“That Just Means He Likes You”

This image cropped up in my facebook feed today. The issues it discusses are things I’ve thought about quite a bit, and I think this little story brings together the threads in a fairly powerful way. First the image, and then some discussion.

I was reminded of a viral blog post I ran across a year ago, posted on a mommy blog and provocatively called “You Didn’t Thank Me for Punching You in the Face.”

I am sure every girl can recall, at least once as a child,  coming home and telling their parents, uncle, aunt or grandparent about a boy who had pulled her hair, hit her, teased her, pushed her or committed some other playground crime.  I will bet money that most of those, if not all, will tell you that they were told “Oh, that just means he likes you”.  I never really thought much about it before having a daughter of my own.  I find it appalling that this line of bullshit is still being fed to young children.  Look, if you want to tell your child that being verbally and/or physically abused is an acceptable sign of affection, i urge you to rethink your parenting strategy.  If you try and feed MY daughter that crap, you better bring protective gear because I am going to shower you with the brand of “affection” you are endorsing.

When the f*** was it decided that we should start teaching our daughters to accept being belittled, disrespected and abused as endearing treatment?  And we have the audacity to wonder why women stay in abusive relationships?  How did society become so oblivious to the fact that we were conditioning our daughters to endure abusive treatment, much less view it as romantic overtures? Is this where the phrase “hitting on girls” comes from? Well, here is a tip: Save the “it’s so cute when he gets hateful/physical with her because it means he loves her” asshattery  for your own kids, not mine. While you’re at it, keep them away from my kids until you decide to teach them respect and boundaries.

This post really changed my perspective when I first read it a year ago, and it’s something I think will stay with me for the rest of my life. The point it makes is so incredibly important to understand, and not only for parents. Sadly, I think this idea—that it’s okay for boys to treat girls badly, it just means they like them—is more ubiquitous—and more harmful—than we might like to think.

For example, do you remember in Anne of Green Gables where Gilbert Blythe pulled Anne’s hair and called her a name, and then later explained himself by saying that he did it because he liked her? I remember thinking, as a teen, that that story was the sweetest, most romantic thing I’d ever heard. The hard thing is that, in the story, Gilbert wasn’t cruel to Anne because he wanted to hurt her—no, if the story is to be believed, he was cruel because he had somehow been socialized to think that that was how a boy ought to treat a girl he likes. And that might just be the saddest part of all.

Anyway, after reading the post I filed it away under things to remember as I raise Sally—and Bobby, too. I want Sally to know that she can stand up for herself and expect the males in her life to respect her boundaries—and that she can count on the authority figures in her life, whether parents, teachers, or, eventually, employers, to back her up rather than defending those males who may treat her badly. And I want Bobby to know that aggression and disrespect are never ways to show affection, and that showing his affection in tender ways does not mean sacrificing his masculinity—and that he should respect and back up the boundaries of the females in his life.

But current events have brought this post back to my mind as well. When Zerlina Maxwell said last week in response to Steubenville that we should be teaching guys not to rape, the Right was incredulous. Rape is already illegal, they said, and everyone knows this, so how in the world would telling men not to rape help prevent rapes? See, this—this—is what Zerlina was talking about. This way we teach boys that it’s okay and “cute” for them to mistreat girls, and that they the appropriate way to show affection is by being rough and refusing to respect girls’ physical boundaries. Zerlina’s point was that if we want to decrease the number of rapes—most of which are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, not by a stranger in an alley—we need to work to change the messages about boundaries and consent, aggression and masculinity that we send to young men.

What are some additional messages surrounding consent, masculinity, an aggression that we as a society need to be working to change?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • jam

    a good thing about the Anne of Green Gables story is that she does NOT put up with the bullying and refuses to interact with Gilbert in any way (for *years* in the books, iirc) until he apologizes and stops being a jerk. When I was a kid watching the movie what I took away from it was, “don’t be mean to girls you like, it’s counterproductive and stupid”

    • The_L

      It was still deeply weird to see her fawning all over him later on, though. She even marries Gilbert. I could never quite get past that.

      • Nea

        But she marries him after they’ve both done a lot of growing and maturing, well after he would consider that kind of nonsense appropriate behavior towards her.

    • plunderb

      I agree that Anne acted appropriately in that situation. Even when her friends pressured her to overlook his behavior, she shut them down hard. Even when he apologized, she was all NOPE. Yeah, she married him eventually, but like 15 years later.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Also, after she breaks her slate over his head (LOL!) he tries to take responsibility for having provoked her by teasing her. Meaning he seems to recognize that what he did was wrong, not “cute.”

  • smrnda

    When I think of a person who would say ‘he’s pulling your hair and kicking you because he likes you’ I have to wonder what they consider normal and acceptable behavior in an adult relationship between a man and a woman. There’s a number of people (the Pearls you write about come to mind) that think it’s acceptable for adult men to be grown up brats and that it’s the job of women to humor men since it’s just the way they are, and telling a guy he’s a jerk would just harm his fragile little ego. So when they see a boy spit on a girl or shove her, they just think it’s a slightly less sophisticated form of normal behavior in an adult relationship. I think I recall that you once posted about a marriage between a fundamentalist/evangelical couple where the guy spit a piece of cake at his new wife’s face and that it was supposed to be *so funny.* I can’t imagine that people with this type of mentality are capable of imagining what healthy, mature relationships are like.

    • The_L

      The weird part is, supposedly the hair-pulling and other teasing are because he doesn’t know how else to get the girl’s attention. What about “Hi, [name]?” What about picking some flowers, or sharing a favorite toy, or literally anything else kids do with other kids they like? Why on earth would bullying be the first thing someone does to get your attention? What on earth happened to those poor boys to make them think that this was OK?

