New feature: Stopping violence against women at its primary root

// 4 April 2008

Matthew Provost draws the connections between male violence against women and bullying in the playground

Mention the words violence against women and most will immediately think of an example involving adults. If children are mentioned at all, it will be either as a worry over how they are affected by any violence between adults, as the victims of violence from an adult, or in a discussion about how to prevent those children becoming violent in later life.

But there is one other area of violence against women that involves children and which is often overlooked; and we must class it as violence against women, for it is as serious as rape, street harassment or any other form. The issue is bullying in schools.

A quick search of the internet or look at a range of anti-bullying materials will show plenty of resources for tackling bullying in general, or, more specifically, for tackling racist or homophobic bullying. But what will also be found is a lack of materials aimed at that bullying which is inflicted upon young girls by young boys.

Read on here

Comments From You

Feminist Avatar // Posted 5 April 2008 at 5:43 pm

This is a great article. How we raise and bring up our children is an issue that I have been thinking about a lot recently. I blogged my longer thoughts at:

jenniferdrew // Posted 6 April 2008 at 10:36 pm

Matthew Provost is right male sexual violence against women starts early – and it is begins in primary schools. The Government however as usual, have put a gender neutral spin on reality so instead of hearing about boys sexually harassing girls we hear ‘bullying is common in schools.’ But who is ‘bullying whom?’ Womankind are challenging the gender neutral stance but the Government and media are intent on still hiding the realities of male sexual violence and male sexual harassment of women and girls.

White Ribbon Campaign are also attempting to address this ‘hidden’ issue of school boys growing up and learning how to become male sexual predators and sexual harassers of girls and women. Feminists are trying to raise this important issue but as I said above, the Government wants it all hidden under the gender neutral term ‘bullying.’ Additionally, evidence from the US shows that increasingly pre-teens and teenage girls are accepting as normal boys sexually harassing, sexually assaulting and sometimes raping girls as normal ‘male behaviour.’ We must ask ourselves how do boys and girls learn that such misogynstic and violent actions are ‘normal.’ Well, take a look at how the media continues to portray women and girls as men’s and boys’ sex toys and then you might begin to connect the dots.

Danielle // Posted 9 April 2008 at 6:00 pm

This reminded me of a woodwork class, during which a boy and his friend approached me with a piece of burning hot wood (they’d just sanded it with one of those machines- I’m having trouble with technical terms today!) and pushed it into my wrist.

When I reacted with my usual stoicism (my general tactic for bullies was to act like nothing was happening) his friend made some kind of asinine remark along the lines of “She’s probably used to getting hot trays out of the oven” as though I wasn’t even in the room.

I’d forgotten about it until I read this article and wondered why I didn’t say anything about it at the time- not even to my friends. At the time I didn’t think it important, and I didn’t like to draw attention to myself anyway, but it’s clearly an incident of physical assault and I’m sure our woodwork teacher (a very nice man, as I recall) would have taken it extremely seriously. It left a mark on my wrist for weeks.

Shea // Posted 9 April 2008 at 7:23 pm

Dare I incite the wrath by saying I think alot of bullying in primary and secondary schools is of girls by girls. At least thats been my experience. You get stupid comments by boys who are teasing you because you are “too tall” or such like, but the real vicious bullying is girl on girl every time.

Holly Combe // Posted 10 April 2008 at 1:57 pm

I don’t think I’m the only person round here who would reiterate that feminism isn’t about claiming that women and girls are angels so why should your comment incite wrath?

If anything, I’d say that we are still suffering from the hangover of the “Sugar and spice and all things nice” ideal and that this means that people react far more negatively to bad behaviour from girls than they do from boys. For example, just last month, a 7 year old girl pulled a knife in the playground and a parent gave a quote to the metro saying “I was shocked by a girl doing something like that- and now I’m shocked by how they are treating it.” Another case in point is that Myra Hindley and Rose West have arguably received more vilification for their crimes than Ian Brady and Fred West.

It’s clear that both sexes have a propensity towards bad behaviour and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can level out the extra outrage that the media heaps on women who behave badly. Society generally expects girls and women to behave better and woe betide them when they don’t. Now, it seems even more clear that we had it wrong but, instead of using this knowledge to be more genuinely even-handed, there is a rather nasty lingering implication in the media that this must mean that girls are actually *more* deserving of harsh treatment than boys. It’s as if they think feminism somehow deserves to be written off just because -shock! horror!- girls aren’t all sweetness and light. I don’t see why the knowledge that girls can be equally bad should negate from the knowledge that women and men are not treated with equal respect in society or that women are often still held back in careers because of prejudice…

…Okay, this is where I ought to ask you for clarification on your point because, to be fair, you may well not have been suggesting that bad girls = bad feminism!

In my own personal experience, what you say rings true, as I’ve never had any particularly problematic friendships or relationships with men or boys and all the difficult ones have been with people of my own sex. If I step back from this, I can think of women for whom the exact opposite is true but, overall, I suspect that the biggest problems tend to lie within same-sex grouping in a heterosexist context.

As a woman, a stereotypical hen party is my idea of hell. As a man, I suspect it would be the stag party that would bring me out in a cold sweat. It’s the presumption of sameness that does it… If you don’t fit in, you get stigmatised. These are prime conditions for bitching and some of the stories I’ve heard from male friends suggest that boys’ friendship groups are just as vicious.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 15 July 2008 at 1:06 pm

i can imagine the backlash if a teacher took more of a stand with a boy that was committing “flirty” or dominant bullying of the opposite sex.

the parents would be less than amused. youd get the “boys will be boys” line and id imagine some people will even try and defend the tradition of tapping people with rulers and stuff…

perhaps in these cases education is the best way to function? but the lights only switched on for me as i read this as 19. would school children understand? its so important they see these things as law and facts and not like the “dont drink or do drugs” kind of workshop that people think ruins their fun.

as for violent bullying its difficult to say whats sexist and whats just horrible. i tend to find girls picked on girls and boys picked on everyone (as a gross generalisation.) i think if the education was in place then taking a hard line on all kinds of bullying would be best for everyone, especially in secondary schools. the teachers often get sick of the kids that complain of bullying alot (especially if they are… well not having learning difficulties as such but come from backgrounds where its hard to learn esp in terms of social skills and rules) rather than being sick of the people that carry on bullying.

and danielle, that sounds horrible! im sorry you went through that sort of thing. its a shame you didnt feel you could tell anyone, but people are told to “ignore” bullies, not to tell-tale, and we believe we are obviously skanks that deserve it or something. something that makes us think that being burnt by someone isnt important.

as for the comment after, anyone that comes out with something like that after attacking someone (or at all!) needs a serious lecture and punishment. if someone that burned a black person then made a comment about… iunno branding, theres not a chance anyone would stand for it!

Sarah // Posted 15 July 2008 at 2:55 pm

I agree girls are often nasty to each other – and I don’t mean to downplay that sort of verbal and psychological abuse, it can be very damaging to self-esteem and wellbeing, with even some tragic cases where it’s led to suicide. And girls can certainly be violent too.

But my impression is that the sort of harassment and sexual violence that we’re talking about here is more often perpetrated by boys against girls, though some boys are subjected to terrible homophobic bullying by their peers. I think that just saying ‘well, some bullies are girls’ obscures this important issue.

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