See Jane Hit- Book Review

See Jane Hit : Why Girls Are Growing More Violent and What We Can Do About It

James Garbarino (2006)

Loyola University psychologist and “youth violence” authority James Garbarino’s See Jane Hit is just like Sugar and Spice—factless—except that it’s even more impossible to figure out where he dredges up his junk numbers.

Garbarino’s sequel to Lost Boys, laments today’s generation of girls, who “have bought into the toxic myth” sold by “ever more nasty and vicious pop culture” messages that “link violence, sex, and materialism.” Because of “toxic culture,” Garbarino argues, girls’ greater assertiveness, sports activity, and self-reliance have “unintended consequences:” a new “intensity of meanness” and “recent, dramatic increase in violence by troubled girls” (pages 15). He seems to have nothing but animosity toward young people. “Mean girls” are now the “dominant force…in peer groups;” boys “are as bad as they can get;” teen peers are “usually a negative influence;” youths are passive imitators of pop-culture depravities unless adults rescue them, he declares (pages 57, 75, 197, 250).

Garbarino recounts anecdotes illustrating his claim that “soul-deadening, superficial materialism, reduced benevolent adult authority and supervision, civic cynicism, and fragmentation of community, all promulgated through the vehicle of pop cultural that often undermines legitimate adult authority” (page 10). He cites popular culture figures such as Harry Potter 3 (Hermione), Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Powerpuff Girls as part of the “socially toxic mass media (that) saturate kids with images that link violence, sex, and materialism for girls” (pages 24, 30).

Feminism is also to blame: the “dark side” of girls’ advances in society are “girls’ violence” and “the generally elevated levels of aggression are unintended consequences of the general increase in normal girls’ getting physical and becoming more assertive,” he adds (page 4). He predicts more violence, especially with guns, as cultural images drive girls to be more cruel and “empty inside” (pages 75). He recommends “intervention and treatment,” violence prevention, and spiritual development programs targeting girls.

Garbarino begins by noting “near absence of girls in accounts of killers in the past” (page 9). Is he joking? He must mean other than Caril Anne Fugate (14 year-old serial killer, 1959), Mary Bell (child killer, 1968), Brenda Jean Spencer (shot up elementary school, 1979), the Manson Family girls (1969-70), the murderous girls cited in a raft of official documentaries and books in the 1940s and ‘50s, on and on. That Garbarino relies so heavily on emotional anecdotes and newspaper headlines as demonstrating the unprecedented extent and savagery of girls’ crime further undermines his scientific credibility. Surely experts are aware that in any era, adults always say youth, particularly girls, are getting more violent no matter what is really going on. Such tactics can be applied to vilify any group in society in any time period.

Beyond spinning tales and emotional assertions, does Garbarino really show girls are becoming more savage? I checked his factual claims against FBI, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), and other standard references. Garbarino’s statistics are mind-numbingly wrong–a junk heap of secondhand, outdated numbers, some apparently made up and all slanted in the scariest directions.

The chief premise of See Jane Hit–that America faces a “recent, dramatic increase in violence by troubled girls”—simply isn’t true, as we’ve seen. FBI and BJS reports show that girls’ rates of violent felonies have been declining since 1995, murder and robbery since 1993, and school fights since 1992. Girls’ murder and robbery arrest rates now stand at their lowest levels in 40 years. Even amid proliferating “toxic culture,” our best crime index, the NCVS, reports huge, 60 percent declines over the last decade in all types of violence suffered and perpetrated by teens of both sexes, reaching their lowest points in 2004 since the first survey in 1973.

