Sugar and Spice and No Longer Nice-Book Review

Sugar and Spice and No Longer Nice: How We Can Stop Girls’ Violence

Deborah Prothrow-Stith, Howard R. Spivak (2006)

What a grossly dishonest, distorted book this is. The authors’ misrepresentation of modern girls as hyperviolent, mean, and soulless amount to little more than grownup name-calling and bullying of the sort their authors purport to deplore. It is supposedly “academic” works like these that create an obligation for academic colleagues to step in and restore basic standards of ethics and responsibility.

Although James Garbarino’s books list him as a nationally recognized authority on violence, he betrays no clue about how to assess basic measures of crime and victimization. His statistics are inevitably secondhand, outdated, and often misquoted. Even worse, Prothrow-Stith and Howard Spivak cite original, but highly selective, sources on violence—which indicates they know exactly how slanted and wrong the numbers they present are.

Harvard School of Public Health professor Prothrow-Stith has entrepreneured a celebrated career by clarioning four “rising waves” of “youth violence:” inner-city young men, then more violent suburban and rural youth, then girls, and now “a rising incidence of violent behavior among very young children.” She continues to repeat this demagoguery in 2006 despite clear evidence by the early 2000s that the first “wave” ebbed more than a decade ago—and the last three waves never happened at all.

The first (and only) “wave” of “youth violence” was the temporary cycle of homicide and violent crime from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s among impoverished young men caught up in urban gang and drug wars. This wave ebbed everywhere after 1994. The latest (2005) FBI crime clearance reports show youth account for just 4.9% of all murders, the lowest proportion ever recorded.

Prothrow-Stith’s remaining three “waves” of “youth violence” are fictional. Violence by suburban and rural youth, by and toward girls, and by younger children all have been plummeting for 10 to 30 years, depending on whether one examines FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the National Youth Victimization Survey, or long-term surveys such as Monitoring the Future. Violent crime by children under 13 is at its lowest level since 1966, and murder arrest rates are at their lowest level since 1960. Violence by suburban and rural youth is at its lowest level since statistics were first kept 25 years ago. Violence by girls peaked a decade ago and has since fallen sharply.

Prothrow-Stith and Spivak’s Butchered Statistics pages combine distortion with illogic. They dismiss our most comprehensive measures of violence—crime and victimization surveys showing violence and weapons use by and against girls dropping dramatically in recent years. They don’t mention the National Crime Victimization Survey’s scientifically selected sample of more than 50,000 women of all ages every year, which reports violence involving women under age 20 has declined by a staggering 60% over the last decade. In fact, violence against young women is at its lowest level since the survey first began in 1973. Likewise, they ignore Monitoring the Future’s survey of thousands of girls at a diverse sample of 900 high schools every year, which reports much lower rates of violence by, and violent victimization of, girls inside and outside of school over the last decade. Prothrow-Stith and Spivak dismiss the Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, which shows large drops in fighting and weapons carrying by girls since the early 1990s.

Prothrow-Stith and Spivak insist that police-reported “arrest data, while affected by changes in police policies, do reflect actual behavior better than surveys.” Really? Even though only a small fraction of violent offenses are even reported to police, and an even smaller fraction result in arrest? Even more absurdly, Prothrow-Stith and Spivak argue that we should rely on the “numerous stories we have been told for over a decade” about violent girls (pages 50-51). Sure! Picking out a few lurid tales that fit one’s biases is better than bothering with solid research methodology demanding carefully designed samples, consistent questions, and scientific analysis!

One suspects that Prothrow-Stith and Spivak are casting about for some index that validates their thesis. Since they apparently can’t locate one, they engage in appalling misrepresentation of arrest statistics, the one flawed measure they do use. Using 2003 as their end point, they write:

Nationally, rates of violent crime have been dropping since the mid-1990s…Despite this steady national decline, the rates for violent crimes perpetrated by girls and young women rose (page 44).

This is simply crazy. Using exactly the same FBI source (Uniform Crime Reports, www.fbi,gov/ucr/ucr.htm, 2003 and 1995) the authors claim to use (chapter 1, note 4), here are the actual trends in arrest rates of girls under age 18 for violent crimes from 1995 to 2003:

Murder: DOWN 56%

Rape: DOWN 34%

Robbery: DOWN 63%

Aggravated assault: DOWN 22%

All violent crimes: DOWN 31%.

