Getting Played: African American Girls, Urban Inequality, and Gendered Violence

By Jody Miller | Go to book overview

Preface

In the summer of 1998,1 was writing my monograph One of the Guys and also teaching a photography class to youths at a local community agency in North St. Louis. I have spent most of my career examining how gender inequality shapes young women's participation in crime, focusing both on structural and situational inequalities and on how ideologies about gender often place young women in the precarious position of upholding such inequalities, even as they stake out interpersonal spaces in which they work to exempt themselves from the broad ideologies that they, their peers, and the broader culture reinforce. But my research on young women's gang involvement had also sharpened my concern about the gendered victimization risks that girls face in disadvantaged community contexts, risks heightened by their participation in gangs and friendships with delinquent peers.

I sent youths out into their communities with cameras to document their daily lives. And week after week, I was struck and saddened by the portraits they produced, which barely resembled the kids I was interacting with. Young men struck poses intended to project an image of street bravado. Occasionally throwing up gang signs, they sent hardened stares into the camera lenses, mimicking the depictions of young Black manhood we see all too often in the media in America. Photographs of their homes and neighborhoods showed signs of the physical decay we have come to know as the contemporary nature of urban poverty. But it was the girls' photos that really stuck with me. Nearly every young woman in my class, solo or in pairs, came away from the course with a portrait of themselves, back turned from the camera, head turned to face it, and bent over, showing their backsides in a sexualized pose. Is this a celebration of female sexuality? Of Black female sexuality specifically? Or do we continue to teach young women that their value lies in their sexual objectification?

We live in a time of Girls Gone Wild, in what some have called a

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