I came across a Freshly Pressed post a couple of days ago, You Didn’t Thank Me For Punching You in the Face, and from what I could gather, the blogger who penned the piece is a mother of a ten-year-old girl who has been stolen from, pushed around, and has had her hair pulled by boys. Some people have suggested to Queenofthecouch and her daughter (Princessofthecouch?) that perhaps the boys in question who committed these crimes did so as a way to express affection. Queenofthecouch’s reaction was that any kind of teasing, harassment, etc. of girls by young boys is unacceptable, even if it is part of a boy’s prepubescent courtship display. She also describes all boys who engage in it, even in its milder forms as a way to express affection, as, and I quote, “little assholes”.
Before anyone thinks that I am about to condone the victimization of any child at the hands of other children, I want to make something perfectly clear… I don’t. I do, however, understand what’s going on. Bullying and some boys’ awkward expressions of affection often resemble each other, the way soap flakes resemble snow flurries on Christmas morning in the movies, but they are not the same. Let’s begin by taking a look at some of my personal ancient history in our quest for some insight into this problem.
Personal Ancient History
I grew up in a middle- to upper-middle-class suburb of Montreal called Town of Mount Royal and lived there until I got my own apartment on another part of the island when I was around 19 or 20. TMR was a really safe place to live — parents didn’t have to caution their children about the dangers of city life, except to look both ways before you crossed the street. I believe that every one of my friends’ mothers were stay-at-home moms, and I never ever heard about muggings, assaults, or burglaries within our little burg. Same thing at school — no fights or bullying except for the first year students from a different area of Montreal were bussed into the school but, even then, conflicts were rare. I’m just a guy, but I don’t recall any of my sisters falling victim to male bullies, either.
I’ve known my oldest friends, The Prez and The Dane, for a very long time (I have another old friend, The Lounger, who I met at least a year before The Prez and about six years before I met The Dane but I cannot find a way to work him into this post… I promise to tell you all about him at some future time). The Prez and I met before we started kindergarten and The Dane and I became friends in grade 3 or 4. The Dane still spends Christmases at my place and is my son’s godfather. The Prez and I are still very much in contact — I just helped him rule out the purchase of a vehicle he was interested in buying from someone in my area for use in a theatrical project he’s involved in.
The Prez has always been a wheeler-dealer Type-A personality and always hung around with the ultra-popular girls. In grade 1 or 2 he was invited to the birthday party of one of our female classmates whose father was the star of a local kid’s TV show. From the very start The Prez was very slick with girls that caught his fancy.
The Prez used to call one red-headed female classmate, who he was not interested in, “Ajax” because she was very fair-skinned. I became very good friends with Ajax in high school and the thing that bothered her most about being called Ajax was that she could never figure out why he called her that, and she laughed when I told her. Today The Prez is a successful, happy, go-getter with a long history of dating and marrying statuesque women. Ajax doesn’t seem to have been damaged too badly by The Prez’s taunts.
The Prez never gave me tips on how to interact with the finer women of elementary school and left me to figure girls out on my own. There was a Brunette Beauty (who, apparently, wasn’t statuesque enough for The Prez) who sat in the front row of our grade 2 class and got scads of gold stars on her assignments. She didn’t know it but I was in love with her. I didn’t dare talk to her but I found out where she lived one day when I was walking back from the town’s library and I saw her entering a house. As soon as I got home, I looked in the phone book and verified that the people who lived there had the same last name as the girl of my dreams. After that I made a point of taking a very long detour home after school that would allow me to walk by her house, on the other side of the street (that’s how scared I was of her), just to be close to her.
One day her brother was playing outside and fell off his tricycle as I walked by. I ran to help the little crying guy and The Brunette Beauty and their mother came running outside. I had been feeling guilty about committing the crime they now refer to as “stalking”, but felt better about myself because my stalking activities put me in a position to help Little Brother. In appreciation for helping Little Brother, I was invited inside for milk and cookies.
