The campus recently observed Violence Awareness Week and saw many events geared toward educating the community about the issue of sexual violence on campus. Some events included a recent talk by Yolo Akili Robinson, a gay black man who spoke on trauma and intimate partner violence in LGBTQ communities, the Clothesline Project and the annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” program, which aimed to educate the community about sexualized violence against women.
Even President Mercer sent out a campus-wide email, which addressed the College’s committment to preventing discrimination, sex discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual violence on campus.
While I am touched by the outpouring of support from the president, fraternities and sororities, sports teams and general clubs and organizations at Ramapo, I believe that there is an underrepresented demographic in the often-limiting global conversations of violence: young girls.
In my experiences, concern about violence against young girls is hardly a hot topic discussed in many academic or social circles. However, the topic did surface after a now-viral post by Merritt Smith, a mother from Columbus, Ohio, showed her 4-year-old daughter with a bloodied cut and bruised cheek after a boy from her school hit her in the face.
When the mother and daughter were attended at the hospital, a male hospital worker told the young girl, “Maybe he likes you.”
Smith went on to detail the inappropriate response to the matter since it “conveyed a message that someone who likes you might hurt you,” according to Today.com.
The hospital has since posted a message to Facebook in response to the incident, saying, “The employee made a comment that had no malicious intent, but that started a broader discussion on Facebook about the cultural message to young children that hitting may imply flirting. We in no way condone violence or this attitude toward any type of relationship.”
Regardless of their apology, this four-word response to the young girl’s assault is a reason for our much needed cultural facelift regarding violence, sexism and misogyny, and the way these concepts are socially ingrained in American culture. While the hospital employee may not have had malicious intent in making this type of comment, its impact on the impressionable 4-year-old can be something she keeps with her for the rest of her life.
Why should it be justified to teach young girls that being assaulted by boys — or anyone — is acceptable behavior by someone who “likes” you or is trying to be affectionate toward you?
When we teach young girls that a little boy might like her when he hits her, shoves her or pulls her hair, we are also giving that little girl a lesson on the culture of violence, hypermasculinity, sexism and misogyny that is all too pervasive in our society. If a young girl is taught to associate being mistreated and physically abused by boys with being playful and flirty with her, then we are also teaching that young girl how to be a victim to assault.
When is that young girl supposed to understand that it is not cute, sweet and natural for a boy to be rough with her? The idea that an adult man would know not to put his hands on an adult woman seems quite ridiculous if that young boy has grown up with the reinforced cultural idea that the opposite is true and has never been held accountable for his childhood actions.
I have often heard the expression “boys will be boys” when people try to justify the aggressive behaviors exhibited by young boys from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Not only does it prompt children to construct gender stereotypes, but it also perpetuates the ideas (and behaviors) that are associated with being violent, destructive and careless. This idea also makes it excusable for young boys to inflict pain toward young girls, and reinforces their fragile and developing masculinity.
The solution to the problem is not to simply teach boys not to hit young girls because of their gender differences, since this maintains ideas of patriarchy and sexism; instead, parents with children should teach their children to respect all people because they have human rights and agency over their own individual bodies and not other people’s bodies.
As a society, we should be dealing with the issue before it becomes a national tabloid headline when a popular male celebrity or athlete beats his wife or partner. We should be identifying the problem at the source and rethinking the ideas and ideologies that we inadvertently support for our youth who may then grow up to become perpetrators and victims to assault and intimate partner violence.