When I started blogging, I had some initial disappointing experiences with the blogosphere around issues I care about. Those were detrimental to my blood-pressure, and my zeal for staying abreast things going on on blogosphere lessened. These days, I don’t read blogs much more than I write. Unless it’s for solving specific, technical problems for which search engines direct me to some blog or other. Today, however, I stumbled across a post that made me want to comment. It’s about the stupid things we tell our children and the lessons they learn from them. More specifically, it is about how we still hear people say that if boys bother or harass girls in the playground it means they like them.
The “Queen of the Couch” gets quite upset about this interpretation of the behavior. While I wouldn’t regard bullying at school and abusive relationships as equivalent, it’s maybe fair to point out how learning to accept the former can make women more ready to accept the latter. I certainly agree that adults to whose attention it is brought should not explain it away, because the message that sends out to children is that society endorses the abuse. And in a way it does, more than it should.
Unfortunately, this kind of rubbish being said to kids is just one item on a long list of adult phrases or behaviours that make me wanna blink and go: “Hey, wait a minute. Listen to yourself and think about what you’re saying.” I mean, it’s not just that we teach the girl to interpret harassment as a display of affection. It also, and you can stop wondering why a boy being bullied never hears this explanation, conveys something about how we see women and their role in society. The girl hears: “He hurt you, but that means he likes you.” And that’s supposed to make it alright? Why’s that? Because we assume that that’s what women want out of life. Sure, everybody appreciates other people appreciating them, but at what price do you buy appreciation? Do we want it to be the primary goal, in life? Well, who am I to teach, but I’d say “No.” I don’t want my daughter to even try to be liked by everybody, to think that it’s desirable. Because, if you set yourself that goal, you’re setting yourself for failure. What I want my daughter to learn from rejection (or abuse, as it were, and if it cannot be avoided,) is that not everybody she’ll meet in her life is going to like her. And with some people she may be causing that through her behaviour, which she can then reflect on and potentially change. But some people will dislike her for no fault of her own, or no particular reason, whatsoever. And that’s OK, because if those people turn personal dislike into abuse, then they’re probably jerks. She’s already learned that not all teachers are always fair or free of personal preferences, which I’ve always thought was something kids don’t need to learn in primary school, already. But the important bit is to help her recognize unfair, or generally unacceptable behaviour as such, help her deal with it, and if there really is no way to entirely change it let her know that that doesn’t make the behaviour any more acceptable, nor means there is anything wrong with her.
I really don’t understand why we keep teaching our daughters that anything is alright, as long as they’re being liked. I mean, have we all read too much Coleridge? The woman’s desire is rarely other than for the desire of the man. I mean, I may be lacking testosterone, but I like being wanted, myself. I won’t let it justify abuse, though. And there are also, quite a few other things I like, too. Why do we keep believing, that all a woman really cares about is a guy’s attention? What’s more, why do we keep making it true by planting that idea into the heads of our kids?
Well, as much as I may wonder about that, I don’t wonder about it any more than I wonder about a ton of other, similarly wrong messages we are sending to our kids. Like, when parents react to a child’s anger by saying they must be tired and sending them to bed. Again, I feel like this is something occurring to girls more often than boys, and then you wonder why some adult women get tired in situations when the should become angry. You need to learn that anger can actually be an appropriate reaction, but if you’re supposed to be liked by everybody and their abuse isn’t so bad, because it’s actually a weird display of affection, then that’s rather hard. Or what about parents who think children are some kind of small adults to who you can explain things and who must then be swayed by the superior prudence of the parents, only to wake up one day to find they can’t handle the pressure you can get from a kid that means to test out his or her limits. What’s the most common reaction? Well, I obviously cannot make any claims to my experiences being statistically representative, but chances are the parents will either get their children into some kind of therapy. Or, if they are more into alternative medicine, apply some kind of homeopathic globules. Do the kids need any medication? Probably not. Does anybody need a therapy? Well, maybe. But I feel it’s more often the parents than the children. What’s the message this is sending to the kids? It says, there is something wrong with you. They will learn that when they show their anger, when they are stubborn, when they resist their oppressor (which is a role parents can assume from a child’s perspective,) then that’s some sort of pathological behavior. Normal people are meek. Normal people don’t talk back. And they may even learn that that’s a situation where pills help. I don’t want my daughter to learn that whenever she feels a little upset, there’s a pill that will calm her down. Nor that she should fear her own emotions and maybe pop a pill even before getting upset.
I think, we’re sending way too many of such counterproductive messages to our children. Partly, I guess, that is because we keep following the patterns that we learned from our parents. And though many parents may say they want to do things better than what they experienced themselves, and even when they succeed, it feels like the best that happens is improvements by degrees. I mean, I catch myself, sometimes, and flinch at what I just did and what it must look like to my daughter. Sometimes I can make it right, sometimes not. I manage to refuse to use any corporeal punishment, and I will never let my daughter hear a sentence like “If you don’t learn to behave, we’ll send you to a boarding school.” Improvement by degrees, interspersed with many blunders. I guess, I should create a weekly reminder to make me reflect on my own behavior, consider the messages I’m sending, and make sure that between all the wrong messages, the one message that her parents’ love for her is unshakable can be heard, clearly, through all the noise.