Violence against women is a-okay, says adolescents in UK study

A small study of middle school students in Glasgow revealed that the majority of them said it was justified to hit a woman if she had an affair or failed to have dinner ready on time. Via BBC:

The research involved 89 primary seven children at five Glasgow primaries.
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.

The researchers also said the girls involved were more aware of expectations to get married and have children and to curtail their careers in the process.
Whether or not the students in this study were serious in their contention that violence against women is okay, or simply thought it would be funny to answer “yes” to these questions, you still find yourself with the same result: that violence against women continues to be normalized among youth. And that’s really unsettling.

Join the Conversation

  • Lilith Luffles

    Alright… I can sort of understand one not-so-hard slap at finding out about an affair, but dinner not being ready????? WTF????? How in the Hell did these people come to learn that dinner not being bready on time was worthy of anything other than “alright, anything I can do to help?” or at the very worst “okay, I’ll sit here and watch T.V. while you finish. Try to start it earlier next time.”
    Seriously, I’d consider leaving if I even got yelled at for not having dinner ready on time.

  • jayjay323

    the dinner thing is obviously absurd. Not sure about the importance of dinners in Scotland though…
    “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.”
    Well, most importantly: what does “punching” mean here? Push away forcefully? Slap? Full on fist on face?
    Were they also asked whether or not a WOMAN was justified in punching her partner when she found out he had had an affair? Because, quite frankly, I think that this kind of violence against men is much more normalized than the other way around.
    And what kind of physical reaction to such a traumatic experience would you consider ok? For a man? For a woman? Would you suggest different reactions?

  • BackOfBusEleven

    Unless you have access to the raw data, these answers are left a mystery. However, usually in surveys there aren’t operational definitions. If someone were to ask “What do you mean by punching here,” the surveyor would usually say “Whatever you think punching to be.” In this case, I don’t think it matters what the individual thinks a true punch is. They might punch their partner having an affair in the same way they punch their best friend on her birthday. It’s unlikely that this would be the case, considering the feelings involved, but they might. It’s also unlikely that even people this age would judge a punch, a push, and a slap to be the same thing. There are clear distinctions between the three. A four-year-old of average intelligence could probably tell you or demonstrate the difference. The researchers might have just wanted to see if people this age thought it was okay to react to a cheating partner with any level of physical violence. Even with the small sample and possibility that students might have lied in their answers, I’m still horrified by the results for the same reasons Vanessa gives.

  • Toongrrl

    Dinner not on time??? What the fuck??? Cook your own dinner impatient bastards!!!!

  • katemoore

    I’m going to venture a guess and suggest that “punching” means punching.

  • cato

    Concerns about representativeness aside, a random thought: I hope that the researcher debriefed the children afterwards and made it clear that punching and slapping should not be part of any relationship. It’s too sad to think that these boys and girls grow up believing these things are normal.
    Wouldn’t it be great for once if research not only pointed out the problem and called for action in the abstract, but changed attitudes directly? It is possible, and actually often mandated by ethics protocols, but very often that part of the survey doesn’t really happen.

  • Vivica

    It actually makes me wonder what’s going on at home. Knowing that Violence against women, and violence in intimate partnerships in general, is so common, I wonder if these kids are just repeating what they know to be true.

  • asseenontv

    Unfortunately, it says nearly all the children believed it was okay to punch a woman for having an affair. 80% endorsed a slap over the dinner.
    Pretty scary. Hopefully they’ll develop better attitudes as they age.

  • Phenicks

    I dont buy into this study for several reasons, 11 and 12 year olds tend to think its justified to punch, kick or hit a classmate because you “like” them or they wore dorky clothes to school or werent in the “in” crowd. They also tend to find kicking or punching a male in teh genitals absolutely hilarious- the more it hurts the funnier it is. Last I checked all of that is violence and its all common place. Especially the kicks and punches to the genitals- even America’s Funniest Home Videos promote the idea that its not only ok but its LOL funny!!!
    We really need to start separating comedy from physical violence if we don’t want to see surveys like this anymore.

  • Dawn.

    That is depressing. Granted, the sample size is small and the children could have been answering “yes” because they think it’s funny. But violence against women should not be considered funny and laughing about a punch makes the violence that much more normal.
    The researchers also said the girls involved were more aware of expectations to get married and have children and to curtail their careers in the process.
    That is the icing on this sad cake.
    If I were a parent to one of those children I would be deeply concerned about my child’s perception of gender and gender roles. But how do you combat the aggressive socialization of children into strict gender categories? And how do you protect your child if they don’t agree with other children’s perceptions or if they don’t fit into their assigned category? I better find that one out before I have a kid, haha.

  • Anna

    this it NOT okay.

  • kat

    As the mother to a 12 year old boy, I can say this isn’t true. He and his friends do not think it’s OK to punch someone for wearing funny clothes or not being cool enough.
    Much to my chagrin, he has occasionally said he wanted to punch someone, but it is always in the context of being bullied. (We then talk about other ways to handle the problem.)

  • Chas

    Much as I don’t wish to downplay these depressing statistics, or imply that domestic violence is only prevalent amongst certain social groups, I think it’s worth noting that Glasgow is one of the most deprived areas in Scotland and indeed the whole of UK. Poverty and child poverty in particular are a large problem, as are drugs, unemployment, and teen pregnancy. Whilst I don’t wish to make any kind of generalisation implying that lack of economic well-being automatically means you’re more misogynistic, I do think there can be a correlation between social deprivation and lack of progressive attitudes towards women.
    Growing up in a poor area where violence and disrespect for others and their property is commonplace leaves children hardened and amoral. Prospects for women and girls are curtailed by this social and economic poverty, who are failed by the education system. They’re more likely to leave school, be unemployed, and indulge in unsafe sex with men who don’t respect them, and who they won’t see for dust if the girl ends up pregnant. If you grow up in an area where women are already seen as disposable baby making machines, or housebound drudges, it’s perhaps not unsurprising that these children have normalised domestic violence and disrespect for women. But this study only takes a sample from one very specific, very deprived area. I don’t think it’s reflective of the UK in general, or British children in general. The study certainly doesn’t make me happy but I don’t think it’s quite the cause for alarm that it’s being portrayed as.


    It sounds like you’re trying to rationalize the survey results, and trying very hard with all sorts of linguistic games.
    I’m not sure why you’re doing that, and, not being a mind reader I’ll leave it to you to clarify what’s going on here.
    To me, the study seemed tragically straightforward – an overwhelming majority of the Scottish middle-school aged kids in this survey thought that a man had a right to beat his wife/girlfriend/partner under certain circumstances.
    Let’s pause right here.
    Let that marinate for a minute.
    And now let’s say it again.
    The majority of the students in this survey thought that it was OK for a man to beat his female partner.
    There were some differences as to circumstance – but, dear God, 80% of them thought it was OK for a man to beat his partner if she didn’t serve dinner on time
    [Needless to say, the idea of the man cooking dinner himself is not seen as an option]
    And all of them thought it was OK for a man to beat his partner if she was being sexual with another person.
    To me, that’s fucked up beyond belief – and no rationalization in the world makes that OK.


    I was a special education paraprofessional for the New York City Department of Education, working with middle school aged students (11-14) and I can tell you, students that age understand exactly how serious fighting is.
    Hitting another student – or an adult – was serious business with my students (and the other children at that school) and when they hit somebody they did it for a reason
    So, when middle school kids talk about how it’s justified for a man to beat his wife because dinner’s late, or she’s been sexual with another man, that tells me that this is where they set the bar for the acceptable use of physical violence.
    My educated guess would be that these students grew up in homes were the adult males in their lives treated women like that (specifically, that’s probably how their fathers/stepfathers/mother’s boyfriends treated their mothers).

  • IAmGopherrr

    Consider? I’d be out the door post-haste and he’d be sitting with it in his lap!

  • IAmGopherrr

    Totally agree gregory!

  • IAmGopherrr

    Well Saudi Arabias very rich and they recently wanted to lash a woman for being raped.

