Sunday, December 18, 2011

Girls We Left Behind

The Washington Post article, Monday, November 14, 2011, “Violent incidents between female students on rise authorities say, ‘on the playground, in high school hallways and on college campuses across the country’, ” reminds me of the nursery rhyme, there was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very good, but when she was bad she was horrid. What is the matter with our little girls who turn to violence to establish their space, self-esteem and standing? Horace Hall, associate professor and researcher on adolescent development and identity formation “credits the uptick in female violence to changing views of femininity, low self-esteem, lax parenting, poor communication and conflict resolution skills and a desire to avenge slights.”

What we see today are girls who have been left behind as women competed, struggled to survive or clawed their way to the top or to gain a foothold into an entry level position. A belief that one must be an attack dog to gain respect is a figment of some playwright’s, reality show creator’s or song writer’s imagination. This phenomenon is being perpetuated by the media because people have a fascination or get some kind of “kick” out of seeing women and girls fight, as one spectator said, “they jeer them on…no one intervenes.” It is just another cat fight, but these cats are growing up to become lionesses and they kill. Four female students have been charged with killing other female students since March.

The disturbing behavior we are witnessing among girls is not innate it is learned. It is a response to a form of social abandonment. Who is nurturing our girls? This rage and zero tolerance standard enforced in schools and the society at-large is landing our girls in the juvenile justice system at a faster and an alarming rate than boys according to statistics from “Girls Study Group,” a 2008 US Justice Department report. Arrest of girls increased more than those for boys in most crime categories between 1991 and 2000; arrest for simple assault among girls increased by 24 percent between 1996 and 2005 while arrest for boys for the same period dropped.

Once there was an aura around girls that signified they were special, needing protection, nurturing and a unique developmental pathway was created for them. What we are witnessing today is a continual downward spiral of abandonment of girls causing them to fend for themselves against sexual coercion from men and older boys, bullying, abuse and neglect. We can stop this free fall through systematic social engagement. We can demonstrate real empowerment through expectations, exposure, safe environment, positive experiences, critical thinking, problem solving, situational judgment, self-worth, dignity and a support system that binds it all together. Trust and knowing that someone is monitoring, watching and intervening in their lives allows girls to be girls and provide critical markers for girls at crucial turning points in their lives. What will________think about my behavior? If that space is blank, then it becomes filled with no one cares, and reactionary impulsive behavior becomes the order of the day.
Girls are special! Girls connect and when they connect it is for life. We need to pick them up out of the dirt, dust them off and connect them to the lifestyles that will fill the void of violence engulfing them.

Isaac Fulwood, former DC Police Chief, states, “We see it everywhere today—females cursing, fighting, behaving aggressively on Metro, on the street. We need to figure out something quickly to deal with this.

The irony is that we know what we need to do, but do we have the will to do it—provide the human touch-time. We need to rewrite the script for our girls. They need the same thing that we need to be successful—to be connected to a pathway that for many of us commenced when we were born and one we followed throughout life with zigs and zags and positive people who supported us along the way so we would not fall completely of the track. We had to define and redefine and side step dangerous pitfalls. In one of our many conversations, Dr. Height told me the following story in our discussion about how women dress in the work place. “Some suffragettes were on their way to a protest rally and they passed a hat shop so they went in and purchased some hats. A passerby asked the ladies why they were wearing hats to a protest march. Their response, just because one is going into battle, one does not have to look like a battle ax.” But look at us today-- we made it and so can our girls if we CONNECT THEM.
Our girls need to be taught how to fight smarter, not how to hit harder.

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