Tuesday, November 13 , 2018, 9:09 pm | Fair 53º


Research by UCSB Sociologist Finds Girls Haven’t Gone Wild

Arrests — but not levels of aggression and violence — have gone up among adolescent females

Contrary to what films such as Mean Girls, Fab Five: The Texas Cheerleader Scandal and Heathers might suggest, aggression and violence among teenage girls have not become common practice. Research by a sociologist at UCSB suggests that these popular titles have it wrong — that the mean girl phenomenon is all hype. More troubling is the fact that the real problems facing girls today have been lost in this mean-girl furor.

According to Nikki Jones, assistant professor of sociology at UCSB, girls haven’t gone wild. What has increased, however, is the frequency with which they are arrested.

In her new book, Fighting for Girls — New Perspectives on Gender and Violence, she asserts that zero-tolerance policies in schools and law enforcement’s mandatory arrest policies make it appear as though incidents of aggression and violence are on the rise. In reality it is the number of arrests — not levels of aggression — that shot up during the past two decades.

“If you look at the actual numbers of incidents, you don’t see dramatic spikes,” Jones said. “But you do see dramatic spikes in the number of arrests — particularly for African American girls.”

This data, she said, is widely available but often ignored. She cited a recent study by the Southern Poverty Law Center that indicates the greatest increase of suspensions since the adoption of zero-tolerance policies in schools has been for black girls.

“We’re more likely than ever before to respond to girls’ behavior in a punitive way,” she said.

Fighting for Girls is a companion to a book Jones published last year. That book, Between Good and Ghetto — African American Girls and Inner-City Violence, focused on the social meaning of fighting for girls and how girls manage conflicts and violence in their neighborhoods.

“I started working on research for that book in inner-city neighborhoods in Philadelphia,” Jones said. “At that time there was a lot of conversation about relational aggression and mean girls, and I knew right away they weren’t talking about the girls in these neighborhoods. African American girls weren’t even part of the discussion.”

Co-edited by Meda Chesney-Lind, professor of women’s studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Fighting for Girls features a broad range of perspectives and empirical studies that seek to separate facts about trends in the use of violence among girls from misconceptions perpetuated by the media.

“It’s very much about institutional sanctions that are placed on girls who do fight,” Jones said, “and the big takeaway point is that it’s not a dramatic change in behavior.”

She noted that while the numbers of arrests hit an all-time for both girls and boys in the early 1990s, when those numbers started to go down later in that decade and into the 2000s, it happened much more quickly for boys than it did for girls.

“Girls have never returned to the pre-1980s numbers,” Jones said. “We used to arrest girls for status offenses like running away. That’s still a big one, but we’re now arresting girls for person offenses — simple assault and aggravated assault. And we’re a lot more comfortable with it.”

In Fighting for Girls, Jones and her co-editor take a close look at the institutional responses to the changes in adolescent girls’ behavior, many of which do not take into consideration the contexts that produce violence in girls.

“The book is about fighting for girls — fighting on behalf of girls,” Jones said. “We want to shift the conversation from what girls are doing to how adults can help them. We tend to think we have to fix girls, but what we have to fix are the settings in which they find themselves -schools, neighborhoods, the juvenile justice system.”

Jones advocates a holistic approach to addressing the lives of adolescent girls. She suggests taking into account not only their behavior, but also the circumstances that contribute to it and the systems designed to mitigate it.

“We have to think seriously about whether the purpose is to punish girls or to improve their lives,” she said.

For her research on violence and aggression among adolescent girls, Jones will receive the New Scholar Award from the American Society of Criminology’s Division on Women and Crime as the society’s annual meeting this month in San Francisco.


Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.