      • smrnda

        I know, it seems so OBVIOUS that it’s the wrong way to make any meaningful connection to a girl or woman, but I wonder if it’s really about getting the girl’s attention. Think about street harassment – is yelling a sexual remark at a woman from your car supposed to make her think “wow, I wanna be with that guy” or is more a thing guys do to impress other guys?

        In many ways, we socialize boys and men to crave group approval, which usually requires ascribing to an unhealthy idea of what ideal male behavior is. Pulling the girl’s hair gets you some points with some other males. For a lot of men, relationships with women is more or less about status with other men, which isn’t going to translate well into making a relationship work.

    • jemand

      Honestly, I think a lot of it ties into how bullying in general is ignored among children and in schools. Very often, the victim is told to “just ignore it,” this is just a specific, gendered form of that messaging.

      So I think while it certainly supports a culture in which children are learning destructive gender interactions, I think it’s primarily motivated by the adult casting about for any excuse to simply ignore whatever harm was done to one child at the hands of another. Our culture just has a convenient extra set of such excuses for gender-based bullying.

      I’m not really sure, though, why bullying is considered as trivial among adults as it generally is.

  • http://thisishysterical.wordpress.com R. Morningstar

    (Long time lurker here! Love your stuff, as always, especially your deconstructions of the damages of gender enforcement.)
    When boys teased/chased/antagonized me as a child, I didn’t really get much of the ‘oh, that just means he likes you!’ stuff. What I did get (and still get from certain family members) was the idea that I was only making it worse by standing up for myself or complaining to a third party. That the only way to make him stop was to ignore him, because he ‘just wants attention’ and I’m giving it to him by reacting at all. I’m sure you’ve heard that line before: “ignore it and it’ll go away.”
    I hated that so much. I still do. It took my power away, made me complicit in my own abuse, put the impetus squarely on MY shoulders to end the harassment by pretending it wasn’t happening. Because ‘that’s just how boys are,’ and I’m meant to be the bigger person and not make waves. And I think this plays heavily into many of our rape narratives – the idea that women should take harassment in stride and not make such a fuss about it. Because we ‘can’t change’ abusers, so we should just ignore them until they go away. ‘Don’t feed the trolls,’ as the Internet saying goes.
    But ignoring bullies and abusers doesn’t actually make them give up and go home. In fact, it often can result in the bully escalating the behavior until the victim cannot help but react. Our daughters (and sons, as the case may be) need to know that, not only do they have every right to stand up to people who bully or abuse them, but that we will have their backs every time.

    • Ibis3

      Yes. Yes. Yes. The pressure to ignore abuse gets even more pernicious because if you continue to speak out when you’re told to accept it quietly, then you’re blamed for any worse abuse that comes your way. You ought to have known that complaining would only make them attack you harder, so now you deserve the abuse. (cf. what happened to Adria Richards)

    • Monimonika

      I was once constantly bullied by a boy in kindergarten. I don’t recall if I was ever fed the BS line about “being liked”, but I did find a way to counteract the bullying and get him to never bother me again.

      Me: “George! I love you!! Let me kiss you all over your face!” *mha mha mha*
      George: “Aaahh!! Get away from me you freak!”

      I was used to giving kisses to my family members and favorite adults, so I didn’t feel too icked out about kissing some same-aged kid.

      Sadly, this method does not work on girl bullies… of which I had two really nasty ones in middle school and high school :-( The high school bully probably would’ve stabbed me if I had attempted to kiss her.

    • Rosie

      THIS. R. Morningstar, you’ve hit the nail on the head. And then they wondered why I got into an obviously abusive relationship just out of high school.

  • L

    It’s worth pointing out that Anne did not put up with that shit :) probably why I liked her so much when I finally read the books at age 23
    …. I think we need to stop accepting and spreading the ideas that there are entirely different codes of behaviors for boys and girls. I was frequently told not to eat popcorn by the handful, sit in certain ways, dress without extra care etc, because it was ‘unladylike’. My brother was never fussed at for these things. Manners are important, but not qualified by gender. Boys are taught if they are polite and neat, they are not ‘manly’ – usually in indirect ways. My husband refuses to wear certain shirts i think are stylish cuz he’s afraid of looking gay. He just wouldn’t be comfortable.. Of course I finally got him into flattering bootcuts and out of homeschool boy Grampa jeans so I think we’ve come a long way :) maybe someday he won’t be afraid of looking too good (it’s not really his fault, it’s how both of us were raised and we’ve made excellent strides in coming out of Christian Fundementalism, which as you know is highly gendered.

  • L

    Also the idea that men are always sexually aggressive and nothing less than obsession with sex and domination in sex is manly pervades both Christian and secular thought. (Was it piper who wrote about men conquering and colonizing? Shudder…)
    That is untrue and should be changed. Many men are capable of balanced thought lives, and are not sex driven animals. They may even wish for, *gasp* emotional intimacy before physical intimacy.
    Also women sometimes have higher sex drives than their husbands or partners, and men shouldn’t be made to feel there is something wrong with them if they don’t constantly want sex. It definitely causes unnecessary worries about ‘performance’ in some cases.

    • Terri Anne

      No, it was Douglas Wilson who wrote about colonizing and planting.

  • Ron K

    As a (sort of) Man who identifies as a feminist, I can give you a really long and detailed list of all the ways I feel I was socialised not to respect women’s boundaries, and to be aggressive. I’ll try to just write a couple of biggies that pop into my head. Obviously, a trigger warning, due to subject matter.

