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1998 - Sibylle Artz's Remarks
- Published on Monday, 21 August 2006 02:18
- Written by Robert Clift
Sex, Power & the Violent School Girl
A Speech by Dr. Sibylle Artz
1998 CUFA/BC Academic of the Year
April 17, 1998
I'm overwhelmed, but also honored and delighted to accept this award, and I accept it in the name of the University of Victoria's School of Child and Youth Care, because without doubt, it is because of the field of Child and Youth Care and the School that I am here. I did not set out in life to become an academic, I had very different plans. After graduating from high school and traveling, although I was taking courses in education, I was really interested in art and design and for a time, believed that I wanted to work in the fashion industry and even attended an applied arts school, but while I pursued these interests, I was almost inadvertently inducted into what for me, became a more compelling calling.
In 1969, while studying at a college in Edinburgh, Scotland, and working in a trendy boutique called Angel's, I became distracted from persuading people to try the latest in fashion and consumer goods, by an odd assortment of children and young people that congregated near the door to the shop. On a regular basis, a group of about ten or so children from an infant in a stroller through to a seventeen year old boy, appeared in front of the boutique to spend their time in the street and to take shelter under Angel's awnings. I soon got to know these children and found that they were members of three families whose fathers I never saw, and whose mothers worked and left them In charge of each other until the mothers returned at the end of the work day. These children were far more interesting than the clothes, and they seemed to need involvement and help more than the customers did. I only realized later that when I became more concerned with those children than with selling clothes, I was in fact choosing a profession and a life-long vocation. In Scotland, where I lived for two years, the foundation was laid for the work that I am doing today.
As part of my unsolicited volunteer effort with the children from the Cowgate (the name of the part of town in which I worked), I became involved in helping one of the adolescents sort out his problems with the police, and through that experience, had my first encounter with a young person who lived in a world where deviance made sense. I also saw how poverty and life style set these children up, and how they could learn, indeed were eager to learn, to take charge of their own lives in ways that were different from those they had previously been exposed to. when I returned to Canada, I did, as I said, attend an applied arts program for a time, but my heart wasn't really in it. I found my passion when I found work in a group home in 1973, and I have never really looked back.
In those years, Child and Youth Care was a fledgling field, and it is of course coincidental, but interesting at least to me, that in the fall of 1973, at the same time as I began to sort out what was to become my vocation, a program in child care was being established at UVic under the leadership of Dr. Bill Gaddes of the Psychology Department with strong support from the provincial government, child and youth care agencies, school boards, university departments and other interested professionals.
In a parallel universe, I moved to Victoria and found work, first as a tutor in an alternative school program for young people who were living in local group homes and for various reasons were unable to attend regular school, and then, when this program was closed because government funding was abruptly cut I found work as a street-based youth outreach worker. By now it was 1976, and I, like many other youth workers of my generation, had learned that a few education courses, a genuine and caring interest and even love and good intentions are by no means enough when it comes to working effectively with troubled children, youth and families. I returned to university, this time to UVic, and because I had already made a start in education, I took up education courses, but I also added some developmental psychology courses because my main focus in returning to school was to learn more about how to effectively create positive behaviour change in order to do better work with clients. I continued to work on the streets, in schools, and with families, and although I made sure I could qualify for a post-degree year in education, I switched my major to psychology and after eight years of full-time work and part-time education, I graduated in 1984 with a psychology degree.
In the meantime, UVic's interdisciplinary child care program rapidly increased it's enrollment and core course offerings until in 1978, the program became a professional school in the newly founded Faculty of Human and Social Development. Several years later, the School changed its name to the School of Child and Youth Care, reflecting shifts in field terminology and the 0-19 age range of the children and their families served by the profession, a profession that is committed to ensuring the quality of life of all children and youth particularly those who require some form of therapeutic care or support.
The School and I finally crossed paths when I was invited, in 1980, to supervise a school-based child and youth care practicum student. This intersection of what so far had been independent paths, turned out, like my connection to the children from the Cowgate, to be an auspicious and meaningful one, and one that only later, upon reflection, showed itself to be what it really was: an important beginning. Through this connection I met Dr. Roy Ferguson, Dr. Francis Ricks and Professor Jim Anglin. I continued to supervise practicum students, but I also developed relationships, and although I went on to graduate school first in Sociology and then in the Faculty of Education, where I earned both my MA and my PhD, and where I was supported by Dr. Antoinette Oberg to publish my first article, and by Dr. Vance Peavy to publish my first book, it was my relationship with the School of Child and Youth Care and with Dr. Frances Ricks that led to my finding sessional work in the School and when tenure-track faculty position became available, led to my being encouraged by Jim Anglin, then the Director, to apply. And with my still hot-off-the presses MA in my hands and one PhD course under my belt, I applied for and got the job on the understanding that I would complete my PhD.
