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Girls Need Safety, Opportunity, Not More Policing

The bad news about girls just seems to keep coming, particularly if you pay attention to popular media. Girls are going “wild,” girls are “mean” (and certainly meaner than boys), and girls are even getting as violent as boys. Current media coverage of modern girlhood, at least in the United States, is virtually all grim. It is also clear as to the source of the problem — girls are getting more like boys — and that is bad news for girls.

Despite widespread acceptance of these notions, there is considerable evidence that these ideas are incorrect. They also lead to bad social policy, obscure the good news about girls and distance the United States from the global conversation about girls and girlhood.

Let’s start with the media fascination with “mean” girls. The manipulative and damaging characteristics of girls’ social worlds have been the subject of high-profile best-selling books like “Odd Girl Out” and “Queen Bees and Wannabes.” These, in turn, spawned hit movies like “Mean Girls” and a slew of articles, like The New York Times Magazine cover story entitled, “Girls Just Want to Be Mean.”

Notions of “meanness” rely on psychological categories of behaviors that are intended to harm, but are not physical in nature; instead they rely on covert or indirect behaviors like rumor spreading, ignoring or eye rolling. Some scholars have suggested that while boys tend to specialize in physical violence, girls specialize in these more covert forms of aggression, an idea that the media immediately embraced.

However, the literature on relational aggression does not consistently support this notion. For example, University of Georgia researchers randomly selected 745 sixth graders from nine middle schools across six school districts in northeast Georgia. The student participants took computer surveys each spring semester for seven years, from sixth grade to 12th.

Key findings included the following. First, covert and relational aggression is extremely common; 96 percent of the students who participated in the study reported at least one act of relational aggression (meaning, everyone is mean sometimes), and 92.3 percent of boys and 94.3 percent of girls said they’d been the victim of such an attack at one point during the study period. Second, they found that boys admitted to significantly more acts of relational aggression than girls did. And girls were more likely to be victims.

Finally, and of the greatest significance, of the meanest kids (the ones who fell into the “high” relational aggression group), 66.7 percent were boys and 33.3 percent were girls. So, at least according to this study, the problem is mean boys, not girls.

But what about all the evidence in arrest statistics, in media stories featuring menacing images of “gangsta girls” peering over the barrel of a gun and in social media obsessed with the cheerleader beating up other girls? Are girls “going wild” and closing the gender gap with boys in physical aggression or violence?

Since the 1990s, there has been plenty of official evidence that girls were getting arrested for offenses that were not typically associated with female delinquency (like running away from home). Notably, arrests of girls for simple assault, in particular, soared at the end of the last century; one study of court referrals between 1985 and 2002 found a 202 percent increase in girls charged with “person offense cases.”

And even though juvenile arrests have declined in recent years, girls now comprise a far larger percentage of juvenile arrests than they used to. Essentially, girls have gone from about one juvenile arrest in five (in the ’80s), to one juvenile arrest in three (in 2015). Much of this is due to the fact that arrests of boys, particularly for offenses like simple assault, have fallen more sharply than girls’ arrests for the same offense (47.8 percent compared to 39.5 for girls 2006-15).

Juvenile court and correctional data reveal a similar theme. Since 1990, girls’ adjudications for person offenses have increased by 60 percent, now representing 22 percent of all youth adjudicated on such charges. Likewise, the number of girls in custody for a violent crime has also been on the rise. In 1989, 8,512 girls were in detention for a violent offense; 25 years later, that number more than doubled to 17,730.

What about other data on girls’ violence? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has monitored youthful behavior in a national sample of school-age youth in a number of domains (including violence) at regular intervals since the ’90s. Their data show that more than a third (34.4 percent) of girls surveyed in 1991 said they had been in a physical fight in the previous year, and slightly more than half (50.2 percent) of the boys reported fighting. By 2015, though, only 16.5 percent of girls reported being in such a fight, and boys’ violence was also down, with only 28.4 percent saying they had been in a physical fight.

In essence, the data show that girls have always been more violent than their stereotype suggests, but also that girls’ violence, at least by their own accounts, has been decreasing rather dramatically, not increasing.

