An 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. Here is the text:
Me: So when you see the 4 year old boy pull the little girl’s hair…
Students: He likes her!
Me: Now they are around 11 or 12 and he grabs her arm and wrestles her to the ground even though she calls him a jerk and yells at him to leave her alone.
Students: That is just how boys are.
Me: Now they are 18 and he grabs her arm and–
Students: Oh, that’s not okay.
Me: Really? How would he know? How would she know? How would you know? You just told me that for the first 17 years of these children’s lives that you thought it was cute, sweet, and natural for a boy to grab a girl and be rough with her.
Me: Oh, is right.
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?