Violence against women is not innate to masculinity, but rather something taught.
Violence against women is unfortunately everywhere—worldwide and cross-culturally. Verbal, physical, sexual abuse is in the news on a nightly basis, and the latest is showcased in high definition for all to see: Stanford Rapist Brock Turner.
The judge let him off with a VERY lenient sentence. Brock’s father wrote a disgusting letter in a feeble attempt to make excuses for his son despicable, deplorable behavior—showcasing how rape culture in the U.S. is completely enmeshed in college athletics. And social media is up-in-arms at the injustice.
Count me in, because I’m pissed. I’m not just angry because I have an 18-year-old daughter who is entering college shortly with reprehensible imitation men like Brock Turner.
It’s because this issue is more than just about Brock. It’s more than just Brock’s father’s enablement of violent behavior. It’s a societal issue, and it has its claws dug into all of us so deeply, that it’s starting to feel normal.
As a society, we know it’s not right. But we have become desensitized, having been inculcated with messages that violence against women is just part of life. We give the headlines and news reports less weight, many times placing the 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:
1. 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
2. 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.
3. 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.
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 little .”
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?