Last week, The University of Queensland confirmed what a lot of us have noticed lately: Girls are becoming as aggressive as boys. Now, what are we going to do about it?
Personally, I think we should avoid blaming feminism, chemicals in our drinking water, and we should definitely avoid conscription for these feminine thugs, as several people have mentioned in response to the many articles I’ve read online. I don’t want them armed! Too many of them go to my school… 😛
So, what doe this report actually suggest, and what’s bugging everyone about it?
- Item One: Aggression and delinquency increases during puberty for both boys and girls.
- Item Two: The earlier a young girl enters puberty, the more likely she is to demonstrate aggression or delinquency.
- Item Three: Earlier and later onset of puberty seems to have a long lasting effect in increasing aggression and delinquency.
- The authors of this study noted that it seems girl’s aggression has increased over previous reports (this is a longitudinal study) to match that of boys.
Now you don’t need to read the report, or at least the abstract. Now you is informed.
These findings support what educators have been made aware for a long time – that aggression is growing amongst young girls, and that puberty – the middle school years – is a hairy time for people in the charge of young men and women. I know I’m not telling any parent/guardian of a pubescent child that puberty is a real danger zone. We know that it’s a volatile recipe of emotions, hormones, and cultural influences all boiling away in one of those old-fashioned pressure cookers your mum used to make chunky casseroles.
Anyway, this report still leaves a swathe of issues to concern educators, particularily the question: Why are young women becoming increasingly aggressive? These concerns are huge among educators. The increased aggression reported amongst girls includes bullying, fighting, theft, and substance abuse, particularly prevalent within the school setting – the classroom, the school yard, and after-school care.
We can’t blame technology – girls don’t target other young people, brutally beat them, film this and post this on the net because they have a phone capable of this… Otherwise I’d be doing it a lot more often. We can’t blame hormones – in fact, this report disproves the theory that increased testosterone levels in girls is to blame. Aggressive behaviours are social behaviours (admittedly, anti-social behaviours), and any increase in aggression is a social problem.
Aggression and assertion are often easily confused by adults, and so there’s no surprise that our children would struggle with this distinction, but there are few parent/guardians out there who don’t want their children to be positive, assertive, and strong. We teach our kids to stand up for what they believe in, and this isn’t a feminist message. It relates to young men and women.
According to most of the internet responses to the media reports, we can blame feminism – but teaching young women to be assertive is different to accepting aggressive behaviour.Additionally, it is popular to blame alcohol for this increase in aggression and delinquency, but note that substance abuse (and for all you frequent alkos in education alcohol is a controlled substance!) is a symptom of the problem, not the identifiable root of the problem. According to Jane Fynes-Clinton of the Courier Mail:
When alcohol is in the mix, the behaviour is the most marked. The rise of the ladette is evident at any race meeting, party, club or pub. They dress to display their female assets but by the end of the occasion, they are spewing and cursing like the blokiest blokes.
Perhaps this is true, but Fynes-Clinton seems more concerned with this rise in aggression as a sign that ‘Manners, restraint and respect for self and others’ are declining amongst young women, and that these are the cure for ‘the feral, revolting young woman’. Furthermore, in Australia, where the drinking age is 18 and in the USA where the drinking age is 21, puberty should be well and truly over by the time young people are able to drink in public events to this extent – unchallenged, at least.
Technology is the facilitator of this aggression. It allows young men and women to glorify themselves as they are aggressive, as they break the law, as they break one another’s faces. It is not the cause. Substance use and abuse is another self-destructive spiral, not a cause of aggression.
Puberty is the time when kids become sexualised, and this changes their social understanding significantly. Most parents and guardians out there will have noticed that, with the exception of family, small children tend to group together in same-sex friendships. When puberty hits, they need to reshuffle their friendship groups but, at the same time, everyone they know is doing the same thing. Kids at this stage in their development take things so seriously – a grudge, a snub, a misread comment.This is why I’ve heard teen girls greet each other so happily in the morning, watched them hug and chat, then one will turn to the other with the classic questions: “But seriously, did you call me a bitch over the weekend? ‘Cause I totally heard that you did.”
Bully-girls are just as common as bully-boys, but socially they’re usually restricted to sniping at each other with nasty, snide comments. This rise in aggression is to meet that of boys, however, which means for a long time now, boys have fought, bullied, stolen and abused a range of substances, but to no press frenzy, no theories from Professors of It’s-All-Common-Sense-Isn’t-It-Really, no heart-breaking obituaries to manners, restraint, self-respect and sugar-and-spice. After all, boys are supposed to be all slugs-and-snails, aren’t they?
By not caring about this, by dismissing fights and bullying as boys being boys, society in turn accepts this behaviour. It’s called implied consent – if someone does something and you don’t complain, how are they to know their behaviour isn’t acceptable? People have suggested that there’s a culture of fear now when confronted by an angry young mob on the streets – but what are they doing late out night in these numbers, unchallenged? They might be of legal age, but they still need the finances and freedom to be there, and personally, I believe there’s a certain point in a parent/guardian’s life when they can’t set restrictions on their kids, when they can’t expect their children to follow their rules – and that’s when the child makes a move to live on their own, moves out of the house, finances their own home. Until then, there should always be consequences for a child’s behaviour. Irregardless, when children are moving through the minefield of puberty – they are always under the guardianship of some adult. This adult doesn’t need to take the whole burden of responsibility for their child – but they need to teach the child to take responsibility for their own actions.
I believe in the village model of education – that it takes a village to raise a child. In today’s social, political and cultural climate, parents and guardians can no longer work in isolation, nor should they expect schools to do so. Whenever I have an aggressive young man or woman in my class, I ring home to talk to the parents. Not to berate them, but so that we can co-ordinate a response to their child’s actions.
The changing shapes and sizes of families doesn’t impact upon the quality of a child’s social education – if you build a supportive network of adults a ‘village’ to support the child. Young men and women are taught assertiveness, but as our community mentality crumbles, standing up for what you believe in changes into fighting for yourself and ignoring all others. We can’t blame feminism, or some abstract, undefinable decrease in equally undefined moral standards, but we can only blame our own inaction when we see a rise in aggressive teens and child delinquency. Every school has a behavioural management policy and many have mobile phone, internet, and bullying policies. These are each commitments made by management and teaching staff to protect children under their care – provided they receive the support of students and their families.
Perhaps the real issue to cause concern is not that women are increasing to match young men in their aggression – but that in failing to take action, we as a society accept such behaviour.