 

Table 7. But don’t girls get into more fights today?
Percentages of high school senior females telling Monitoring the Future:
Question: 1975/76 1980 1990 2000 2005
Girls (high school seniors) reporting at least one incident in previous 12 months
   Got into serious fight at work or school 10% 11% 13% 8% 9%
   Got into a group fight 12% 11% 15% 15% 16%
   Hurt someone enough for bandages/doctor 3% 3% 4% 4% 6%
   Used weapon to commit robbery 1% 1% 1% 1% 1%
   Hit instructor/supervisor 1% 1% 1% 0% 2%
   Injured by someone with weapon 2% 2% 2% 2% 4%
   Injured by someone without weapon 12% 13% 17% 11% 15%
Boys (high school seniors) reporting at least one incident in previous 12 months
   Got into serious fight at work or school 20% 21% 24% 16% 13%
   Got into a group fight 23% 24% 27% 25% 22%
   Hurt someone enough for bandages/doctor 18% 21% 20% 20% 18%
   Used weapon to commit robbery 5% 5% 5% 5% 5%
   Hit instructor/supervisor 6% 6% 3% 5% 4%
   Injured by someone with weapon 8% 7% 9% 7% 7%
   Injured by someone without weapon 17% 16% 17% 18% 17%
*Source: Monitoring the Future, 1975-2005.

 

The entire argument that girls are more violent rests on the decade-old increase in girls’ assault arrests, from 6,300 in 1981 to a peak of 16,800 in 1995. However, girls’ assault arrests have since dropped sharply, to 14,700 in 2005, a 22% decline in per-capita rates.

So, at best, Garbarino’s 2006 book is 10 to 15 years out of date. And, as we’ve seen, if more assault arrests proves violence is rising, then mothers are becoming violent twice as fast as their daughters. Among women ages 35-54, the same FBI reports show, felony assault arrests rocketed from 7,100 in 1981 to 26,600 in 1995, and (unlike girls’) continued rising, to 29,200 in 2005. Middle-aged men’s assault arrests also more than doubled, reaching 107,900 in 2005. The assault arrest increase among girls that Garbarino and others trumpet occurred among both sexes and all ages and tracks stronger policing of domestic abuse.

Garbarino’s Butchered Statistics and Breathless Sensationalisms are even crazier than other authors’:

  • “Twenty-five years ago, almost ten boys were arrested for assault for every one girl,” Garbarino continues. “Now, the ratio is four to one” (pages 3-4). Mostly wrong. FBI figures show that 25 years ago, five boys were arrested for assault per girl, not 10.
  • “During the 1990s the growth of offenses against people (as opposed to property crimes) for U.S. girls was 157 percent while for boys it was 71 percent” (page 9). Garbarino provides no source for this claim, and I can find no reference for violent offenses with numbers remotely approaching these for either sex.
  • “From 1990 to 1999, the rate of aggravated assault among girls under eighteen went up 57 percent, while for boys, it went down five percent” (page 9). Very misleading. Aside from asking, what are 1999 figures doing in a 2006 book?, the real increase in girls’ aggravated assault arrests was 38% (not 57%) for that selected period. Further, girls’ aggravated assault arrest rates peaked in 1995 (not 1999) and have since fallen sharply through 2005—which probably explains why Garbarino (mis)cites 1999 figures instead.
  • There was a “seven-fold increase in per-capita aggravated assault rates among youths in the United States from 1956 to 1996” (p. 184). No responsible “violence expert” would attempt to compare the incomplete, haphazard FBI crime reports of 1956 (covering less than one-fourth of the population and which specifically warned that juvenile arrests were greatly underestimated) with those of today, covering 10,000 agencies nationally and using greatly expanded definitions of assault.
  • “Juveniles commit about two thousand murders per year… about 12 percent of the total murders overall in the United States,” Garbarino writes. “Female juveniles commit…a bit more than two hundred” (page 174). Wrong. Every year, from 2000 through 2005, the FBI has consistently reported that juveniles committed around 5% (nowhere near 12%) of the nation’s annual toll of 16,000 murders, amounting to around 800 per year (nowhere near “two thousand”). The nation’s 16 million girls ages 10-17 commit around 75 murders annually (nowhere near “two hundred”).
  • “Girls [are] carrying guns to school (6 versus 29 percent for boys during a thirty-day period)” (page 207). Garbarino attributes this “fact” to Girls, Inc., which no longer posts it, but it seems to be from the Centers for Disease Control’s 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. That survey found that 29.3% of boys and 6.2% of girls had carried a “weapon” (including a gun, knife, club, or other weapon) in the previous 30 days—not too school, but at any time. (That same survey found that students carrying a weapon on school property fell 46% from 1993 to 2001). Note how, in the secondhand magnifying lens of the youth-bashing world, the “29%” and “6%” figures have been exaggerated to an estimate of students “carrying guns to school.” Note further the lunatic numbers this exaggerated estimate would produce—4.5 million 13-19 year-old students with guns in schools every month, or 200,000 per day—and yet so few actual shootings (one or two per month, a safety record so astonishing that it would mean we should take guns away from adults and give them to youths to take to school). Is there any cockamamie idiocy about youth too incredible for “violence experts” to swallow?
  • “As guns become more permissible and available to girls, that will unleash more aggression in them… this may already be happening” (page 57). Garbarino cites no evidence for this at all. In fact, as shown, girls’ murder arrest rates now stand at a 35-year low.
  • “Seven percent of girls got into a fight at school” (page 13). This figure is apparently from the 2001 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, whose first survey also shows that an even higher percentage—9%—of girls got into a fight at school in 1993. Monitoring the Future shows the percentage of girls getting into fights hasn’t changed much in at least 30 years. For example, in 2005, 8.9% of high school senior girls reported “getting into a serious fight in school or at work,” compared to 9.5% in the first Monitoring survey in 1975.
  • “Fewer than 3,000 kids kill themselves each year,” (page 180). Now, this is true. In 2004, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that 1,029 youths under age 18 committed suicide, which is considerably “fewer than 3,000.”
  • “Now, girls are … cutting and stabbing, poisoning and shooting themselves, in record numbers,” Garbarino writes. “…From 1981 to 1998, the suicide rate for girls increased seven percent” (pages 9, 180-81). Wrong. NCHS figures show the suicide rate for girls declined 10% from 1981 to 1998. While Garbarino claimed guns are used in half of all girls’ suicides, the real percentage in 2004 was less than one-fourth; in fact, gun suicide rates plummeted by 60% among girls (233 in 1981; 174 in 1998; 108 in 2004 in a larger population). Further, girls’ deaths from suicidal or other self-inflicted firearms, cuttings, and poisonings all fell sharply, from 518 in 1981 to 333 in 1998—even as the teen-girl population grew by 250,000.*

*However, there’s a troubling peculiarity no one seems to have noticed: the one form of girls’ mortality that did rise was hangings and suffocations, from 61 in 1981 to 255 in 2004—including a doubling from 1999 to 2004. Nearly all of these were ruled suicides. In a teen female population topping 20 million, a few dozen more deaths does not amount to a sweeping trend. Further, it also occurred among their mothers—suicides by hangings also rose sharply among females ages 35-64.

Much of this book just seems made up. “I have seen boys who would have fought with fists and knives thirty years ago just as readily take up guns today,” Garbarino declares. “I have known sixteen year-olds who would have agonized over whether or not to kiss on the first date thirty years ago today nonchalantly report on their multiple sex partners” (page 30). His nostalgia doesn’t reflect larger reality. NCHS and FBI figures show that 30 years ago, pregnancy rates among 15-17 year-olds were 30% higher, and boy’s murder rates 60% higher, than today. He claims a “growing mental health crisis in middle-class boys, coupled with the onslaught of violent images present in popular culture (TV, video games, movies, and music)” (page 14) without providing evidence that anything of the sort is happening. “Ordinary girls…have bought into the toxic myth that you are what you wear, and this leaves them feeling anxiously empty inside,” (page 71). Again, no evidence.