    1) The whole idea that men ‘naturally’ desire sex while women ‘naturally’ don’t, and its extension that woman use men’s ‘natural’ desire of sex to achieve their own goals. I was socialised to see ‘No’ as the default, normal and natural answer any woman is supposed to give to me — after all, this is just the beginning of a negotiation, and I need to see what she wants from me in order for her to allow me in her kindness and reluctantly to have my way with her. [/sarcasm] I mean, before I approach anyone, before I get to know anyone as a person — the rules of the game are that she says no and that I need to trick her to get sex while she attempts to trick me to get affection/support/marriage etc…

    2) Related to 1. The entire metaphor of relationship being a hunt, or a battle. Ever heard ‘all is fair in love and war’? Think for a second on how horrible that saying is. Women are seen as ‘the other’, the enemy, manipulative, never to be trusted. Our culture is filled with stories on how untrustworthy, manipulative and downright evil women are (Why are there never evil men in fairy tales? Just animals, monsters or women, the closest I can think of is a giant). You conquer the enemy to get what you want.

    3) Also related to 1. Sex is a prize women give for something. As you said, most of the rapes occur between people who know each other. If you managed to win the game, you feel cheated if you don’t get your prize. I’m not up to date on current normative dating habits, but when I was young the consensus was you ought to get at least something at the third date. Remember, I was socialised so that my ‘prize’ is supposed to be sex, obtainable only by dealing with this dangerous and treacherous creature called a woman. Sigh.

    4) I was socialised to measure myself constantly, openly and aggressively against other men. You are always pressured to show you’re more manly than anybody else, either through open aggression, or a sublimation thereof — sports, money, cars, sexual prowess and number of sexual encounters. High ambition is the norm. Although criminal and blatantly unethical activity like stealing or cheating in sports are frowned upon, finding ‘loopholes’ and acting in the grey area is encouraged in certain situations or age groups.

    Notice that from this vomit-inducing perspective, harming another person’s body and psyche are morally equivalent to taking steroids, or holding an ace up your sleeve. Going to see pictures of kittens now.

    I was brought up in a relatively normal, secular household, and a pretty normal school, until highschool, which was very abnormal in a good way. These are the messages I got from family, the media and most importantly my peer group from childhood until *middle school*. I can’t write about the experience of boys growing up in a more traditionally patriarchal religious system, and of course I can’t write about the experience of women. Writing this made me sad, but hearing anti-feminists say that rape culture doesn’t exist makes me $#!@ angry. I mean, watch a film, read kid’s books, watch talk shows or the news, think about the peer group culture when you grew up. Rape culture is as big as an elephant and it’s there.

    • TheSeravy

      #1 – Really interesting in terms of men and women engaging in a sort of negotiation and how so much comes out of that one preface. It’s degrading, antagonistic and setting everybody up for failure. The Us vs Them attitude as you’ve mentioned.

      #4 – The “loophole” and “grey area” came as a surprise for me. I had no idea this was part of men’s experiences. Combined with the extreme pressure to be competitive and ambitious, sounds like a toxic combination

      Thanks for sharing. I thought your post was very informative and insightful.

  • The_L

    Evil men in fairy tales? How about the king from the Scottish tale of “The King Who Married His Daughter?”

  • ScottInOH

    I agree with Libby Anne’s post and with the follow-up comments. All of those things drive me nuts, and it’s good that Ron K pointed out that this comes out of secular culture as much as evangelical culture. It’s everywhere you look.

    I also see it between parents and kids in some ways. Tickling when a child says “no.” Requiring a hug or kiss from a child in exchange for a favor. Making up a story, insisting it’s true, and then laughing at the child’s gullibility. I’m sure it’s supposed to be part of a fun and friendly relationship, and usually it’s clear that no one but a parent or other adult relative should be allowed to do this, but it always seems off to me.

  • MNb

    “is more more harmful than we might like to think.”
    That’s quite an understatement. I say this as a teacher with 12-16 year old pupils.
    Ron K makes some good points.

  • Matt Kennedy

    I was fortunate enough to not really have encountered that while growing up and was taught to always be nice to girls. However, one thing that I noticed, and I’m surprised you didn’t mention, is that I’ve often seen it go the other way with the girls abusing the boys, either physically (pinching or biting) or by being verbally or emotionally abusive (usually when they get older). Abuse is never an acceptable means of relating to other people, but that doesn’t just mean physical abuse, it also includes verbal, emotional, and spiritual abuse. While it’s true that boys/men are typically more physically abusive, girls/women are also capable of such abuse. I’m glad you pointed out how this physical abuse is often overlooked or even portrayed as a sign of affection, but I think just as often girls are encouraged to use their “feminine wiles” to manipulate boys into getting what they want. I’ve certainly seen it happen plenty of times, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen girls be verbally or emotionally abusive to other girls that they dislike or consider romantic rivals. Using and abusing others should never be acceptable, not matter what form it takes.

  • Sam Grover

    I know this makes me the bully and that two wrongs did not equal a right. But, when I was in primary school and a boy treated me poorly, he was kicked squarely in the crotch. Weirdly enough, most still played football, dodge ball and soccer with me. They just knew not to anger me. I think by 3rd or 4th grade I had 90% of them treating me kindly…and as long as they did they weren’t hurt. I know now that is not acceptable (and had stopped pretty much by 10). I didn’t teach my daughter to do that. But, I taught both my kids (b/g twins) that NO means NO, STOP means STOP and never to continue tickling or teasing past those words.

    • TheSeravy

      As much as two wrongs don’t make a right, physical violence/dominance is a language boys are taught to understand and respect. Someone beat you up, you learn to smarten up. Fighting back in “boys lingo” is the equivalent of stop. Talking things is characterized as “girly” or “weak”. So it’s not wonder the boys stopped treating you poorly; it’s wrong but effective.

  • Beutelratti

    I wish someone had told the boys that harassed me in school for two years that stop means stop. I wish someone would have told them that making someone cry is not funny. I wish someone would have told them that it’s not how boys play. I wish someone would have told them that it’s not just boys being boys. I wish someone would have realised that encouraging boys to behave in certain ways or effectively doing nothing to stop them from behaving the way they do could mean a life-long trauma for someone else.

