The girls have caught up to the boys

Curator's Note


To be fair to Dr. Hartstein, I don't really know how to take her analysis that “the girls are catching up to the boys.” Consider her next comment: “Boys always fought with aggression. Girls fought with social aggression, with slander and making rumors and all that stuff, and now it's going this extra step." CBS's The Early Show isn't exactly a forum for nuanced analysis, so Dr. Hartstein could mean to say that “girls are being socialized just as boys have always been,” or “girls are adopting traditional, masculine aggression.” It's not clear. Nor is it clear what she means by “our niceness gene.”

I offer this particular video because it is representative of popular news media coverage of the rising trend of teenage girl physical violence. The companion text story begins with this lead: “If you thought only men engage in fist fights, you'd be wrong.” Australia's News.Com.Au quotes the sociologist Professor Najman who says “we're seeing women behaving more like men." Again, we don't have much context, but the news media narrative is clear: this new millennium generation of girls is taking on the putatively essential masculine trait of physical aggression.

And yet, when we consider the context and where these videos are appearing, this sort of aggression is also being framed as social aggression. According to these same experts, this is, oddly enough, precisely the proper domain of girls. Because these videos are posted online at YouTube, experts and newscasters argue that they are examples of cyber-bullying, meant to humiliate the girls who are filmed being beaten. Thus, the physical aspects of the violence become social, spread virally through social media sites. They become the “slander” and “rumor” that Dr. Hartstein normally attributes to girls.

Finally, although it's a bit obtuse, CBS's Early Show anchor Maggie Rodriguez's question about the audience is an intriguing one. Many of these videos become re-embedded in sites such as and where they are often presented alongside advertisements for and links to porn. “Chicks fighting” becomes reinscribed another time, this time as the erotic object of the male gaze. In this logic, if the girl fights aren't stimulating enough, then there's always Girls Gone Wild clips.



Robert, I think you're right to direct attention back to the videos themselves rather than the potentially masculine behavior they feature. In this case, McLuhan may be a better analytical framer than any offered by pop social psychology. Here, what seems remarkable is not the fighting - even if media and popular culture haven't represented it, most of us with any coed schoolyard experience would agree that girl fights aren't really anything new - but the ways these fights are being mediated, and, as you rightly point out, at least the initial postings of these clips fit right in with the presumed patterns of feminine social bullying. While I haven't tabulated any numbers on this, the boy fights that do make it online seem more likely to be posted as a celebration of the masculine spectacle of the fight than as a tactic of intimidation or humiliation.

This discussion relates in many ways to my post for tomorrow on "link pranking."  In both instances I am interested in the way in which generic conventions and entire cultural objects become gendered through their quotidian use. 

I agree with you both, that the interesting thing about this CBS piece is that internet videos are the evidence for "girls becoming more like boys."  There is something about the legacy of internet (more on that tomorrow) and the nature of "viral" spreading that is consistently attributed to masculine activity.  Robert, you are certainly correct that the way in which these videos work as cyber-bulling and as a form of ridicule fits within Dr. Hartstein's explanation of female agression. But for some reason this explanation does not translate into the way in which this content is consistently critiqued and presented to advertisers. Television shows like the WebSoup (G4), the Soup (E!), Tosh.0 (Comedy Central) and the Sports Soup (VS) are all part of a genre of clip aggregation comedy that present a male host riffing on shocking clips from the world of the web and television.  The jokes that introduce and comment on the clips focus on embarrassing the subject (traditionally feminine aggression) and yet many of these shows are pitched toward a male audience.  Perhaps it is more reasonable to say that the viewing of female violence videos demonstrates that masculinity is more interested in traditional feminine forms of agression.  In other words, are men actually exhibiting more stereotypical female behaviors?