That was in 1992. this year, 1998 marks the 25th anniversary of the School of Child and Youth Care. This School is known nationally and internationally for its leadership in the field, its innovative approach, its willingness to break new ground, its ability to recognize and develop potential and it's productivity. I am so proud and so grateful to the School for welcoming me and supporting me and for inviting me to become a part of an academic unit dedicated to providing effective leadership in the areas of training, research, and professional development in order to assist practitioners, organizations, and communities to attain the highest standards of service for children and youth.
Some of the key research and development initiatives faculty and professional staff at the School are currently engaged in are: Intergenerational Caregiving, Early Intervention and Infant Development, Family Practice, Ethics, Children's Health Care and Child Life Practice, Children's Rights, Community-Based Research and Service Delivery, Residential Child and Youth Care, Adolescent Girls' Development and Eating Disorders, Aboriginal Studies and Aboriginal Community-Based Curriculum Development, Substance Misuse and Youth Violence.
My own work in female violence, school-based violence and violence prevention, is connected in the school to the much larger undertaking of providing relevant education to child and youth care professionals and in the University to my colleague and former dissertation supervisor, Dr. Ted Riecken, from the Faculty of Education, and to a new group of colleagues, among them faculty members from child and youth care, education, psychology, sociology, and human and social and development, who are coming together to form first, as an interim step, an Interdisciplinary Unit for the Study of Youth and Society and in the future, a Center for Youth and Society at the University of Victoria, I have said that the School of Child and Youth Care is innovative and given to breaking new ground, both in the way it welcomes new faculty members and in the projects it undertakes. This must also be said for the University of Victoria, because no individual school or faculty could do such work without a university administration to support it in its endeavors. The new work taking place in my field at UVic could not progress without the support of the Dean of my faculty of Human and Social Development Dr. Anita Molzahn, the Vice President Academic, Dr. Penny Codding, the Acting Vice President Research, Dr. Howard Brunt and without the help of the President, Dr. David Strong, who wholeheartedly supports the new project.
And now I'd like to tell you a little bit about my work. Since 1993, Ted Riecken, the current Director of Research and Graduate Education for the Faculty of Education at UVic and I have been working together on the Youth Violence Project. This Project which is a collaborative undertaking with the Sooke School District, is being conducted in four phases. It has the following objectives: In Phase I, provide a gender focused baseline of self-report data about violence and antisocial/deviant behavior among students in grades 8, 9 and 10 and investigate the nature and incidence of violence among adolescent female students. In Phase II, analyze the data from Phase I and create an easily accessible data base which will be of use to those working with children and youth on violence prevention In Phase III, investigate the life worlds and practices of violent school girls. In Phase IV, develop, implement and monitor school and community-based violence prevention programs in the school district. Phases I, II, and III, which were funded by grants from the Vancouver Foundation, the Ministry of Education's Research and Gender Equity branches and an internal research grant from UVic, are complete. Phase IV is in it the third year of its projected four years and is being generously funded by the BC Health Research Foundation.
From the outset we chose to focus on the gendered aspects of youth involvement with school-based violence because our initial invitation to work on this topic came from the Sooke School district precisely because this district, like many others, was attempting to respond to an unprecedented number of girls participating in violence at school. Further, in studies conducted by Fred Mathews and his colleagues in Ontario at the same time as we began to conduct ours and published in the year we were gathering our data, showed that across Canada, female involvement in violence was on the increase.
Some highlights from these reports were:
- Depending on the school, between 60% and 82% of students did not feel safe at school.
- There were no remarkable differences between male and female perceptions of violence.
- Overall, males and females reported similar rates of victimization,[although] male students reported that they were more likely to be the victims of physically violent crimes [that is, beatings] while female students reported that they were more likely to be victims of sexual assault and less physically violent crimes [as threats, intimidation and bullying].
- Overall, in Ontario, girls were becoming more directly involved in assault and the use of weapons, as individuals and in groups or gangs, and most attacks are against other individual girls or groups of girls.
- The extent of female-perpetrated violence was a surprise to the researchers.
At the same time, closer to home, the British Columbia Teachers Federation 1994 Task Force on Violence in Schools Final Report stated that trends that appeared to be emerging in British Columbia schools were:
- Students appeared to be aggressive at a younger age with teachers reporting biting, kicking or punching of teachers and fellow students and the use of extremely violent language among students as young as age five.
- Violence among students appeared to be more severe [that is, teachers were reporting the perception that violence is more severe].