The Brunette Beauty and I became friends and I used to walk her home, carrying her books, and all that stuff. My father died that year so my mother sold the house and we moved to the other side of town where I went to a different school. I lost touch with The Brunette Beauty but saw her again in high school. I was still attracted to her but too shy to rekindle our friendship. I found out that she liked figure skating, looked up her schedule at the arena, and stalked her for a while, “accidentally” bumping into her there and buying her snacks if she wanted them. We never even held hands due to my cold feet but we exchanged a few e-mails about ten years ago after she found a website I had set up for our high school’s alumni. I cannot remember if I ever told her that we owed our friendship to my having stalked her in grade 2.
The Dane and I are laid-back Type-B personality types. In fact we are both so laid back that combined we only add up to Type-B. We both lacked confidence in the talking to women department dating back to the earliest days of our friendship. When The Dane immigrated to Canada from Denmark by way of Sweden, he could not speak English so the teacher (at my second elementary school) assigned a girl I’ll call “The Angel” to help The Dane because, supposedly, they both could speak Swedish.
The Angel caught my attention even before The Dane appeared on the scene. She was a straight-A student that, to me, looked a lot like Elke Sommer and I had a pretty good crush on her but was too timid to say a word to her. So when The Angel was assigned to The Dane, I figured that I’d latch onto The Dane so I’d have a reason to hang around with The Angel. Well, I never ended up being The Angel’s friend, but The Dane and I had a lot in common.
Aside from an affinity for hamburgers, music, movies, and mischief, we were both too insecure to talk to girls. One day at the municipal swimming pool, The Dane happened upon the key to having girls talk to us, or at the very least compelling them to make eye contact. He would jump into the water either right beside them (if they were already in the water) or right in front of them (if they were dry and about to dive in)! Then he would say that he was sorry. I would sometimes wait for him to splash a dry girl and then I would console her and reprimand The Dane. Sometimes I’d do the splashing and he’d do the consoling. If we were lucky, The Dane and I would get a girl’s attention for a full fifteen seconds! It wasn’t much, but it was something. Sometimes the lifeguard would eject us from the pool for our behaviour but it was well worth it. If it was a really hot day, immediately after being kicked out we’d go over to The Dane’s house and swim in his personal built-in pool.
In the winter we modified our approach and used to fall in front of girls skating in the hopes that our targets would fall on top of us. Seems stupid, immature, and possibly injury-causing, but nobody actually got hurt, our victims never seemed to carry any grudges, and we were never thrown off the rink by the referees. I personally stopped this practice when a girl I had caused to fall on me caught up with me at school and asked me when I would next be going skating and if I would meet her there — she obviously knew the score. As much as I liked her and wanted to meet her, I was too scared. Girls (and women) tend to have a much better handle on romance than do boys (and men) — sad but true.
If you’ll allow me to bore you with one more tale of amorous assault, I’ll relate to you what used to happen to Mrs. HoaiPhai when she was an elementary school student in post-war South Korea. Now, I don’t know if you are familiar with Koreans but they are very much concerned with having an orderly and respectful society. When you speak the language, you conjugate the verbs according to your station in life compared to the the status of the person to whom you are addressing and/or referring. This is just the tip of the iceberg and I could go on and on about how demonstrations of respect are built into their traditions. But even in such a staid environment, little boys would lift the back of their female classmates’ skirts to expose the girl’s underwear and yell “ice cake!”. Mrs. HoaiPhai has no idea why they would say “ice cake”, but that was the tradition. She can, however, still recall the names of the boys who ice caked her. She wasn’t traumatized by these assaults but, like Ajax, she has remembered the boys involved for many years. Perhaps there is a former swimmer out there who still remembers The Dane or his gallant friend who defended her soggy femininity.
So the moral of these stories is that based on my experiences and after-the-fact conversations with The Brunette Beauty, Mrs. HoaiPhai, and Ajax, girls are not traumatized by boys’ gentle and measured displays of their affection, even if the boys’ tactics don’t seem to convey how much they really care. Boys, on the other hand, walk away with a warm glow and fond memories of having the undivided attention of a young lady, if only for just a few seconds.
Getting Back on Track
Queenofthecouch asks, “How did society become so oblivious to the fact that we were conditioning our daughters to endure abusive treatment, much less view it as romantic overtures?” Her question contains two disparate elements…
- “How did society become so oblivious to the fact that we are conditioning our daughters to endure abusive treatment?”; and…
- “How did society become so oblivious to the fact that we are conditioning our daughters to view abusive treatment as romantic overtures?”.
