When it comes to girls’ issues, there aren’t many people more expert than Lyn Mikel Brown. This Colby College Professor of Education and Human Development co-authored with Carol Gilligan the landmark book Meeting at the Crossroads: Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development (Harvard University Press, 1992). She is also the author of Raising Their Voices: The Politics of Girls’ Anger (Harvard University Press, 1998), Girlfighting: Betrayal and Rejection Among Girls (New York University Press, 2003), and coauthor with Sharon Lamb of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007). She is a co-creator of the advocacy group Hardy Girls Healthy Women. She talked with Daughters about girlfighting.
Are girls fighting more?
There has been a lot of fascination in recent years about girls fighting. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that it comes after a period when girls began getting more serious attention. We’ve had a decade of women doing girls’ programming—Girl Scouts, Mary Pipher, Girls Inc, New Moon, and lots of other people and groups have done amazing work.
Partly as a result of this attention to girls, girls are much more direct and outspoken now, and that makes people anxious. It’s interesting that 10 years ago we were all concerned about girls’ loss of voice in early adolescence, and not long after that, the media picked up on girlfighting.
We’ve got a generation of outspoken girls trying to find their way, but we haven’t done a great job of helping them locate the source of their anger and channel it constructively. I want to put the responsibility back on us adults, and have us look much more closely at how the culture and the media treat girls.
When girls are angry, the first place that anger goes is toward each other. Especially in middle school, a girl can’t be too smart, too fat, too sexual, or too much her own person. The targets of relational violence (social rather than physical cruelty) are often those group members who are challenging the rigid norms of girlhood. Girls police each other, and despite “niceness” shown in front of adults, there is all too often underground bullying going on.
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