Masculinities Without Men? On Girls, Gender, and Violence

James W. Messerschmidt, University of Southern Maine

This paper reports partial results of a life history study on girls, gender, and violence. The sample of the larger study consists of fifteen white New England working-class girls, age 15-18: five "sex offenders," five "assaultive offenders," and five "nonviolent girls." The chief questions addressed in the broader study are: Why do some girls engage in violence and some girls do not? Why do girls who engage in violence commit different types? In this paper I focus on the first question, discussing why some girls specifically engage in assaultive violence. The goal was to grasp each girl's unique viewpoint?her personal vision of why she engaged in assaultive violence. Each interview, then, was an attempt to disclose the situational accomplishment of gender and eventual use of assaultive violence as a result of personal life history. The life history data shows that assaultive violence was an accountable practice for "doing" masculinity and/or femininity, depending upon the particular social setting in which the violence occurred.

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Updated 05/20/2006