Culture, Culture + Taste

Can we stop telling girls that abuse is love?

Telling a child that her bully is just trying to show her he likes her is excusing his bad behavior. It justifies aggression as a means of communication.

We were having a family get together at my house and I was hanging out with one of my little cousins. She’s around seven or eight years old and she was telling me and some other relatives about how a boy at school was bothering her. He would tease her, push her around, and all that elementary school bullying that shouldn’t happen.

And then one of our aunts said something. She said something that people say all the time. People toss the comment aside as if it’s meaningless, harmless, like it’s totally natural. Like it’s a definitive fact of life and childhood. But it’s not and it shouldn’t be. So, she said, “That just means he likes you, sweetie.”

To tell a child abusive factors look like love sets up a pattern of unhealthy behavior. Click To Tweet

Oh dear.

I could only think one thing.

Nooooooooooooooooooooo.

No.

Please no.

It troubles me that people don’t understand the implications of a statement like that. Telling a child that her bully is just trying to show her he likes her is excusing his bad behavior. It justifies aggression as a means of communication, as an ordinary way to interact.

Why wouldn't young girls learn to accept pain as a measure of endearment? Click To Tweet

Pulling hair, hitting, hurting someone’s feelings, these are all, by definition, examples of abusive behavior. And to tell a child abusive factors look like love sets up a pattern of unhealthy behavior. Why wouldn’t young girls learn to accept pain as a measure of endearment?

And the people that make comments like this, who tell girls that this form of bullying is okay, are the same people that won’t understand why women stay in abusive relationships. Maybe it’s because you’ve told them, systematically, since they were children that if a man hurts them, he loves them. And what’s even more upsetting is that in setting up this dynamic, you’re telling young boys that in order to express affection, adoration, they need to inflict pain. Once you’ve sanctioned that kind of mistreatment, how do you turn around and declare that it’s immoral to hurt a girl years later?

You're telling young boys that in order to express affection, they need to inflict pain. Click To Tweet

It only makes sense that these lessons develop over time and translate into grown, abusive relationships. Of course, this doesn’t mean that every person ends up in situations of domestic violence either as the perpetrator or the victim, but it speaks to a cultural norm that legitimizes abuse. It normalizes male aggression.

It's because you've told them since they were children that if a man hurts them, he loves them. Click To Tweet

It’s no surprise that we tolerate the narrative of the dominant male in the household who makes more money, receives more opportunities, and gets to tell his own version of history. It’s no wonder that this translates into victim-blaming and rape culture. Of course women stay in dysfunctional relationships and make excuses for why their male partners are controlling, rude, and maybe even violent.

Read Next:  This is the real reason I chose my faith over my sexuality

Some people are going to say, “but they’re just kids.” They’ll say this behavior means nothing when they’re so young, that they’ll obviously learn better. I say those are just more excuses.

At exactly what age do you start to tell young people that aggression is no longer affection? Click To Tweet

Because it doesn’t change. Where do you distinguish between acceptable playground roughhousing and inappropriate, threatening behavior? At exactly what age do you start to tell young people that aggression is no longer affection?

I told everyone in the room that day a lot of this; I spoke a lot about what we should not say or do. But, I should have talked more about what we should say instead.

We should tell little girls from the beginning that the first time a boy puts his hands on her without her permission is the last time. That’s what my grandpa told me.

Tell girls that love isn't predicated upon obedience, her weight, or her sexual conduct. Click To Tweet

Tell girls love means respect, care, patience; it means friendship. Tell girls not to settle for anything less than a man who regards her with absolute reverence, who honors her and in return, whom she trusts and holds in the highest esteem.

Tell girls that love is not predicated upon her obedience, or her weight, or her sexual conduct. They need to know that there is value in their strength, that their opinions and convictions matter. Tell girls to stop apologizing for their existence. They need to know that living their lives exactly as they are – that is enough.

Read Next:  These Korean dramas will be your new streaming obsession

That’s what I want my little sisters to know. It’s what I’ll tell my future daughters. It’s what every girl, every woman should hear.

Tell them there is courage in their tears, in their smiles, in their love. Click To Tweet

And on the other hand, every boy needs to learn that honest communication, not aggression, is how to convey affection. They need to be rewarded for acts of kindness and generosity, not simply for brawn and arrogance. Talk to boys about their emotions and tell them there is courage in their tears, in their smiles, in their love. Teach them that feelings are not weakness.

So, I don’t want to hear anyone else telling young girls that the reason they’re getting picked on is that some boy has a crush on them. We deserve more than ignorant justifications for the disrespect and bullying girls face every day. We can do better than that.

We are better than that.

Let’s prove it.

Amani Ahmed

Amani Ahmed

A second-year student from Princeton, New Jersey, Editorial Fellow Amani Ahmed is currently attending Duke University. On campus, she works with refugees and survivors of sexual assault. She is a fan of rollercoasters, skiing, and Netflix.

We're ready to shake things up, for the better.