Transgressing gender? : a study of girls in gangs.
This study is an investigation into how young women construct and understand
their participation in delinquent groups. Although such gangs are commonly seen
as expressive or constitutive of masculinity, the girls of this research viewed their
gang involvement as forging distinct femininities.
In-depth interviews were conducted with 25 past and present female
members. A grounded reflexive methodology focused on gang girls' "Voice" by
exploring how theseyoung women articulated their experiences. This located
particular narratives through which respondents made sense of their gang
involvement. Girls told stories of the.
gang as a place of belonging, ftiendship,
excitement and family. They also described how the crime and violence of the
gang were a means to negotiate questions of identity, status and power. Such
storytellings revealed the social and subjective rewards gang involvement offers
young women. Further, by attending to how gang girls' narratives manifest the
race, age, class and gender locations of their speakers, the analysis of this study
observed how gang participation enacts wider questions of social power at a local
Popular and academic explanations of gang girls reproduce stereotypes of female
law-breakers as Mad or Bad, as victims of troubled. personal histories., or as
liberated and so somehow "male'. These all assume that delinquency is
normatively masculine behaviour. In contrast, this study presents a
reading of how gang girls negotiated their gender identities which suggests thq
crime and violence may offer feminine identities too. Girls in gangs were neither
gender "liberated", nor simply subject to normative gender definitions. They
displayed agency in constructing femininities of difference from other girls, but
their gendered self-expressionsw ere also constrained by dominant relations of
power. Rather than assume what is "masculine" and what "feminine" in advance,
this suggests we need situated analyses of how gender is differentially constituted
across diverse race/class/agelo cales, and how these constructions may then be
linked to offending.