I recently shared a very controversial article on my Bauhauswife Facebook page. It’s titled “The Reason Why My Daughter May Punch Your Son”. My reaction to the article was, and remains, ambivalent, somewhat. The article describes a mother’s response to her daughter asking her what to do if a boy snaps her bra in class. The author Ashley Fuchs instructs her daughter to punch the boy. The reaction on my Facebook page to my sharing the article, was passionate.
I believe in non-violence, and pacificsm…to a point. Each and every day I hope that by refraining from being violent towards my kids, I am teaching them by example to be similarly non-violent. Every day that I respond to their irritating or unacceptable behaviour through conversation, negotiation, rationalization, patience, and ideally through love, they are learning non-violence. I want to be raising peaceful people in the world.
I also recognize that boys and girls are socialized very very differently. Boys are encouraged, overtly and subtly, to take what they want, and to violate boundaries. Girls are taught from birth to be demure and accommodating and “polite”. There is a massive societal imbalance when 99% of all violent sexual assaults are perpetrated by males, and overwhelmingly towards females. There is a serious problem when young men (like the swimmer) who rape are sentenced to jail for a matter of weeks, if at all, as a standard. As a radical feminist, I’m interested in the roots of female oppression, and the social systems that create a context in which women and girls are as vulnerable and endangered as we are.
When a boy snaps a girl’s bra, that is an act of sexual violation; a physical transgression designed to humiliate and to demean. It is an act of violence. Such acts were, and still are, considered part of the “normal” male repertoire of flirting. Girls are still being told that such supposedly mild expressions of assault simply mean that “he likes you.” I’m tired of this. I’m tired of the wholesale acceptance of small acts of violence on the part of males–first acts, I believe, in what so often turns into a lifetime of seeing and treating women as objects of scorn, derision and sexual gratification. In her article, Fuchs acknowledges that in encouraging her daughter to respond to a physical attack in kind, she (and of course her daughter) may face greater repercussions than the boy who initiated the violence. This is a conundrum. It’s also one of the (so far, abstract) reasons why I hope to keep my children at home, rather than at public school. The narratives that have developed around bullying, and what that consists of, are muddy, and fraught, and frankly, I don’t want to have to ever encourage my daughter to punch another kid. That prospect is heartbreaking, as is the prospect that she will likely, at some point, face some form of sexual assault. Don’t we [women] all?
I have sons and one daughter. While I hope that they all grow up to be peaceful loving adults, I am proud to say that I do teach my sons differently than my daughter. In a (likely futile, but what the heck) attempt to counteract some of the intense social conditioning we are all subject to, I am actively teaching my sons to be polite; to slow down; to listen; to defer. I am female, and I am biased towards privileging the stories of women. If one of my sons comes home with a black eye, wanting sympathy because a woman hit him after he overstepped his boundaries, I’ll bandage his wound and tell him that I love him, but I sure as hell won’t take his side, or condone his behaviour (or so I like to think). And if my daughter comes home and tells me that she throat-punched someone who violated her sexually, (be that by snapping her bra, or something “worse”–as though there is a hierarchy of violation of any import), I will be proud. But I hope it doesn’t come to any of that.
Let’s not forget that it is only my insane privilege that allows me to take what some might see as extreme measures to protect all of my children from riding either side of this sad potential scenario. Because the fact is, poverty exacerbates violence in every aspect. Poverty often means that institutions are crowded, strained and underfunded, with administrators that are exhausted and overwhelmed. It’s a lovely idea to suggest that our daughters should simply calmly inform the teacher if someone assaults them, and that might work beautifully in a fifty-thousand-dollar a year tuition Waldorf classroom. But or the most part, I think it’s utterly ridiculous, naive and entitled to suggest that the simple answer to an act of sexual violence perpetrated by a boy towards a girl is to look to the teacher to “educate” or to “take action”. Detention, perhaps? Or a giggle? The latter have historically been the response. Boys will be boys.
Of course, violence is not the “answer” to sexual assault, or gender hierarchy/terrorism. The “answer” is a dismantling of gender and patriarchy altogether. But until that happens, proposing that girls and women simply need to “educate” boys and men not to be abusive, or that we should run to the principal’s office or the police when assaults occur, is disgusting to me. How many examples do we women need, of the fact that institutions and officials, church staff, governments and cops don’t give a f$&% about our safety, before we can grow the ovaries to stand up and say No, Never, and then punch the asshole in the face?
As one of my readers, and a participant in the somewhat heated debate that developed on my page wrote, “my peaceful parenting manifesto ends when someone violates my child.” Simple, no?
No, it’s not simple. And I don’t have any satisfactory answers. But it’s certainly a topic that I ponder enough, as all my kids continue to grow up–as my daughter becomes more aware of gender politics, and my son occasionally expresses the kind of masculinity and aggression that makes me want to weep for humanity.
What are your thoughts?