  • http://www.seditiosus.blogspot.com Schaden Freud

    I encountered this a couple times in my youth, and it always stuck in my mind because the message I took from it was that there were people out there with even worse social skills than mine, and that amazed me.

  • saraquill

    I would like to add that it isn’t kosher for boys to do it to other boys (the son of an acquaintance got repeatedly kicked at school, and his teacher thought this was harmless) nor for girls to be whacking those they like. In high school, I would hit (though I never left a bruise) my significant others, especially the one I dated for a year and a half. When my family said that I was being mean to him, I really couldn’t understand it. Socially, I was taught that when a girl hits someone she’s in a relationship with, it doesn’t count as harm.

  • http://senseinaworldofnonsense.wordpress.com Louis

    Is the only evidence for the purportedly rampant use of the usually literary “boys will be boys” to justify violence and harassment ( which sounds initially ridiculous), a few anecdotes and an eighties movie? Honestly? I’ve noticed that popular feminists,even academic feminists, don’t seem to feel the need to give evidence for their self-absorbed tripe. Of course, girls must always be little darlings who can do nothing to provoke, and are incapable of physical and emotional cruelty. The amateur sociology in the post as well as in the comments is grievously empty-headed.

    • AAAtheist

      @26 (Louis):

      Not to feed your trolling or anything, but your diatribe about the supposed naturally sweet nature of girls being defended by feminists, amateur sociology being espoused by feminists, and dismissal of women’s (and men’s experience) as “grievously empty-headed” is misogyny at its best/worst.

      “Anne of Green Gables”, the film, may have been produced in the 1980s, but it was based on a novel written at the turn of the 20th century. I believe Libby Anne was using this example to show how the “boys-will-be-boys” attitude (and women’s agency despite it) has been around since before your lifetime. The “amateur sociology” in this post you’re so dismissive of is actual lived experience. What better evidence do you need that rape culture is a real thing?

      Feminism is not a one-upsmanship/one-upswomanship end game designed to punish men. It’s the practice of replacing sexism with equality and freedom to make things better for everyone.

      No one here is saying that women can’t provoke. But I hope you’re not implying that the suggestion of provocation equals a license to harass/bully/rape.

      • http://senseinaworldofnonsense.wordpress.com/ Louis

        Well thanks for feeding my trolling… Oh how typical- as soon as I criticize your perfect ideology, I become a misogynist. Hell, if my comment is misogyny at its worst, then it really is true that feminism is no longer relevant. Well if it was written that long ago, then what i said is even more true- that it cannot be used as evidence of what is problematic today. Lol… Are you serious? What sort of evidence would I need, other than pinching and teasing, that a “rape culture” ( should I take this seriously?) exists?

        Feminism isnt’t one-upmanship? Well, just in this post, I have seen boys stereotyped as nasty little villains who need to be taught a lesson. The point is, feminism always has to fight a villain, and the villains always end up being some supposedly archetypal ideal of what all men are. Feminism is definitely not about equality. I wasn’t denying lived experiences, I was pointing out the fact that you cannot make conclusions about the entire North Atlantic culture and western culture with reference to a few anecdotes and single film. This really only requires a few cells of cerebral matter to perceive. It is so, since I have to spell it out, because other people might have different and contradictory experiences, and then the conclusion of a rampant conspiracy against female dignity becomes more difficult.

      • Christine

        Louis, if you can’t even be bothered to read the original post, how can you claim that what you are doing is criticizing the ideology? And what, out of curiosity, sort of evidence would you like presented? If statistics are presented would you accept those without complaint, and not ask for what they mean in the real world? If you have a real complaint, spell it out.

        And for the love of all that’s holy, stop pretending that Anne of Green Gables is a film. Yes, there was a film made, but no one in their right mind thinks of that when someone refers to the books.

      • http://senseinaworldofnonsense.wordpress.com/ Louis

        Christine,
        I have read the original post, and I noticed you couldn’t even name a reason for why you think I didn’t. I would accept statistics, after I had checked it out myself, especially given the disturbing tendency of feminists to distort statistics, which is very revealing of the immoral people they tend to be. I’m not an American, so excuse me if I didn’t know some apparently landmark American work was originally a novel, Mrs. Pedantic.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        lol! Louis, both the poster who is gradually revealing the depths of your ignorance in this discussion AND the internationally renowned, oft-translated children’s classic series you are discussing are from Canada, not America.

        Louis doesn’t get near books very often? What a surprise!

      • Christine

        The reason I think you didn’t read the original post is that you claim “I have seen boys stereotyped as nasty little villains who need to be taught a lesson.” I didn’t see much point in stating why, because actually reading the post (i.e. not skimming it to decide which arguments to trot out of your toolbox) would make it obvious.

        Louis, may I ask who you read in your gender studies course that you feel feminists are not only misguided but immoral?

        And here I was excusing some of your ignorance of basic literature (stuff everyone reads) by assuming you were American. At this point I shall, instead, assume that you merely choose to not read.

      • http://senseinaworldofnonsense.wordpress.com Louis

        Yes, petticoat philosopher, I’ve already admitted to being ignorant of the book. Well done on establishing a red herring, and good evasion of my initial objection to the post. The ad hominem of how well-read I am is quite irrelevant to the cogency of the argument. To Christine: Well you can’t deny that implicit generalizations are made both in the post and more so in the comments, about boys, and not favourable ones. Oh, and then you also went off about how I don’t read. Again, ad hominem. But, I guess, on a feminist blog fallacious reasoning is the name of the game.

    • wordsp1nner

      I actually did get told that by a teacher.

