Friday, April 2, 2010

Women's Inhumanity to Women

It isn't supposed to happen. Girls are supposed to be the gentler sex; they are not supposed to engage in cutthroat competition. Girls are naturally drawn to cooperation and peace. They do not fight; they do not go to war; they do not struggle for status and prestige.

Which is why many people argue that the world would be a better place if women were in charge. There would be no more fierce competition; there would be no more predatory lending; there would be no more wars; there would be no more abuse and harassment. Women cooperate; they are sensitive to the feelings of others; they nurture and care.

I wrote about this topic last week, because some people have been suggesting that if women had been in charge, the financial system would not have been brought to the brink of oblivion. Links here and here.

As the nation moves toward a less market-oriented, more caring and compassionate economy, one that is controlled by the Nanny state, the values that are associated with women have been taking the fore. The health care reform law is but another example of the apotheosis of the feminine as a cultural value.

As I was reminded by Susan Walsh yesterday, this is a caricature in the service of a feminist ideology. Link here. If men are the root of all evil, and especially, the agents of all abuse directed against women, then women, or, more accurately, feminists are supposed to band together to fight it off. Women's cooperative spirit, their higher level social skills, will make it that, in the absence of male influence, they will just naturally get along.

If women are all sweetness and light, someone should have told it to Phoebe Prince. And someone should certainly have told the authorities in South Hadley High School, people who had been informed of or who had witnessed the brutal psychological attacks against her, to take girl on girl violence very seriously.

So what if a bunch of girls were calling her names, were branding her as a slut or an Irish whore. She may have been the new girl in school, she may have been an immigrant lost in a strange new world, but she was canny enough to shag the captain of the football team.

I suspect that school authorities, in this notably progressive community, is so intent on stopping boy on girl violence and abuse, that they closed their eyes to the girl on girl variety.

Everyone looked the other way until that moment last January when 15 year old Phoebe Prince hung herself.

Hers is not the only case of girl on girl bullying, slander, harassment, and outright abuse. Remember Missouri teenager Megan Meier, victim of a vicious prank by Lori Drew, the mother of an erstwhile friend. Lori Drew created a fictional boy, used this persona to induce Megan Meier to fall in love with the boy, and then, unceremoniously, dumped her. So much for the softening power of estrogen.

Megan Meier could not handle the rejection. She hung herself. Lori Drew was charged but then acquitted.

Clearly you do not have to be very sensitive to see the level of cruelty involved in this cruel prank. Women being inhumane to girls is especially painful to witness, but, apparently, nothing about this drama set off any of Lori Drew's moral alarms.

Speaking of women on girl violence, what about Wanda Holloway. She tried to hire a hit man to murder her teenage daughter's rival for a position on the cheerleading squad. And she was happy to have the hit man murder the girl's mother too.

Doesn't it shock you to see parents, mothers in particular, take up arms for their teenage daughters in psychological wars? What happened to parents? What happened to parental authority? These mothers have abrogated any semblance of parental authority in order to live their daughters' lives, vicariously. Are they that afraid of their daughters?

I will not even bother you with reflections on the most obvious point: where are the men, the fathers, in all this. We know that Phoebe Prince's father had stayed behind in Ireland to see his house. But what about the other fathers of these other children?

As for the victims of this form of abuse, they are children. They have limited emotional resources. If they are Phoebe Prince, they do not have a circle of friends. When the school authorities, from the principal to teachers, turn away from what is happening, a child will believe that she has nowhere to turn and no one who can defend her. If her mother cannot get through to the authorities, then who can protect her.

Whether or not there is criminal or civil liability, the failure of parents and teachers to exercise authority is a large part of the Phoebe Prince story, and not just hers.

The other side of this story, analyzed well by Susan Walsh, concerns the influence of the hook up culture on the sexual marketplace.

You see, young Phoebe Prince was very pretty and very attractive to boys. Upon arriving at South Hadley High School she hooked up with the captain of the football team, one Sean Mulveyhill. The same Sean Mulveyhill had previously been attached to one Ashley Longe, and Ashley was not going to allow some Irish immigrant threaten her status. She was not going to be some passive wall flower. No, she rounded up a couple of her friends and declared psychological war against Phoebe Prince.

The same happened when Phoebe hooked up with a boy from another school. His wronged girl friend went to war against Phoebe.

From which we can easily conclude that Phoebe Prince brought a rather wild sexuality into the mix of some rather drab American high schools. And just as she was unprepared for the abuse that she attracted, the girls in the schools were unprepared to deal with her as competition.

The purpose of the abuse was simple. They wanted to neutralize a competitor, to demoralize and demonize her until no one would respect her. Call her slut, tramp, and whore. No boy would every go near her again. No boy would ever want to be seen in public with her.

Why didn't Ashley Longe just move on and find a new boyfriend? First, there is only one captain of the football team, one alpha male, and if you lose him, then you have nowhere to go but down. Second, as Walsh says, in the world of hook ups, committed relationships are rare, and anything that is rare has greater value.

Girl on girl violence feels like drama. It involves name calling, an accumulation of minor grade nastiness, and constant disruption of everyday routines. It does not just make your life permanent hell, it makes it permanent drama.

As some of the commenters on Walsh's site noted, it is not at all the same when men compete. Serious male competition is channeled into competitive sports. Competitive sports have rules, they have boundaries, and they involve sportsmanship. Serious energy goes into the match, but when the game is over, opponents are required to show respect for each other.

In a hook up culture there seem to be no rules. Courtship and dating practices no longer pertain, and couples are not paired off. Girls suffer most because they are normally the masters of the dating game. Worse than that, in a hook up culture, girls are not supposed to feel jealousy, they are not supposed to become rivals for the same man. If he is hers one night, he can still be yours the next night. It is the law of the harem.

Maybe, they are supposed to know the rules. But still, they feel jealousy. Human emotion has deep genetic roots. It does not just go away because you have decided that you are not supposed to feel it.


Susan Walsh said...

Stuart, I thought you might like to check out this Opinion piece in the NYXs if you haven't already seen it:

The Myth of Mean Girls

It is so wrong-headed an analysis! They describe the panic as a hoax, and they rely on reported crime statistics to prove that teenage girls are not committing violent crimes. Of course, this completely misses the point of the tactics girls employ when perpetrating aggression. Though the South Hadley crew got especially nasty and somewhat physical, it was still largely an indirect form of aggression, not easily observed by adults but conducted largely as psychological warfare. The crime stats will never tell that story.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I just read it. And, not surprisingly, I agree with you entirely. Studies like these, which misunderstand the true nature of girl on girl violence, create a climate of opinion that encourages people to ignore the real violence that girls visit on girls.

In a way, that is what happened in
South Hadley and in other high schools where bullying and abuse was never labelled as such.

I was also amazed to read in the Times report that assault arrests of girls 18 and under went from 6,300 in 1981 to 13,300 in 2008.

Instead of expressing alarm over this figure, the authors point out that in 1995 assault arrests in the same group were 16,800.

Thus, they conclude that, based on 1995, the trend is down! As though the movement from 6,800 to 13,300, nearly doubling the number of assault arrests, is not, dare I say, arresting.

Anonymous said...

many of your facts are wrong - this is an important case, but not given the appropriate respect when authors/bloggers don't fact check.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

I would be happy to hear which facts are wrong. Feel free to correct me, or any commenter, as you wish.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Are you suggesting that women who mistreat other women are not responsible for their behavior because men made them do it?

Isn't that demeaning to women?