Schoolyard violence not just for the boys

March 26, 2005
Toronto Star
By Margo Varadi

It used to be that physical fights were a boy's rite of passage. Now, it's not just Johnny who's coming home with a bloody nose, but Jenny, too. And she may be sporting even more battle wounds than Johnny.

According to Amanda Ferguson, 18, it's a lot more common for girls to get in fights with each other than boys. Some teens call such fights "scratch and slaps."

"It's really gross," Amanda says. "They like pull each other's hair and scratch. They hit each other with open palms — like they're punching each other, but without fists.

"At my old school, there was a huge, catty brawl. One girl got cuts on her face, her clothes were ripped and her earrings were broken."

Usually, physical fights among girls take place in high schools. And most violent outbreaks are the result of conflicts between two groups. The reason?

"It's just stupid things like fights over guys...(or) making fun of each other about, say, what they wear," says Brodie Richards, 12. "I think it's terrible."

"Guys usually cheer the fights on," says Brittney Hirst, 14. "Everybody goes to see a good fight. It's fun to watch because they (girls) look so stupid fighting."

Stupid or not, some girls will do anything to get noticed.

"My friend was at a party and these two punk girls started to fight and punch each other to get attention from these boys," says Kamilla Break, 15. "After a punch, they'd stop and be, like, `Check, am I bleeding?'"

In a lot of cases, fights are the drama queen's stomping ground. It's about putting on a show. Teens get their ideas from popular entertainment, whether it's Avril Lavigne threatening to kick another singer or Harry Potter's Hermione punching out Malfoy.

"Tough is kinda cool," Brodie says. "A lot of people talk about Million Dollar Baby," referring to the Oscar-winning movie about a female boxer.

"It's good to see a girl in a movie that's not obsessed with her looks," says Sorina Matheson, 14. "It's good to see strong women."

As aggression becomes more acceptable, some girls feed into this notion. "The whole attitude has changed," says Samantha Gilfoul, 13. "Like today, my friend was talking to a guy and she freaked out at him. She said she would take him down because he offended her." Most teens I talked to agree that the frequency of fights depends on what school you go to. Amanda is now at a peace-loving alternative school, "(but) at my old school, it was all about who could be the most intimidating and scary."

Sadly, the acceptance of violence makes some girls feel like the only way to beat the competition is by fighting.

"I think it's from a musical influence like hip-hop," Amanda says. "Girls feel like they have to have this big, bad, don't-mess-with-me-or-I'll-kick-your-ass attitude — `It doesn't matter if I'm a girl, I'm still gonna beat the crap out of you.'"