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Jewish World Review May 14, 2003/ 12 Iyar, 5763

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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What are little girls made of? Not sugar and spice, but fish guts and beer | Girls will be girls. Give them a couple of kegs, some pig intestines and a bucket of human feces and, well, stuff happens. So goes some of the attitude out there passing for commentary following the brutal "powder-puff" melee in which senior high-school girls attacked junior girls during a traditional hazing rite.

By now most have seen the video shot by a bystander to this strange incident. Girls were beaten with fists and buckets, smeared with feces and animal guts, forced to eat raw meat and mud. Five girls were hospitalized, including one with a broken ankle and another with a cut requiring 10 stitches.


Apparently the hazing was an exaggerated version of an annual event among female football players at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Ill., a suburb north of Chicago. The younger girls knowingly signed up to be abused, but not physically hurt. Those were the unwritten rules, such as they were.

But rules have a funny way of getting broken, especially when alcohol is present and parents are missing. The "powder-puff" ritual was held in a "secret" place and was lubricated with a couple of kegs of beer that police say may have been procured by parents. One parent also may have helped collect the feces, according to early reports.

It's hard to put a finger on exactly what makes this so disturbing. The fact that girls did this to other girls? That the degree of abuse was so severe? That we see so clearly the fragile barrier between "just folks" and just animals?

Maybe it's all of that, but also something more. The acts of violence are by definition despicable, but we've seen worse. Teen gang members kill each other. Boys with guns shoot their teachers and classmates. Increasing aggression among girls born to a grrrrrl nation has been noted, studied and documented.

No, what's disturbing and frankly creepy about the "powder-puff" implosion is the apparent lack of remorse, empathy or insight -or any of the responses we might expect from well-adjusted, sensitive human beings -either from participants or among observers. There's something very wrong with this picture, and it may well be us. We see something horrible and don't even recognize it as such. Just another day of Reality TV. Or life imitating art. Or, whatever , as they say. We've become so desensitized by various media's near-constant barrage of coarse, aggressive behavior that we fail to note when something's gone terribly wrong. Several of the students quoted in a recent Chicago Sun-Times story, for example, said the juniors got what they deserved. Others said girls beating up girls wasn't "news." One jarring quote from a girl involved in the beatings captures the lack of empathy. Noting that one girl needed several stitches in her head, she said something like: "It's not like she's dead."

The churlish feminist angle, best accompanied presumably by a chorus of grunts, snorts and Hooahs, was equally disturbing if somewhat predictable. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Debra Pickett wrote that the powder-puff episode merely demonstrates that girls have learned to play like boys and signals that it's time to stop our hand-wringing about little girls' self-esteem.

Pickett acknowledged that things got out of hand and that the perps deserve punishment, but "they don't deserve to be burned at the stake of tragically troubled girlhood." She dismissed adult concerns as obligatory and arbitrary.

"The girls -both the ones doing the pounding and the ones sitting there and taking it like Marines -looked just as strong, fierce and stupid as any guys ever have." And by this measure, we should be reassured? Will we break out the champagne when a girl totes an automatic weapon to school and levels a playground?

I have never doubted that girls are as capable as boys in most arenas not requiring physical strength, long ago rejected the girl-as-victim lament, and join Pickett in her contempt for hand-wringing. But we part company in rationalizing aggression in girls as somehow reflective of parity with boys.

It is indeed an obligation of adults to be concerned when things go bump in the culture, and grown-ups are clearly absent from the video and possibly some of these girls' lives. What I saw in the film wasn't tough girls taking it like Marines but a complete breakdown of inhibition and all the other painstakingly stitched manners that keep civilization from unraveling.

No one should look forward to the sequel.

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