Violence against women OK, say children

This horrified me.

The 11 and 12-year-olds were questioned in depth about their attitudes and aspirations towards gender roles and behaviour.

They were asked to consider whether or not a man was justified in punching his partner when he found out she had had an affair.

Nearly all of the children thought that the woman deserved to be hit.

In another scenario, about 80% of the children said a man had cause to slap his partner because she did not have the dinner ready on time.

I hope that perhaps there’s some ambiguity or misunderstanding responsible for these results. The following suggests there might be, since I don’t know how you could not agree with violence and yet say the things above:

[The lead researcher] said: “The children didn’t agree with violence, but gave reasons to try to justify it if the woman had done something ‘wrong’.

The study also showed quite strong gendered expectations, including this one:

One of the girls said: “I want to be a dancer or a doctor.”

But she added: “When I grow up I’m going to have two babies and work part-time in the shop down the road.”

20 thoughts on “Violence against women OK, say children

  1. how would you suggest these kind of “gender” roles and expections to change? why were you horrified to read this?

    I believe that these expectations and projections will happen in a huge percentile considering the childs inability to switch off its “sponge” and put on a “filter”…they dont believe in any of this (nor understand the depths otherwise these children lines wouldnt be increasing in volume of calls) but feel no ethical connection…they cant tie one thing to another consquentially.

    What worries me the most is the fact adult researchers put these kind of questions to a child and used words such as “punched” “affair” (why would a child think about their mum having sex with someone else?) etc.

    Now, that worries me

  2. At the same time, I suspect that not only most children, but most people, would not be at all disturbed by a woman hitting a man who cheated.

  3. was that directed at me? as that wasnt the point that i was trying to make…..

    the point was to be aghast at children saying these things while using such visual and violent language at them first, is incredibly worrying.

    apologies for not making myself clear.

  4. Oh0082: I’m not sure that’s true. There is likely to be an expected difference in power; he’s bigger, stronger, more able to inflict significant pain and even injury. His arms/hards are probably significantly more muscular than hers.

    At least as far as my intuitions go, if one equips the women with something that gives her an equal capacity to hurt, it is quite disturbing. E.g., suppose she gets a male friend of her husband’s size to beat him up….

  5. When my former husband slapped me to the floor in front of two sons, early and late teens, both thought it was not inappropriate for me to be hit. This was years and years ago. I am a feminist philosopher and I still am sorrowed by this. I worry about my sons’ relationships with women.

  6. vibes01. I had a very sheltered convent school childhood, and I can remember babysitting in my teens when I heard young girls discuss the ice cream man in frankly salacious terms. I was stunned.

    But they were 5or 6 and that was decades ago. I think that 11 and 12 year olds now have divorce as an everyday reality and probably talk among themselves about why and how and who was with whom.

  7. vibes01: Your points are well made, but I think that many children (at ages 11 and 12, but even younger) ARE aware of realities such as punching, infidelity, domestic abuse, and violence. In order to address these issues with children (or adults, for that matter), you have to give the proper terms to the things that they witness, interact with, and emotionally process. In the privacy of people’s homes, violence of all kinds takes place — emotional, sexual, and physical. I would not advocate keeping these ideas “away” from children; if you do this, you are only silencing them, and protecting perpetrators of harm. Additionally, I disagree with you about the notion of children being “sponges” (as opposed to “filters”) at such an age. Although I’m no expert of child development, I think the phenomenon you’re describing is more applicable to kids who are much younger. Believing that 11 and 12 year olds can’t “understand the depths” of violence against women is grossly unfair to the child and certainly dangerous for women and mothers… because if we dismiss children’s ability to understand these issues, then we are leaving their beliefs (“sponged” and “filtered” alike) undiscussed and unchallenged. This is deeply problematic. I think that the best way to treat children with the intellectual respect they deserve is by having open, honest conversations with them about violence, how it is used particularly against women, and why it is wrong.