      We were both seniors in high school. He’d been harassing me for the entire year and I finally snapped when I found my purse missing after he’d loomed over me to harass me some more. Turns out he didn’t have it, but his friends did, and he had a history of stealing my possessions to make me pay attention.

      I decided I wasn’t going to tell that teacher anything else he did and only emailed her about it when I was in a sophomore in college, hoping that she’d take it to heart and never say that again.

      This stuff happens.

    • Nea

      Lewis, you want evidence outside this comment thread that the rape culture exists? Google “Stubenville.”

    • Noelle

      Like the others said, “Anne of Green Gables” is a Canadian novel published in 1908. Why you be dissin’ Canucks from over a century ago, eh? They didn’t do nothin’ to you. That book put Prince Edward Island on the map, gave it some tourism. You’re not a big consumer of Canadian classic literature from the early 1900s, ya say? Well, I don’t suppose everyone is. The novel itself is a delightful portrayal of childhood. That L.M. Montgomery knew her way around a good story. If you’d like to know, Anne grows to be a teacher, and then quits when she marries because back in those days married ladies teaching was a big disgrace or something. There are more books in the series, but none of them have the same spark as the first. But that’s neither here nor there.

      It is acceptable to borrow ideas from literature and other cultural references in order to discuss a topic. Everyone likes a good story.

      But you’re a numbers guy, you say. Show me some confidence intervals, disprove that null hypothesis, you say. I like well-done research analyzed with correct stats as much as the next person, but I don’t know why’d you’d need them for something as simple as teaching children kindness. The whole treat others as you’d like to be treated is your basic human morality construct. You don’t even need religion for it.

      Here’s a little study. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23300546. Kids who were randomized into the do nice stuff group were better liked by peers compared to the control. Small sample size, I know. It’d be better if we had a bunch of studies with thousands of participants and got all longitudinal on it, followed those kiddos through decades on decades to the senior center and saw if the appreciation of kindness lasted a lifetime. I don’t where you’d get the funding for it though. And it probably wouldn’t pass the ethics committee to forbid half your subjects from ever being kind.

      All children, regardless of gender should be taught kindness and basic human decency. I hold my daughter to the same standards as my son. And though I like my numbers, I don’t think I need to wait for the meta-analysis on this one.

  • Rae

    Yes, this! When I was 13, a certain boy, who I will call Billy, did things like eating my snacks at Jr. High youth group outings, or throw pinecones at me and my friends, or tease me about my hair or clothing. When I complained, the universal response I got was “That means Billy likes you!” “But every other girl in the church is falling over themselves to get Billy’s attention!” I protested. “Why can’t he just like one of them?” After the adults in my life failed to provide me with an appropriate solution to this problem, I took matters into my own hands and enlisted my girl friends in order ensure that no more of Billy’s misdeeds against me should go unavenged. Most frustratingly, Billy seemed to interpret this as a sign of interest at first, until one day when my friends and I ambushed him with snowballs and messed up his hair (elaborately styled to mimic Justin Timberlake), which crossed a line in his world, and he left me alone.

  • Carys Birch

    In middle school I was bullied relentlessly by a boy on the bus who claimed to like me. He had affectionate pet names (with faint innuendo) for me, but he’d squeeze my hand till my joints cracked and I cried. He’d steal my shoes and socks, one time throwing them out the bus window so I had to walk from my bus stop barefoot (in early spring, in Maine, about half a mile).

    I was absolutely traumatized by this. My bus driver refused to do anything about it because we were “obviously just flirting.” I’ve always been thankful for my dad stepping in and telling that bus driver to put a stop to the torture or else. Nobody else believed that the boy was really, physically, hurting me, and that I was afraid to go to school because of it. Even I felt this weird mix of panic and sexual tension at the time. So unhealthy.

    On Anne of Green Gables: I’ve always loved her ability to not take crap from anyone. I do find it a bit suspect, however, that Gilbert is pretty obviously framed as her love interest from the first, and despite Anne standing up for herself, the whole story is framed as a charming, romantic incident. Anne is portrayed later as being stupid for holding out against Gilbert, who is obviously the only one in Avonlea who is her social and intellectual equal, over something so silly as personal boundaries.

  • http://dukesofearl.blogspot.com Joy

    My grandmother’s advice was “if a boy hits you, you hit him back twice as hard.”
    Now I am 42 and my grandmother 92 and has dementia. While I don’t think violence is the best way to solve problems, it didn’t hurt to have women like that in my corner to help give me the confidence to fix a boy with a steely glare and say, “Get your hands off me. I don’t like you.” and make it work , knowing the grownups were on my side even if I did have to hit him to get him to stop (I don’t think I ever did hit anyone who wasn’t one of my brothers. I think I did threaten a boy with a broom when I was 13–I didn’t want to make out with him and he was persistent. He gave up). I am raising my daughter to stand up for herself, too–hopefully without having to hit anyone, but when you’re defending yourself, you gotta do what you gotta do.

  • https://twitter.com/tonysidaway Tony Sidaway

    I never heard of this “because he likes you” thing. It sounds like the kind of reasoning that starts a nightmare.

  • ako

    The “That just means he likes you” thing is really weird. If, for some reason, a boy was expressing his affection for a girl through harassment and bullying, the appropriate reaction still wouldn’t be to chuckle condescendingly and dismiss the girl’s distress. The appropriate reaction would be having serious words with the boy and possibly disciplining him (in a manner proportionate to the age of the kid and the scale of the bad behavior) so he learns to behave and deal with his feelings appropriately. And if a boy’s mistreating a girl for other reasons, assuming it’s a crush and ignoring the whole thing is obviously not going to improve the situation.

  • Iris

    I never had this kind of situation with any boy as a girl. I was, however, constantly verbally and physically bullied by my older (of 10yrs) brother. My parents kept telling me it was just his way of showing affection.

