Saturday, March 29, 2008

Socialization Which Sets Up Sex Predator/Passive Victim Model

I received an email from a woman named Elizabeth regarding my post Speaking Around Rape and it contained such useful insight that I am reprinting portions of her email here with the permission of the author who has asked to be identified by her first name only.

Dear Marcella,

We condition girls from the very start. Then we tell them to get over everything, including the conditioning.

I am the mother of two daughters, age 10 and 6. My older daughter was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when she was very young, and as a result I have paid close attention to the process of how girls are socialized -- closer than I think I might normally have, even as a mother of daughters. It was with my younger daughter, though, that I had the lightning flash moment of insight into the sort of silent suffering described in your post, and how it might begin.

When she was a toddler, a couple lived across the street whose only child was a boy the same age as my younger girl. His method of saying hello to my daughter involved jabbing at her with his fists or hands, pushing her down or grabbing her roughly.

When this sort of thing happens the first time you meet a kid that age, boy or girl, it's not unheard of to give them the benefit of the doubt. Even the sweetest-natured two-year-old might be aggressive if they're short a nap or a meal. The second and third times, it's obviously a problem that needs addressing.

The mother of this particular boy would address it by saying, "Oh, that wasn't nice, say you're sorry." The boy would mutter "Sorry," and nothing would change. Because of this, play dates stopped after the third or fourth time -- the behavior was escalating, was clearly a pattern and I wasn't making headway with getting the parent to see it was wrong.

On the last get-together with my daughter, this boy and another boy, the aggressor kid got my daughter IN A HEADLOCK. No doubt about it -- he was throttling her. She protested, pushed him off and ran to me, crying and saying, "X is a bad boy! He's mean!" (Or something of that sort.)

The other two mothers came hovering in to comfort her, but their idea of comfort was an eye opener: "Oh, honey. