Heard on the radio (guess what’s missing from this story)

New Dating Seminars Target Teen Violence
by Brenda Wilson, NPR

September 28, 2009 School officials are worried that too many teens are hitting and slapping the person they’re dating. To target this dating abuse, violence prevention classes are springing up in schools around the country.

NPR did an interesting little report yesterday on relational violence in teen dating.   The report was interesting, but to me it felt like the study really misses the mark on several counts.

Here is a take away nugget about the violence:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that about 1 in 10 adolescents reports an experience with physical violence from a dating partner. If other forms of abusive violence are included — from being threatened or emotionally harassed, to name-calling and insults — that number goes way up.

The report goes on to speculate as to where this violence is coming from (which the researchers hone down to an internalizing of our general cultural consumption of violence in the abstract, no mention of patriarchy or heterosexism) and then the researchers do a patriarchal gendered analysis of why this violence is enacted in (implicitly heterosexual) dating scenarios:

“They are now trying to relate to the opposite sex. And the simplest way I have to explain it is they are not very good at it,” he says. “If they try to relate to a girl the way they related to their male friends, she won’t like it. If she tries to relate to him the way she does with a girlfriend, or if she tries to act like a male friend, he won’t like it. There’s a lot of confusion.”

Girls may end up being physically aggressive when they interact with a boyfriend, punching and poking, says Wolfe, because they think that’s what guys like. “And the guys may be very controlling because they think that’s what works in relationships with other guys.”

So what is missing from this discussion?

Well as you can see a few things that come to mind for me:
First I have to ask myself, what is with this patriarchal heteronormative frame that ignores all the sexist and sexual violence directed at queer youth? As well as all of the homosocial sexist and sexual violence that we see in the national news every day?
It is a well know fact the vast majority of LGBTQ youth experience daily violence at the hands of their peers. And just in the past week we have been reading about girls making slut lists about other girls and boys beating down other more passive boys, yesterday they beat one to death in Chicago.

Second, the paragraph introducing female physical violence masks the fact that the vast majority of physical violence takes place at the hand of males. Perhaps this detail might take us beyond general descriptions of a violent culture into the specifics of patriarchal priviledge and misogyny?

So maybe when you premise your studies and logic with heterosexist and misogynist assumptions then it is difficult to interpret some of the following findings:

After 2 1/2 years, the program appears to have reduced dating violence and increased condom use at the Ontario schools, though it appears to be more effective among boys than girls. The rate of violence among adolescent boys who were surveyed was 7.1 percent among those who did not take the classes, compared to 2.7 percent among those who did.

Among the girls surveyed, those who took the class were just as likely to report abusive behavior as those who didn’t — about 12 percent in both groups of girls. Other researchers have also found that girls report being more abusive than boys. It’s not clear whether they’re just more honest than boys, or whether it’s their way of trying to get a boy who is unresponsive to talk. Wolfe says, “That’s what they tell you. ‘I do it because I can’t get him to talk to me. I get angry at him, and I react, and I lose control.’ ” Physically, the boy is unlikely to be harmed; it’s the girl who catches the brunt of it if he does react.

Could it be, that if patriarchy and heteronormavitity are never addressed within the study, the treatment, or the analysis, it would be particularly difficult for either the subjects (the girls and boys) or the academics to ever move past patriarchal gendered assumptions about the ‘normal’ sexual aggression of boys or the ‘normal’ sexual passivity of girls?

Just a thought.

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