    This is the main reason for my low self-esteem and I didn’t even now it for a long time. Just reading about this makes me incredibly angry.

  • Kodie

    This makes me think of a few things. Are boys, or girls, being taught to behave this way if they like someone, or are they learning from experience? I am not excusing it, I hope it doesn’t come across this way, but as I understand it, children have a hard time regulating their emotions and that’s why they behave more extremely than adults tend to. If I wanted to tell someone I liked them, they might laugh. It puts me in a vulnerable position. How do I recover from that, or how do I dig into my very small toolbox of reactions in order to recover from that knock to my ego? I might overcompensate and be brutal next time.

    As this comes up often enough, this particular topic brings me back to the time a while ago when I got into a discussion about atheist conventions and people trying to make rules about sexual harassment and the resistance to such rule-making, etc. There’s this custom, we’ll call it, of romantic intention. Adults tend to like the little dance and if you take that away, they don’t know how to function and they don’t like it very much. I got the idea that someone may see someone in the crowd, get nearer to that person and strike up a conversation, like two people with something in common would, and enjoy each other’s company very much. What ordinarily may happen is that one of them is hoping they “click” and they take the other’s participation and enjoyment of the conversation to mean they would also like to have sex. And often, that is how two people might get together – mutual attraction. Often, the case may also be that one is enjoying the nice conversation and the other is misreading that cue as “and I would also like to have sex with you”. They don’t know how to behave. Instead of saying, hi, I’m attracted to you, would you like to have sex tonight with me in my room? (which is direct, honest, and kind of too direct and too honest for some people that it creeps them out). Instead, they do the dance and sometimes one is having the best time having the conversation and the other one wants to have sex also but doesn’t know how to proceed without offending or harassing the person they’re talking to. In a lot of cases, they think having the nice conversation signals attraction and that the other person would leave or discourage it if they weren’t also interested.

    Basically, what it seems to boil down to is that people do want to have sex with other people, and sometimes they are in agreement, and sometimes it’s just a pleasant conversation they are having. Asking for what you would like from the person leaves you vulnerable, which we know, but I don’t know what the solution is. Once you have broken the barrier between having a platonic conversation with someone you’re also attracted to, the conversation is also made awkward and you have broken the whole thing – and maybe you didn’t want that to happen, but it sucks. You might have been delighted to have a platonic relationship with someone either if they said no or you did nothing at all. How to ask permission? You don’t. If they are looking back at you with a facial expression that seems to give the go-ahead, but you’re wrong, you’ve broken the whole thing. If you ask and they say “sure!” but if you ask and they throw their drink in your face, because you’ve spoiled the pleasant conversation with frank open honesty. You are under suspicion for entering into a pleasant conversation under false pretenses – there is no going back.

    We are not into the rape or even harassment category yet. People just don’t have grown-up tools for dealing with the possibility that this will go all wrong. When you are a kid and you like someone and they laugh at you and get their friends to laugh at you, and then next time you like someone, it seems like a better strategy to hit them before they can laugh at you – which is not only condoned by adults, but carried on by adults – how are you going to learn? We think this is cute because we don’t like the direct honest approach any better than getting mismatched signals. Why are we still dealing with signals when we have speech and language and at least the pretense of maturity?

    It is not just between men and women, although the more I learn about what men are supposed to be like and what women are supposed to be like, of course we can’t cross this language barrier if we start as children separating people and already treating them like they are from separate planets. It’s not just love and sex, but anger and other emotions as well. Emotional maturity is overlooked – children are just practicing “regulation” of their extremes until they can be trusted as an adult. And everyone is assumed to be otherwise psychologically healthy.

    I sort of manage a sport club in which one of the children in the class (age about 12) regularly has a meltdown and doesn’t respond well to criticism, is competitive, disruptive, and when he’s had enough, retreats from the group only to emerge a minute later as if nothing had happened, and strangely (to me), the other children do not try to “socialize” him out of behaving this way or exclude him when he returns to participate. An adult member of the club (not the teacher) advises me that all psychological advice instructs to totally ignore him. TOTALLY ignore him. Do not validate his obvious “attention-seeking” by going after him. I don’t think that sounds right. I think when we let children sort things out that they’re having a problem with, that they’ll simply grow out of it, and eventually behave as normal adults, we are missing the point. They don’t know how, and when they figure it out, they make up sometimes dysfunctional strategies. I do not seek to comfort him and allow his misbehavior, but I think totally ignoring him is not giving him what he does need, which is instructions how to proceed without merely suppressing his emotional reaction or having it come out a different way. I don’t have my own children, but I watch over the class like an anthropologist. I’m not calling this kid a school-shooter, but I do have my own experiences at school. I was left alone. I was taught to ignore people who teased and taunted me. It did not help me grow into a totally different, competent, emotionally mature adult.

    Schools are a place where teachers and other authorities have been damaged as to how much input they can have shaping those little human beings that come in the door every day. Parents desire ultimate control, but aren’t supervising their own children several hours a day, in which they live in a weird world where nobody mentors them in mature social interaction. Children basically work it out themselves what to do and how to handle their lives and other people in them. It’s often said that bullies are really the insecure ones. Pushing a girl you like in the mud is an insecure move. It means you care what others think of you more, including the girl, that you will not tolerate being laughed at for liking someone, but are too immature to regulate that emotional swing from total vulnerability to total domination.

    Turning problems into solutions is all they are doing, and all the instinct they have. The rest has to be trained, I guess it’s just not seen as that important. When you see the MRAs turn up when it comes up, regularly their problem seems to be the same thing – where they were vulnerable and got laughed at. They put things out there and got used and cheated by some woman somewhere that they developed a malformed strategy and attitude, and I don’t think women are off the hook here. If they grow up with the idea that boys will just push them in the mud, they are going to come up with some malformed strategies to avoid vulnerability as well and obviously the whole system of ignoring kids unto their own world hurts adults and makes it difficult to cope. I’m not excusing MRAs, but you have to think how the tendency to see the world as they do must have arisen. Damage.