To further explore these issues about girls’ self-reported violence and likelihood of arrest, two other professors and I used two national self-report data sets to compare self-reported behavior with self-reported arrests in two different time periods (1980 and 2000). This research found that girls who admitted to simple assault in 1980 had about a one-in-four chance of having been charged with a crime, compared to girls in 2000, who had about a three-in-four chance of arrest. Furthermore, black girls in 2000 were nearly seven times more likely as their 1980 counterparts to have been charged with a crime.

In short, while girls had long reported that they were acting out violently, their arrests did not necessarily reflect that reality. Instead, girls’ arrests tended to emphasize petty and status offenses (like running away from home or being “incorrigible”); by the 1990s, that had changed dramatically, as more girls were arrested, particularly for such seemingly “masculine” offenses as simple assault — and this pattern was particularly pronounced among African-American girls. But these shifts are in the behavior of those who police girls, not the girls themselves.

So what is going on? Misguided school policies (like zero tolerance) and relabeling of girls’ fights with their parents as assault have buoyed the arrest numbers, not changes in girls’ behaviors. And again, the impact has been most pronounced among African-American girls. As a result, in 2013, African-American girls were the fastest-growing segment of the juvenile justice population, and they were 20 percent more likely to be detained than white girls.

While the media and policymakers in the U.S. have been fretting about policing girls’ meanness (through misguided anti bullying policies), and demonizing girls, particularly girls of color, for their presumed violence, the global conversation on girls has taken a completely different tack. In 2014, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest recipient (at age 17) of the Nobel Peace Prize, made history.

Malala’s story of triumph over abuse and violence began in 2012, when she survived a bullet fired by a Taliban fighter that caused a massive head injury, and she became an international advocate for girls’ education and peace. She was one of two recipients of the Prize for 2014, sharing it with Kallash Satyarthi, who campaigns for children’s rights in India and has been involved in rescuing trafficked children. They reflect a growing global focus on girls’ rights, especially their right to education and to be safe from abuse, particularly physical abuse, sexual abuse and early marriages.

This international concern about the extensiveness of girls’ victimizations and girls’ rights stands in stark contrast to the discourse on girls in the last 25 years in the United States, where both media and policymakers have been expressing concern (and developed policies) to respond to the growing numbers of “mean,” “bad” and “violent” girls. It is time that the United States joined the rest of the world in advocating for safe childhoods for girls, calling for expanded (and equitable) educational opportunities (building on the impact of Title IX) and offering them the chance for a bright future they deserve.

Meda Chesney-Lind is a professor and the chair of the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was also recently elected president of the American Society of Criminology; her term begins in 2018.

Josh Harvey-Clemons and the Role of Grandparents Everywhere

Josh Harvey-Clemons, the No. 2 outside linebacker prospect in the nation, and the No. 1 overall prospect in Georgia could have his pick of colleges to choose from when he graduates high school this year.

The 17-year-old, 6-foot-five, 200-pound senior, from Valdosta -- down in south Georgia -- finished the 2011 season as the Region 1-AAAAA defensive player of the year, while also being named to the first National All-State team.

But this talented teen has narrowed his choices to three schools. So, for the next few days, head coaches Mark Richt at the University of Georgia, Will Muschamp at Florida and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State will be suffering some anxiety as February 1, National Signing Day, approaches. [Update: Josh signed with the Georgia Bulldogs.]

In the world of college football in the South (it’s a religion down here if you didn’t already know) these are three very big, powerful and influential men.

There are, however, bigger, more powerful people in Josh’s life who are going to have more influence over where the boy goes to school than anyone.

And that would be Woodrow Clemons, his grandfather and Vanessa Clemons his grandmother.  Together, this family and their community took on the statistics that show that grandparents, as primary care givers, are a risk factor to a child’s wellbeing.

When both of Josh’s parents died -- his dad when he was 6 and his mom when he was 12 -- Woodrow and Vanessa took over the parenting and have raised, by all accounts, a fine son.

Woodrow Clemons has instilled a humble spirit as well. Josh told the local press that, “my granddad always taught me to never brag on myself, always let others do it for you.”

Of course he would say that about his grandpa. But what do others around Valdosta say? I made a few calls and eventually got through to Coach Terry Quinn, defensive coordinator at Lowndes High School’s Viking football team.