    Oh0082: If it’s true that most people would be okay with a woman hitting her husband for cheating on her, then I’d personally see that in two different ways: most children (and people) believe that women are incapable of beating up men (to “punch like a girl” is a familiar playground taunt, isn’t it?). This is obviously bad, because it reinforces the cultural of male dominance. But on the other hand, folks might also be okay with women being violent against men because women — like many other marginalized groups — don’t have as many avenues for defending themselves as men do. When engaged in an unequal power dynamic, violence can be a means of last resort for less-powerful people to communicate with domineering partners who consistently refuse to engage in productive or respectful conversation. By pointing this out, I don’t want to advocate for violence, or to downplay the very real and terrible phenomenon of domestic violence that is perpetrated by women onto men. I just don’t want to invalidate the reasons why oppressed people have often NEEDED to use violent conflict as a way to struggle towards justice.

    Anon for now: I’m so sorry to hear about the abuse you endured, but am relieved to see that the perpetrator is no longer your partner. I hope that you and your children will be able to have the kinds of conversations that are needed to validate, address, and repair the pain (no matter how long ago it occurred) that you experienced. Even if the field of philosophy as a whole is male-centric, there really is a great community to be found with feminist philosophers — hopefully, that’s been a source of comfort and solidarity.

  8. The quote from the lead research is also disturbing: It is exactly this kind of excuse making that permits violence against women. “She deserved it!” I would bet that every woman who has ever experienced abuse has heard this…

  9. jen, your comments are very understanding and, I think, right.

    I liked you blog and want to go back to listen to some of the music.

  10. hello jen

    i think with children is this

    the reason they know about such things is because us, adults put it on them (in their environment, media,films, music, internet etc) but that does not mean we are then allowed to further compound this (or feel like we are justified in doing so) by using such terms.
    Adults understand fully the implications, consequences etc behind such terms – children do not. They mirror the language shown to them but have no depth behind it. It is a loose vague idea but as shown in the original quote the understanding isnt quite there.

    I advocate openess, i really do but there are means and ways of doing this – we are now in the sorry state of affairs whereby it is deemed acceptable to speak to children as you would to another adult and expect the child to understand and converse their mental intelligence in the same way an adult would reply. We then extract this and analyse it in an adult platform

    This is wrong…..what we should be doing is to speak to the child from their perspective, not our own.

    Now clearly Ive been a child and I remember school kids who would speak of sex etc. but it was mirror language – sure the basic notion was there as they replicated acts from what they had witnessed but thats all it was, replicating behaviour.

    Its a travesty that adults seem to have forgotten childhood brains and childhood ambiguity – instead we now have adults saying “they do it, they say it so therefore they can rise up to our brain level and we will take everything they say as being a fully developed person”

    no wonder the kids have lost their childhood, we are only adding to the problem that was started in their own home.

  11. I’m frankly more disturbed by the remarks of the girl who to be a dancer or a doctor but said that when she grew up she’d have two babies and work part-time in the shop down the road. That’s it in a nutshell. Most girls–not the unrepresentative sample that read this blog–even if they aspire to careers rather than just jobs already know that, realistically, this is the way they’re going to end up.

  12. HEB: I always learn something from your remarks. I agree here. Thanks.

    I’d like to think the child was unusually insightful, but equally she may just have competing scripts.

  13. I think there may be a conceptual problem with the questions, in that they posit a cause-and-effect relationship between the violence and some other objective event. Childrn are used to the idea of reprecussions, in ways that for many of us are but a dim memory – their lives are actually much more full of direct consequences than ours are. If you drive through a red light you only get the ticket through the post weeks later, but if you don’t do your homework or misbehave etc. you get detention there and then.

    So framing the violence in terms of consequences for perceived mibehaviours on the woman’s part is problematic to begin with, because the children’s answers can reasonably be expected to be skewed in favour of “punishment”. This says more about our education system than it does about children, if you ask me.

    On top of which, the woman’s hypothetical misdemeanors are also framed in loaded terms – “having an affair”, “not having dinner on the table”. I wonder what answers you would get to questions like “going to a movie with someone” or “watching East Enders at dinner time”.

  14. A small anecdotal aside. When I was little (seven-ish), we had a researcher come to our school to ask us what we wanted to be when we grew up and what we thought we’d end up doing. I told them I wanted to be a scientist, but I thought I would become a secretary (like my mom). I didn’t actually think I would become a secretary, but it seemed bigheaded to my seven-year old self to say I thought I would actually become a scientist. I wonder how many of the answers children give to surveys are influenced by such things and don’t reflect the children’s real beliefs.

  15. That’s really interesting, Monkey. And it fits with worries that Mr J has raised with me about kids and surveys.

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