Society must do it’s best to undo gender associations with toughness and passiveness to help prevent future youth violence.
On the morning of Jan. 14, a fight near the 46th Street Market-Frankford station resulted in the stabbing of five students from the Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School and one student from West Catholic High. And while the fight might be over, the reasons that caused the fight aren’t leaving soon.
David Hardy, the CEO of Boys’ Latin, told the Philadelphia Daily News in a Jan. 15 article tension between the two schools escalated over a week-long period, including comments West Catholic female students made to Boys’ Latin students that they weren’t tough enough.
The Daily News reported Hardy implored students to stay off Facebook, indicating the social network’s role in disseminating information about the fighting. However, what Hardy – and society, for that matter – aren’t considering is the role gender expectations played.
To prevent situations such as this one from reoccurring, society must demonstrate passivity is not an antonym for toughness or masculinity.
We live in a society where gender roles falling in the rigid dichotomy of masculine and feminine are policed.
Many might disagree with the aforementioned statement, but the aggression between the two Philadelphia-area schools didn’t randomly surface. Explanations such as the all-too-common “kids will be kids” lack the analysis needed to explain the shanking-other-kids scenario.
Although other factors are absent, gender expectation is helpful in explaining why this and other fights among youth take place.
Sociologists Michael Kimmel and Michael Messner’s 1989 article, “Men as Gendered Beings,” still holds truth today.
They quote biographer Bruce Mazlish’s observations of former United States President Richard Nixon, who was “afraid of being acted upon, of being inactive, of being soft, or being thought impotent, [or] of being dependent upon anyone else.”
In other words, the worst insult one can say to a male is one implying he is not what society constructs as “male” or “masculine,” which is often – and unfortunately – anything considered feminine.
“We [men] come to know ourselves and our world through the prism of gender,” Kimmel and Messner wrote. “Only we act as if we didn’t know it.”
We can’t expect youth to shrug off insecurities relating to gender if members of older generations, especially those running for political office can’t, let alone acknowledge their contributions to negative gender associations with anything not considered masculine.
This attitude is so pervasive even women aren’t immune to it. The Daily News reported a witness to the incident as saying the fight was one of three during the week of Jan. 14, and that one fight, that occurred two weeks prior involved girls “beaten up on the ground, hit on the head … [Hair] weaves pulled out.”
These girls show they’re tough because passiveness and femininity in adolescence are signs of weakness.
If we as a society are going to do anything about youth violence, we need to do it soon. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008, more than 656,000 youth ages 10 to 24 were treated in emergency rooms due to youth violence.
In 2007, the CDC reported 5,764 youth ages 10 to 24 were murdered from youth-related violence, an average of 16 murders a day.
We can set an example for this young generation by creating a society where toughness and femininity aren’t polar opposites, where one can embody passivity without having a negative association.
At the very least, we can make an effort to teach there’s nothing wrong with solving your problems sans fists and weapons.
Josh Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.