Violence against women starts with school stereotypes

If we are ever going to combat the attitudes and behaviour that can lead to violence, we have to prevent early stereotypes from taking root.

Gender-based violence is a deeply embedded problem in many societies and cultures. Despite this, efforts to challenge it are rarely seen at a primary school level. There is a perception that children aged 11 and 12 are too young to “know” about violence, or to offer opinions on it. But this is something that has to change if we are ever going to combat the attitudes and behaviour that can lead to this type of violence.

Recently, I have been conducting research in this area with children in five primary schools across Glasgow. I wanted to look into how young children viewed and defined violence, and thereby confront what I discovered was an everyday acceptance of, in particular, male violence against women.

I found that young people understood and made sense of violence in a way that was always framed by gender. They tended to naturalise violence as an integral part of male identity. They justified male violence using expectations of inequality in gender roles. Violence that occurred amongst peers and siblings was normalised, and therefore not labelled as violence.

My research indicated that actions were only defined as “violent” under some fairly stringent conditions. They understood a “violent” situation to involve an adult male fight taking place outside the home, which would be followed by injury and official sanctions. This kind of violence is replicated by the media in films and in newspapers. When hypothetical examples followed this linear route the children were more likely to judge them as violent.

Incidents that were experienced by the young people themselves were therefore less likely to be labelled as violence. This was compounded by the way in which the girls often found that their own experiences of violent peers, particularly when boys, were invalidated by the lack of adult recognition.

Authority figures such as teachers are more likely to turn a blind eye to boys being violent towards girls. When the girls told teachers that a boy had hit or pushed them teachers normalised the behaviour by saying that it was the boys way of trying to get attention, or “that’s just what boys do.” If the violent actions of men towards women are normalised, girls may grow up to minimise abuse as part of their everyday gendered interactions with men rather than be encouraged to challenge it as behaviour that is wrong.

Stereotypical gender roles are evidently pertinent in young people’s understandings of men’s violence against women.

This is seen in the way that young people access a discourse of difference when talking about men and women. Most children judged adult gender difference as symbolised by heterosexual relationships where they expected men and women to have different roles. They also used age as a signifier in their constructions of gender, judging that the more adult somebody was, the more fixed and restricted their gender identity became.

This can be best illustrated with girls' future ambition. Girls in particular see their futures as limited, and their ambitions restricted because of their understanding of anticipated gender roles. Whilst viewing their identities as evolving and fluid at a younger age, girls saw these identities as more rigid, and less plural, as they got older. For example, currently the girls had a wide range of ambitions, doctor, astronaut, scientist, dancer. However they saw these ambitions and opportunities as being curtailed by marriage and children. Boys' ambitions, and their belief in achieving them, did not change.

This gendered invalidation of their own experiences of violence and their understanding of identity demonstrate that the promotion of gender equality and the reduction of gender divisions is a necessity for dealing with this social problem.

Violence against women is rooted in the structural inequalities between men and women. It is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality. When gender divisions and stereotypes are perpetuated, young people are less likely to challenge men’s violence against women.

As adults we need to examine our role in this. We can teach them that all violence is wrong but we also need to scrutinise how we may be limiting what children can be or become. Boys and girls are continuously told that they are “different” from each other, or this is implied by lining them up in different lines at school, having gender specific sports, toys or activities, by speaking to them in different ways or by expecting different things from them.

The promotion of gender equality would mean violence against women was no longer normalised or endorsed by gendered stereotypes. As such, gender segregation and division needs to stop, and all members of society need to challenge all forms of violence against women. Until they do so, women will never achieve an equal status.

Nancy Lombard does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Violence against women is rooted in the structural inequalities between men and women. Photo: Getty

Nancy Lombard is a Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at Glasgow Caledonian University.

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I'd only given a literary talk, but someone still told me to leave the country

“So if you don’t like it so much,” he says, “why don’t you leave?” And his tone suggests that there is a good train leaving from St Pancras in half an hour.

So here I am at the Romanian Cultural Institute in Belgrave Square. Eventually. After a misunderstanding that finds me first, forlorn and bemused, at Olympia, with the London Book Fair closing down for the evening, watching my fee grow wings and fly away into the night air. I am called up and told where I could more profitably go instead – that is to say, the venue I should be at. On reassurance that my expenses will be met, I hop into a cab as soon as I find one (which, on Kensington High Street at 7pm, takes far longer than you would think. I will not use Uber).

I am going there in order to be on a panel that is talking about Benjamin Fondane (1898-1944), the Romanian intellectual, poet, essayist, philosopher and all-round dude. I know nothing about the guy beyond what I learned from reviewing a selection of his writings last July but this makes me, apparently, one of this country’s leading experts on him. Such is the level of intellectual curiosity in this part of the world. Fondane was treated much better in Paris, where he moved after finding studying law in Bucharest too boring; treated very much worse in 1944, when he was sent to Auschwitz.

A little corner of me is panicking a bit before the gig starts: I know next to nothing about the man, especially compared to my co-panellists, and I might betray this to the audience of around 80 (I refer to their number, not their age), sitting in their little gilt chairs, in a nice gilt drawing room, which is par for the course for European cultural institutes in this neck of the woods.

Another part of me says: “Don’t be silly, you’ll be fine,” and it turns out I am. I even manage to throw in a few jokes. During the course of one of my answers I say that the UK is a cultural desert and that there was a reason Fondane stopped moving when he got to Paris. The idea of coming to London to breathe the pure air of artistic freedom and inspiration was, and remains, laughable. It gets a chuckle or two out of the (mostly Mittel-European) audience, who like a bit of British self-deprecation as much as we do.

Or do we? Downstairs, and clutching my first glass of the evening (a perfectly drinkable Romanian Merlot), I chat to various people who come up and say they like my reviews etc, etc. All very pleasant. And then a man comes up to me, about my age, maybe a year or three younger, smartly tweeded.

“I was very offended by what you said about this country being a cultural desert,” he says. He is not joking.

“Oh?” I say. “Well, it is.”

He has the look of someone about to come up with a devastating argument.

“What about Shakespeare?” he asks me. “What about Oscar Wilde?”

“They’re dead,” I say, leaving aside the fact that Wilde was Irish, and that anywhere was better than Ireland in the 19th century for gay playwrights.

“So’s Fondane,” he says.

I think at this point I might have raised my glasses and massaged the bridge of my nose with finger and thumb, a sign for those who know me of extreme exasperation, and a precursor to verbal violence.

“So if you don’t like it so much,” he says, “why don’t you leave?” And his tone suggests that there is a good train leaving from St Pancras in half an hour.

“Do not presume to tell me, sir, whether I should leave the country.”

He tells me he has a Polish wife, as if that has any bearing on the matter. He says something else, which for the life of me I can’t remember, but I do know that when I replied to it, I used only one word, and that the word was “bollocks”.

“Well, if you’re going to use bad language . . .”

“I’ve got more,” I say, and proceed to launch a volley of it at him. Things have escalated quickly, I know, but there is no jest in his tone and what I am detecting is, I realise, his strong awareness of the Z in my name, my nose, and my flawless olive complexion. One develops antennae for this kind of thing, after almost half a century. And there’s a lot more of it about these days.

In the end, I become pretty much incoherent. On stage I’d caught myself thinking: “Golly, talking is even easier than writing;” but now my fluency deserts me. But God, it’s fun getting into a fight like this.

I’ve left my tobacco at home but the Romanian government gives me a whole pack of Marlboro Gold, and more wine. Vata-n libertate ori moarte! As they say. You can work it out. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution