Girls haven't gone that bad

And if they have, it's not the fault of feminism.

Lynn Harris
November 2, 2005 10:29PM (UTC)

In yesterday's Boston Globe, Shannon O'Brien, CEO of the Patriots' Trail Girl Scout Council, writes:

"We have achieved many of the dreams articulated by the courageous women of our past. Many of the rights and privileges they fought for, we have obtained. However, these very strides that have opened more doors for girls and women have brought us a frightening new phenomenon. Girls are increasing their statistics in detrimental categories that historically were predominantly filled by boys. In 2003, one in three juveniles arrested were female (up from one in 50 in the year 1900) [sic: we're pretty sure she means 1990]. In recent months we have seen these numbers personified in local media accounts of heart-wrenching stories about girls involved in violence and using aggression to confront the challenges of their lives. Juvenile correctional facilities are struggling to keep up as girls are being sent their way in record numbers."


"Girls today," O'Brien continues, face "teen suicide, drugs, gang involvement, the sex trade, physical abuse, [and] eating disorders," as well as rising dropout rates and -- at higher rates than boys -- substance abuse.

All that, she writes, when "the number of girl-only community programs and resources is diminishing at record numbers." She calls on Boston mayor Tom Menino to focus on the needs of girls, especially by supporting programs designed specifically for them.

Broadsheet can hardly argue with O'Brien's intentions, or her solutions. But just a couple of things need to be cleared up for the record:


1) "However, these very strides that have opened more doors for girls and women have brought us a frightening new phenomenon." Ah, shades of that old saw: feminism -- not, say, a violent culture, teen alienation, and the like -- is to blame for women's problems. (Please also enjoy this quote from Newsweek: "The women's movement, which explicitly encourages women to assert themselves like men, has unintentionally opened the door to girls' violent behavior.") That may not be exactly what O'Brien meant to say, but it's easily interpreted as such -- and thus only, if inadvertently, serves to sharpen that saw in people's minds. Clearer writing might have pointed not to cause and effect, but to irony: Even as many women stride forward, many girls fall back.

2) "In 2003, one in three juveniles arrested were female (up from one in 50 in the year [1990])." But neither one set of statistics nor "Bad Girls Go Wild" headlines tell the whole story. In surveys by the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of girls getting into physical fights dropped from 32 percent to 25 percent between 1993 and 2003. According to University of Hawaii criminologist Meda Chesney-Lind, the arrest stats seem to have spiked so dramatically not just because more girls are getting violent but because more girls are getting arrested. Rising numbers of minor offenses -- especially those now prohibited by schools' increasingly common "zero-tolerance" policies -- are being reclassified as violent, arrestable crimes. Result: More girls are being punished rather than merely scolded.

There you go. Just being good Scouts!

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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