  • Flowers

    If this survey is the same one done in the early 90s, then yes, it did ask if it was ok for a woman to hit a man after she found out that he committed adultery. The answer was “Yes” 40% of the time, much less than the reverse.
    I saw this study in the Women’s Museum in Glascow when I did my study abroad there. This survey doesn’t surprise me. The double standard is very alive and well.

  • supremepizza

    Perhaps you’re generalizing from a small group. There is a such thing as horse play, and beyond that ‘rough play’. Horse play is common at that age, and even older as the popularity of the Three Stooges will attest. Growing up my mother often said she had no idea how I & my best friend remained best friends since we got into so many fights, even though we never ever considered not being best friends. Today we laugh about it.
    Now, everything has a context to it, and the context laid out by the researchers *I think* makes it clear that these were not horseplay incidents. My partner & I horseplay frequently–we’re just goofballs–but we’d never hit each other over late dinner.

  • Phenicks

    Your son is the exception not the rule (and bravo for raising him to be a very considerate human being). If he were the rule so to speak, bullying wouldn’t be a problem now would it?
    Because 11 and 12 year olds would know that its wrong and their bullying is not justified and that it isnt funny or entertaining but alas, many a child caught bullying will cite being entertained or “just having fun.” Violence and entertainment go hand and hand and its only a “serious” matter when the child you ask about it or in some cases a close friend or family memeber is the victim.

  • Phenicks

    You’re citing 13 and 14 year olds, this study deal with 11 and 12 there is a huge difference between 11 and 14.
    However, I still stand by what I said, you are looking at the small sample size of a school- I’m looking at violence on a large school within the entire country. 11 and 12 year olds are still children who will act on impulse, amongst peers someone might get slapped for cutitng in line and most of them will think that slap is justified. How children behave in front of adults is different than how they behave in front of each other. I can’t tell you the last time I saw a television show where a man cheated and DIDNT get slapped hard in the face or kicked in the groan etc etc for his infidelity. So the beating for cheating is an idea that is globally known amongst young and old alike.
    As far as for not having dinner ready on time, again- children are impulsive and they are answering a survey anonymously. Unless these children are also in homes (as you’ve said) where domestic violence is the norm I wouldn’t even take that seriosuly. These weren’t mature high school seniors, these were prepubescent children answering questions they probably didn’t take very seriously themselves and used TV as a guide.

  • Dena

    And this is why a feminism needs to be taught in every school across the world. *sigh*
    This is definitely not okay.

  • BackOfBusEleven

    You’re talking about two different things. I don’t think most 11- and 12-year-olds think it’s okay to violently bully their peers (although maybe these kids might). It might be true that they think it’s funny to kick or punch guys in the nuts. It’s actually a pretty popular game to punch or kick their guy friends in the genitals in the hallway. So you’re comparing violence against peers to aggressive physical games that friends play, as stupid as they may be.
    You’re also comparing fighting with peers to committing violence against a woman who doesn’t do what a man wants her to do. I really don’t get how these two situations are comparable. Kids probably don’t know better when it comes to keeping their own hands to themselves, but they should expect more from grown-ups and their parents. Perhaps the students would answer differently if they were asked “If your mother had an affair behind your father’s back,” or “If your mother did not have dinner on the table before your father came home from work,” would it be okay for him to hit her.

  • Unequivocal

    Saying that there is a correlation between poverty and non-progressive attitudes is not saying that people in rich areas are progressive.

  • Kathleen Hagerty

    I think that children often speak volumes about the social ills of a culture without ever directly addressing the root of the problem. When a sample of children across the board say that hitting one’s spouse is acceptable behavior, we can be sure that they are not living in healthy family relationships and more than likely are victims of domestic abuse themselves.
    When I was in high school I distinctly remember a girl in my class say that if a guy wants to get with a girl who won’t have him that he should just rape her. When I think of her saying that, when I replay that image in my mind, I shudder, simply because I think that there might have been something horrible going on in that girl’s life to make her think that rape was justifiable. It’s contingent on us as adults to set the bar higher for ourselves and the kids in our communities. Seriously, they see everything and they internalize it all, even if they don’t realize that they do.