Prothrow-Stith and Spivak got their most important “fact” exactly backward. Not in a small way, either. This is a mega-goof that winds up demolishing their book’s entire thesis that “girls are now behaving more aggressively and violently because the entertainment media images now include the feminine superhero” (they specifically cite the late-1900s and early 2000s’ “Lara Croft, Tomb Raider” and “Kill Bill”) that spur ever-more traumatized girls to “engage in more violent behavior for fun or status or power” (page 92).

Prothrow-Stith and Spivak’s failure to notice that (even by their own chosen measure) girls’ violence of all kinds was declining dramatically even as the cultural images they blamed for inciting its supposed increase proliferated is only the beginning of Sugar and Spice’s bad joke. They next reproduce an outdated table from a federal agency purporting to show girls’ serious crime is rising rapidly while boys’ crime rates are falling. Unfortunately, this table used the wrong (pre-2000 census) population figures to calculate rates. Using the real census figures, the real trend is that boys’ rates of serious crime fell by 38% over the decade, while girls’ rates dropped by 10%.

It’s a very different (and certainly less alarming) thing to say what really happened: Girl’s crime rates dropped, but boys’ dropped faster. And what are secondhand 1990s figures doing in a 2006 book? The most recent (2005) numbers show rates of girls’ arrests for serious crime have fallen by an impressive 25% since 1990, with no change in violent crime.

And Prothrow-Stith and Spivak aren’t finished misusing arrest numbers. “Today, more girls are entering the juvenile justice system because they have committed a violent crime, and they are doing so at younger ages,” they write, citing 13-15 year-olds as showing the biggest arrest increase. Yet, again, this is not true: female violence arrests are getting older and older. In 1990, just 17% of violent felony and misdemeanor arrests involved women ages 35 to 54. In 2005, 27%—a gigantic increase. It is not girls, but their mothers, who are leading the female violence surge, especially in the last 15 years.

Consider now the contributions of three real groups of similar population sizes—juvenile girls ages 10-17, and middle-aged women ages 40-49, to violence and other major crime in America:


Table –. But aren’t girls more violent and criminal today,

while their mothers and fathers are less so? Just the opposite!

Rate of felony violent and felony Part I offenses* per 100,000 population
Girls ages 10-17   Women ages 40-49   Men ages 40-49
Year Violent All felony Violent All felony Violent All felony
1985 67.4 1,101.9 31.7 243.3 252.6 759.4
1990 104.2 1,297.9 39.2 293.6 311.7 925.1
1995 152.9 1,474.7 64.8 313.8 377.3 1,047.0
2000 117.3 1,127.5 70.5 300.1 328.6 955.5
2005 107.4 974.2 76.8 358.6 318.7 976.8
Rate change
1985-95 +127% +34% +104% +29% +49% +38%
1995-05 -30% -34% +19% +14% -16% -7%
Absolute change
1985-05 +40.0 -127.7 +45.1 +115.3 +66.1 +217.4
*As designated by the FBI, felony violent offenses are murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault; felony Part I offenses include these violent offenses plus felony burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson.

Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 1985-2005. Each year’s arrest totals for each population group are adjusted for the proportion of the national population covered by the report and are divided by the population of that group for the year to produce rates. Arrests for these populations first became available in the 1980s.


The purpose is to compare trends in girls’ crime to that of a similarly-sized population of adults of the most likely age to be their parents—which, for girls ages 10-17, would be 40-49. While books, institutions, and the press are abuzz with “the epidemic of youth violence” among girls (Prothrow-Stith & Spivak, p. 4), NONE have asked what was going on with the grownups around them. When you examine the latter, you begin to suspect this blissful ignorance is deliberate.

First, in terms of crime rates, girls show a major increase in violent and other serious crime from 1985 to 1995, followed by large declines from 1995 to the present. Women in their 40s—the moms—likewise shows large increases in both violence and non-violent felonies from 1985 to 1995, followed by lesser increases in crime over the last decade. Forty-aged men show trends similar to that of girls, except the dads’ violence rates are much higher than those of the females and their decline over the last decade is considerably milder.

Interestingly, then, girls’ violence rates, which were 2.1 times higher than their mothers’ rates 20 years ago, fell to just 1.4 times higher by 2005. Girls’ violence levels stayed stable with respect to their fathers’ rates, at 0.3. Sounds like the hysterical press should have focused on the moms, not the daughters!