In response to her first question, I don’t think that we, as a society, are conditioning our daughters to endure abusive treatment. We seem to be moving in quite the opposite direction, in fact. I can’t back this up with numbers but I am under the impression that women are more empowered and less likely to tolerate being abused than ever before, and I sincerely hope that women are passing on this strength to their daughters. What I have been hearing is that bullying seems to be increasing at an alarming rate and with escalating savagery. I have my suspicions as to why this trend is occurring.
The espousal of the “gangsta” lifestyle by today’s youth, the decrease in the number of full-time stay-at-home parents, the unwillingness or inability of our educators to intervene in disputes, and the children’s own sense of empowerment may be fuelling the problem. The ability of children to call for back-up from their friends via cellphones emboldens them to be aggressive and a cellphone’s ability to capture video of an act of bullying memorializes the triumphs of the abuser, as well as the shame of the victim, on social and file-sharing websites. We add to this today’s youth’s twisted view of what constitutes their being “disrespected” and we have a formula for disaster. That being said, we parents must remain level-headed and champion efforts to eradicate the schools and streets of violence.
As for Queenofthecouch’s concern that we are conditioning our daughters to view abusive treatment as romantic overtures, the answer is “yes and no” but we must first differentiate between truly abusive treatment and what is simply irritating behaviour committed by a boy who knows no other way to gain the attention of a girl.
Surely the theft of the Princessofthecouch’s bracelets was theft, and the offender should have to return the goods, make an oral public apology in front of the class, and be subjected to a stern talking-to. If he is a repeat offender, he should receive counselling in addition to the aforementioned responses. If treatment is truly abusive, even if it is part of a boy’s misguided expression of affection, girls should seek the help of adults who actually do something about the problem if they cannot resolve the situation themselves.
On the other hand, girls should be taught that sometimes abusive treatment is an expression of affection because sometimes it is true. The tricky part is differentiating truly abusive treatment from attempts to gain a girl’s attention that get way out of hand from events that are merely irritating. The remedy should reflect not only the severity of the treatment but whether it was inspired by affection, greed, or sadism as well as the ages of the boy and girl involved.
“I can’t raise sons that respect women, if I teach them that bullying is a valid expression of affection.”
Queenofthecouch’s observation above gets closer to the heart of the matter although, and I’ll say it again, not every irritating act orchestrated by boys to get the attention of girls should be viewed as bullying. She is also implying that boys are being taught that bullying is a valid form of expression of affection. She seems to be saying that with proper instruction, boys will stop being irritating (or stop bullying) and respect women. Where are a couple of flaws to this theory…
- Boys irritating girls does not necessarily have anything to do with their level of respect for girls. I personally had the utmost respect for any girl that I irritated in an attempt to get her attention, and I cannot remember a single instance in which I tried to irritate a girl I didn’t like and respect (and I don’t really remember disliking any of the girls). In high school I blossomed into a caring, sensitive teenager that the girls thought of as a “really sweet guy” and “a true friend”. I got to hear them pour their hearts out about how they were stood up by some jerky alpha male, but I didn’t get many dates because the girls generally thought of me as “just a friend”. The jerks almost always got second chances.
- Nobody is teaching their sons to bully girls. If you know of any that are, call Child Protection Services. Most parents of sons will react to complaints that their son is victimizing someone. Don’t forget that little boys are a constant source of irritation to their parents who may have become a little jaded. If the boy does not relent after a first warning, get back to his parents and express your concern.
- Boys are not necessarily targeting girls. Let’s face it, boys tend to be competitive, either actively or passively. Actively competitive boys enjoy coming out on top of games and sporting contests. For boys, horseplay and spirited physically activity is how they play and interact with other boys. Passively competitive boys take great pride in other accomplishments, such as amassing encyclopedic knowledge of a subject and becoming the authority on a subject in the eyes of their peers. I humbly suggest that part of what girls may consider to be “abusive treatment” can sometimes be that the boys who are getting comfortable with girls are including them in rough-house play without making allowances for girls’ tendency toward less “violent” pastimes. Boys play hard. We used to have snowball fights, for fun, and kids sometimes got bloody noses but kept on playing. They didn’t hold a grudge — it was understood that there was no real malice involved. Look at the Jackass videos… those are grown men who behave like boys. It’s a bit of an extreme example but even in pranks that target one of them, the targeted ones always seem to return and participate in a future episode.