  • Chas

    Please note my comments;
    “I don’t wish to downplay these depressing statistics, or imply that domestic violence is only prevalent amongst certain social groups”
    ” I don’t wish to make any kind of generalisation implying that lack of economic well-being automatically means you’re more misogynistic”
    I never said poverty was the whole story. Or that not being poor means you will have a great attitude to women. But I think it’s a factor worth considering when looking at this ‘study’, and I wanted to raise it as some non-UK citizens may not be aware of what kind of demographic Glasgow represents.

  • Phenicks

    So kicking a boy in the genitals is “just peer violence” then what would you call it if the game was kick a girl in her genitals? Seriously. I have a son and if a kid kicked my son in teh genitals and thought it was a game I’d demand a meeting with his/her parents next step I’m sueing. Violence against my child wont be tolerated simply because he was born with a penis- he’ll have a hard enough time with racist pricks thinking he is worthless because he’s not 100% white.
    It’s physical violence even when you make it a game or say its just for fun and THAT was my point. 11 and 12 year olds aren’t mature enough to consent to marriage how could we expect them to be mature enough to know the dynamics of a committed relationship and what is and isn’t acceptable as it differs from what is and isn’t ok for them to do amongst their peers?
    The study was ridiculous.

  • Toysoldier

    The responses are not surprising given the age group selected. What it disturbing is the gendered nature of the study, i.e. that none of the questions about violence were asked in the reverse. The recent violence against Tiger Woods for his infidelity and the excuse making that occurred demonstrates that women are just as likely, if not more so, to consider assaulting men for having affairs or failing to do some trivial action acceptable.
    One cannot conduct a one-sided, small-sample study and then use that to make a broad statement about a much larger group. However, one is going to try to make a broad statement, then the study should be balanced.

  • puckalish

    First off, Gregory cited 11-14 year-olds, not 13 & 14 year-olds…
    As for me, I’ve worked several 7th grade classes as a language arts and history teacher and as a literacy consultant. More recently, I’ve worked steadily with 10-13 year-old people as a martial arts instructor, where the significance of violence is pretty on the surface and, well, I can say that the young people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working over the past 10 years deviate significantly from your assertions.
    At 11&12, most young people are starting to try to understand what social expectations are and, if anything, they tend to err on the side of taking adult examples too literally, thereby reflecting our problems back at us in an exaggerated manner.
    This is really much more to the point and speaks to the other example you just brought up – “[using] TV as a guide.” TV is produced by adults who are, for the most part, working off of the examples they see in lived life. So, violence as a response to cheating or not having dinner ready on time is something that comes from us and is reflected by them. Unimpeded, these young people will follow the examples they’re shown. However, again, the overwhelming majority of pre-teens are actually disturbed more than amused by violence. Look at any of the prevailing literature on early adolescent childhood development.
    Finally, I don’t get how (in your subsequent statement) you can say “The study was ridiculous” when, a) you haven’t even looked at it and b) you’re basing your assessment on your (narrow) exposure to violent middle schoolers and the projected and assumed specifications provided by other commenters. I’d hold off judgment until I could actually get a look at the study and its methodology.

  • puckalish

    Toysoldier, I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume you’re not just trying to start an argument here…
    According to the BJS, in 2001 (latest numbers) 588,490 women were victims of intimate partner violence, as were 103,220 men. 691,710 – which breaks down to 85% women, 15% men. Being a man who’s been hit by his intimate partner, I can tell you firsthand that it certainly happens; however, being a mildly literate human being, I can also tell you that your assertion that “women are just as likely, if not more so, to consider assaulting men…” is baseless and inflammatory at the same time.
    Now, onto your other “problems.” First off, the study was not on domestic violence, it was on gender roles, so it makes sense that many of the questions would be gendered. Further, we’re all going off of a press release (this study hasn’t even been published yet), so we have no idea if the young people were asked about female on male violence.
    Next, we don’t know why the study was small-scale. However, the actions they’re looking at following up with are focused on interventions with young people in Scotland. That’s very focused intention and may very well lead to studies of a larger scope.
    Finally, what “broad statement about a much larger group” was made? The only thing resembling a broad statement in the university’s press release was “The study also suggested that girls expected to modify their behaviour and narrow expectations once they were married and had children”… notice the use of the word “suggested” and the absence of any statements about violence. All of the mentions of violence in the release worded just as they relate to the young people in the study.
    Nevermind that you used a solitary incident (Tiger Woods) with no comparison to determine that women may be more likely to be violent with their partners than men. I mean, that’s just ridiculous.
    Oh, well… keep trolling, homey.

