The headlines are everywhere: Rape is the worst of crimes against women—against humanity, in fact. We know this intrinsically, but when we read those headlines as adults—long after we have been inculcated with messages that violence against women is actually silently accepted—we give them less weight, and even place blame on the victims. This attitude is, in so many ways, enabled and monstrously encouraged by society, by men, and by women themselves. The worst part: Most people are unaware of it.
To gain an understanding of where this shift in attitude happens, we should take a look at men and women before they grow up; before they form their opinions and outlooks on male/female relations and relationships.
The detrimental mentality starts early, and is encouraged silently. In addition to family environment—which is highly individualized and filled with imperfections and influences—much of the issue starts as young kids branch out into society: primary school. Boys and girls try to find their way with male/female dynamics, experiencing attraction when they aren't mature enough to recognize the feelings as romantic interest. They play chase and tag on the playground; try to catch each other, innocently imitating the courtship behavior that will come later in life. But things aren't always so cute and cuddly. Give our young heroes/heroines a bit of time, and you will find boys exhibiting their testosterone-laden traits of strength and dominance. They will get physical: pushing girls to provoke, hitting them to conquer, verbally teasing them with insults, and mentally dominating them to illustrate the control they have of their domain. And the girls start down one of three paths:
- They ignore it. There isn't a real way to ignore this behavior, although many women falsely believe they are empowered in doing this. In reality, the insults and negative statements do get in. And by "ignoring" things, these girls are actually taking/accepting this behavior. In turn, girls learn that they are the subordinate gender regardless of their intelligence, their drive, their spirit, their wit, or their gifts. Later in life, these girls (now women) can end up internalizing this behavior as what's normal, and that they deserve it.
- They fight back. They stand up for themselves, but so often this becomes a way for women to embrace too much of their masculine side—and there becomes an unbalancing of their feminine side. They fight, resulting in unintentionally sacrificing their compassion, empathy, and nurturing side. Many times, this gets internalized that all men are bad, and in extreme cases—with enough damage taken—these girls become haters of men as they become adults.
- They shift it. As the more social of the genders, girls learn to navigate these muddy waters in a variety of ways: Using their smarts to negotiate out of the situation, or (later) using their sexuality to feel loved instead of abused and worthless. By using sensuality, many women learn that promiscuity can result in feelings of being wanted/desired... but not respected long-term.
Can these girls change paths? Of course. But it can be challenging to undo what's been learned once the pattern is reinforced... and it's usually reinforced right away.
Example: If a young girl goes to a teacher to complain about a boy hitting her, one of the most common responses is also the most damaging: "He's doing that because he likes you." And in that one simple phrase, so many girls end up learning that when a boy hits you, he is showing love.
But boys certainly have their side of this situation to deal with, as well, and are blasted with a set of messages at the same young age:
- "Boys don't cry."
- "Stop whining. You sound like a girl."
- "Take it like a man."
- "You throw like a girl."
The message, of course, is clear: Girls are weak, whiny, uncoordinated complainers, and boys should never want to be perceived as one. The real flaw of these messages/lessons doesn’t show until later in life. That's when women want men to show emotion, be vulnerable, sensitive, and understanding, and exemplify empathy. But it's challenging for many/most men, in that parents and societal pressures have worked hard to weed that behavior out of their repertoire—showing that these traits are weak, and weakness is for women.
REFLECTION: When a man doesn't know how to be vulnerable, forthcoming with his feelings, and willing to share what bothers him... why is everyone so surprised?
The Influence of the Family Unit
I visited Disneyland recently. In one of the shops, I observed a brother and sister (she was approximately 7 years old, the boy about a year older) sitting on a bench waiting for their parents (who were only about six feet away at the cashier). The boy was messing with his sister—mocking, teasing... you know, sibling stuff. Then, it changed. She stopped reacting to his provocations, and he escalated things: He hit her in the head; full fist, half-swing.
Tears come, and she cries out, "You always hit me! Don't hit me!" The young boy's response? He hit her in the head again. With the additional commotion, the parents have now noticed that something is happening with their kids. The mom (who has seen the second punch connect) remains silent; stoic. The dad: "Megan! Be quiet!" The mom looks away, the boy smiles and mocks, "You always hit me..." Even without proof, the pattern of what was happening behind the scenes was obvious... and I couldn't deal with it. The parents move towards the door, and me (being too nosey for my own good probably), knelt down next to the bench where the girl sat, quietly sobbing. With a soft voice—but one that I know her brother can hear—I said, "I had a mean brother when I was a kid, too. He used to beat me up... until I defended myself." She stared at me, and recognizing I was running out of time, I quickly added, "It doesn't make you wrong to defend yourself against mean people." She stared at me—hurt, angry, confused. And with that, their father called for them and they left.
I didn't want to tell her to hit him back (that's not my place, nor did I know what punishment she would face later), but I couldn't stand by and watch the spirit of a little girl—a spirit not yet fully formed, but learning her "place" under the men in her life—be crushed. It then occurred to me: This incident is potentially laying the foundation for this young girl to grow up and think that it's okay to be hit. That the men she's supposed to trust—who profess their love to her, familial or romantic—will choose to be violent and she will need to learn to cope.
Many boys have strong personalities, perhaps showing their Alpha traits at younger ages. Parents—specifically fathers—have a responsibility to curb that strength and channel it into behavior that is balanced, perhaps conducive to not becoming a 22-year-old douchebag in college that smacks his girlfriend for going out on a Saturday night "without permission". This isn't sexism or gender bias; it's primal. Boys need a strong male figure to bump up against so they learn their limits and their place in society. Unfortunately, many family units are broken, with many single mothers doing their best to cover the duties of absentee fathers—or the reverse, with single dads trying to convey a nurturing side sans mom. This often results in an incomplete psyche, with many men trying to figure out a masculine/feminine balance on their own. Keep reading...
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