As a mother I now worry about such things as gangs because I have kids now want the best for them. What I didn’t see as a gang in my younger days I can now see as a gang in my adult life. Not all gangs are the same because they do vary to a degree in how the activities are conducted, from the graffiti to the more violent gangs. The gang structure (Landre, Miller, Porter 1997) itself consists of 5 levels. The first one is the fantasy level or imitators, where an individual may know gang members but does not associate with them. They may also like or admire the gang culture and see them as living out a fantasy. At the fantasy level most of the knowledge the individual knows is acquired from news related material This level of gang affiliation makes up 10% of gang membership. The second level consists of, “Homies or Wana-Bes”, that are at-risk minors that have a negative view of the past, present and sees little hope in their future. They also have a high truancy rate and have high levels of self contempt. This level of affiliation makes up 20% of gang membership but does not fully participate in all gang activities.
The largest level of gang affiliation is made up by the associates to the gang accounting for 40% of any gang’s members. The associates to a gang consider gang activities to be normal, acceptable and something to strive for. They see a gang as a source of power and respect and are mentally prepared to become full time gang members. The associates to a gang can at times be the most dangerous members since their vehemence to join will give them cause to enact violence upon others to join or impress current gangs.
Regular gang members make up about 20% of total membership and have been formally initiated into a gang. Regular gang members use intimidation as a tool and feel empowered using it. These members fully participate in all gang activities and are fully immersed into the gang life and culture. Ironically even at this level the members are not considered hard core since they may accept other forms of authority aside from the gangs such as family pressure or the authorities.
The hard core level of gang membership is made up of only 10% of the gang affiliation but have total commitment to the gang and gang lifestyle. These members will do anything for the gang and to continue the gang. At this level individuals only see and recognize the gang’s laws and totally disregard others not in the gang. Hardcore members live a life of criminal activity and often wind up dead or in and out of prison.
As a mother what worries me even further is the way in which individuals become members of a gang. Traditionally the men are “jumped in” or given some act of deviance to commit to show loyalty. When a member is jumped in they are beaten by any numbers of active gang members for a specific amount of time and do the best the can to defend themselves. This is considered the blood in ritual because aspiring members normally shed blood while being beaten. the same procedure is done by the female gangs but not all the time. Many females looking to become female counterparts to male gangs are often “sexed in”. When a female member is sexed in she must have sex with several members of the male gang at one time which the male members refer to as “running a train”. The chance for a female to acquire a sexually transmitted disease is very high and the chance for an unwanted pregnancy is not that much lower.
Females in gangs are normally considered to be property of the gang and can be used by any member of the gang’s male membership. Females in gangs often look to be with members of great influence for protection and status. Females in gangs often come from the same troubled backgrounds as the male members. Many members of female gangs come from homes where they were abused by their fathers and see male gang members as father figures. They often also come from poor communities that offered little hope for advancement in society. Due to this lack of possibilities the psychological basis for gang membership is formed.
Individuals involved in gang membership on a full time basis often feel rejected by society and the community in which they reside. Many females that join gangs are seeking to escape abusive homes where the male role model was poor and often victimized the females in the household. Females joining gangs see the male members as protection from the environment they are trying to leave from. Growing up many of the females I knew in the area came from troubled backgrounds and sought to be with the more shady males in my area.
Females are not always looking to join male gangs but do look to the gang life as a source of self- fulfillment. The reasons female gangs form are similar to the reasons why male gangs form however there are other factors involved. With the emergence of the single headed household many social difficulties have plagued neighborhoods stemming from economic trouble. The problem comes into play when a parent has to work to maintain the household and the child at home without proper instruction falls under bad influences do to the only guardian not being home. Another reason female gangs form is due to the cuts in family aid often used by single headed households to maintain themselves in the community. Females also form gangs to empower themselves against males and male gangs that prey on females. Some sexually practices such as lesbianism have also lead to gang formation but only accounts for a small portion of all female gangs. The prevailing reason female gangs are formed is to avoid abuse and stigmata by the male gangs in the area.
Ethnically speaking (Landre, Miller, Porter.1997) the way female members are looked at differs according to what group of people one is referring to. Female members in African American and Latino American gangs are looked at as members depending on the gang in question. For female members in Caucasian gangs they can only be looked upon as tagalongs and can never fully participate in all gang activities. Females in black gangs find themselves working side by side with male gang members in mainly narcotic sales. females in Latino gangs often form gangs within the gang they belong to too make up a female counterpart. Females in Latin gangs will operate with the male members but will also act independently.
Although deviant in nature gangs to provide an environment that can be considered nurturing. Like a regular family structure gangs seek to protect its members and keep them from harm. Like a family a gang can give an individual a sense of accomplishment via the accolades from other gang members. Gangs also have family like structures where instead of a father there is a leader that directs the activities of the gang. Just like families gangs have rules that if violated have consequences, the biggest difference is that the consequences of breaking gang rules can be life costing.
