Stopping violence against women at its primary root

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

, 4 April 2008

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.

This is where the punch that draws no punishment, or the verbal insult that receives no reprimand, becomes ingrained in the male psyche

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.

A recent government document produced for schools entitled ‘Don’t Suffer in Silence’ highlighted that, while a smaller percentage of girls than boys actually bully others, a higher percentage of girls are bullied. Not only this but whilst boys are generally bullied by other boys, girls are bullied by children of both sexes. It is this male to female suffering, put upon girls in the youngest, most important developmental stage of their lives, which surely lays the foundations for children, both boys and girls, to grow up believing that being violent towards women is acceptable. This is where the punch that draws no punishment, or the verbal insult that receives no reprimand, becomes ingrained in the male psyche. For sure there are other influences in a person’s life, but this issue, which often involves the first chances for someone to actually be violent, appears to be a silent menace; yet to be addressed in enough detail.

The charity Childline states: “Bullying breaks children down. It’s humiliating and frightening, and young people often feel powerless to stop it. Sometimes the thought of going to school is so terrifying that children pretend they are ill or refuse to attend. A very few find life so unbearable that they attempt suicide. Many more carry the effects of bullying long into adult life.”

How much of the psychology of violence against women is found in that quote? The power of one to humiliate another; to remove their feeling of safety; to force them to change their way of life in order to protect themselves.

Our treatment of bullying as a less serious problem than other forms of violence against women is influencing the way our children view it too

Why then do we class bullying something as less than other forms of violence and put it all in a category of its own; to be dealt with as a single, unrelated problem? Why don’t we, if we are serious about tackling the wider problem of violence against women, look at this as often the first stage in a life of violence given towards, and received from, others?

It is a wide range of violence that young children are learning here, for in much of the bullying there is an undercurrent of sexual violence. Jokes and comments that form part of a stream of unwanted sexual attention; a sly, uninvited hand here or there; derogatory sexual graffiti scrawled on a toilet wall; or something worse. Research by Womankind in one school found that over half of the girls stated they had experienced “inappropriate touching”. Many more reported unwanted comments and actions, which in any other location would be viewed as harassment. If this research if correct, then we have an epidemic of sexual violence in our schools. What kind of boys are we bringing up if we allow this to continue? Is it really that big a step from this to sexual assault or rape?

The Safe Schools coalition in the US discovered even more shocking statistics. They found that a third of girls who reported experiencing sexual harassment in school stated it had begun while they were of primary school age. The coalition also found far fewer children would report sexual harassment if received from a fellow pupil compared to if they received the harassment from an adult at the school. Our treatment of bullying as a less serious problem than other forms of violence against women is influencing the way our children view it too.

Bullying has been tackled by a wide range of interested parties. But it is now time for the feminist movement to join them. Until we view young girls being bullied in schools by young boys as a form of gender violence, we will never tackle neither bullying as a whole nor the wider crime of violence against women.

Matthew Provost is a 25 year-old student journalist and has been a ‘male feminist’ for roughly a year

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