  • puckalish

    should be a reply to Phenicks

  • sarah_steel

    I don’t think it’s fair to doubt Phenicks’ observations and assume that your own experiences with children are somehow more valid and applicable. Your opportunities for observation in an academic environment or a martial arts class are naturally limited in some ways. The class is not necessarily a fair representation of children as a whole and these children obviously take on a certain persona in the classroom. I’m not doubting that in your experience 11-12 year olds understand that violence is not appropriate, but in MY experience talking to kids in this age group about violence every day, I find that a great number of children believe that violence is a-okay if they’re just pissed off enough. Of course, these children mostly come from families living in poverty in a rural area; obviously, the group is not necessarily representative… but neither is any group of children you or Gregory or anyone else has worked with. Some kids (learning from some combination of family/school/class/culture/region…) will understand the consequences of violence. Others won’t.
    And Chas already commented above with what I wanted to say next.

  • puckalish

    You know what, Sarah, you’re right. All of our anecdotal evidence is, for the most part, irrelevant to making broad generalizations.
    You mention that you, too, work with young people. Have you studied adolescent development outside of your work itself? A great deal of research has been done, particularly over the past 50 years, on the subject and much of it is more significant than anything you or I (or Phenicks or Chad or Gregory) could draw from our lives.
    Unfortunately, I don’t believe most of the stuff I studied in school is online. However, it doesn’t take a lot of looking around to find many examples of studies that point out that a) bullies are not the norm (ie, they are a minority of children, significant for their social impact rather than their numbers), b) bullying is a behavior often learned in abusive family and community settings, c) pre-teens are beginning to sort out the consequences for their actions and d) real-world violence cannot simply be dismissed as “comical” as it relates to pre-teens.
    I find it curious that you use the world “fair” in reference to my comment, as fairness is at the core of pre-teen development. People of this age are often struggling with what it means for something to be fair and, if your experience is in any way relate-able to mine, when young people get in trouble or something goes wrong, “fairness” is the first thing thrown into question.
    Further, I want you to understand that I’m not condemning Phenicks or stating that my observations are “more valid” than hers/his, but that, and I’ll state it again, “I’d hold off judgment until I could actually get a look at the study and its methodology.”
    Phenicks dismisses this study out of hand without having looked at it, entirely based on Phenicks’ own anecdotal experience with an admittedly limited population of young people and having read either just this excerpt or this excerpt and a press release. Would you argue that that is “fair”?
    You suggest that “Some kids (learning from some combination of family/school/class/culture/region…) will understand the consequences of violence. Others won’t.”
    This is critical. It points out that it is not simply child development that determines whether or not young people will seriously weigh the consequences and significance of violence. In this regard, young people reflect the social orders in which they find themselves. This is how we all construct identity. Therefor, looking at young people and extrapolating to larger social trends is not an entirely out-of-pocket idea. That said, this study sought to do no such thing.
    Laying all of the blame on comedy, as Phenicks did, is kind of wild, as is dismissing the entire study based on a cursory glance and personal experience.
    However, recognizing that adult society plays a large role in how violence is constructed in pre-teens is very, very important and, for that, and for the sake of fairness, here’s a pat on Phenicks’ back.
    As far as Chas’s statement is concerned, the only young people I’ve worked with from comfortable environments were in a drug treatment center. Otherwise, my work has been focused on young people in West Oakland, Brooklyn, Harlem and the Bronx. There is a history of violence and poverty in all of these places, yet I have not seen the same patterns (that most [ie, the 80+% referenced in the study] 11 & 12 year olds think it is “justified” to “hit, punch or kick” for the sake of a laugh) to which you and Phenicks allude.
    I recently did come across an interesting study on violence prevention in rural schools which may be of some value to you or to Phenicks – I certainly have found it useful in developing approaches to violence prevention.
    This is another interesting study on pre-teen violence. It’s more germane to this discussion in that it references justifications for violence. Overwhelmingly, this was not about physical comedy, but about the victim “deserving” some kind of physical retaliation, which seems to be more to the point of the study about which this post was written.
    Certainly, making light of physical violence doesn’t help us to prevent it, but there’s a lot more going on than exposure to low-brow comedy, even within entertainment (think of the justifications proposed for violence in many blockbuster movies and tv dramas). And this is where studies like that Glasgow one are critical (the uni is in Edinburgh, but the youth were in Glasgow) – identifying what the justifications and rationalizations are for violence and intervening. Of course, that study had a broader and narrower reach than youth violence in that it was a study on gender construction rather than on violence.
    I’m really running on now, so I’ll stop, but i hope you get my point and see that I’m not just being “unfair.”

