Dean Esmay is fightin' some girls, and links to a rather insightful interview with with Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out. Ms. Simmons describes some characteristics of the "hidden culture of [passive-] aggression in girls", and although I'm not a girl myself, I have worked with a great many girls of all ages at church and have witnessed many of the bullying tactics she mentions.
Girls feel that in order to be "nice"- something most parents and teachers expect from girls-they cannot be in open conflict with others. They must be "friends," at least externally, with everyone. As a result, girls often repress their anger or allow it to emerge in indirect or covert ways. ...I don't agree with all her conclusions, but I think she's on the right track in examining this sociological phenomenon. I've seen boys get into fist-fights and go home laughing together, and I've seen girls quit coming to church because they've been ostracized and closed out socially by their peers. Nothing is universal, of course, but this sort of passive-aggressive behavior seems more common among girls and women than among boys and men.
Because females are expected to be caretakers in our society, the challenge of negotiating the impulse to anger and the obligation to sacrifice one's needs for others is significant. In my interviews, girls told me that expressing anger would result in the loss of their relationships with others. The prospect of solitude terrified them, and it was, moreover, a major violation of their caretaking roles. "Nice" girls, they told me, have lots of friends. They don't get in fights. As a result, much of girls' aggressive behavior goes underground. The fear of confrontation makes anger a circular issue that increases the scope of the conflict and causes girls to use relationships with each other as weapons against each other. Although the weak will more often be preyed upon, relational aggression targeting has less to do with an external characteristic than with a conflict that has not been addressed directly and openly.
Perhaps this dynamic can help partially explain why adults relate the way we do. It seems to me that there are lots of male-only groups and activities, but not many female-only. When groups of friends form, it seems like the men form the core, and the women join peripherally -- either as girlfriends/wives, or as single women who latch on to a group of guys. I have a lot of girl friends who seem to spend most of their time hanging out with men in groups (not in dating scenarios), but I'm not aware of large groups of women that hang around together (of course, I'm not a woman, so I may not have much visibility). Two or three women may be "best friends", but are there groups of 5-10 women who do everything together? Such groups of men are very common.
There are clearly other factors as well -- it's always important to consider the influence of mate-selection when discussing social patterns, for instance -- but is it possible that large groups of women simply aren't socially stable? Please give me your opinions, especially you women who may think this is all a bunch of nonsense.