Second, the absolute changes in violence arrests—the actual change in the number of persons arrested, expressed as a proportion of the group’s total population—delineate the impact of changes in criminal arrest more clearly. For every 100,000 girls, 40 more girls were arrested for violent felonies in 2005 than in 1985, versus 45 more arrests among their moms and 66 more among their dads. Stop the presses: the dads are getting more violent!

Adjusted for population increases, violence rates among middle-agers–the parents, the grownups who are supposed to be stable and mature–doubled over the last quarter century. That’s far more alarming than anything going on among teens, boys or girls. Worse, and unlike for young people, women Prothrow-Stith’s age continue to show rising violent crime arrest rates over the last decade (up 16% from 1995 to 2005)—as well as massive increases in property and drug offenses. In her own Boston, middle-aged crime has exploded—1,700 arrested for serious felonies in 2005, a 27% jump in violence and 43% spike in property crimes among adults 40 an older since 2001 alone.

Here’s a sobering development: In 1975, California teen girls were three times more likely to be arrested for violent felonies than their middle-aged (ages 30-69) mothers. Today (2005), after violence soared among middle-agers, the violence arrest rates of teenaged girls and middle-aged women are EQUAL. Isn’t that astounding, how much better girls are doing today—when you apply a little detail called CONTEXT?

Third, when we look at the kinds of serious crime perpetrated by many times more people and therefore are better measures of trends in offending among the larger population, we find a remarkable result: girls are becoming less criminal as their parents are getting cuffed more. In 2005, and impressive 128 fewer girls were arrested for serious felonies than in 1985, versus 115 more of their mothers and 237 more dads. By 2005, a remarkable result had emerged: girls were no more likely to get arrested for felonies than their supposedly staid, post-crime-age fathers.

Why, then, do these authors pick on girls and their “toxic culture” while dodging worse violence issues among his own older age groups? Obviously, young girls are easier to stigmatize, and commentators exploit their powerlessness. Sugar and Spice, See Jane Hit, and other cloned teen-panic books, have created a “footnote mill” of slanted, outdated statistics and panicky claims, in which authors cite and re-cite each other in a rising spiral of destructive misinformation.

But Prothrow-Stith and Spivak aren’t afraid to be blatantly misleading. “Girls are beginning to show up in a new role, a new behavior—the ones doing the killing,” they write, citing (inexplicably) women on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. “…The increased rates of girls’ arrests for violent crime, including homicide, are a reflection of real changes in girls’ behavior” (pages 48, 54).

Once again: Are Prothrow-Stith and Spivak simply ignorant of girls’ homicide arrest trends, or are they willfully misrepresenting obvious facts? In writing a book on girls’ violence, did they not bother to look up real trends on the worst offense? If they had, they would have found that by the early 2000s, girls’ arrests for homicide had dropped to their lowest levels in 35 years: 0.8 per 100,000 girls ages 10-17, 30% below the level (1.1) in 1970. If girls’ behaviors have changed, it is toward their becoming less murderous.


Table –. The supposed increase in girls’ violence and

crime consists of only one type of arrest: assault

Annual average arrest rates per 100,000 girls ages 10-17
All Part I Part I violent crime Property
Felony crime All violent Homicide Robbery Assault crime
1970-74 987.5 58.2 1.1 22.3 34.6 929.3
1975-79 1,067.9 62.9 1.1 21.1 40.2 1,005.0
1980-84 1,032.7 66.4 1.1 19.9 44.9 966.2
1985-89 1,160.5 80.6 1.1 20.1 58.4 1,079.9
1990-94 1,340.7 124.0 1.4 31.3 90.6 1,216.6
1995-99 1,361.5 135.4 1.1 26.4 107.2 1,226.1
2000-04 1,069.4 108.5 0.8 14.6 92.5 960.9
2005 974.2 107.4 0.7 16.8 89.4 866.8
change -1% +85% -36% -25% +158% -7%


What could explain this pattern of girls’ arrests for murder, robbery, and other serious crime declining—while the only offense to increase is assault? If girls truly are becoming more criminal and violent, wouldn’t we expect all types of violent crime by girls to increase? And if girls’ assaults really are rising so dramatically, wouldn’t we expect homicide to increase as well (or, at least not to decrease), simply as a result of a few more attacks causing deaths?

