When I was in elementary school, a group of boys in my class liked to pick on me. Sometimes they got really mean, and it bothered me, so I told on them. The teacher I talked to told me that they were “just being boys,” and that they were probably doing it “because they like you!”
When I was a freshman in college, I went to a church on Father’s Day that preached a message about how to raise your sons. The pastor stated that there was something wrong with any boy who plays with Barbie dolls. Not only did he demand that parents discourage their sons from playing with these “girly toys,” he told parents to encourage their sons to steal their sisters’ Barbies and light them on fire, because that’s what “real boys” do.
I’m sure these scenarios don’t shock you too much. You’ve probably heard similar things, and maybe didn’t think twice about them, because these ideas about gender are so ingrained in our culture.
But when we teach boys that being a “real boy” means destroying a girl’s property (especially when that property is the image of a woman), we are teaching them that being cruel to women is what real men do. We’re teaching them that real men hate “girly things” to the point where they destroy them. We’re teaching them that real men have the right to do whatever they want to a woman’s property. We’re teaching them that real men find pleasure in destroying an image of a female body.
And we’re teaching girls that this behavior is desirable. When we dismiss a girl’s concerns with how she is being treated by boys by saying, “oh that’s what boys do,” we’re teaching her that cruel behavior is normal and to be expected. We’re teaching her that her feelings are not as important as protecting the spirit of “boyhood.” When we tell her that “he probably just likes you,” we’re telling her that cruel behavior is not only normal, but a sign of attraction. We’re teaching her that abuse equals attraction. We’re teaching her to expect cruel treatment from any future men.
About 3 women will die from domestic abuse in the United States EVERY DAY.
Boys aren’t born knowing how to hurt and abuse women. They learn.
Girls aren’t born thinking that they deserve to be treated with cruelty by people who claim to love them. They learn.
What are we teaching our kids?