Believe it or not, when I was a little kid, I was super shy. I didn’t really blossom until second grade when I changed schools. But, my first two years in school were pretty hellish, mostly because I was small and shy, and therefore, easy prey for the bullies of the public school system. Oh yeah, and I was smart. Smart enough that my teachers were somewhat frustrated with the fact that I already knew how to do a lot of the things they were supposed to be teaching me how to do. I was not particularly popular with my classmates or the teachers.
I remember riding my bike to school one time when I was in first grade. About a block from the school an older boy put a stick in my spokes and I fell. It was the last time I rode my bike to school. I’m sure when I got to my classroom I was told that the boy was being mean to me because he liked me. That was a common statement in my generation. Boys were routinely excused for bad behavior. If a boy put a worm in my hair at recess, I was told that he did it because he was trying to get my attention and the behavior was ignored. Even at the young age of six, I wasn’t buying it. That kid didn’t put a stick in my spokes because he liked me, he did it because he was a little asshole. He was a bully who waited around to attack someone smaller and weaker than him and I was it. The boy who actually did like me was riding with me and helped me up and gathered my possessions as his older brother chased away the bully.
My daughter is going to be 8 this week. She has had her fair share of boys being mean to her, and never have I told her that the boy was doing it because he liked her. I have also never told her that a girl was being mean because she was jealous, which is something I also heard growing up. I have, however, heard several adults tell my daughter or other girls her age these things. I don’t think either excuse is valid or accurate. It’s one of those leftover ways of thinking that makes little girls feel responsible for other people’s actions and base their self-worth on how other people view them. At the very least, it teaches girls to think they are causing boys to behave badly. But far worse, it is telling girls that they should expect boys to be mean to them and that it’s acceptable for boys to mistreat them both emotionally and physically as long as it’s because boys just don’t know a better way to express themselves. That’s a load of garbage.
I don’t know what it was that caused me to reject these ideas by the time I was in grade school. Maybe it’s the fact that my mom wasn’t the type of woman to let someone walk all over her, or maybe it’s because my dad taught me how to box by the time I could walk and told me to never be afraid to fight back. I would like to say that these early lessons brought me to where I am today unscathed but that would be a lie. I still dated some jerks, but not one of them tried to feed me a line of crap that they could hurt me because they loved me.
I am raising my daughter to value herself. I do my best to talk to her about why kids behave the way they do, honestly. I try to ask her how she feels and then let her know that she doesn’t have to hold onto her feelings, especially the ones that don’t serve her well. We must be doing something right because she has never said that a boy must like her because he is being mean to her. She has, however, pointed out that there are some kids who are just mean and all she can do is ignore them. I’ll chalk it up as a parenting win!
**This piece is brought to you by lots of Riot Grrrls!