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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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.