Another mystery: It is true that the ratio of females-to-males arrested for violent offenses has risen over time—for all ages. In 1975, females made up 12% of all violence arrests among all ages (including both felony and misdemeanor assault, as the authors apparently do); compared to 14% in 1990, and 23% in 2005. Thus, the female share of violence arrests in America has doubled in 30 years. This is a trend well worth studying. Does it reflect a real increase in female crime relative to men?

Even more mystifying, the biggest increase in arrests of girls (and women) is not for the worst crime, but for the least serious offense: simple (misdemeanor) assault, which, coincidentally is also the one most vulnerable to changes in policing. Yet again, simple assault rates rose much faster for adult women, especially middle-agers, than for girls.

Prothrow-Stith and Spivak noted that arrest trends are “affected by changes in police policies,” but they forgot to examine what police policies might have affected female arrest trends. Specifically, they ignored the massive law and police effort directed at making arrests for domestic violence beginning in the 1980s, which would have produced a disproportionate increase in female arrests because (as Prothrow-Stith and Spivak note) unlike males, females who commit violence are more likely to assault family members rather than strangers.

Increased “arrest statistics are not always related to an increase in crime,” warned the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. In a 2006 report, OJJDP took direct aim at those who claim girls are simply getting more violent:

If juvenile females had simply become more violent, the female proportion of juvenile arrests would be expected to have increased for each violent crime. This did not occur. For example, the female proportion of juvenile arrests remained relatively constant between 1980 and 2003 for robbery (7% to 9%). The change that caused the Violent Crime Index proportion to occur between 1980 and 2003 was the increase in the female proportion of juvenile arrests for aggravated assault (from 15% to 24%). Similarly, a large increase was seen in the female proportion of juvenile arrests for simple assault (from 21% to 32%). To understand the relative increase in female arrests for violence, it is necessary to look for factors related primarily to assault.

One possible explanation for this pattern could be the changing response of law enforcement to domestic violence incidents. Domestic assaults comprise a larger proportion of female violence than male violence. For example, analysis of the 2001 NIBRS data finds that 18% of aggravated assaults known to law enforcement committed by juvenile males were against family members or intimate partners, compared to 33% of aggravated assaults committed by juvenile females. Mandatory arrest laws for domestic violence, coupled with an increased willingness to report these crimes to authorities, would yield a greater increase in female than male arrests for assault, while having no effect on other violent crimes. Thus, policy and social changes may be a stimulus for the increased proportion of juvenile female arrests. (Juvenile Victims and Offenders, 2006, pages 128-29)

While OJJDP’s 2006 and 1999 reports note that the female proportion of offenders for several non-violent crimes also rose, it concludes that these increases may result from increase arrests for offenses “that in past years may have been classified as status offenses (e.g., incorrigibility)” but “can now result in an assault arrest.” Also, the increase in the proportion of females arrested resulted not from increasing arrests of females, but from rapidly declining arrests of males. This is the problem with using arrests (especially proportions of arrests) as one’s gauge of crime.

The best evidence indicates that much of the rise in arrests of females of all ages for simple assault results from tougher policing of domestic violence, not a real increase in violent behavior. Of course, you’re not going to get on CBS News or CNN with reasoned explanations like these when reporters can juxtapose flashy images of girls’ scuffles with Powerpuff Girl battles.

However, even if we put aside these reasonable cautions and accept arrests as reflecting real violence, is the girls’ increase recent, as Prothrow-Stith and Spivak declare? No. According to the figures in FBI Uniform Crime Reports (Table 40) and the census, the rate of serious violent crime by girls dropped by 30% over the last decade (1995 to 2005), with murder and robbery now at 30-year lows. The increase in arrests they’re talking about occurred from 10 to 20 years ago and is not a new phenomenon.

The girlphobes also fail to point out that the few statistics they cite are bloated by the problems afflicting impoverished girls. Black girls’ violence and murder arrest rates are four to seven times higher than whites’, for example. Yet, virtually all of the girlphobes, like other youth-bashers, are narrowly concerned only with upper-middle- to upper-class teens, nearly all white. The authors then pretend that the statistics and trends of poorer girls apply to all girls—especially the more privileged youth they write about.

California, one of the few states that provides detailed, consistent statistics on crime by race, Latino ethnicity, sex, and age over the last three decades. California arrest trends for girls and women are similar to those nationally. They show just how escapist and irresponsible the girlphobes who fixate on irrelevancies like Powerpuff Girls and Hermione are to ignore very real dysfluences like poverty.


