In the first British inquiry of its kind, studying how girls use and understand violence, researchers found that far from the traditional view that women feel guilty about using physical violence, girls feel empowered.
Dr Michele Burman, a sociology lecturer at the University of Glasgow who is heading the two-year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, said many girls in the study witnessed violence nearly every day. It structured much of the social interaction between young people.
"Many girls see physical fighting with one another, but particularly with boys, as entirely appropriate gender behaviour," said Dr Burman, speaking at the Roots of Violence in Children and Young People Conference at the Royal Society of Medicine.
"Many girls have an idea of the usefulness of violence or, perhaps more accurately, the usefulness of the threat of violence. Defending themselves proved a coherent and consistent justification for violent and aggressive responses," she said.
Contrary to popular belief that girls are violent towards each other, the findings revealed that girls, especially those aged 15 and below, thought boys were major irritants and therefore legitimate targets.
Girl gangs and court cases where girls have been reported torturing their victims have increased public concern about violence in young women.
Although the number of incidents of women committing violent crime is small compared with men - only 8,600 compared with 49,600 for men in 1997 - official statistics show numbers have doubled since the 1970s.
One study reported that one in three boys and one in five girls got into arguments or fights after drinking. A survey of offences committed by young people showed that violence represented 12 per cent of all young women's offences and 9 per cent of all young men's.
The researchers interviewed 550 girls, aged 13 to 16, from different social and economic backgrounds in Scotland. They found a great deal of physical interaction between girls. "The games played by girls frequently involved play fighting, dead arm punching and wrist burns," said Dr Burman.
Apart from all sexual violence, girls found physical or emotional violence from an adult to a child the most unacceptable.
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