Here Nancy Lombard explains how she used vignettes to explore the ways young people understood and justified men's violence against women in adult relationships.
In my research young people reflected upon vignettes. Vignettes are short stories about hypothetical characters. The following examples illustrated how the young people justified men’s violence against women using gender stereotypes and a rigid understanding of adult relationships framed by heterosexuality, encapsulated by the themes of obedience, ownership and possession, entitlement and ‘victim’ blaming’.
Claire and Lee have been seeing each other for four months. Claire’s favourite outfit is her jeans and vest top. Lee has asked Claire not to wear the vest top because he says other boys look at her and he doesn’t like this.
Obedience and modification of behaviour
Lily: Because they’re a couple, she should do what he says.
Craig: It might upset him if she doesn’t do what he’s asked
Lucy: She could just wear a cardy over it. And then just wear it when she’s not with him, so he won’t know
Rosie: I would wear the top. But I think that if it was really obvious that people were looking at me then I would wear a wee jumper.
Fatima: But as long as Claire keeps saying to Lee that she doesn’t care. She’s going out with him, it doesn’t matter what they think, then maybe he would feel a bit more reassured
Craig: He’s the one who is going to be stood beside her when she’s out. And he’ll look stupid if he’s the one that is going out with her and other boys are looking at her.
Samia: [if you] upset Lee…it might drive him away from you.
Daniel: If she wants to be with him then she shouldn’t [wear it].
Emmy: She should do what Lee says if she doesn’t want him to leave her. He’s told her what she should do
Jake: Its not fair for her to make Lee feel like that. She shouldn’t wear that vest
An example of the process of ‘blaming the victim’ and thereby justifying violence, had to do with the sexualisation of the female body, limiting girls’ choices with moral and sexual responsibilities and the restrictive codes attributed to it. These responsibilities included modestly covering her body (with more clothing) and being aware of the reaction that her (clothed) body may incite. Several of the groups (both boys and girls) invested in this discourse of gendered morality when discussing the first vignette regarding Lee telling Claire not to wear her favourite vest top. Locating the issue with Claire subscribes to the notion that women are defined by how men view them with clothing becoming sexualised and encoded with the means of pleasing or displeasing men. The descriptions used by the young people are all active ‘doing’ words, suggesting that Claire was inviting male attention through the sexualisation of her clothing, as these heavily sexually connotated examples show:
Stewart: She is flaunting herself in front of other people. She could be enjoying that lots of boys are looking at her.
Shaheeda: She is revealing herself to the boys
David: She wants to wear the pink top to expose herself to them
Cheryl: She’s got slutty clothes
I was so shocked by these unyielding reactions to this vignette that in the spur of the moment in one of the third or fourth groups I decided to flip the question (straight after the original vignette was discussed):
Lee and Claire have been seeing each other for four months. Lee’s favourite outfit is his jeans and vest top. Claire has asked Lee not to wear the vest top because she says other boys look at him and she doesn’t like this.
To me these contrasting reactions illustrate everything we need to know about how young people understand gender, power and relationships. This is why gender matters in an analysis of violence:
Amy: She can’t tell him what to do
Robbie: She’s not the boss of him
Luke: She can’t tell him what to wear, if he likes them he can wear them
Jill: She is just jealous of other girls looking at him
Nick: If she felt secure with him she wouldn’t ask him not to wear them
Billy: Its not on, she can’t say that
Carl: What gives her the right to say he can’t wear his own top?