Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Violent Femmes

Sexism never pisses me off more than when it involves children. When it involves children and violence, well, then I get really very cross.

For those outside the UK, there have been a number of murders of boys by others boys in London in the past few months. My count is six; three stabbings, three shootings, “gang warfare” they reckon, although they are just kids. To be honest, I find it deeply upsetting. Part of the reason I don’t want to have children myself is that the idea of children being hurt causes an almost physical revulsion in me. It doesn’t matter if they are big tough grumpy teenagers. Or indeed, big tough grumpy and black.

However, six killings in two months involving mostly black male children in our capital city and our Communities Minister Ruth Kelly insists this problem is about isolated individuals. Six isolated individuals dying in similar circumstances in the same city within a space of weeks. Meanwhile, what about white female children? One killing in the last few years, a slight drop in rates of crime among young women, but a few very nasty, highly publicised incidents. Naturally, it's a outrage.
BBC news: Violent girls making the headline.
The article is one of those standard finger-wagging exercises. Women or girls are perceived to have begun to indulge in a previously male-dominated vice. The causes of this vice must be gender-specific, something wrong with girls, as opposed to something wrong with the concerned individuals or society in general. Just as many imply that those boys in London are killing one another because they are black, not because of anything in themselves or in the culture they occupy – or, far more likely, a deadly combination of both.

But this article really did take the biscuit, the link to it posing the question: Is violence among teenage girls misguided feminism? Then they quoted an expert who stated (among far more sensible observations, to be fair)
"And it's not a way of attracting boys either like some girls might think. Boys might find aggressive women in music videos attractive, but they don't want to take them home and marry them."

Which is an important message for all fourteen year old girl bullies in the UK in 2007; contrary to appearances, beating up on a person is no way to land yourself a husband.

Okay, so girls gone wrong; a brief explanation.

Remember penis envy? Freud came to the conclusion that much of the neuroses he came across in the upper-class young women he saw were due to penis envy. Thing was, these women were consumed by envy for their brothers, sometimes their husbands. Meanwhile, they were deeply frustrated with the sort of lives they got to lead; very proper, very passive and downright boring. Well, it is obvious why this was the case. Why else would a woman be ill at ease in a highly restrictive feminine role and envious of her male counterparts if what she really really wanted wasn’t the facility to pee standing up? Thus penis envy.

Similarly, these girls, this ladette culture. Clearly, it is the same sort of thing; girls trying to act like boys in all the wrong ways. For male attention. Or to be like the boys. Either way, it has something to do with penises. Everything has. Then again...

Why do some boys and men behave in an aggressive way, have fights, get drunk, sleep around and so on? Has this got anything to do with their relationship with women? Well yes, it’s in there. But there is also the fact that human beings have strong emotions that need to take vent, and tend to take vent in the easiest, most socially acceptable way possible. Loutish behaviour isn’t socially acceptable in the wider sense, but is acceptable among the peer group (in certain peer groups), whilst putting two fingers up at parent-figures, the authorities and, very often, women – who are a complicated bunch and frequently the cause of young masculine frustration.

And what about the women? Well, there is the fact that human beings have strong emotions that need to take vent and tend to take vent in the most socially acceptable way possible. (Psst, just to clarify: women are human beings.) Loutish behaviour has become more acceptable among the peer group, whilst putting two fingers up at parent-figures, the authorities and, very often, men – who are a complicated bunch and frequently the cause of young feminine frustration.

Is this a problem? Of course it is. People get hurt and people can get killed. This sort of violence is particularly dangerous because it is relatively easy to seriously injure a person through luck rather than judgement; you hit them too hard at the wrong angle, they fall badly and that’s it.

Is this a gender specific problem? No.

In the nineteen-twenties and thirties, only a tiny wee number of road accidents involved women drivers. Did this mean that women were inherently better drivers? Well no, because only a very small proportion of drivers were female. Permit women to drive, and inevitably there is an increase in road accidents involving women. Stop men driving altogether and all the road accidents will involve women drivers.

So this is a by-product of increasing sexual equality? A downside to feminism?

Well, if it is anything new, yes. I am unconvinced that there hasn’t been violent bullying among girls forever, which has only become more visible by a general increase in the possession of weapons among children and phenomena like happy slapping. Certainly, girls have always been proficient verbal bullies, which involves a great deal of aggression and sadism, even in the absence of physical assault.

There aren’t that many differences between the factors which lead girls to violence than those which lead boys. The biggest difference is cultural; our culture is jam-packed with movies, songs and images which associate masculinity with violence or specifically, good men overcoming the problems they face through violence. But girls are just as capable of becoming frustrated, frightened, power-hungry and generally discontented with the world as boys are.

And the solution is the same in both cases. Nothing about re-educating girls about how to be girls, as the article suggests, but about educating all children to be decent human beings. To teach children to respect one another - something which is pretty hard to do if you don't first teach them to respect themselves. To provide children with role models and the means to vent the frustrations of life, particularly young life, without causing harm to oneself or others. Sports, including the Martial Arts. Music. Drama. The Visual Arts. And to give those children who tend to fall victim to bullying, tools for empowerment and resilience (because whilst all bullying is a bad thing, one does have to cope with small-time tyrants throughout life).

Of course, some children will always go wrong for all number of reasons. Some boys, some girls.
But we're not going to make any difference to anybody if we cling onto fairytale ideas about what girls or women ought to be like.


Mary said...

Yeah, the thing about "finding a husband" made me choke on my cuppa slightly too.

Thinking back to my high school days, I'd rather have a boy mad at me than a girl. The troublemakey girls were scary, determined, hunted in packs, and had no ingrained "I don't hit girls" like many of the boys did.

Anonymous said...

I think it is the rage of Caliban at seeing himself in the mirror.

All loutish behaviour is unpleasant - but as long as it's perpetrated by a younger version of oneself, then one can smile a little and say "Boys will be boys! They'll grow out of it; I remember when I was their age..." and so on.

But someone quite different behaving thus - a girl/woman, say - brings into ficus quite how shitty vandalism, binge drinking, GBH, bullying are.

Anonymous said...

The thought that any aggressive behavior I exhibit might keep me from getting a husband someday makes me want to punch somebody.

Anonymous said...

If it's all feminism's fault and isolated incidents, then poverty is completely off the hook.

seahorse said...

As you were quite possibly writing this I was having tea with a friend who is a care worker with young people in crisis. And many of your solutions are in use, just not widely enough. There are sports outreach schemes, drama and arts therapies, anger management. But my friend says the main problem is that it tends to kick in at the extreme end, when kids are already in trouble and in the system. Where are such solutions down the youth clubs? Where are the youth clubs? Why aren't the gangs on every high street being engaged with? Yes my ex was lucky when a passing police car stopped him getting a more thorough beating, but maybe these kids need more than the attention of the law.

Anonymous said...

Quite right about the "Oh no, girls are becoming violent" phenomenon. Part of the uproar, like you said, comes from the violation of the ideals of what girls should be like.

I don't want to see anyone engaging in assaults, vandalism and so forth. But I'd sure like it if girls were raised knowing how to defend themselves, and learning that they should speak up immediately if someone is getting out of line, instead of the old "girls must always be nice" crap.