Sunday, November 11, 2007
“Bitch Fighting” The Troubling Trend among Some Young Women
Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The term “bitch fighting” is what some women privately call a pier room brawl that a pack of girls or young women engage in with one another. The term and the behavior is loathsome and offensive. But it was that sort of brawl that claimed the life of 23- year-old Shontae Blanche, and even more shockingly, her 7 month unborn child. The young expectant mother and part time student was killed when another young woman allegedly ran over her and dragged her.
Blanche had tried to break up a fight between a dozen women at a service station in South Los Angeles in early November. The women were young, black, and reportedly some had ties with gang members. They had gathered at the station to battle it out following a dispute between two of the women.
The altercation did more than claim the life of a young mother. It tossed the ugly glare on an age old problem that has grown worse in the past few years. And that’s the escalation in violence by and among young women. A decade ago the Center for Women’s Policy Studies published a landmark study on girls and violence. More than one third of girls they surveyed said that they had engaged in physical fights within a year’s time. Nearly 20 percent said they carried weapons. And nearly half said they believed that girls were nearly as violent as boys. A Justice Department study found that from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s the number of women jailed for violent crimes had more than doubled.
A decade later the willingness of more young women, especially black women, to resort to fisticuffs and even weapons to settle disputes or commit crimes has become an even bigger problem. Girls Inc., a non profit advocacy group that monitors violence by and toward young women, found that far more black girls were injured in school fights than white girls. The spiraling cycle of violence that entraps many black girls was on naked and tormenting display last year when nine black girls were hauled into a Long Beach, California court in shackles.
The girls were charged with a violent hate crime attack on three young white women on Halloween night in 2006 in Long Beach. The sight of so many girls standing trial at one time on a charge, especially the hate crimes charge, was rare. But the sight of so many black girls in a court docket and increasingly in America's juvenile jails and prisons has become anything but rare.
Black women in some states are being imprisoned at alarming rates. And they are being jailed at younger ages than ever. An American Bar Association study in 2001 found that teen girls account for more than one-quarter of the juvenile arrests. They are charged with more violent crimes, and are being shoved back into detention centers after release, in some cases even faster than boys.
The ABA has not done a follow-up study since then to determine if there's been any change in the troubling dilemma so many black girls face in the juvenile system. But, almost certainly, the high arrest and incarceration rate for black teen girls is likely the same if not greater today, and many of them are there for violent crimes. They have engaged in physical fights and assaults, and even school yard brawls with other girls, or even boys.
The explanations for the up tick in female violence are varied. The near glorification of the male code of toughness to get ahead in business, politics, and sport has virtually been enshrined as a prized virtue in society. Women have not been immune from it. There’s the bloat of Gladiator spectacles such as WWF matches with women tossing each other around in a ring, posturing, swaggering, and cussing like drunken sailors, and barroom toughs. The toughness virtue has even slipped into politics. In polls, women by big margins said the thing they admire most about Hillary Clinton is her toughness.
Many young black women are continually exposed to violence in their communities. They have ties with male gang members, they themselves are members of gangs, or they have committed assaults. The Center for Women’s Policy Studies also found that many of the women that engaged in physical fights have been victims of rape, assault, or robbery. This further imprints the tacit stamp that violence is the pervasive method to control, dominate, bully, and gain advantage over people and situations.
There’s a double dilmma for the girls and young women that commit violent acts. The risk is great that they can be maimed, killed or wind up serving a long prison stretch. And since violence is still thought of almost exclusively as a male preserve, there‘s a near total absence of studies on the causes and consequences of female violence. That means even fewer fewer resources, programs, and support outlets to keep at risk girls and young women out of harm’s way and from harming other women. The Blanche killing is tragic proof of that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press)