Girl violence and the parent gap

Carolyn Moynihan
21 May 2012
Reproduced with Permission
Carolyn Moynihan

Violence among teenage girls -- towards each other, towards strangers -- is a growing problem in many countries. A US survey a few years ago of more than 33,000 girls aged 12 to 17 found that 26.7 percent had been involved in a serious fight at school or work, a group-against-group fight or had attacked someone with the intent to harm the person in the previous year.

A New Zealand researcher this week is calling on parents and professionals to address the problem which, she says, we ignore at our peril because "these young girls are going to be the mothers of the next generation" and will perpetuate cycle of violence.

Social anthropologist Donna Swift has spent two years on The Girls' Project studying violence and other anti-social behaviour among girls in one region of the country. She believes the problem has to tackled in schools, by social workers, because if the problem girls are lost to the schools they will turn to "the streets".

This will require "money" for "programmes" specific to girls, whose reasons for being violent are radically different from those of boys, says Dr Swift. Most programmes are directed to boys, who make up 70 per cent of offenders who come to the attention of police.

Dr Swift's analysis of the reasons is interesting:

Girls were modelling themselves on the "kick-ass" sexualised and aggressive female role models glorified in the media, she said.

There's a popularity contest to see who can do it best.

Another source of "pressure" comes from the tendency for girls to mature earlier:

"It's not her fault that her body has developed that way. She's a child and she's trying to deal with the changes of puberty and the attention from the opposite sex. They have the body of an adult, they have access to everything ... alcohol, the media influences ... but they have the minds of children," she said.

"They dress like they are 18, they look 18, but they only have the mind of a 13-year-old. They are just girls."

But then we get down to the bedrock reason:

At the same time, girls were saying they wanted more attention from their parents.

"They want their parents in their lives, they want parents that show concern, that are interested."

But some parents were too busy sorting out their own baggage rather than being good parents, Dr Swift said.

Sounds like the parents need programmes too, or even first.

As for the media, I noticed that web-page I got this report from had a prominent ad at the side for imminent release of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on DVD Blu-Ray and Download. This is a book that has been described as "very ugly" by a New York Times reviewer and by someone on the Chronicle of Higher Education website as follows:

What I saw - and what I have since found out about the books - was a stew of sadomasochistic violence, most of it involving objectification of women in degrading ways. The book plots revolve around rape, sexual abuse, torture, and cruel murder. The back story of virtually every character seems to include abuse.

Most of this violence, I gather was men against women. But when violence is celebrated in books and film -- and in the latter case seen by adolescent girls -- how can it be stopped on the playground and the street?