By Sam Kennedy
“He’s just teasing you.”
“That’s just how boys are.”
“Don’t let him get to you.”
Is it any wonder women stay in abusive relationships? From an early age young women are told that if boys are mean to you, that means they like you.
Now, an abusive relationship may seem like quite a conclusion to jump to based off of how children act towards one another in regards to crushes and flirting. Allow me to elaborate though through two scenarios:
Suppose a girl is pushed by a boy on the playground and she tells her mother later that night. The mother replies, “That wasn’t very nice, but that probably means he has a crush on you.”
“But he pushed me!” The girl protests.
“I know, but that’s just how boys express affection.”
Whether intentionally or not, this girl has now been taught that this behavior is to be expected. If she is pushed on the playground again, perhaps she will no longer make a fuss about it because this is what she’s deemed ‘normal’. This really ISN’T normal for children though. It’s just reinforcing gender stereotypes at a younger age. We as adults are telling children that what kind of behavior is acceptable is dependent upon your gender. Another point to think about in regards to violence amongst children- what would our reactions be if we witnessed this with two adults? Would we be as comfortable with it? Most likely not. So what’s the magic age where this violence as an “expression of affection” is no longer appropriate? If a child goes eighteen years without being reprimanded for a behavior, how are they to know it is no longer acceptable?
To take this a step forward, there are many different theories as to why domestic abuse occurs. One theory in particular is based off of the idea of gender stereotypes while growing up; Gender Role Theory. Gender Role Theory is the idea that abusers and victims both fall into a submissive and aggressive role because that is what they have been taught to do from a young age. According to the theory, men that are too involved or influenced by the gender roles that began at a young age, are likely to be abusive because they are taught to show control and aggression in almost all aspects of their life. Meanwhile women, who have been taught to be submissive and passive from a young age, tend to not seek out help in an abusive relationship either out of fear or a desire foracceptance. There are some flaws with this theory (as with any), but it’s a pretty solid argument nonetheless and a large reason why I believe the “boys will be boys” statement is a stepping stone towards domestic violence.
If a girl carries the mentality of “that’s just how boys are” in regards to aggression throughout her entire life, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine she might maintain this mentality if she found herself in an abusive relationship. Those that deal with domestic abuse (both men and women) often times find themselves going in circles, justifying the behavior or not knowing how to correct it, thus giving up in defeat. A lot of times, self-defensive statements of “this is just how it is” or “this is just who they are” may be brought up. And that can be a solid piece of evidence for them. While the statement of “boys will be boys” might seem like a small thing at first, children are impressionable. If that statement is reiterated enough, it could have a lasting effect.
Children love to imitate adults. While this article is not directly talking about domestic abuse, it’s important to note that girls who witness abuse are vulnerable to abuse as teens or adults. The same goes for boys, although they are more likely to become abusers as teens or adults.
Here is the second scenario: suppose another girl is sent to the principal’s office for hitting a boy. When she is asked why she hit him, she tells them, “He kept snapping my bra strap!”
“Hitting is not an appropriate response.”
“I told him to stop, but he wouldn’t listen!”
Now I’ve read, heard, and even witnessed this story multiple times. More often than not, the girl will be punished for using violence. Perhaps the boy will be punished as well for touching someone inappropriately, but often times, it’s not viewed as harshly as the girl striking someone. Why? Both are hurtful, and both are invasions of personal space. Yet we seem to react more strongly to the girl’s response. The same is also shown with adults.
Many women face jail time in regards to dealing with an abuser if they strike back after being unable to find help from other people. Most, if not all women in prison, come from abusive backgrounds. The majority of women in prison for violence or murder are there because they committed violence against their partner. I am not endorsing violence in any way, but it is completely unethical to punish a woman for standing up for herself after experiencing such physical, mental, and emotional trauma. Harassment should be punished as harshly as violence, more so if the violence was only in retaliation.
While some might be reluctant to call what the boy did “harassment”, I will strongly stand by that word. Someone touching you without your consent is harassment. And there must be a consequence for that. If inappropriate sexual behavior is not corrected at a young age, it can have a lasting impact on both boys and girls.