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?
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 came, 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 moved 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 child—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.