Backstabbing or brawling: What’s the middle ground?

How can women resolve their anger in a positive way (via Huffington post)

How can women resolve their anger in a positive way (via Huffington post)

The now-famous video of two Cork schoolgirls fighting over a boy has now been taken down from YouTube and three pupils of Coláiste Chriost Rí have been suspended. Yet the ramifications from this fight continue, with much handwringing from the national media.

I did my Leaving Cert back in 2007 and had the misfortune to attend both an all-girls primary and secondary school. And while fights were rare in primary school, they happened with some frequency throughout secondary, especially up to Junior Cert. They were usually over boys, some perceived slur or family insult. The Gardai were involved on a couple of occasions, most notably in my Leaving Cert year, where one denizen of the boys’ school leapt onto the roof of a parked car to watch two second-years scrapping. Following that incident, we were banned from a particular alleyway in the town. Oh, the illicit thrill of walking down there in my uniform after school.

The point is, these fights are not a new phenomenon. All that is new is the videoing of them and their damaging prevalence on social media sites, as Sam Barry argues elsewhere on this site. However, what is ridiculous is the shock in the media that girls could be involved in such aggressive physical behaviour.

Helen Moorhouse, in one especially hysterical article in yesterday’s Irish Independent, bemoaned the death of the ‘sugar and spice’ image of girls. “Every sleepless night, every nappy changed, every morsel of food prepared, every birthday and Christmas present – every cuddle, kiss and vow to keep them safe thrown back in their faces,” she wrote, envisioning the shame the girls’ parents must feel.

“Girls, we have more class, more skills to deal with conflict than resorting to scrapping like rats in a gutter.” Well, that’s simply not true. There are many, many great attributes pinned on women, but conflict resolution: nope.

I’m going to deal in stereotypes here, because the media have dealt largely in stereotypes. Yes, while there is something repugnant about two girls pulling each other’s hair and smacking each other’s faces, there is something equally repugnant about two boys punching and headbutting each other. Yet, all the countless schoolboy fights on YouTube are ignored by the media. Girls don’t fight. Girls are nice. 

Take for example the traditional way women are taught to deal with conflict. Women and girls were never supposed to get openly angry- it was not ‘ladylike’. Instead, women were expected to suppress anger and any natural sense of competition. An angry woman was a hysterical woman, who was in turn a crazy woman. Men, however, were expected to be physical beings, getting out their natural aggression in physical labour, hunting and the odd war. Men were traditionally the active, while women were the passive.

As a product of an all-girls school, I can tell you that girls and women do not have class in dealing with their problems. Many women would rather die a million horrible deaths than tell someone that they have a problem with them. So as a result, many easily-resolvable personality clashes end in horrible instances of bitching and passive aggression. Bullying among girls is just as prevalent as it is among boys, the only difference being that girls tend to be emotional and verbal bullies, rather than physical.

Like it or not, human beings are just extremely clever primates. Our ape cousins live, for the most part, in large social groups, where there is a strict hierarchy. Physical and social intimidation is used to keep individuals in their place. Like our monkey ancestors, we have baser instincts, regardless of gender, to exclude and bully. Luckily, we have the self-awareness to recognise what we are doing and what we are capable of.

By the time most young women get to adulthood, fighting physically is unacceptable. Instead, they use emotional tactics, such as exclusion and bitching. Does anyone remember the end of Mean Girls, where Regina took up hockey and got out all her pent-up rage on the pitch? There are healthy ways to get aggression out and to solve conflict: girls need to be taught that there is a middle ground between punching someone’s lights out and destroying them verbally behind their back.

And the first step is to demolish the myth that “little girls are made from sugar and spice and all things nice”.

After a video of two Cork schoolgirls fighting went viral, The Daily Shift’s Roisin Peddle wonders how we can teach girls to deal with conflict in a positive way… 

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