Two viral videos of girl-on-girl and woman-on-woman violence grabbed the world by the throat this week and raised the question: Are American females becoming more violent?
In the first video, punch-throwing, hair-pulling, brawling high school soccer players were caught on tape by a Rhode Island TV station just before the match between their Woonsocket and Tolman high school teams was about to end.
Then, last Friday, the University of New Mexico suspended soccer player Elizabeth Lambert for a variety of violent moves, including pulling an opponent's pony tail so hard she jerked the young player to the ground and appeared to have wrenched her neck. Click play below to watch the video:
What's going on here? The first part of the answer is that violence in women's sports is nothing new. In soccer, for example, there's a lot of jostling, pushing and shoving, even among some of the youngest players. Lambert may have taken female violence in this sport to a new high, or to a recent high, but she certainly is not the first to perpetuate such foul and unexpected behavior. And she may not be unusual at all -- just unfortunate to have been caught on video camera.
The second part of the answer is that female-on-female violence outside of sports is nothing new, either.
To determine if female violence is really on the rise, we need to step back and look at a few statistics. There are many categories of female-perpetrated violence, but it's safe to say when women and girls become violent, it's more often against someone of their own size or smaller. The most horrific category of child-killing, neonaticide (killing of a child within 24 hours of birth) is committed almost exclusively by women. It's a rare occurrence, but one worth noting.
The Justice Department's National Criminal Justice Reference Services reports that "Neonaticide offenders are typically young, unmarried women who lack resources. However, further examination of the data revealed that women in their 30s and 40s also committed this type of crime as well as women who were married. The majority of offenders fell within middle to upper socioeconomic status and had resources available that they did not use (transportation, health care, abortion costs.)"
The surprise in this data, at least to me, is that neonaticide is most often committed by middle- and upper-income women. The woman-on-woman violence I've seen in my life always seemed to involve women in the poorer parts of town. I saw girl fights outside public high schools and in alleyways in Manhattan. I even had a punch pulled on me in a barn when I was in my 30s. But the fights I witnessed as a teen were all between lower-income girls. And the young woman who pulled her fist back threatening to punch me came from a lower-income family. I saw it as a culture clash personified.
An Amazon.com review of Patricia Pearson's 1998 book, "When She Was Bad," cites the following data about other forms of female-perpetrated violent crimes: "Women commit the majority of child homicides in the United States; more than 80 percent of neonaticides; an equal or greater share of severe physical child abuse; an equal rate of spousal assault; about a quarter of child sexual molestations; and a large proportion of elder abuse . . . The rate at which infants are murdered by women . . . is higher than the rate at which women are murdered by men." With carefully researched facts, fascinating case histories, and incisive argument, Patricia Pearson succeeds in demolishing the myth that women are not naturally violent.
Even though Pearson's data are more than a decade old, she makes a good point. Are we naturally violent? The answer to that is yes -- a certain percentage of us are more violent than society is comfortable believing. Remember, just as many girls witness violence in the home as boys. So how could we expect girls to grow up any less violent than their brothers? And yet the fact overall is, women are not as violent as men. Testosterone does make a difference.
Is it time to stop seeing men as the primary perpetrators of domestic violence? Although we're becoming more accustomed to female violence, we're not at the point where we can say domestic violence is gender-neutral. Police data show if and when women become violent in the home, it's more often to defend themselves than to initiate the violence. Not that men are the violent beasts early feminists such as Andrea Dworkin believed them to be. The movement has learned some valuable lessons from its early overreactions. But men still initiate the vast majority of domestic violence against women.
If women and girls are getting more violent, it's because society is becoming more violent and there's more violence in the media than ever before. A report released late last month on violence against women on mainstream U.S. television shows it has increased by 120 percent in the past five years, with the depiction of teen girls as victims rising by some 400 percent.
If we're seeing more violence in the media against women, how can we be surprised when young women start to parrot that behavior?
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