Having a daughter who is just 11 days away from junior high, I can already feel the dread of the drama that comes with that time in your life. I can vividly recall exact phrases and things that were said to me. And the strangest thing of all, is that none of them that come to my mind were said to me by other girls. Sure I had conflicts with other girls. I had arguments with them. I had “enemies.” But only ONE of the lasting hurtful things that were said to me came from girls. And that girl was 3 to 4 years older than me and she chose to put it in print in the yearbook. She was no one to me. She wasn’t friend, she wasn’t classmate, I didn’t look up to her or respect her opinion or care what she thought. So it was very barely a lasting hurtful thing. The only thing that was lasting about it, was that instead of making her thoughts known to me she printed them in the yearbook. And someone - who was supposed to be an adult teacher- let her do it. That happened in high school. I didn’t feel like it’s guard me and I didn’t feel like her opinion was really something I should take seriously. But every time that a boy gave me an unsolicited opinion or comment- it was life-altering. Not just them, but now. As a 39-year-old woman who has a wonderful family and a job that she loves. I don’t sit around and think of these things, but I haven’t forgotten them. When I participate in an activity and someone asks me to write down the most hurtful things that have ever been said to me, I can tell you who it was, what they said, the context it was in, and sometimes even the place I was at when it happened. Everyone of them came from the mouths of boys.
Why, girls, are we always taught that “maybe they’re mean to you because they like you?” Why is it OK for boys to say these damaging lasting horrible things to girls under the guise of “liking them.” Looking back as an adult I can find two reasons why boys said things to me that were hurtful.
The first reason actually seems to be that they liked me. But strangely enough it wasn’t that they liked me and they wanted me to go out with them... it was that they liked me, they wanted me to go out with them, I turned them down and told them I didn’t feel that way about them, or that I was happy with my current boyfriend, and that I just wanted to be friends, and that’s when things got ugly. Were they trying to make themselves feel better because they had been turned down? Were they trying to show me that they didn’t care and didn’t want me anyway because I was defective in someway? Were they trying to convince me- or themselves? I can think of at least two guys who I was good friends with in high school. We hung out. We had great times. And after I turned them down they turned in assholes. They stopped speaking to me or the only things they said to me were mean. Another repeatedly tried to convince me that he was better for me than my boyfriend. He even had his own girlfriend at the time. We worked together but hung out in other circles also. I laughed it off, told him that I enjoyed being his friend but that was all. Explained that I was happy where I was. Continued our friendship until one time when we were alone he saw picture of my sister. He said to me “Maybe she will go out with me. She got all the looks in the family anyway, but I guess you got lucky because you got bigger boobs.” This was my little sister, he was at least 10 years older than her. She was underage. What he said was not only creepy and inappropriate, it was mean and spiteful and hurtful. Suddenly nothing about him seemed friendly. None of this left a doorway open between us that I would ever want to walk through. Not only did I not feel like he was a friend, I felt like he was an enemy. What would drive someone to treat me that way. Was it simply frustration over being turned down repeatedly? And truly my thoughts lead me to the second reason.... The second reason I feel that boys picked on me.
Some of those boys were raised to believe that men were in some way superior. There was some misheld belief that they were “manly” and that girls should be smaller and less than. Did they say these things because I didn’t make them feel manly? Because turning them down question they’re worth? Because telling them no triggered something in them that really makes me a little scared - even as an adult. These were the boys who didn’t like me because I was “too mouthy.“ or I was a smart Alec or I was sarcastic in my responses to them. The boys who didn’t like that my brain was firing faster than theirs. The boys who couldn’t think of anything better to say except “you’re fat” or “shut up” or “you’re ugly.” The boys who took all of their frustrations out during dodgeball in PE class, purposely attacking the girls by throwing a ball at THEM harder than anyone else. Boys who ended our thighs and our chests, trying to leave red welts. Boys who enjoyed making us cry. Boys who enjoyed embarrassing us, or making themselves feel stronger.
Do those boys know who they are today? Are they fathers? Are they embarrassed about the way they treated girls and are they worried about who’s going to treat their daughter that way? Sometimes I wonder, at 2 AM. It’s interesting to me that I can think of four or five boys in PE class who would never have treated a girl that way. And I think to myself, what did their mothers teach them? What did their fathers teach them? What do I need to be teaching my boys to ensure that they don’t treat girls that way? How do I get through to them to be sure that they understand that they are not better than... they are not stronger than... and even if they are physically stronger - they don’t use it to hurt someone else. They don’t use words or actions to belittle girls. When a girl tells them No, they respond respectfully, even if their feelings are hurt. Even if they feel their “manhood” is damaged.
Those five boys, the good boys, I still talk to every one of them. They are all boys who I would be proud to call friends and whose wives are proud to call them husbands and fathers. I don’t know about those other boys. Some of them are married. Some of them I know little to nothing about now. Some of them I entirely avoid, some of them I’ve learned to tolerate. Two of them tried to pick me up at a bar right before I was married. With whistles and cat calls. It’s apparent they still don’t have the right of it.
But I still wonder, with the daughter heading into junior high, how do I help her navigate through those situations. Am I equipped to help her understand that good boys don’t do those things to girls? That a boy who is treating a girl badly is not a gateway to a relationship? It’s not flirting... belittling girls isn’t a good thing. The ones who are the real catches- they will defend a girl- even when no one is watching or listening. The ones who will treat her with respect are the ones who will tell those assholes to knock it off. They’re the ones whose mothers and fathers somehow pounded respect into their little brains.
It’s taken me a long time and I still don’t think I fully get it. So girls what was your experience? Do you remember boys who treated you that way? Who said the hurtful things to you and can you still remember them? Remember the way you felt or the way you reacted or where you were standing when it happened? I can. It’s amazing how some things can last a lifetime.