The girls have caught up to the boys
by Robert Gehl — George Mason University
March 03, 2010 – 00:05
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 CBS.com 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 FightingFools.com and Chicksfightdump.com 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.