Table –. California female arrests for violence by race and age, 1975-2005
Average annual violent crime (murder, rape, robbery, assault) arrests per 100,000 population
Girls ages 10-17 Women ages 30-69
Years Total White Latina Black Asian Total White Latina Black Asian
1975-79 119.1 66.0 133.9 490.7 47.0 42.2 22.8 43.6 273.5 26.5
1980-84 98.5 54.7 82.6 467.0 43.8 43.8 25.7 44.5 250.9 23.6
1985-89 88.4 52.7 62.8 458.9 38.9 65.5 39.0 61.8 378.4 30.6
1990-94 148.3 76.7 142.5 682.7 77.4 97.8 65.9 97.4 478.4 45.7
1995-99 158.7 100.5 144.5 646.0 82.8 139.8 108.1 137.4 563.4 61.5
2000-04 132.7 89.9 114.4 569.7 51.7 130.7 108.5 127.3 474.5 59.0
2005 only 123.1 79.2 98.8 582.4 40.2 117.5 101.6 109.0 393.3 58.2
Change +3% +20% -26% +19% -14% +179% +346% +150% +44% +120%
*Source: Criminal Justice Statistics Center, Crime and Delinquency in California, 1975-2005, Table 36. Age groups follow those used by the Center.


California, like the nation as a whole, experienced a substantial increase in girls’ violence arrests from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, then a decline. But notice how radically the picture changes when we examine three vital contexts—a full picture of arrest rates and trends over the last 30 years (not just the years girlphobes select), the large differences in arrest by race/ethnicity, and a comparison to adult women of ages to be their mothers (30-69).

The trends are astonishing. First, arrest rates among African-American girls are six times higher than for Latina, seven times higher than for white, and 14 times higher than for Asian girls. The violence trends by race are also quite different: Latina and Asian girls actually show declines, blacks show modest increases, and older white women show the largest rise by far of any group. These disparities show the senselessness of talking about girl crime, or crime in general, without talking about poverty and racial issues.

Second, the trends among adult, 30-aged and middle-aged women, are of far more concern than those of girls. For whites, Latinas, Asians, and females as a group, violence arrest rates were considerably higher among girls than among their mothers 30 years ago—but today, after massive growth in violence arrests among adult women, it is now the mothers’ age groups that have higher rates. The only exception is African Americans.

Third, if the whole 30-year period for which statistics are available—rather than just some brief sub-period chosen to prove a point—is examined, girls are no more violent today than girls of the previous generation. It is older adult women who are driving the surge in female violence arrests.

Another issue is whether arrest rates and trends truly reflect violent victimization rates or reflect law enforcement biases—that is, the tendency to over-arrest certain groups based on race or age. Prothrow-Stith and Spivak suggest that “it would be helpful to know how many people are seen in hospital emergency rooms for violent injury and death” (page 51). California’s Epidemiology and Prevention for Injury Control Branch does maintain such a registry, available at California Injury Data Online. A comparison of girls’ and older adult women’s murder and assault victimizations shows large racial discrepancies (Table –).


Table –. Female murder and assault victimization rates, California
Average annual violent victimizations per 100,000 population, 1991-2004
Girls ages 10-17 Women ages 30-69
Injury Total White Latina Black Asian Total White Latina Black Asian
Homicide 2.1 1.5 2.2 6.2 1.3 3.2 2.6 3.1 11.3 2.1
Assault 12.5 7.4 13.1 47.1 4.9 15.5 12.1 13.0 71.9 5.5
Total 14.6 8.9 15.2 53.3 6.2 18.7 14.7 16.2 83.1 7.6
Source: Center for Health Statistics, California Department of Health Services, 1991-2004.


Table — shows that on average, two girls and three women per 100,000 females in these age groups are murdered, and 12 to 13 girls and 15 to 16 older women are treated in hospitals for assault injuries. The racial disparities are similar to those for arrests. African American women are around four times more likely to be murdered or injured in assaults, and are around four times more likely to be arrested for violence. Further, there is no indication that girls live in a more violent world than their mothers—more accurately, since most injuries and nearly all murders inflicted on women are by men close to their age, there is no evidence that younger boys are more violent toward young females than older males are toward older females.

Finally, it is useful to compare female violence arrests to violence victimization rates (the numbers and rates of murder and of hospital treatment for violent injuries, available from the California Center for Health Statistics from 1991 through 2004) with those of boys, and by race and age. Assault injuries are understated, since some assaults to not result in hospital treatment. Once again, a curious pattern emerges (Table –).