  • makomk

    Thank you for calling a victim of domestic violence a troll. (I’m actually surprised to see Toysoldier here – usually he stays away from feminist spaces, for reasons you’ve just demonstrated. As I’ve mentioned before, this site is fairly obviously far from a safe space for male victims of female-perpetrated domestic violence and rape.)
    You’re making use of some interesting statistics too: “According to the BJS, in 2001 (latest numbers) 588,490 women were victims of intimate partner violence, as were 103,220 men. 691,710 – which breaks down to 85% women, 15% men.”
    That’s crime data, which means that it only counts victims who successfully seek help from the police. The survey-based part, the NCVS, finds about 40% of victims are male. There’s a whole bunch of obvious reasons that male victims are less likely to get help from the police than female ones:
    – Firstly, it requires conceiving of the actions as a crime in the first place. That’s difficult for all victims, which is why (for example) the Home Office is running a campaign right now in the UK to help female victims realize this. It’s harder for men, though, since they don’t have these campaigns and do have the masculine culture of not showing weakness to contend with. It’s also harder because of the large proportion of domestic violence helplines that assume they’re really an abuser.
    – Secondly, it requires being willing to seek help. That not only means showing weakness, but it also means taking a big risk of not being taken seriously since everyone knows that men are stronger than women and that women aren’t dangerous.
    – Thirdly, it requires actually being taken seriously. Police are (in theory) trained to do this for female victims. Unfortunately, this training also encourages them to not take apparent male victims of female violence seriously, on the basis that they’re probably abusers making a false claim in order to get away with their abuse. (Then there’s primary aggressor laws, which are often structured such that they encourage or require arresting the man even if the only aggressor was female. Yes, really. If you have bleeding defensive wounds on your arms, your wife is wielding a knife, and you haven’t fought back, she might be the one arrested, but in practice even then it’s not certain.)
    – Male victims are actively discouraged from seeking help from the police by groups dealing with them – especially if they have kids – because of the risk they’ll be the one arrested (which, of course, means leaving the kids alone with someone known to be abusive).
    Also, this is just wrong: “First off, the study was not on domestic violence, it was on gender roles, so it makes sense that many of the questions would be gendered.”
    By only asking male students about their attitude towards violence against women, the survey designers are injecting their assumptions – that men and only men have attitudes encouraging domestic violence solely against women – into the design. That’s a big no-no. It’s a good way of ensuring the survey gets the right results – in fact, it makes sure that it will – but it’s the exact opposite of the scientific method.
    Furthermore, this is a systemic problem, not just an isolated incident. Lots of studies only ask about domestic violence by men against women, or about rape of women by men. There’s also more subtle issues. For example, the NCVS gets a lot of criticism for methodological issues that might under-count female rape victims. What isn’t often noticed is that not only does the same apply to male victims, but there are bigger issues. Such as, for example, never counting penis-in-vagina intercourse as rape if the victim’s a man. (In fact, guess which statistics are often used to show male rape victims aren’t common?)