    Sorry for the long post.

  • Vicki

    As the mother of a Sally, too, thank you for this post. I’m sure many have never considered that what we dismiss as harmless flirting in a child may become physical abuse in an adult. This should be required reading by every teacher, parent – okay, everyone.
    My own Sally is now 19 and in college and despite my many shortcomings, she’s thankfully turned out to be quite remarkable. As someone who’s occasionally battled the “boys will be boys” mentality from the authority figures in my own life, it has been my pleasure to watch my own child call “BS” on this even as a wee thing. She loves men but won’t suffer fools. Treat her well or be gone. Sally’s unapologetic raging feminist mother has never been prouder! I guess I did rub off on her in some good ways after all!

    • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

      Hi Kodie,

      I’m a teacher and I have experience with the middle childhood grade levels, so I’ll try to answer your question as best as I can.

      “Are boys, or girls, being taught to behave this way if they like someone, or are they learning from experience?”

      Probably a mix of both. On one hand, aggressive behavior is often learned from family or peers. It can also be acting out of anxiety or stress the aggressive child is going through, and sometimes that aggression is expressed in unpredictable ways. People tend to want simple cause-and-effect answers for these problems, and often the simple answers fall short. And sometimes this aggression is within the boundaries or normal child development. As you say, children need to learn to regulate their emotions, and sometimes this takes a long time.

      There’s no doubt that a lot of the behavior children learn is through their culture (for example, while in Western cultures we see adolescent children go through a phase of rebellion and narcissism, one is much less likely to witness this behavior in agrarian societies where adolescents are expected to marry and raise their own families.)

      On the other hand, there are nonaggressive behavioral tendencies that I would argue are much more likely to contribute to patriarchal thinking. For example, middle childhood is the time when kids develop their own self-identity and determine what it means to be a boy or girl. A lot of this self-evaluation is defined in negative terms (I’m not a boy, I’m not good at math, I’m not good at sports, etc), and children begin to view their peers more critically. They not only look to their own abilities and start to “give up” on the idea that they can do math, but they look at their peers to see what people of their own gender value. As this happens, it becomes important for kids to distance themselves from the Other (girls think boys are icky, boys think girls have cooties), so a hyper-rigid self-definition takes place (“if the girls like it, then I don’t want to do it”). So a group of boys who struggle with reading decide that reading is a thing that girls do, and so that reinforces their disinterest. This is why it is so difficult to promote different jobs and interests in a way that reinforces that it’s acceptable for both boys and girls to pursue them.

      A big part of the problem described in the original post is that boys and girls often develop attraction to one another even as they view one another as an Other. So a tension develops. On one hand, they have feelings they’ve never experienced before for this other person, but it’s not love or even lust. Even if you explain sexuality to them, it doesn’t look or feel like what their parents feel towards one another, so they can’t relate to that. A lot of children react to this confusion with aggression, and as you pointed out in your post, they often find their peers reinforce their cruel behavior towards the other gender. So a boy who finds himself drawn to a girl may find that bullying is the only way he can get her attention and still maintain a positive standing among the other boys. Hie is not necessarily conscious of the reasons for his aggression, but his need for daily interaction with the girl pushes up against the social prohibition boys and girls develop where they police peer interaction between genders.

      I’m not justifying this kind of behavior at all, by the way. Adults should condemn it as thoroughly as they condemn a toddler who steals candy from a store, and to be fair most teachers and parents do a good job reprimanding children who exhibit bullying behavior. But in my opinion one of the biggest reasons for this phenomenon is that we have a culture that treats middle childhood and adolescence as a period of time where kids engage in self-exploration with limited responsibilities (that is, they don’t have to work or raise families), and that gives peer interaction more weight in defining their identity. I’m not saying we should have child labor or marriage of course. But the matriarchal societies tend to also be agrarian; they just assign women with more important leadership roles in providing food and guidance for families.

      The easiest way to modernize these interactions is to have a district full of female doctors, construction workers, and professors. The more traditional your community is, the harder it will be for kids to see other possibilities and ranges of acceptable behavior for their gender. Teachers and parents can make a big difference, but middle period children rely on same-gender models, and because their self-definition becomes more negative-focused, they have a hard time imagining roles that are not immediately in view.

    • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

      Also, for the most part your co-teacher’s advice about ignoring the disruptive boy at your sports club is correct, but it sounds as though s/he took a kernel of good advice and missed the whole picture. It’s true that you should not reinforce unwanted behavior, and as counter-intuitive as it sounds, scolding a child or calling them out by name to point out undesired behavior is reinforcement. He is seeking attention, and singling out him for special attention for bad behavior is still giving him special attention.

      However, ignoring it is not your only option. There are four other ways to a directly address undesired behavior without reinforcing it. One way is to speak generally to the class without saying anything specific about the boy. So if the boy is being overly cometitive, pause the class and ask what kind of behavior should be expected. (Such as:what is our goal here? A: to work as a team. Q: How are we spupposed to treat each other? A: with respect. Q:What does respect look like?) Just make sure the kids answer your questions. The more kids participate in the construction of social expectations, the more menaingful it will be when they get called on misbehaving.

      A second way is simply roaming around the class. I’m not sure what sport your teaching or what your classroom or gym looks, but if you have multiple adults, place them in different location. Roam the room; don’t jsut stand in one place. Often simply standing near a kid or walking past them at unpredicatble intervals will put a stop to undesired behavior. The thrid way is to throw him a silent glare of disapproval when he’s looking in your direction.

