Out-of-control grrrrls nothing to
By Kathleen Parker: Seattle Times May 14, 2003
Girls will be girls. Give them a couple of kegs, some pig intestines and a
bucket of human feces and, well, stuff happens.
So goes some of the
attitude out there passing for commentary following the brutal "powder-puff”
melee in which senior high-school girls attacked junior girls during a
tradi-tional hazing rite.
By now, most have seen the video shot by a
bystander to this range incident. Girls were
beaten with fists and buckets, smeared with feces and animal guts, forced to eat
raw meat and mud. Five girls were hospitalized, including one with a
broken ankle and another with a cut requiring 10 stitches.
Apparently, the hazing was an exaggerated version of an annual
event among female football players at Glenbrook North High School in
Northbrook, Ill., a suburb north of Chicago. The younger girls knowingly signed
up to be abused, but not physically hurt. Those were the unwritten rules, such
as they were.
But rules have a funny way of getting broken, especially
when alcohol is present and parents are missing. The "powderpuff' ritual was
held in a "secret" place and was lubricated with a couple of kegs of beer that
police say may have been procured by parents. One parent also may have helped
collect the feces, according to early reports.
It's hard to put a finger on
exactly what makes this so disturbing. The fact that girls did this to other girls? That
the degree of abuse was so severe? That we see so clearly the fragile
barrier between "just folks" and just animals?
Maybe it's all
of that, but also something more. The acts of violence are by definition
despicable, but we've seen worse. Teen gang members kill each other. Boys with
guns shoot their teachers and classmates. Increasing aggression among girls born
to a grrrrrl nation has been noted, studied and documented.
No, what's disturbing and
frankly creepy about the "powder-puff" implosion is the apparent lack of
remorse, empathy or insight - or any of the responses we might expect from
well-adjusted, sensitive human beings - either from participants or among
very wrong with this picture, and it may well be us. We see something
horrible and don't even recognize it as such. Just another day of Reality TV Or
life imitating art. Or, whatever, as they say. We've become so desensitized by
various media's near-constant barrage of coarse, aggressive behavior that we
fail to note when something's gone terribly wrong.
Several of the
students quoted in a recent Chicago Sun-Times story, for example, said the
juniors got what they deserved. Others said girls beating up girls wasn't
"news." One jarring quote from a girl involved
in the beatings captures the lack of empathy. Noting that one girl needed
several stitches in her head, she said something like: "It's not like she's
The churlish feminist angle, best accompanied presumably
by a chorus of grunts, snorts and Hooahs, was equally disturbing if somewhat
predictable. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Debra Pickett wrote that the
powder-puff episode merely demonstrates that girls have learned to play like
boys and signals that it's time to stop our hand-wringing about little girls'
Pickett acknowledged that things got out of hand and that
the perps deserve punishment, but "they don't deserve to be burned at the stake
of tragically troubled ,girlhood." She dismissed adult concerns as obligatory
"The girls -
both the ones doing the pounding and the ones sitting there and taking it like
Marines - looked just as strong, fierce and
stupid as any guys ever have." And by this measure, we should be
reassured? Will we break out the champagne when a girl totes an automatic
weapon to school and levels a playground?
I have never doubted that
girls are as capable as boys in most arenas not requiring physical strength,
long ago rejected the girl-as-victim. lament, and join Pickett in her contempt
for hand-wringing. But we part company in rationalizing aggression in girls as
somehow reflective of parity with boys.
It is indeed an obligation of
adults to be concerned when things go bump in the culture, and grownups are
clearly absent from the video and possibly some of these girls' lives. What I saw in the film wasn't tough
girls taking it like, Marines but a complete breakdown of inhibition and all the
other painstakingly stitched manners that keep civilization from
No one should
look forward to the sequel.
Orlando Sentinel columnist Kathleen
Parker's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org