Every little girl has been there. You come home crying to your parents after a long day of being a six-year-old, to tell them that a boy in your class is picking on you. You’re distraught, he pulls your hair and calls you names in front of the other boys. You come to your parents looking for advice and bemusingly, they’re smiling down at you like it’s not a big deal. ‘Oh, honey that just means he has a crush on you.’ You stop crying, confused, maybe they didn’t hear you properly. How could he like me but be so mean? ‘Boys pick on the girls they like most, don’t worry about it.’ You’re not sad anymore, maybe embarrassed, but you just learned an adult secret. You understand now why he singles you out and why you should be happy that he does.
This is a clear result of the abuse culture that exists within our society. It romanticizes abuse, both physical and emotional, before you even begin having romantic thoughts, before puberty. It tells little girls that violence means love. It teaches young women that a boy will show you he cares by hurting you. We excuse this problematic behavior in young boys because ‘boys will be boys,’ and they cannot help it. They know they can get away with it, and it starts in pre-adolescence.
I wonder, is this disturbing mantra, ‘it means he likes you’, that has been stuck in our heads from early childhood, the reason why we grow up to be teenage girls that always desire the ‘bad boy.’ It’s almost become a cliché, when having to choose between the boy who texts you, asks you out, is nice to your friends and family, and the boy who ignores you, ghosts you and destroys your self-esteem, we always go for the latter. We choose the boy that hurts us, breaks us and makes us feel worthless, because that must mean that he likes us, right?
Don’t think that men didn’t pick up on this when they were boys too. Like I mentioned, they were pardoned for their actions. ‘Boys will be boys.’ This kind of terminology was so normalized that they took it as oath. Maybe they even learned that to show a girl that you like them, you need to harass them. Maybe, they didn’t know there was another way. Little boys are told that it’s okay to be disrespectful and little girls are told that it’s okay to be disrespected.
The path to domestic violence
My favorite artist, Lana Del Rey, once sung ‘he hit me and it felt like a kiss, he hurt me and it felt like true love’. This is taken from her song, Ultraviolence, in which she describes a story of domestic abuse, Lana being the victim, (there are many theories as to what the song is about, this is just one.) In this line, Lana explains how she mistakes the abuse for affection. The violence felt good, she is grateful for it, it feels like true love.
Teaching little girls that love is shown through anger, oppression and bullying makes them vulnerable to this kind of abuse. It allows the abuser to prey on and easily manipulate the victim into falling in love with them. They may even see their abuser as their ‘knight in shining armor.’ This raises an alarming question about how women see themselves. Weak? Defenseless? Fragile? They will make excuses for their abuser over and over, ‘it’s how he shows love,’ ‘it’s not his fault, it’s mine,’ and once again ‘boys will be boys, he can’t help it.’
People, especially parents, need to understand the weight of the words they use around children. It’s easier to teach them self-respect early on than try to break the cycle of abuse = love once they become old enough to date. Little girls need to be taught that it’s normal to be upset over a boy teasing you and that his behavior is not acceptable. Teenage girls need to be taught that they are worth more than a bloke who only wants you for them night. Women need to be taught that abuse, in any form, is never okay and that they are strong enough to over-come it. We need to be valued, we need to be heard, we need to be respected.
If you are suffering abuse, or are a family member of a victim or abuser please follow one of the links below, ask for help.
Male Abuse Victims: http://www.amen.ie/