Table –. Girls’ vs. boys’ rates of murder and assault injury and arrest, California, 1991-2004
Injuries/100,000 population Arrests/100,000 population
Year Assault Homicide Assault Homicide
Girls age 10-17
1991 19.5 3.9 393.9 1.3
1995 14.6 3.0 418.5 1.8
2000 9.1 0.9 452.0 0.8
2004/05 8.6 0.9 409.0 0.5
Change -56% -78% +4% -58%
Boys age 10-17
1991 121.6 19.2 1,464.2 39.3
1995 92.8 18.3 1,334.2 24.3
2000 50.2 6.9 1,192.3 6.9
2004/05 52.1 7.8 987.8 7.5
Change -57% -59% -33% -81%
Source: EPIC California Injury Data Online, 1991-2004; California Criminal Justice Statistics Center, 1991-2005.


If the increase in girls’ assault arrests relative to boys’ arrests meant girls were more violent, and girls primarily victimize other girls, as the girlphobes content, we would expect to see a rise in girls’ injuries from violence, perhaps even murder, relative to boys’. This is not the case. Over the 1991-2004/05 period, we see an identical drop in girls’ and boys’ assault victimizations, but arrest patterns diverged considerably:

  • In 1991, girls made up 13% of juvenile assault injuries, and 20% of juvenile assault arrests.
  • In 2004/05, girls made up the same 13% of juvenile assault injuries, but their share of violence arrests had risen to 28%.

Making the girls’ assault arrest increase even more anomalous, murder victimization and arrest rates fell sharply for both sexes. Yet again, it appears that the increase in girls’ arrests is not due to increased violence, but to changing law enforcement policies toward girls.

Drs. Prothrow-Stith, Spivak, Garbarino, and a lot of other PhDs authoring and endorsing books disparaging girls, claim to be experts in violence. They have no excuse for ignorance that standard crime statistics show their own, older age groups show far worse violence trends than teen girls do—most of it committed in homes, in front of or against the very children and youths for whom these authors express such emotional concern. These experts admit, in listed “risk factors” buried in back pages, that:

A history of victimization (abuse or neglect) increases girls’ risks for future participation in violence, either as victims or perpetrators. Girls are more likely than boys to be victimized in the home—by a parent, stepparent, or guardian—or by a boyfriend or intimate partner (Prothrow-Stith & Spivak, page 64).

These compelling contexts for girls’ violence and victimizations appear to be entirely omitted from discussion by the girlphobes. Instead of expanding on the uncomfortable, crucial issue of violence and abuses of girls by parents and caretakers, poverty, and the rising violence arrest rates among her own, older age groups, Prothrow-Stith moves straight into the crowd-pleasers: teen dating violence, date rape, school threats, and “social and cultural influences.” She then makes her escapism complete, declaring:

Whereas traumatized girls would once resort to self-destructive behaviors such as running away, drug abuse, prostitution, and the like, violence in the guise of entertainment appears to have expanded their options to acts of violence against others. What other explanation is there? (Prothrow-Stith & Spivak, page 83, emphasis mine).

“What other explanation is there?” Is she joking? A 500% increase in violence arrests among parents isn’t a compelling enough explanation to explore first when trying to assess a lesser (and now reversed) increase in violence arrests of girls?

Suppose, however, we were determined to focus on girls for a reason better than just the cowardly denial displayed by youth-bashing authors—say, because we’ve written off their wayward parents as hopeless cases and want to deter the young from emulating them. Even in that case, our book on girls’ crime would be very different than the mean-girl escapism issued by Prothrow-Stith, Spivak, Garbarino, Delasegga, Wiseman, et al.

We’d note that girls’ increases in violence and other serious crime are not recent but occurred from 10 to 20 years ago, followed by major improvements over the last decade. Thus, we would look for causal factors occurring in the late 1980s and early 1990s—not the post-1995 Lara Croft kickboxing, Powerpuff poundings, Hermione slap in Harry Potter, and other idiocies blamed by the above girl-phobes that actually occurred during rapidly improving young-female behaviors.

