There was a blog post this week by Queen of the Couch that really resonated with me. About the alarmingly pervasive attitude that when a little boy harasses, teases, bullies a little girl it means he likes her. Haven’t you heard that one? As if it excuses it all?
When the fuck 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?
Haven’t we all experienced this?
When I was in kindergarten there was a boy, Tommy, that would always bother my friend Alberta and I at recess. Fifty years later, and I can still see his 5-year-old face clearly in my mind. He would usually be playing a “monster”, come crashing into whatever game we were playing, arms outstretched, he would try to stomp us and chase us around the yard. We would run away, shrieking. When we first went to the teacher to complain, she gave us the line that “it only means that he likes you”. Alberta seemed to accept this, and stopped complaining – at least to the teacher. I didn’t buy it, and continued to run to her in tears.
At some point she got tired of my complaints, and told me that enough was enough, I would have to deal with it myself, solve the problem on my own, no more crying to her. (I don’t remember if she admonished Tommy much, if at all… Perhaps she did. I want to be fair.) So I understood that I had to stop him. I just didn’t know how.
So the next time Tommy the Monster chased me at recess, I ran, as usual. I fled around the side of the yard, where the school was doing a bit of construction. There I saw my chance. I grabbed a 2×4. And I swung. And cracked his head.
He came back to school a couple of days later with part of his head shaved and stitches to show off. And I got in big trouble. Major punishment. Which I honestly thought was totally unfair. After all, I was told I had to stop him myself, and I did. If there were conditions about how to do or not to do it, that should have been made clear from the beginning.
In my not so humble opinion, the teacher dropped the ball here. Granted, it was the 50s, with a totally warped view of how women were to behave. And it was in an ultra-conservative area. (I mean, the school board had banned the World Book Encyclopedia from the schools because it mentioned the UN favourably.) Even so. A little guidance, at least.
It was my first direct experience with the phenomenon of blaming the victim.
Fast forward twenty years. Graduate school. To pay part of my tuition, I was working at the University Day Care Center. One day at recess, two little girls came running up to me, crying, saying two of the boys were being monsters and chasing them.
The déjà vu almost flattened me. But I took a deep breath, and told the girls that it was certainly not acceptable. I told them I was the sheriff, and that I was making them my deputies. We had a little ceremony, and I pinned imaginary deputy stars on them.
And I told them to go capture those monsters and bring them to me.
Their eyes got big and round, but they ran off. And came back dragging two extremely surprised little boys with them. Stunned is more like it. I told them that I was the sheriff, and that the two girls were my deputies. One managed to stammer “But…..girls can’t do that!” I told them that girls just had. And that there was to be no harassment or bullying in the playground or in the school. I explained to them that I would let them off with a warning this first time, but if it happened again I would send my deputies after them and they would get time out. They got it. They nodded solemnly and went to play something else.
Those girls were so puffed up with pride, with shining eyes! They assured me that they would keep an eye out for any other bullying.
Feminism talks about empowerment as a primary goal. This is what it’s all about. And I felt I had brought my story full circle, to closure.
I will teach my daughter to accept nothing less than respect. Anyone who hurts her physically or emotionally doesn’t deserve her respect, friendship or love. I will teach my boys the same thing as well as the fact that hitting on girls doesn’t involve hitting girls. I can’t teach my daughter to respect herself if I am teaching her that no one else has to respect her. I can’t raise sons that respect women, if I teach them that bullying is a valid expression of affection.