Still, despite improving trends, Monitoring the Future finds one in 15 girls unhappy with herself, 5% feeling unsafe, and 2% alienated from peers. Similarly, BJS reports 7% are bullied at school. Little has changed in the last 30 years, except that girls express somewhat less misery at school than the class of 1975.

 

Table –. But what about the fraction of girls who ARE troubled?
Percentages of high school senior females telling Monitoring the Future:
Question: 1975/76 1980 1990 2000 2005
Are you DISSATISFIED with… (percent answering “completely or mostly dissatisfied”)
   Yourself? 5% 4% 6% 6% 7%
   Your friends? 3% 2% 2% 3% 2%
   Your parents? 12% 10% 12% 11% 11%
   Your material possessions? 6% 5% 8% 7% 5%
   Your personal safety? 8% 7% 9% 7% 5%
   Your education? 12% 7% 7% 7% 6%
   Your job? 12% 10% 12% 9% 9%
   Your life as a whole? 7% 7% 7% 8% 7%

 

Garbarino provides useful insights for addressing the fraction of severely troubled girls, although his rush to blame pop culture for everything ignores the far more devastating effects of poverty and abusive families. He admits that girls who kill are “traumatically maltreated children,” yet he gives almost no attention to family abuses amid spending two entire chapters on “violence in the mass media” (page 98, 191). Likewise, Garbarino dedicates only a single paragraph to poverty. His claim that adult women are more violent toward husbands and that parents are more violent at youth sports events, which are doubtful assertions but at least indicate an awareness of difficulties girls face among their parents. He could have accomplished his worthy goal of advising troubled families without tarring an entire generation by the few disturbed youths he sees professionally and in sensational news stories.

In bizarrely unintrospective irony, Garbarino declares: “It truly is a vicious cycle… Kids routinely overestimate the proportion of their peers who are taking drugs, drinking, and smoking… The same may be true as the vicious cycle of gun imagery for girls increases, with the mass media amplifying reality and reality amplifying mass media imagery” and “destructive behaviors” (page 182). Then, wouldn’t his own relentlessly publicized, amplified imagery of girls as more violent spread through the news media as a fact risk amplifying girls’ gun violence even more than fictional media would?

Of course, girls’ gun violence is not rising. No source indicates that! It’s deeply disturbing that Garbarino can’t get even the simplest, most obvious trends right. And, if American youth, who Garbarino charges are “infused with an ever more nasty and vicious pop culture” (page 31), actually became less violent and criminal, wouldn’t that mean pop culture has been a positive influence?

Garbarino’s book is indeed “shocking” and “scary”–not about girls, but about how an author acclaimed as a “violence expert” not only gets everything wrong but doesn’t even seem to have the vaguest ballpark clue about elementary trends in or levels of violence. The girlphobes’ panicked books about supposedly meaner, more savage girls, have generated crazed media coverage hyping girls’ misdemeanor scuffles as apocalyptic terror without mentioning the crucial contexts of (a) crime by their parents, (b) the eras in which girls’ violence increased and fell, (c) the fact that girls’ rates of most violence are at four-decade lows, (d) law changes affecting violence arrests, (e) socioeconomics, and (f) violent families. That is, they leave out every important issue.

Like the “alpha girls” deplored in popular books (Rachel Simmons’ Odd Girl Out, or Dellasegga and Nixon’s Girl Wars), authors and commentators popularize themselves by incessantly disparaging young people with cruel stereotypes miscast as “scientific findings,” mean gossip couched in phony statistics and assertions, and smug glossing over of their own deficiencies. That Prothrow-Stith, Spivak, Garbarino, and others still get away with floating this junk in 2006, when powerful evidence contradicting her inflammatory claims abounds, should trigger real alarms. If this isn’t “social toxicity,” I don’t know what is.

Reviewed by: Mike Males, Youthfacts.org