If we conducted a realistic analysis, we would find that the increase in girls’ violence arrests in the 1980s and early 1990s directly parallels that of their mothers and fathers. Rather than writing off the parents—or, worse, pretending the adults are just bewildered innocents, as the girl-phobes do—we would explore whether whatever factors increased girls’ arrests from 1985 to 1995 might also have contributed to burgeoning arrests among their mothers and fathers. Might parents’ difficulties might have contributed to girls’ problems? Does staggering differences in arrest rates and victimizations among poorer girls and women merit consideration?

It’s a lot easier, much more comfortable for popular authors to rant against the “epidemic of youth violence” and blame fictional straw-targets like television, video games, music, and mean-girl-culture than to undertake painful introspection of very real violence and values infecting our own powerful, sacred, older age groups. A truly mature, responsible adult society doesn’t smugly shovel blame and stigma onto our kids—it frankly evaluates our own adult behaviors first. These authors’ evident eagerness to attack girls instead strikes me as a cowardly abdication of adulthood—and they are far from alone.

Unfortunately, even several more years of crime trends solidly refuting their claims of increasing girls’ violence have not prevented Prothrow-Stith from continuing her demagoguery against girls—and her trivialization of its causes. At the “Peace by Piece: Forum, Focuses on Causes and Solutions to Violence,” she declared:

Prothrow-Stith said girls now account for 28 percent of juveniles arrested for violent crime. Violence by boys went down as violence by girls went up, said Prothrow-Stith, and she believes glamorization of violence is part of the problem. “We call it the feminization of the Super Hero,” she said, citing films like “Tomb Raider” and “Kill Bill” as part of the violent trend. “Those films said you can be beautiful and glamorous and chop off somebody’s head or arm—that femininity and violence are not incompatible.”

(Fortunately, a few members of her audience clung to reality admit the barrage of escapism: “The divide between the haves and have-nots is increasing,” one commented. “True democracy and the associated power balance are a fading reality.”)

As the girls’ violence crusade continues even as girls’ violence arrest rates—by all measures—have fallen for a decade, it is hard not to brand it an outright hoax. We wind up at the self-serving solution. Only coordinated interventions like the mid-1990s’ “Boston Miracle” she advised can stop youth violence, Prothrow-Stith argues:

Prothrow-Stith is optimistic that youth violence can be curbed here – as it was in the late 1990s in Boston, where juvenile homicides ceased altogether for a few years. “It’s not a Boston miracle or strategy, but the cumulative affect of many efforts, many programs over a sustained period of time,” she said.

Only, there was no “Boston miracle.” Boston was unique only in its interest groups’ spectacular public relations campaign grabbing national credit. The so-called “Boston Miracle” (in a 16-month period in 1996-97 in the city of 550,000 people, no youth 16 or younger died from gun assault) occurred in similar fashion in nearly every city, regardless of its youth policies or lack thereof. (Why haven’t you heard of the “San Francisco Miracles” (in city of 750,000, no gun murders of youth 16 and younger for 15 months during 1992-93, and just one in 28 months in 1995-97)? Or the “San Jose Miracle” (in 14 months in 1991-93 in a metro area of 1.4 million, no gun murders of under-17 youth)? Because their jumbled interest groups (probably kicking themselves now) didn’t wage self-congratulatory press blitzes.)

Many of Prothrow-Stith’s more recent statements are just unbearable:

Some of our children need to be forgiven. Forgiveness is a strategy we underutilize—when we are dealing with the first and second and third graders who are hurt and angry and in pain and are trying to get our attention. Our culture raises up violent responses and puts down empathy and conflict resolution and negotiation and forgiveness.

Forgiven? What about an apology to young people from “experts” who have the power to publicize hard realities about poverty and adult violence and, instead, use their prominence to popularize themselves with cheap shots at powerless groups and silly evasions? It is exactly because violence is such a serious issue in the United States that Prothrow-Stith’s and the girlphobes’ easy escapism is so unforgivable. One expects factual, authoritative information from the Harvard School of Public Health, not the drivel in Sugar and Spice and Prothrow-Stith’s public presentations.

Unfortunately, girls suffering abusive, addicted, disarrayed parents and adults around them don’t have the luxury these privileged academic authors enjoy to simply ignore the severe troubles older generations display, nor to retreat into comfortable pop-culture evasions. The real mystery is: how have girls managed to resist the big increases in violence affecting their mothers’ generation? This disgraceful book and the acclaim it has received are just more examples of how troubled and escapist today’s aging Baby Boomers (and craven experts soothing us that it’s just kids causing all the problems) have become.

Reviewed by: Mike Males,