- Students appeared to be resorting to violence much more quickly. One-to-one fighting appeared to be giving way to group attacks and ganging up on individuals appears to be on the increase, and the "end points" in fighting appeared to be changing in that the fighting continued even after the victim is down, and random acts of violence appeared to be on the increase.
- Teachers reported noticing adolescent females as perpetrators of intimidation, harassment and physical assault.
As school-based researchers in Canada were producing these reports, Statistics Canada and Police Crime Statistics confirmed a rise both in youth involvement in crimes against the person and in adolescent female involvement in such crimes. Thus, while the population of adolescents in British Columbia increased at the rate of 6% during this time period (1986 to 1993), the number of male youth charged with assault increased 118%, (that is, 2.18 times greater) rising from 672 charges in 1986 to 1,468 charges in 1993, and the number of female youth charged increased by 250%, (that is 3.5 times greater) rising from 178 charges in 1986 to 624 charges in 1993. Although male young offenders are still in the forefront where assault is concerned, female young offender participation rates are increasing more rapidly than those of males. In 1986, females accounted for 26% of all assault charges laid against youths in British Columbia. By 1993, this had risen to 42%. Although the seven year average for assault by female youth in British Columbia still hovers at 25%, this masks what appears to be an alarming rise in the participation of female youth in all forms of assault other than sexual assault.
British Columbia is not alone in recording a rise in crime among young offenders, although as with all crime rates, British Columbia continues to lead the way. Data provided by Statistics Canada (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, 1995) show a similar trend across Canada. From 1986 to 1993 the number of female youth charged with assault increased by 190% (that is 2.90 greater) rising from 1,728 charges in 1986 to 5,096 charges in 1993, and the number of male youth charged increased by 117%, (that is almost 2.17 times greater) rising from 7,547 charges in 1986 to 16,375 charges in 1993.
The data are compelling It should however be noted that the participation of girls in violence takes place in a context in which both girls and boys are engaging in violence in increasing numbers. Yet the question needs to be answered: why are girls engaging in violence?
To answer that question, as well as gathering statistical data in Phase I of the Youth Violence Project, I undertook a year long ethnographic study involving six key informants. I spent many hours with these girls, their mothers, educators, child and family counselors and other agency workers, and learned from them that:
- They come from families which give them a grounding in multigenerational experiences with family violence, sexual abuse, alcohol misuse and a kind of generalized dysfunction, families that support the belief that women achieve their greatest importance when they command the attention of males.
- They feel emotionally and physically abandoned and alone.
- They have accepted the objectification of women and support the monitoring of women's sexuality, and monitor each other's sexual activities closely and judge any girl or woman harshly if she show signs of engaging in "unsanctioned" sex (sex that is not legitimated through a long term relationship, and more often flirting, or other kinds of sexually based interacting with males, especially males who are already spoken for).
- In their immediate families, and in their social circle, they have been exposed to no forms of conflict resolution other than those which settle disputes through threat, intimidation, and violence. They have internalized a way of perceiving those who displease them which shifts moral and causal responsibility for their own displeasure onto those with whom they are displeased and thus makes lashing out and punitive action justifiable.
- As well, they have accepted their own and others subordination to hierarchies built upon power and domination to such a degree that they become extremely incensed with those whom they consider below them on the ladder, who dare to buck the system. They do, of course, buck the system themselves, especially with adult authority figures, but only when in their eyes, these authority figures act in ways which displease or otherwise frustrate the key informants, at which point they invoke their retaliation as a necessity.
- Further, given their extensive personal experiences with being abused emotionally, physically and sexually, they are quick to assume that others have it in for them and quick to anger, but are also strangely blind to those situations which bode great risks for them because the territory is so familiar. It is the known, and therefore not recognized as dangerous.
- When they engage in violence, girls most often are beating other girls because they have learned that men are "to die for," that is, that females' worth is so closely tied to male attention that when another female threatens a relationship with a male, that girl must be dealt with, taken out of the competition, set upon, destroyed, if not literally at least figuratively.
It is this turn of events that we must turn our energies towards. Girls in greater numbers than ever before are participating in violence, and this participation in violence seems to have its roots in theft experiences of male dominance and the sexual objectification of females at a graphic level. In their worlds, girls and women are punished especially for being "sluts," "bitches" and "whores." For them, sluts are without question deserving of being beaten, and the girls themselves do the beating. For the key informants this all seemed to be a given. When asked if there might be something that could be done to change their situation they assured me that there was really nothing that could be done because, "it's just the way it is." They seemed resigned to what they saw as standard practice and explained the whole thing as the inevitable consequence of male hormones. Ultimately these young women have internalized both the importance of male desire and their own demeaning positions to such a degree that they not only control each other according to the sexual double standard, they also engage in fights with other females in order to excite males and thereby get their attention. Some girls, who beat up other girls primarily because they stepped out of hierarchical line go one step further. They spend their efforts on fighting other girls not over boys, but to subdue other girls in order to be seen to be as good as boys.
