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Beauty and the Beast: Violence in the Lives of Women and Girls (December 2013): Violence and Girls

By Karen Evans

Violence and Girls

James Garbarino, a professor at Loyola University in Chicago, has been studying violence in children and youth for more than thirty years.  As society has changed, he has changed his focus of study from boys to girls and their aggressive behavior.  In his See Jane Hit: Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What Can Be Done about It, Garbarino discusses how pop culture celebrates aggressive girls.  He considers whether boys and girls are wired differently for aggression, and examines girls who kill themselves or others.  Combating Gender Violence in and around Schools, edited by Fiona Leach and Claudia Mitchell, examines gender violence in schools around the world.  Sections investigate such violence from an international perspective that includes the developing world.  Case studies look at North America, the United Kingdom, Russia, Pakistan, and Nepal; they include corporal punishment as a gender issue.  This work presents strategies for change, e.g., using artwork, combating body image issues, preventing violence, and working with teachers.

Sugar and Spice and No Longer Nice: How We Can Stop Girls’ Violence by Deborah Prothrow-Stith and Howard Spivak focuses on understanding and dealing with the challenges presented by violent acts committed by girls.  The authors discuss the increase in violent behavior and aggression that girls express toward each other and the various risk factors—including substance abuse, poverty, weapons, and victimization—for this behavior.  The authors devote an interesting chapter to the “feminization of the superhero” as a factor in girls’ behavior.  Their volume concludes with suggestions to negate the violence through parental action, schools and teachers, community involvement, and positive relationships with adults.  Stephen Hinshaw and Rachel Kranz’s The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls from Today’s Pressures provides insights into the increasing pressures teenage girls face in contemporary society.  They attribute these pressures to the “triple bind”: pressure to be good at all traditional female qualities (e.g., to be empathetic, nice, obedient, nurturing); to be good at traditional male activities (sports, competition, assertive behavior); and to conform to an unrealistic set of standards on how women should look and behave.  They contend the triple bind may be the cause of increased violence and aggression in girls.

African American girls in one of the poorest sections of St. Louis are the subject of Jody Miller’s Getting Played: African American Girls, Urban Inequality, and Gendered Violence.  Miller examines how the girls are victimized and how this experience becomes embedded in their lives.  The violence these girls endure ranges from assault to gang rape.  Interviews with the young women provide a glimpse into their troubled and violence-filled lives.  Another book by Jody Miller, One of the Guys: Girls, Gangs, and Gender, focuses on gangs in St. Louis, Missouri, and Cleveland, Ohio.  In these interviews, girls attempt to explain why they join gangs and what their lives are like as gang members.  Miller also interviewed girls in the same communities who chose not to become involved in gang activity.  By looking at both groups in the same cities, the author hoped to draw conclusions about why some girls join gangs.

In Girls in Trouble with the Law, Laurie Schaffner focuses specifically on why girls enter the juvenile justice system; broken families and violence and abuse in the home are among the problems discussed.  She also describes the problems girls encounter in juvenile detention centers.  Schaffner’s previous incarceration as a juvenile gives her an empathy with the girls she interviews in the juvenile system.  Her book includes artwork created by the girls while they were incarcerated.  This artwork provides an avenue in which to view the girls, their behavior, and life outside the juvenile facility.  Deborah Prothrow-Stith and Howard Spivak believe there is hope to stopping juvenile violence; they detail a turnaround in Boston in Murder Is No Accident: Understanding and Preventing Youth Violence in America.  The authors played an integral part in developing a plan to combat violence in that city.  Included in the plan were positive role models, strategies for combating poverty, gun buybacks, domestic prevention programs, and home visitations.  Their plan has become a blueprint for other cities to follow.

Gregory Moffatt divides children into two categories in Wounded Innocents and Fallen Angels: Child Abuse and Child Aggression.  Children are wounded innocents, suffering from the actions of others, or aggressors who inflict pain on others.  In the case of children as victims, Moffatt discusses Munchausen syndrome by proxy, caregiver abuse and neglect, and why a parent will not protect a child from an abusive parent.  He also looks at children as aggressors—acting as bullies, committing murder, or perpetrating violence on themselves by cutting and eating disorders.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs: Youth Violence Prevention website (http://www.ojp.gov/programs/youthviolenceprevention.htm) is a helpful source of information on violence in schools, youth gangs, and youth gun violence.  Numerous links are provided on resources, research, and prevention concerning youth and violence.

Conclusion

As the publications discussed in this essay reveal, violence is prevalent in the lives of too many women and girls.  This problem is global in scope, from family members who believe they must kill a sister or daughter to regain the family honor, to the husband or boyfriend who wants to maintain control of the relationship, to the stranger who decides that sexually assaulting a woman is his right because he is a man.  Women and girls are also responsible for violence, murdering their children, committing domestic violence against their partner, participating in gang violence from assault to murder, and stalking others.  Despite the many efforts to reduce and combat such violence, this problem persists, leaving many lasting physical and psychological scars on victims and families as well as devastating consequences for society at large.