A blog cropped up in my facebook feed today. This story highlights how sexual violence becomes normative without us necessarily meaning it to . It reads:
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.
This idea that it’s okay for boys to treat girls badly, ‘it just means they like them’ delivers a dangerous message about sex and consent. For example, you may 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 socialised to think that that was how a boy ought to treat a girl he likes.
‘He only hits you because he likes you,’ should never cross our lips when our kids are being teased or hurt. It reinforces the idea that love equals suffering and that it’s okay to hurt others. Not only can this contribute to relationship violence later on, but it also teaches kids that their own desire for attention is more important than the feelings of the person they like. If that’s not rape culture, I don’t know what is!