One of the reasons that gangs in general continue to exist is due to society’s use of labeling. The Labeling theory (Baron, 2001) focuses on the process of labeling individuals as criminals and the resulting behaviors of an individual being labeled. The main premise of the theory is that by labeling a person a criminal, more than likely they will continue criminal behavior. Since many people base their self image on the opinions of others they often shape the course of their life around it. In one aspect an individual is labeled a gang member by the community resulting in other neighbors treating that individual as such. For females this can both be a negative and a positive. She may be feared by more aggressive males in the community because of gang retaliation yet at the same time be looked at as a whore by members of her gang but still feel protected. The labeling theory fails to explain that after being labeled many gang members are able to reform.
When one applies the Critical Theory (Baron. 2001) the economic reasons females may join gangs can be seen. The Critical Theory points out that the capitalistic system promotes the activities of gangs amongst females. The theory points out that the capitalist system requires the exploitation of one group by another to some means of advancement economically. Females that form their own gangs have often felt oppressed by males in the community economically and felt that a gang would increase their chances at making money equally in criminal ventures.
Since part of the role gangs play is economic albeit criminal much of this is due to large companies leaving once prosperous neighborhoods. Urban sprawl (Ferguson, Dickens. 1999) focuses on how from WWII until the mid seventies Americas economy was based on manufacturing goods. Since this was the case many factories were built to manufacture goods and therefore led to employment in the surrounding areas. Many of the factories were set up in industrial parts of a city and the communities around them flourished. When the microchip age entered America many of the industrial type companies closed down or moved to cheaper real estate. Since females were able to get factory work just as easily as men were they suffered just as much, especially those with children. This may not be a direct cause to gang life with women however it does contribute to the economic reasons females form gangs.
Because urban sprawl left many viable communities fighting for economic assistance members of the community found other ways to make money and gang life is part of that activity. Much of the gang life is dedicated to making money and criminal activity is one of the ways it is done. Since many female gang members have poor educations the easy money in criminal activities is very appealing. Females acting with male gangs often play softer roles in criminal activities. Instead of selling drugs she may act as a delivery person for drug enterprises transporting drugs from one location to another. She may hold the money so if the males are caught with drugs on them the money is saved instead of being confiscated. Females have also been known to carry weapons for male counterparts since they have a smaller chance of being searched.
Female gangs also carry out more violent criminal activities such as assault and even murder. The majority of female gang violence occurs with members of other female gangs but does trickle over into the regular community at times. As a mother I am concerned about any community that I happen to live in because the community has influence over the people in it sometimes even more than the home family does. Thankfully the area I live in has little if any gang members even though I see one every now and then but mostly passing through.
Poor schooling systems also lead to female gang involvement since they cannot offer the kids in them the proper opportunities they should have. When a school cannot properly educate its students it doesn’t give them the large amount of choices available to them. Through education women have learned to become leaders in the family and in the workplace. Females are learning everyday that one their own they can make it and that having a man only accentuates the economic balance in the home and not necessarily being it. Many female gangs were based on this premise which leads to the rise of female gangs in the late 80’s.
Society on a whole has (Landre, Miller, Porter. 1997) been reluctant to acknowledge the existence of gangs and that is mainly due to our society being dominated by the opinions of men. Law enforcement often disregards the female gangs and females in gangs due to so many males being caught up in the violent scene. Since law enforcement is the first step at reforming any individual the fact that the law almost ignores female gang members contribute to the rise in the number of females in gangs. Many experts feel that the numbers in female gangs will continue to grow along with violence and independence from male gangs.
One step at avoiding participation of females in gangs is in the form of community reform bringing in economic help to disadvantaged areas. Women are being encouraged more and more to open business and increase educational content with the use of empowerment zones. Single mothers that at one time may have sought out the help of a gang for economic help are now receiving help from grass roots programs aimed at building stronger families and improving community life .Initiatives like female sports programs are helping younger females build better self esteem while learning healthy values the same way boys have been doing for years. Programs have moved from putting women in domesticated roles and are now helping women contribute to their community besides just being mothers.
As a mother I intend to provide my daughters with the ability to compete fairly in this world without feeling the need to be in a deviant culture such as gang life. As a mother I must also be able to make sure the man in my life is a positive one since an abusive man can drive a woman to do some crazy things, especially if she is still learning about herself. The information I gained from the roles females play in gangs will help me to provide my daughters with the proper activities they will need to become strong independent women. I will help my daughters to understand that life is full of opportunities and choices and the sky is truly the limit. I will also help my children to recognize gang activities and how to avoid it so as not to get caught up in it.
I have also learned that communication is paramount to a child’s development and lack of it can lead to poor coping skills for stress and lead to deviant behaviors. I will help my girls to understand the difference between building a life for oneself legally and illegally since anything gained illegally is short lived. Gang life may have a value system of its own, it’s just not the types of values I want for my children.
Ferguson. Ronald F., and Dickens Williams T. (1999) Urban Problems and Community Development. Washington D.C. Brookings Institution Press.
Landre, Rick &Porter, Dee & Miller, Mike. (1997) Gangs: A handbook for Community Awareness. New York. Facts on File.
Smith, Christopher & Cole, George. (2005)Criminal Justice in America 4th Edition. Belmont Ca. Thomson Wadsworth
Dye, Thomas R. (2001) Politics in America 4th Edition. New Jersey. Prentice Hall.
Baron, Robert A. (2001) Psychology 5th Edition. Ma. Allyn and Bacon
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