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Saturday, 18 March 2017

We need to stop making excuses for our boys

As I left a park one afternoon with my daughters, I watched as a boy aged around nine began to fight with his older sister. He swung punches and tried to kick her, just missing each time. His mother tried to stop the fight unsuccessfully. After a few moments I called to him and suggested he stop. He did.

As I shared that experience with others I was surprised to hear people saying, “Well, what did she do to him to provoke it?” or, “It’s just boys being boys.” Statements that blame the victim, play down disrespect towards girls, or that accept aggression as just part of being a boy are often well-intentioned, but they’re misdirected, and wrong.

More and more we’re beginning to understand how unintentionally ignoring disrespectful behaviour or making excuses to protect our children could contribute to the cycle of violence. By now we’ve heard the words many times - “not all disrespect towards women results in violence. But all violence against women starts with disrespect.”

No more excuses
Many of us grew up in a world of stereotypes of tough, working men and demure housewives. But things are changing fast – and mostly for the better. We still have a long way to go, but we’re on a positive trajectory.

With these changes, there are still a few outdated things we’re carrying with us, especially in our language.

From an early age we inadvertently teach boys and girls that disrespectful or aggressive behaviour is acceptable, making it seem like it’s not a big deal, suggesting that boys are just naturally aggressive, or shifting responsibility from an aggressor to a victim.

We still tell boys to “man up,” “don’t throw like a girl,” and we still say “she’s bossy” or “a bit of a tomboy.” And we often say these things without realising their impact.

Last year the Stop it at the start campaign was launched, and it’s supported by all governments. The campaign asks us, as adults, to think about the words we use and the attitudes and behaviours our kids are seeing in us. Once we recognise this in ourselves, it’s up to us to stop making excuses for disrespectful behaviour.

If you’ve ever said any of these things (as I have), it might be time to reconsider what messages we’re sending:

“He picks on you because he likes you”

“Lighten up, he didn’t mean it like that”

“It’s just a joke.”

What do our girls think when they hear us say this stuff, playing down the disrespect? ‘If he hurts me, I should be flattered’. ‘He’s just kidding, so I shouldn’t take things so seriously’. It’s strange that we say these things to kids but we’d never say that to an adult.


What we can do
By recognising our own attitudes, catching ourselves before we say these common phrases and thinking about how kids can interpret them, we can begin to change the culture that says disrespect is ok.

You’ll begin to notice how often you hear excuses like the ones above on television, in movies and in the news. This presents a good opportunity to start a conversation with your child about respect and how to respond in certain situations.

It might not be an easy conversation, but it’s one worth having if it means your child can be part of a generation that understands the link between disrespect and violence against women.

By starting with ourselves first, and recognising some of the excuses we make without even thinking, we can then start having the conversations with young people. See below for some tools that are available to help.

Handy resources
Use the excuse interpreter to discover the hidden meanings of common expressions that can excuse disrespectful behaviour towards girls.

Use the respect checklist to become more aware of what your boy and girl might be thinking in disrespectful or aggressive situations.

Use the conversation guide to help you talk more confidently and openly with young people about the importance of respectful relationships.

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 000. For 24/7 counselling and support for domestic and family violence or sexual assault call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or go to www.1800RESPECT.org.au.

(Source: Kidspot)

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