“One or both grandparents attended all of Josh’s football games, home and away,” said Quinn. “Josh also played basketball for four years and ran track for three years. His grandparents were there.”

That’s some dedication, especially when you consider that Josh’s grandmother is an elementary school teacher and Josh’s grandfather runs a bail bond business. Both are working, all the time.

And it’s not just sports where they have helped out. His grandparents have obviously instilled in Josh a desire for excellence, an intense work ethic and commitment to the importance of education. He’s a solid 3.0 student.

Josh Harvey Clemons is just one of 1.7 million children in the United States being raised by a grandparent.

Woodrow and Vanessa might make it sound routine, but raising a grandchild isn’t as easy as sacking a quarterback when his pocket has collapse.

My best friend is Margo raising her grandson. He is the light of her life, but she is 60 and, well... try keeping up with a teenager when you are 60.

Mitchell is 15 and like most 15 year olds, peer acceptance and his busy social calendar can present challenges to whoever is looking after him. The importance of education is paramount, so Mitchell attends a better high school which is not in his neighborhood.  If he misses the bus, guess who takes him to school?  He’s a track star, so guess who attends the track meets?  Since he is mischievous, like most adolescent boys, guess who mediates all of his conflicts?

Some evenings I call my friend just to check in. The other night I rang her, knowing she had worked all day. It was already nine p.m., and she told me she had to pick up Mitchell at 11 p.m.

Now that may be par for the course when you are in your 30s or even 40s, but when you are 60 it is a herculean effort.

Most grandparents are not raising their grandchildren because that is what they choose to do in their golden years. Every grandparent does not score the winning touchdowns like Margo and the Clemons. There are fumbles, interceptions and personal fouls. In most cases something happened to change their status from grandparent to primary caretaker. Death, incarceration, drug abuse, abandonment, poverty and divorce lead the list.

I discussed this growing parenting phenomenon with another women whose mother raised her sister’s children because her sister was on drugs. She shared with me that, “Momma let them get away with so much; partly because she felt guilty about her daughter abandoning her children for drugs, and partly because Momma was sick herself. She just didn’t have the energy.”

Three million children in the United States do not live with their parents. Fifty four percent of these children live with grandparents. The dialogue, resources and support for grandparents raising grandchildren is splintered and not reaching many families. A network of services is needed.

Grandparents can access specific resources by state here. Your rights as a grandparent and advice on issues ranging from the law to finances are available from many sources including Grandparents.com. The AARP’s Grand Families guide also provides comprehensive information for grandparents grappling with this monumental life change.

I applaud grandparents like the Clemons and Margos who raise their grandchildren and give them as much love, commitment and support as they can.

They do it -- just like most grandparents -- because they wouldn’t have it any other way.

It can, to say the least, be a tough road for someone getting on in age.

The African Proverb, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child,” speaks to the importance of connecting family and community to help protect, guide and raise healthy children, including awesome outside linebackers.

Penalties For Drug Use at NCAA Schools Varies Widely

At the end of October, three Louisiana State University football players were suspended for one game after testing positive for synthetic marijuana. This week, three University of Georgia running backs were suspended for one game when they tested positive for marijuana use. While the NCAA publishes an annual list of banned substances, each school may enforce that ban differently. In the wake of the LSU and UGA suspensions, CBS Sports surveyed nearly 70 public NCAA Division I schools about what their specific policies are.

According to the CBS story, Georgia suspends players for 10 percent of games on the first positive test and 50 percent on the second positive. Players face dismissal from the program if they test positive a third time.

LSU takes a different approach. A first positive in Louisiana doesn’t result in a suspension at all and the second positive means a suspension of “up to 15 percent of games,” according to the CBS survey, meaning a player could test positive for illegal substances twice without losing any playing time. A third positive results in a one-year suspension.

This Saturday, LSU, ranked no. 1 in the nation, will face no. 2-ranked Alabama in what many are calling the Game of the Year. It's been five seasons since schools ranked nos. 1 and 2 faced off in a regular season game.

Some schools feature more nuanced drug testing policies. Virginia Tech’s, for example, includes one policy for marijuana and another for all other drugs.

A player who tests positive for marijuana will miss 10 percent of games for their sport, a number Virginia Tech’s Associate Director of Athletics for Sports Medicine Mike Goforth says is equitable across all sports.