In according women and girls so little intrinsic value, and particularly in selecting girls whom they see as having lost all worth because they appear to be sexually accessible, as targets for female-to-fema1e violence, the key informants seemed to be exhibiting what Roberts (1983) after Friere (1971) calls "oppressed group behavior." An oppressed group is any group that is controlled by "forces [and groups] outside themselves that [have] greater prestige, power, and status" (Brown, 1983, pp.21-22).
Typically an oppressed or subordinate group views itself through the eyes of those who set the standards which they are to meet and in internalizing the standards of the dominant group, standards which routinely negatively value the characteristics of the oppressed/subordinate group, members of such groups experience self-hatred and low self-esteem and hatred for their own kind.
For such groups, there are only two routes to status and power: one is to gain the attention, favour and protection of a dominant group member and thereby enjoy status and power vicariously, the other is through assimilation, which means the subordinate group member must emulate the dominant group well enough that he or she might be offered acceptance by, perhaps even membership in, the dominant group. However, assimilation through emulation, is difficult. In essence assimilation means "to pass" as a member of the dominant group. This is often impossible since most subordinate groups (for example, women, people of color, indigenous people) are recognizably different from the dominant group (Brown, 1983, p.22). Thus true acceptance no matter how faithful the attempts at emulation, never quite materializes because in the end, the assimilated person is by definition always an impostor since he or she can never really be a true and real member of the dominant group. As well, attempting to assimilate or "pass," and even success at assimilation or "passing," carries with it the cost of becoming what Brown (1983) describes as "marginal," that is, unable to belong to either group, the subordinate or the dominant, because one no longer belongs to one's group of origin and nor is one able to become a full member of the dominant group (p. 22). Instead one exists on the fringes or margins of both groups.
The violent girls seem to fit well with the definition of an oppressed group. As members of a subgroup of girls who come from homes where males are unequivocally identified as dominant, these six girls, and others like them, are controlled by forces outside themselves and exposed to internalizing a way of viewing females that degrades girls and women. Although these young women may experience a sense of power when they engage in horizontal violence, and may believe that such an approach to other girls might gain them favorable approbation from males, this behavior does nothing more than support the status quo. Horizontal violence is a safe way to release tension because the threat posed by members of one's own group is never as great as the threat posed by the dominant group. In any case, even when aggression is directed at members of the dominant group, little changes because subordinate group members can never fully assimilate since they will always be members of the group to which, by definition, they were originally assigned. Thus a girl or woman can never be a boy or a man, no matter how much she takes on the characteristics of males. In the end, she will always be what she is: female, As long as being female is worth less than being male, no amount of attempted assimilation through emulation can change the bottom line.
So what is to be done? Celles & Straus (1988), in their exhaustive study on the causes and consequences of abuse in the American family, suggest that "sexual inequality is a prime cause of family violence" and suggest that "eliminating sexism can prevent violence in the home" (p.203). Evidence provided by the key informants in my study suggests that sexual inequality also has a major role to play in the violence participated in by adolescent school girls outside their homes. Therefore, by extension, dealing with sexist oppression may contribute substantially to preventing violence among these girls. Violence prevention programming aimed at adolescent school girls should focus on violence against women and should not assume that is only men who act violently towards women.
Further, given that the six key informants spoke eloquently about their experiences with abuse and about the emotional pain and anger they live with as a result of this, we must also consider violence prevention programming which has an abuse survivor recovery component as part of what is offered. Again, sexual inequality and sexism were heavily implicated in the kinds of abuse the key informants experienced. Thus, violence recovery programs aimed at adolescent school girls would do well to include material which addresses being female in a positive and strength-giving way. Brown (1983) suggests that the way out of oppressed group behaviour is to be found through
(1) unveiling the world of oppression and (2) expulsion of the myths created and developed by the old order. Freedom therefore involves rejecting the negative images of one's own culture [or group] and replacing them with pride and a sense of ability to function autonomously (p.25).
Thus girls involved in recovery must be helped to define themselves and to find ways which free them from negative and stereotypical understandings of their female experience.
Finally, given that the key informants spoke to me with great frequency about loneliness and abandonment, we must find the means to help marginalized young women to belong and to participate in our social institutions in ways which are important and relevant to them. In other words, we must find ways to allow them to experience respect, positive attention and a sense of connectedness because if we don't, they will pay every price asked of them in order to be somebody to someone.