Google incivility and you soon come across a portrait of a young girl sitting on the curb of a High Street, her mini skirt ridding up her thighs, her head in her hands, her friends nowhere to be seen. In the words of one the taxi driver: “The girls are worse than the blokes. The guys might scrap with each other; but the girls become loud and abusive”.
And it’s not just the High Street on a Saturday night. In Queen’s Market in Newham a stall holder explains that the apparent civility which dominates that day’s business is symptomatic of the fact that “the girls don’t like the smell of the butchers, so thankfully they hang out in the shopping centres up the road”. Later, a senior official in charge of safety at Newham Council tells us that local anti-social behaviour officials map where girls hang out in a bid to pre-empt problems. Whether it’s shopkeepers or policymakers, the emerging consensus is that where the girls go, trouble soon follows. The prevailing attitude is that while the young men on the town “become morons”, the girls “become scary”.
So is this concern with young girls justified or is it simply symptomatic of entrenched attitudes which have yet to catch up with the lives and attitudes of young women brought up in an age where the equality of the sexes is simply taken for granted?
Looking at the evidence, there are undoubtedly differences and challenges. In 2004 a study found that binge drinking among young girls had overtaken rates among boys – with a third of 15-16 year-old girls admitting to at least one binge drinking experience within the last month compared with a quarter of boys.[i] The attitudes of young girl towards sex can also be troublesome: in 2006 a survey of young girls found that half would consider being a glamour model, for example. Steeply rising levels of STDs among younger girls make promiscuity a significant public health concern. Natasha Walter, a feminist author who has written widely about changing the realities of girlhood in the UK, recently claimed that for young women “empowerment is only about being as raunchy as the men.”[ii]
In a society that by and large condemns gender discrimination in other fields it seems odd that people are unable take rowdy behaviour on the part of girls as lightly as they do with boys. The nagging concern about girls out on the piss seems to reveal much about the dynamics of modern day civility and how certain codes are harder to shift than others.