- Nobody teaches boys anything about girls. Parents generally can’t tell when their sons are in love so they don’t initiate an appropriate information session and most boys won’t ask a parent’s advice on issues having to do with socializing. A boys’ friend who has stumbled upon a successful yet non-irritating strategy (e.g. The Prez) to gain the attention of girls is not about to share his secrets… doing so only increases the skill of his competition. So for the vast majority of boys, annoying girls (and they may not be trying to annoy the girl, they might be just treating them the way they treat their male friends) is the best idea that they’ve come up with that will not cause a veritable avalanche of peer-pressure teasing to swallow them whole. We can see similar annoying behaviour in grown men… do guys who honk their car horns at women walking down the street really expect the “honkee” to kick off her heels and chase the “honker” down the street?
- Boys are resistant to other people trying to teach them anything. Often a suggestion offered by another to improve the way the boy is doing things is seen by the boy as criticism. There are a few exceptions, such as a sports hero showing a boy the proper way to swing a baseball bat, etc.
- Boys learn that public tender expressions of affection can have consequences. I don’t know about how little girls get treated when people find out that they like a boy but little boys sometimes suffer ridicule when their affection becomes known to others. In kindergarten, two female classmates of mine lived one street over — depending on the timing of my egress from school I would walk home with one or the other. One of the girls liked me as more than just a friend while the other seemed to just like me as a friend. I liked them both, but had no romantic attraction to either and would walk home with whichever left school when I did, holding hands. The one who was attracted to me tried to work it so she and I would walk together. Sometimes all three of us would walk home together, so I held hands with both of them. One day I was walking hand-in-hand with the just-friend girl. Well, my older brother, Hoai de Sade, witnessed the hand-holding and that afternoon began a campaign of teasing that continued until I was in my 20s. My younger sister was also in on the teasing and she continued until I was 32 years old. I stopped walking home with the two girls on the next block the day after the teasing began day and kept all of my romances, both real and imagined, a secret from all family members until well into my high school years. Only my most trusted friends ever saw or heard any indication that I was smitten with a girl until high school.
- Boy seem to be naturally irritating to some people. Boys being irritating seems to be a universal phenomenon. As we saw from Mrs. HoaiPhai’s ice cake story, boys seem to be irritating all over the world, and have probably been that way since time immemorial. I believe that we males are hard-wired to be nuisances so any attempt to educate boys to be otherwise would surely be an uphill battle if at all possible. A given boy either gets it early on, or he doesn’t. You can hold a really big stick over his head and he’ll keep himself in check while within range, or you can teach him to be a smooth operator that only becomes irritating to the girlfriend he leaves when he chooses to move on to his next conquest, but attempting to train boys not to be irritating is like asking a raccoon not to get into your garbage.
- Boys learn at an early age that one way to avoid being victimized (either physically or socially) is to be irritating to other people, not just to the girls. As a boy’s ability to irritate people increases, other boys don’t want to be irritated by them so they become friends with the ones who are major irritants. This protects the major irritants from other major irritants because they are backed by many friends and their friends find security in being part of a major irritant’s clan. Sometimes this results in gang warfare but usually it has a deterrent effect. It is such a successful strategy that we, as a civilization, carry it over into adulthood. We can measure our individual nation’s desire for security, as well as gauge how irritating we are to other nations, by looking up our nation’s defence spending and the size and viciousness of our armed forces. Women are said to love “a man in uniform” and swoon over the Marlon Brando and Russell Crowe bad boys of the world. When was the last time you heard of a teenage girl drooling over a poster she hung in her bedroom with a picture of a poet?
Wrapping it up
Unfortunately for Princessofthecouch, I don’t see a solution to her problem anytime soon. Yup, guys can be jerks. The trick is to not overreact to the idiotic methods guys use to get the attention of girls while cutting the real bullies from the herd and making examples of them.
Girls and women, please cut us romantic cripples a little slack because neither biology nor society has done a very good job equipping us to be very graceful in the Great Dance of Seduction.