Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Violence is the new sexy for teen girls

In the action movie Sucker Punch Emily Browning plays a young woman involuntarily committed to a mental institution.
In the action movie Sucker Punch Emily Browning plays a young woman involuntarily committed to a mental institution.

Violence is the new "sexy" for teenage girls, according to one expert who advises parents and teachers on how to stamp out the increasingly aggressive behaviour.

Society, through the media, had normalised violence among girls, social anthropologist Dr Donna Swift said.

She said violence by girls was seen as "sexy and titillating".

"If you look at female action figures or girls in action movies like Sucker Punch, not only are they toting guns and directly involved in the violence they still have to be drop-dead gorgeous, and they're still taking a secondary role to males."

In The Girls' Project, an investigation of young women's violent and antisocial behaviour, Dr Swift found startling evidence that girls and boys as young as 12 were engaging in "relational aggression".

"It's trying to break down or sabotage other people's friendships. It's that subtlety of bullying, where somebody laughs behind your back, passes a note about you, sniggers or makes a comment about you.

"It seems very trivial but when it happens every day and happens within your social network of school it becomes quite devastating and it really knocks the confidence and self esteem of a young person."

The investigation, conducted across 3500 Year 9 and 10 students in the Tasman district in 2011, found 97 per cent of young people experience relational aggression.

"It happens to boys and girls, but girls particularly are raised to value their social friend networks, so girls get their self-approval from how others see them."

Girls are distracted from education through pressure to fit created by celebrities, the media, the fashion industry, consumerism and bullying.

Bullying works because "we live in a culture where people gravitate toward the person getting the attention".

Dr Swift, who will speak at The Girls: Pathways and Strategies Symposium in Havelock North today, advises parents and teachers to widen the social network of girls.

"Expose them to lots of people who are different. Introduce your girls to women who don't shave their legs and let them know that people survive in this world without shaving their legs."

The one-day symposium, which began last night, was organised by Woodford House school principal Jackie Barron who believes teenage Kiwi girls are at risk of becoming a "lost generation".

Mrs Barron wants to help girls earn back their reputation as aspirational women of the future. She blames the poor self-worth of some girls on a growing culture of violence, excessive drinking and early sexualisation, much of it led by Hollywood's obsession with image.

"When you looked at television and popular culture there weren't role models for young women who told them to stand up for what they believe in. It didn't matter what they wore, what they look like, how much money they had, it was about who they were and how they respected people."

Today's teenage girls' world was "vastly" different than 15 years ago, Mrs Barron said, because technology had intensified social interaction.

Many girls took their cues from shows such as Keeping up with the Kardashians where the women were fixated with how they look as well as sex and money, while the music industry generated videos bordering on "soft porn", Mrs Barron said.

"You only need to look at the growing statistics of violence with girls in schools, which leads on to more women before the courts and in prison, to see we are going seriously wrong."

- NZ Herald

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