healthy outlets for aggression, for girls. having raised a daughter who plays ice hockey (she’s a high school senior right now), i have noted the consistently positive effect the sport has had on her mood, not to mention her ability to face conflict head-on in her non-hockey life. i would argue, actually, that “knocking down” opponents, or more specifically, being allowed to bang around, to make planned, strong, physical contact, has a specific releasing quality for any athlete. my daughter plays field hockey and lacrosse as well, and her mood is never quite the same after these games/practices. my pet theory is that the physical contact is bringing something specific… i like to think of it as “blowing off estrogen.” i’m dying for someone to study this. meanwhile, women, encourage your daughters to bang around… whether in a rink, on a field, or in the backyard. it’s good for them!

    • Thanks for writing in Tracey. I, too, was a field hockey and lacrosse player and it did wonders for how great I felt as a teenager and college gal. After college I missed having these physical outlets — so I found a lacrosse league for grads and also started playing Ultimate Frisbee. These again were fabulous. As we get older, our lifestyles change and although we may be out running, hiking, swimming, and sporting around — we are not necessarily knocking around on the field. I wonder how this affects us.

      I am so happy too hear that your daughter plays field hockey, lacrosse, and ice hockey — and hope she can keep with them for as long as possible! I agree with you, “whether in a rink, on a field, or in the backyard. it’s good for them!”

      Thanks for your comments Tracey.


  2. Hi Tabby,

    I think yoga is another great place to take out our aggression. It is not only safe from hurting others, but it allows the mind to eventually quiet and figure out where the aggression is coming from. With a few challenging poses, there is certainly place to spend this energy. Plus, we can temperate the energy level dependent on the amount of aggression we need to expend. I remember many times running onto my mat, and working so hard to find a way to the other side of a frustrating experience, or just to process a heavy topic. I am glad you brought it up and will look to my mat again, and this time, with feminine righteousness!


    • Thank you for this comment Ingrid. I realized that nowhere in my article did I mention yoga. Funny — because this is a huge part of my life — and certainly a great place to breathe through, move through, and chant through aggressive energy. I taught yoga to young girls and teens for years and their practice of yoga had an incredible impact on their self-confidence and self-esteem. They had a place to be with themselves and channel their energy in positive, fun ways. I think aggressive energy is a very positive force (but when not managed can be harmful) — and an outlet like yoga is terrific for transforming that force into plain and simple positive life force!

      Thank you Ingrid for bringing up the wonderful outlet of yoga!

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