Story at a glance

  • Teen boys with equitable views on gender were less likely to engage in interpersonal violence, a recent study found.
  • The study also showed that teen boys whose peers are disrespectful to women and girls are more likely to engage in violence.
  • The study found that the correlation did not carry into the likelihood of engaging in homophobic behavior.

What may start as boys catcalling and bullying can end in men committing violence. That’s according to a new study on how teen boys respond to the attitudes around them. And while the research shows how disrespect breeds more aggression, the reverse is also proving to be true: Healthier attitudes towards gender can help prevent violence. 

"We have for too long siloed sexual and partner violence in one place, youth violence and bullying in another," said Dr. Elizabeth Miller, lead author of the study and chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, to ABC.

The study published Dec. 26 in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine was the first in the U.S. to talk to teen boys about perpetrating violence in a community-based setting, rather than in schools or clinics. 

Toxic masculinity can refer to "socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence," according to one study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. These traits prescribe a specific ideal of masculinity that is increasingly being challenged. Researchers defined this more progressive attitude towards gender in statements such as "a guy never needs to hit another guy to get respect" or "I would be friends with a guy who is gay."

“Male adolescents with more gender equitable attitudes have lower odds of violence perpetration,” researchers said in the study.  

The research also found that peer attitudes towards gender were also influential in predicting violent behavior. Boys who saw their peers engaging in two or more verbally, physically or sexually abusive behaviors were two to five times more likely to engage in violent behaviors themselves, the study found. These behaviors included telling jokes that disrespected women and girls or making disrespectful comments about a girl's body or makeup. 

Researchers also looked at whether teen boys intended to intervene with peers engaging in abusive, gendered behaviors. The more likely someone was to intervene, the more likely they were to engage in violence, especially sexual harassment and homophobic teasing — something researchers found surprising. 

“Holding more gender equitable attitudes may not necessarily influence participation in homophobic teasing, which youth may perceive as a form of acceptable, possibly even pro-social, interaction with their peers,” the study said. 


Published on Dec 30, 2019