Elish Angiolini, the Lord Advocate, said that in the past young women were more likely to have been "collaborators" with their boyfriends, hiding weapons and cleaning up after attacks, but were now carrying knives of their own.
Ms Angiolini, giving evidence to Holyrood's Equal Opportunities Committee, said while most offences carried out by females were "acquisitive" crimes such as theft or fraud, the picture was changing, a trend fuelled by binge drinking.
Last night Dr Fergus McNeill, a criminologist at Glasgow University, said young women in poor areas were under the same pressure as men, leading to fighting for "respect," but the trend should not be exaggerated.
Ms Angiolini said: "Many women are not just simply the collaborators, going along with a dominant male partner, being an accessory, carrying knives for boyfriends, assisting in cleaning up after a murder, hiding weapons etc – but are actually prime movers in some cases."
She continued: "We have seen some appalling acts of torture by women against women, we have seen increasing signs of groups of young girls using knives, against predominantly other young girls."
But she added that compared to the number of men who committed such offences, the number of women doing so was a "very small number".
Dr McNeill, of the university's Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice research, said: "For some young women, in still relatively exceptional circumstances, violence makes sense, as it does for men in certain communities.
"The violence is to do with respect, safety and maintaining reputation. Just as, historically, for men blocked opportunities led to crime and violence, the same is true for women.
"But the key thing is, violent crime, and serious violent crime, is still overwhelmingly male behaviour. If there is a slight increase this will still be in very low numbers. I think it is actually extremely difficult to get to the truth of this and it requires a lot more research."
Dr Laura Piacentini, reader in criminology at Strathclyde University, said: "The violence may be a reaction against something. They might be new young mothers who are rebelling against the socially accepted picture of motherhood, or their partners may be violent.
"I would agree binge drinking is part of the problem, but it is certainly not the sole reason."
In February Mary McKay, 32, was jailed for six years for stabbing an Asian teenager at a bus stop in Glasgow. McKay admitted attempting to murder Tarik Husan, 17.
In August 2006 a young woman was disfigured in a brutal attack by a gang of four girls in Balornock, Glasgow.