A second positive for marijuana results in a suspension of 33 percent of the season. All other drugs, including performance-enhancing drugs, immediately jump to a 33 percent suspension on the first positive. After that, players face a one-year suspension and eventual dismissal for further failed tests.

Goforth says Virginia Tech revamped their drug policy in 2000 to “give it some teeth,” and the current rules are the result.

“We looked at 20 other programs before settling on this policy,” Goforth said. “It’s heavy on the education side and the rehabilitation side.”

In fact, suspensions listed in Virginia Tech’s policy are minimums and coaches have the discretion to assign greater suspensions.

“We want to do what’s right for the kid,” Goforth said. “We get them the help they need.”

Virginia Tech’s marijuana policy goes beyond even the NCAA’s, which does not mandate testing for pot.

Goforth is concerned with the cost and manpower associated with the drug testing.

“We spend all this money to catch maybe five kids,” he said. “Maybe the money would be better spent on education and prevention when the kids are in high school.”

Photo: Flickr / daniellinphoto

The Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Its Effects on College Campus ROTC’s

The U.S. military’s policy barring openly gay men and women from serving expires this morning. Known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the prohibition has been in place since 1993.

The repeal of the law has far-reaching effects not only for the military but also on the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) on college campuses. In recent years, some ROTC units have left public colleges rather than admit openly gay students.

But ROTC’s acceptance of openly gay men and women may not have a large impact on enrollment, says Jennifer Miracle, the associate director of intercultural affairs for the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Georgia.

“I do know [gay and lesbian students] involved in ROTC, mostly women,” Miracle said. “In the past, they have been afraid to come to our office. I do hope that will change, but there are still many barriers for students coming out, not just this.”

Miracle went on to say that in the South, especially, students face family and religious pressures that make it hard for someone to come out, regardless of whether there is a don’t ask, don’t tell policy.

Miracle however, is still excited about the repeal.

“It’s wonderful,” Miracle said, “but I think it is also unfortunate that it has taken this long. It would be great to say it is no longer an issue, but that’s just not the case. There will continue to be struggles and the cultural changes ahead will be difficult. These will take a long time. But, yes, it is exciting to see progress; it has been a long time coming.”

One Air Force ROTC cadet who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that, despite the repeal, she did not intend to come out.

"I will answer anyone who questions me but I will not personally reveal that information about myself," the cadet said in an email interview.

For a time she reconsidered joining ROTC and the Air Force because of don't ask, don't tell. But, she said, her childhood dream of joining the Air Force won out in the end.

Thanks to the repeal, she said, "I feel happier that I will be able to have the career I want and will be able to share it with someone I truly care about."

Despite the historic progress made by the repeal there are some in the LGBT community who still cannot serve, either in ROTC or on active duty. Transgender persons are excluded not because of don’t ask, don’t tell but because of a clause in the military’s medical policy that says they have gender identity disorder and are therefore unfit for service. The "Standards of Medical Fitness" classifies this as "administratively unfit rather than medically unfit."

Wyatt George, an 18-year-old transgender student at Kennesaw State University, wanted to join the Air Force ROTC and eventually the Air Force.

“When I found out about [the Air Force’s] policies regarding transgender issues,” George said, “it was like, that’s not really a possibility for me. You have to go through various physical examinations and if they find anything has been altered it’s pretty much grounds for dishonorable discharge.”

George went on to say that, should that policy be changed in the future, he would still be interested in joining the Air Force.

It is important to note that the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell only affects college ROTC programs. High school JROTC programs have always allowed openly gay members because JROTC is not considered a military recruiting tool.

Athens Group Has Plan to Help At-Risk Kids Graduate High School and College

An Athens-based nonprofit is working on a 10-year plan that focuses on getting low-income students to finish high school and graduate from college, according to Athens Online.

After winning a $500,00 federal planning grant, a group called Whatever It Takes has put together an extensive team, which includes former juvenile court consultants, school administrators and professional writers. The nonprofit is also working with the University of Georgia.

So far, the plan outlines how various community organizations will provide kids with things like academic support, mentoring, counseling, after-school programs, career development, intervention and health care.

If approved by the U.S. Department of Education next fall, Whatever It Takes could win $10 million each over the next 10 years to put the plan into action.