A new research has pointed towards the tendency of cross-gender bullying among children in the middle grades.
Philip C. Rodkin, a professor of child development at the U. of I.'s College of Education, said that his research means educators should take reports of harassment from popular girls seriously.
He said that while most bullies are boys, their victims, counter to popular conception, are not just other boys.
"We found that a lot of male bullies between fourth and sixth grade are bullying girls - more than people would have anticipated - and a substantial amount of that boy-girl, cross-gender bullying goes unreported," he said.
Rodkin said that cross-gender bullying hasn't been fully explored because of the ways researchers have thought about the social status dynamic of bullying in the past.
"Bullies are generally more popular than their victims, and have more power over their victim, whether it's physical strength or psychological power. Researchers have taken it for granted that a bully will also have a higher social status than their victims. Based on our research, that's not necessarily the case," Rodkin said.
The classic bullying paradigm follows what Rodkin calls the "whipping boy" syndrome: the powerful, popular bully tormenting an unpopular victim.
Over the course of his study, which included surveys of 508 fourth and fifth graders from two elementary schools in the Midwest, Rodkin found that boys who bullied other boys fit the classic pattern.
However, he also found a number of cases where an unpopular boy bullied a popular girl.
"In those cases where it was a boy picking on a girl, the bullies were regarded by their classmates as being quite unpopular. They were not alpha males, and they were probably more reactive in their aggression compared to the classic bully," Rodkin said.
The study has been published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development.