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1,200 gangs have turfed out the 4000 sq. miles of Los Angeles. Of the 100,000+ known gang members (gangstas) listed in police files, 7,000 of these are female.

It is rare, but not unheard of, for women to participate directly in a predominantly male gang. However, most major gangs have a women's auxiliary branch, typically with a feminized version of the male gang name: i.e.,

In some cases (Las Monas, the Black Legion), girls have formed autonomous all-female gangs. The all-female gangs are often less powerful than the auxiliaries.

One notable exception: the Sheiks, a Milwaukee gang which became so powerful in the 1980s that male members from other gangs changed allegiances to join and become Boy Sheiks - while the girls continued to simply be called Sheiks. Whether or not the Sheiks were cognizant of the irony in this situation is unknown.

Autonomous all-female gangs allow girls to avoid the Catch-22s common in gang culture (the lovergirl is also a ho, the "down" girl is also a bitch, the successful spy is also a snitch, etc). However, all-female gangs require much more from members by way of martial skill and pain tolerance, because initiation and continued acceptance is never predicated on provision of sexual favors. Internal politics also appear to be much more complex and prone to incendiary infighting.

Girl gang members who are auxiliary members of a male gang have roles generally limited to providing sex and playing urban Mata Hari - spying on rivals at high risk. Highly respected girl gang members will be treated the same as the males, but these are relatively rare. Legendary girl gangstas include Mama Sheik and LA Lennox 13's Shygirl, who were both known to throw down against male adversaries, even in the face of overwhelming odds.

Many male gangs welcome lesbians directly into their ranks with a high level of acceptance that surpasses that generally found in the mainstream. Aggressive masculinity is the required trait; a butch woman who takes on the look and feel of gangsta machismo will be accepted if she can survive a violent non-sexual initiation and a high degree of participation in gang life. These women also have a higher chance of becoming O.G. (original gangsta) because they stay active in gang life longer than straight women (usually because they don't have kids).

How to become a girl gangsta?

That varies by region, gang, and even by hood, but it would definitely include one or more of the following:

  1. Drive by. A house or individual target is selected by the gang leader, and the initiate must successfully hit the target in order to be inducted.
  2. Jumping in. Similar to walking the gamut; the girl being jumped in must survive a time-limited beating administered by the entire gang, without attempting to defend herself.
  3. Trial by commission. The initiate commits the crime chosen for her by the leader of the gang, typically a burglary or an assault.
  4. Trial by combat. The initiate fights a representative of the gang.
  5. Pulling a train. Voluntary participation in gang sex. While this is recognized as a difficult act which qualifies an initiate for induction into the gang, it is also considered the coward's way in - according to gang logic, at least.

Girls who successfully survive initiation look down on the "wanna-bes" or "gang hoppers". These are girls who seek status by dating male gang members, and who attempt to participate in gang life without a formal initiation as described above.

While finding empowerment by holding the business end of a Mac-10 or pulling a train might seem counterintuitive to some, girl gangstas are women and warriors in a world that can only be understood by those who live in it - a world in which Kinder, Kueche, Kirche is still the primary expectation of a woman - from a very early age.

Quote from a former girl gangsta:

"I miss it. I miss the pain. Because pain makes me forget my anger. And I have a lot of anger."

Additional reading:

8 Ball Chicks: A Year In the Violent World of Girl Gangsters, by Gini Sikes

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