One last thought on this subject, I am fascinated by the way in which female violence is used as a marketing ploy.  As I mentioned earlier part of the reason that viral internet videos are often shocking or absurd is that this enables them to rise above the media smog.  I am reminded of the way in which MTV struggled with a clip from the Jersey Shore in which a female character is slugged in the face by a man at a bar.  MTV showed the clip as part of their advertisments but then pulled the footage from the actual episode.  Apparently female violence is appropriate to catch eyes, headlines and news segments but it is quickly censored or quarantined to "appropriate" areas of the web (pornography websites, youtube, etc.)

What a find, Robert! Not only does this clip give us the most confused metaphor of "advancement" possible, it also regurgitates, almost flawlessly, the predictable rhetoric of moral panic surrounding the figure of the Child.

As with similar discourses on video game violence, the claim is made that children are being "desensitized" by the media as a class of viewers who are incapable of dissociating fantasy from reality. Meanwhile, even as this program firmly wags the finger at girls’ behavior, and shrieks at the potential “perverts” and “pedophiles” forever looming in the schoolyard bushes and on the internet, it nevertheless serves up the “disturbing” images in question on a titillating platter—albeit with the requisite, tasteful facial blurring, of course.

Fortuitously, I’m finishing up a unit on Oliver Twist with my students this week, and it’s interesting to note that this piece—even as it purports to discover a “new” phenomenon—grapples with some fairly standard Victorian ideas about divergent developmental narratives for boys and girls, but then muddles things up. Girls, following Dickens’ logic at least, are inherently “nice,” social creatures who can only descend into immoral behavior (often by being misled). Boys, on the other hand, can start out “naughty” or “nice,” and then either rise to virtue, fall to ruin, or stay pretty much the same way they started out. Women fall; men reap their just rewards.

How, then, do we read the phrases “catching up” and “following” here? “Follows” implies that girls are, still, all too likely to be led astray. “Catching up” certainly doesn’t imply “premature” development on the part of girls who opt for fisticuffs, nor do they reflect a sense that such girls are “descending”–though, of course, the whole piece is inscribed within larger fears about social degradation from the time when the host, when herself a child, was “taught manners” (or at least had a niceness gene that was still intact). Is the message here that, in a “falling” world, girls’ turn to violence is merely an adaptive function and, therefore, an “advantage?” Here's hoping for a follow-up segment involving an evolutionary psychologist or two.

Needless to say, this isn't the first time pop psych has mixed its metaphors. At the same time, I can't help but wonder: Are children here, as they so often are, merely a handily malleable barometer for larger social ills, or does this piece signal a shift in our understanding of gendered childhood development?

 I agree -- terrific find.  What stood out to me here was the alignment of the phenomenon alongside pornography, which takes the discourse to a different realm entirely.  As you point out, Robert, that turns the behavior into an erotic object of the male gaze.  

I think that's crucial for understanding this from the perspective of both containment and transgression.  On the one hand, the "bad" behavior of the girls becomes a fantasy for the male viewer, who are able to take pleasure in seeing women act in ways that aren't socially acceptable.  On the other hand, it illustrates the transgressive power of women who choose to ignore cultural standards of behavior, even if the "proof" of that is the positioning of that behavior as eroticized.

Ultimately, too, I think it speaks to the issue of anxiety and worry that's circulating around the discourse.  It often seems like any transgressive behavior by women can be linked back to sexual boundary-crossing, the fear that the passive/submissive role, itself linked to sexual availability, might be disintegrated.  What's lacking here in this clip, and in the discourse more generally, is the critique that fighting by women OR men might be troubling -- the "panic" seems to ensue only when women start crossing those boundaries.  The appearance of pornography in the discourse, in some ways, seems like the inevitable termination point.

It seems interesting that both commentators agree that the real problem is that "perverts" are watching, and that girls are becoming more like men.

Isn't the more pressing issue the fact that girls are simply getting beat up?  I don't think it matters who's watching it, violence is violence.

Teenage violence is the real issue, and it doesn't really matter what gender, or who's watching.

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