      The fourth way is to wait until after class is over and other kids have left the room, then call the boy over for a one-on-one chat about hteir bhavior. Again, don’t just tell him his behavior is unacceptable. Ask him to think things through. (“Is your behavior acceptable? Why not? How should you behave instead? What are you going ot doto change it?”) Avoid getting into the “but’s” -”but she did thiis or wronged me firstt!” Just say that you’re only concerned about the next time.

      • Kodie

        Thanks Christian. His dramatic exits are really the biggest disciplinary problem – last week he grabbed his coat and bolted toward the door, so he did get the attention he wanted because he’s not allowed to leave the building without supervision. Sometimes, I think he is “ok” – he is having a good time and then something suddenly triggers his upset, then he makes a huge deal out of being done, and may be actually good at regaining composure, as he’s back in a few minutes as if nothing had happened.

        I don’t want to reinforce negative attention-seeking behavior but there is sometimes, how do you know it’s just behavior and not an actual cry for help. I sometimes feel like someone at that age needs a small guidance and perspective. I think “it takes a village” so that is how I feel about that. He takes drills too seriously, and he takes criticism very poorly. The goal here is, in sport, is being corrected so you can be better at it. It’s not to feel bad about it, it’s just taking a class, where you’re there to learn how to do something. It’s not the end of the world if a drill partner gets more fake points, but they do so because they are trying to improve and be more effective at winning. Since he seems to want to win a lot more, channel his energy toward listening when someone corrects him as helping him and not as singling him out for being bad at it. Right now I think he’s the kind of kid who will eventually conclude that he sucks at everything he tries because he freaks out before considering that maybe doing what the coach says will make him better at the game. I would like him to break through this and see what he can do.

        I read your other post too, with interest. When I think about this one boy in particular, in context with other children around his age, they are all kind of bratty or clowny/disruptive in their own way, and they all seem to get along. When he runs away from trying to do something, I think of me at a young age. Most of the times, adults will say, let him work it out himself; she’ll figure it out eventually, etc. But I also think there are a lot of adults working these issues out in therapy. I did not seek approval from anyone my own age. Everything you say about how kids adjust to their peers seems true, but that was not how it worked for me, and now I’m an adult in therapy because no adult came to me and mentored me. They all thought I would work it out myself and I didn’t, or that I was fine because I never acted out for attention that I really needed.

        I hear what you are saying about giving attention to unwanted behavior, but it’s not the behavior, it’s whatever he’s feeling that maybe he’ll outgrow… I mean, I think of all the adults I know and how they were shaped by their childhood episodes. Not everyone is ok to be left alone to think, with nobody checking in. I think his mom is ok, but right off the bat, she offended another mom, who came to me about it, who also broadcasts her own son’s school demerits and asks the coach to make him do extra sit-ups or something.

        This is me seeing what supposedly passes for normal mature adults. This is why I don’t really get why people think letting kids develop in their own microcosm is best for their healthy transition. I don’t always think a kid needs the intrusion of an adult when they want to be alone, or attention for every shitty thing they can think of doing, but I just look at him and see future other problems. So far, just observing that he seems to be fine after a couple minutes by himself out of the room, but choking it back because you know you won’t get any attention is different than actually working it out.

  • http://www.viewsfromthecouch.com Queen of the Couch

    I came across your post from the link to my own blog. I have not thought of Anne of Green Gables in quite a while but it was one of my favorites when I was young. I kicked myself for not thinking of it because it such a great example!
    I had no idea what I was in for when I published that blog. Before that day, I think I had 10 subscribers and then, suddenly, I was flooded with emails informing me I had comments to moderate. Most of the responses were well thought out and intelligent, even if they didn’t necessarily agree, others were from the “men’s rights” club accusing me of misandry and psychotic hatred towards little boys and that my daughter would grow up to be a man hating feminazi like me. I was taken to task for making threats or for being the type of person that thought punching people was okay or would solve a problem by people who have, evidently, never been exposed to sarcasm or hyperbole but took every word completely literally. I was admonished for my language and I even got a couple of people directly threaten me. Speaking of rape culture, I published one of the comments someone left, from a guy that said that ‘one day someone will shove your daughter’s head into a wall and *f* her in the *a*s* and she’ll like it, just like you do”. You know, because that is a perfectly, reasoned response from someone who disagrees with a blog post. One thing I found is that there is no shortage of people who are highly offended by intelligent women that have the audacity to express an opinion. When you have an opinion and a potty mouth, they come for blood. I couldn’t count how many comments informed me of how it wasn’t ladylike to speak in such a way, as if I would feel some sense of shame and eliminate the offenses from my lexicon.

    Anyhoo, I really enjoyed your post and the discussion and just wanted to let you know! Since Stuebenville was mentioned, I did write a blog last week about it and rape culture. If you get a minute, read it because I’d love to know your thoughts.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      So glad you found my blog! I really meant it when I said that your post meant a lot to me. And I had a blog post go similarly viral six months ago—it was on the pro-life movement and the abortion issue—so I know how that feels! It’s always a surprise! As for what you say about the tone of some of your comments, I’m not surprised. (((hugs)))

  • http://www.viewsfromthecouch.com Queen of the Couch

    Well, now I’m going to go have to find that blog!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne
  • Georgia

    We also have to stop training little boys to express their boy-ness by expressing disgust with little girls. That means, we have to recognize that it is not cute or OK for little boys to describe little girls as “gross.” This is something that I think about more since I’ve lived in several countries where it is normal for little children to play-date. That is, where little boys often have “girlfriends.” I remember how surprised I was when I first saw little boys out walking hand in hand with their little girlfriends because in the US the very idea that a preadolescent boy could like a girl is still fairly incredible. But it is evident that the hatred that little boys often hold for little girls is learned, and is a rehearsal for adult misogyny.

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