ABSTRACT

Both popular and academic accounts of gangs in the UK have tended to distinguish between two types of girls and young women who become gang-associated: first, those who regard themselves as ‘one of the lads’ and fight to defend themselves and, second, those who assume a more ancillary role as girlfriends of male gang members. In each account gang-associated girls are portrayed in highly gendered ways, whereby the focus centres on their deviation from traditional norms of femininity or, alternatively, their sexual exploitation by males within the gang (Batchelor, 2009). Yet in spite of these typologies, little is actually known about how British girls and young women view gang involvement, since most UK gang research has focused on boys and young men. What is more – being primarily located in end-of-award reports to research funders – the data on girls that do exist lack a clear theoretical foundation in relation to gender. Whilst this emerging empirical work is useful in generating much needed descriptions of female gang involvement, it is far less effective at explaining such involvement. Building on the insights of feminist work on gangs in the United States and drawing upon interview data from research with young women in Scotland, this chapter examines the ways in which gender inequality shapes female gang involvement and participation in violence. The findings suggest that whilst dichotomous ‘tomboy’/’sex object’ characterisations are present in young women’s accounts, these categories are inadequate for capturing the complexities of their gender identities.