8 Ball Chicks
Length: 1253 words (3.6 double-spaced pages)
8-Ball Chicks: A Year in the Violent World of Girl Gangsters is a compelling glimpse into the lives of females in gangs. The book highlights two things: these women do exist, and they are screaming for help. The book's author, Gini Sikes, is a New York-based journalist who spent two years chronicling the worlds of these girls and women in three cities--Los Angeles, San Antonio and Milwaukee. Through her travels she became immersed in the lifestyles of each gang. What she found on her journey through backyards, living rooms and housing-projects was startling. There are perhaps thousands of girl gang members across the nation, and yes, many of them are violent. Sikes' portrait of female gangs in America will both shock and move you. She delves far beyond the usual clichés and shows a depth to her subjects that are rarely seen. These girls carry razor blades in their mouths and get into fights just like their male counterparts, but many of them overcome tremendous adversity to get out of their gangs and change their lives. Sikes reports on these girl gangsters with compassion and honesty, compellingly raising the issue of our troubled urban youth without posturing or preaching. Sikes details the girl's reactions to her as well as to their own environment. 8-Ball Chicks describes everything from gang members' stories of dangerous initiation rites (girls knowingly having sex with an AIDS infected boy; gang rape initiations; gang wannabes allowing a dozen girls to beat them up at once) to the conditions that drive these young women to join gangs in the first place. Most of these girls she discovered entered the gangs for power and belonging. They did not care if they were hurt because survival became their most significant recourse. If they survived the abuse and the poverty, then they felt powerful. In 8 Ball Chicks, we discover the fear and desperate desire for respect and status that drive girls into gangs in the first place--and the dreams and ambitions that occasionally help them to escape the catch-22 of their existence.
Dismissed by the police as mere adjuncts to or gofers for male gangs, girl gang members are in fact often as emotionally closed off and dangerous as their male counterparts. Carrying razor blades in their mouths and guns in their jackets for defense, they initiate drive-by shootings, carry out car-jackings, stomp outsiders who stumble onto or dare to enter the neighborhood, viciously retaliate against other gangs and ferociously guard their home turf.
Sikes also captures the differences that distinguish girl gangs: abortion, teen pregnancy and teen motherhood, endless beatings and the humiliation of being forced to have sex with a lineup of male gang bangers during initiation, haphazardly raising kids in a household of drugs and guns with a part-time boyfriend off gangbanging himself.
Sikes' book underscores the sexism prevalent in the lives of these girls. The subtext is that, along with racism and poverty, second-class citizenship actually inspires girl gang activity. Despite much of the despair suffered and caused by the girls who join gangs, both prior to and during their gang affiliation, girl gangsters are considered unimportant by the men who run the institutions in their lives--their homes, their 'hoods, and their local precincts.
As noted in 8-Ball Chicks, many of the girls are used and abused both sexually and physically. More often than not, Sikes writes, gang members are beaten by boyfriends and by both male and female gang members. They also suffer from a variety of abuse both at home and on the streets. Sikes describes how wide spread gang rape or sexual abuse seemed to be and how adults ignored or denied it. In San Antonio particularly, girls seemed to accept boys' predatory sexual behavior as a fact of life. Many had been abused by their stepfather or their mother's boyfriend while the mother turned a blind eye. Although the city had plenty of programs trying to deal with gang violence, they rarely dealt with sexual initiations or attitudes toward female gang members. Most girls do not rise up their gang's hierarchy, especially if there are boys or men involved in that gang in any capacity. 8-Ball Chicks is especially clear about female victimization as it pertains to the horrifying claims of gang-rape among female initiates. In San Antonio, where many gang members are middle-class, white children, Sikes reports of a gang practice called "roll-ins" whereby new female recruits roll dice and have sex with as many guys as the number that appears on the dice. "A 12-year-old girl now sat in the juvenile detention center on charges she had lured her 13-year-old friend to a party in a trailer, so that nine male gang members, ranging in age from 14 to 31, could brutally rape her. During her indictment, the girl showed no remorse. The same had been done to her," Sikes writes. "In detention she'd received dozens of letters from gang boys who admired her nerve." Sikes also portrays how numb the kids were to their own brutality. She vividly describes how while speaking to a girl who she had known for a while and liked and suddenly she'd be relaying an incident of sickening violence and laughing. Sikes writes how she could not reconcile the girl she knew with the one who was capable of such horrific acts. Sometimes the kids seemed to exist as two people: as an individual and as a member of a mob. Certainly there were acts that took place in a group of kids--brutal attacks, gang rape--that none of the participants would have committed had they been on their own.
Due the fact that Sikes is careful to profile a wide cross section of women (neither girl gangs nor their members are all the same), we are introduced to women who cannot be seen merely as victims. Many of the girls in 8-Ball Chicks are looking for love, family, or power. It should surprise no one that gangs often give a person all three. Sikes describes how people who live in these neighborhoods, like people everywhere, love their children, have barbecues in the local park, wash their cars on Saturday afternoons, mirroring conventional middle-class life more than some of us would think. The gang element is one part of life there. It's a bad side, but not the whole picture. Some of the women in the book are mothers; many of them aspire to higher career and educational goals. The book shows how pressing social or economic needs render children immensely vulnerable. However, the gang members in 8-Ball Chicks who finally make their way out of their troubling situations are the girls who have concerned parents or mentors. Gangs are a symptom of violence not the cause. City programs that only focus on identifying gang members by baggy clothing and colors, then labeling the kids, basically do nothing. There are also hardly any programs for the girls; for instance, there's no female equivalent of Midnight Basketball. The programs that do exist, while well-intentioned, tend to focus on things like hygiene and manners, which take a low priority when you're just trying to make it through the day without getting jumped or sexually assaulted. The majority of gang programs are run by ex-gang members who are men and don't address the issues that concern girls, such as domestic abuse, sexual harassment and the utter lack of power they feel.