Getting Played: African American Girls, Urban Inequality, and Gendered Violence by Jody Miller, New York University Press, 2008.
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Review by Ana Campos-Holland and Samantha Cumley
Getting Played (2008) is the latest of Jody Miller's outstanding contributions to the gender and crime literature. The ecological approach in this book provides a systematic examination of young women's exposure to and experience with violence within the community, school, and peer contexts. By linking gender ideology and structural disadvantage, this work brings us to a closer understanding of young women's daily experiences with victimization. The search for a systematic understanding of young women's victimization emerged from Miller's previous work on female gang participation, One of the Guys (2001). Concerned with the situational context of violence, Getting Played (2008) moves beyond the limited context of gang involvement to examine how other facets of urban disadvantage shape the victimization risks of young girls.
Miller addresses this question using a comparative study design that includes young men's and women's perspective on girls' victimization. The sample consists of 75 African American young men (40) and women (35) from St Louis neighborhoods - half of the participants are considered "at risk" and the other half are considered to be "serious, violent, chronic offenders." Adding to the richness of the data, the study uses multiple methodologies, including in-depth interviews, surveys, and neighborhood characteristics. Overall, Miller's findings suggest that neighborhood and school contexts, peer dynamics, and gender ideologies together shape young women's victimization risks.
For example, Miller suggests that within the community context, violence against women in the form of "public spectacles" is commonplace. Public attitudes regarding this violence are dominated by "mind your business" and "victim blaming" normative ideologies. For example, one of the young women, Tami, describes a violent event she witnessed that took place in the streets, "I don't know what they were arguing about…He be hittin' her upside her head and she be, "Why you hittin' me? Stop hittin' me!" But she don't be fightin' him back or nothin'…We was laughin'. Then we was like, that's a shame and they should go'on, leave, but I guess they ain't got nowhere else to go so they just put up with the stuff..." (43). In addition, women's ability to disassociate from the victim eliminates the possibility of their intervention. "In my eyes, that is their problem, not mine," said Dawanna (45). Thus, female victims are often required to fend for themselves.
Although official crime data indicate that young men are at greater risk of fatal victimization, Miller argues that the young women in these communities were constant targets for sexual and/or physical victimization within the school, community, and peer culture. The young women she interviewed used several tactics to avoid victimization, including public space avoidance, and the use of escorts and personal connections for protection. "I'm not really outside all the time…I don't really go nowhere by myself. I mean, I live down the street from a donut shop where it be a lot of grown men just sitting around and stuff. But I don't think they'll harm me, cause' they like know my uncles and my daddy," said Gail (Miller, 2008: 63). However, while these tactics may have helped young women avoid victimization in their neighborhoods, they were not sufficient. In fact, much of the victimization against girls occurred on school grounds, due to high levels of peer contact.
The "playa' ethos" and the constant need to maintain a "cool pose" are the basis of masculine ideology within these communities. The "playa' ethos" refers to young men's heightened sexual expectations and the "cool pose" refers to their desire to maintain a "tough" persona. To protect the "cool pose," young men tend to conceal their vulnerabilities, detach from others, control their emotions, and show toughness. These ways of creating masculinity, Miller found, placed young women in a subordinate and disadvantaged position within their peer culture. For example, "Yvonne explained that she was especially bothered by young men's 'touching and stuff. Trying to touch your boobie or your breasts or whatever. And how they come at you…it aint't cool'…" (Miller, 2008: 81).
In response to boys' sexual advances, girls had few options: "stand up for yourself"/show sufficient outrage, engage in avoidance techniques, third party intervention, or ignore the incident. This placed the young women in what Miller calls a "gendered double bind." Showing outrage threatened young men's masculinity and was often simultaneously accompanied by peer groups "amping up the situation." "Standing up" ultimately led to the young women being labeled as "stuck up" and "too good" for the young men. As the young men attempted to save or re-establish their masculine identities, they responded with gender degradation or sexual and/or physical victimization. On the other hand, ignoring young men's sexual advances tended to create the appearance that girls were sexually available. In this situation, the young women were labeled as "hood rats" or girls who were sexually open, leading to continued or serial victimization and social isolation. Miller suggests that the school peer context is a "testing" ground for these young men to assess the sexual availability of girls in the name of hegemonic masculinity.
Throughout this book, Miller demonstrates that young women's experiences with victimization were embedded within a normative community structure of hegemonic masculinity coupled with attitudes of victim blaming and non-intervention. Thus, the "double bind" left these young women on their own, attempting to survive in a gendered world where gendered violence dominated their social space. Overall, Miller (2008) provides a structured action perspective, where young women are not characterized as passive victims or "bad girls," but rather as agents in an environment with limited and gendered options. As such, this work contextualizes the victimization risk of young women within normative gendered ideologies and structural disadvantage.
Getting Played (2008) provides much needed insight into the everyday struggles of disadvantaged young women to avoid and cope with victimization in their communities, schools, and peer cultures. Miller shows that their victimization is not only shaped by structural disadvantage - just like male victimization - but that it is also greatly affected by normative gender ideologies. This book is a salient contribution to the criminology literature with regard to gender and community research. Researchers have extensively documented the criminogenic effects of disadvantaged neighborhoods and Miller (2008) moves this literature forward and brings forth a gendered perspective, focusing specifically on young women's victimization risks. It is a vital contribution to our understanding of the intersectionality of gender, race, class and victimization. Young women in communities which lack collective efficacy and contain limited personal and community resources are often exposed to extensive gendered violence. Moreover, like other violence, violence against women is often concentrated in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Further, Miller highlights the importance of systematically addressing young women's victimization in disadvantaged communities and recommends an ecological approach-which offers remedies rooted in addressing community disadvantage and gender inequality. This includes improving neighborhoods, increasing institutional accountability, changing neighborhood policing, and increasing school personnel accountability. Miller suggests that it is important to change gender ideologies and challenge gender inequality, build solidarity and enhance efficacy among young women, challenge street masculinities, and bridge the gender divide.