Can girls riot?

10 Sep

I just saw Attack the Block, a new English film about a group of Council Estate friends who, in the middle of mugging a young neighborhood nurse, glimpse something furry, loud, and bright crash into the park. This sight quickly plunges the boys into a fast-paced, dangerous and deadly war with a band of blobs that just keep coming.

The battle forces the viewer to pick sides: the wannabe thugs vs. the malevolent aliens. It’s a no-brainer, particularly since the boys are led by the charismatic and beguiling Moses.

Although they like to rob and pillage, the depiction of the boys evolves into something more complicated; indeed, the socio-cultural critique of poverty, racism and the English class system hovers over the alien battles, becoming the most overt with the shot of Moses, hanging by the Union Jack from his council apartment. Determined to vanquish the aliens, he will use anything he’s got to protect the block.

This film got me to thinking quite a bit about the recent London (which quickly segued into many English cities) riots, and as the film has arrived so soon after those events it seems impossible not to think about them. So I started doing a little research, trying to determine just who was being highlighted in the images and coverage of the riots. And, just like in Attack the Block, a question arises: where’s the girls? It goes without saying that there were young women running, looting, and protesting alongside all the boys and men, but there were few glimpses of them.

Why is that? Does the sight or thought of a young woman engaged in such acts provoke too many feelings, rendering her inclusion just too complicated? Is it harder to condemn the riots when the “softening” presence of a girl shows up? Is it just too hard to believe that girls can be thugs too? Or were most of them too covered up with scarves, hats, and hoodies to determine the sex of the troublemaker?

According to the opinion piece listed above, it’s not just the culture-at-large that has a difficult time picturing, interpreting, and responding to girls acting out or illegally, the judicial system and penal institutions are generally set up to process, interact, and rehabilitate the male. This void in policy furthers a dearth of understanding, which in turn produces a negativity in terms of change and rehabilitation. Until the girl offender can be seen, she cannot be understood, and hence, nothing changes.


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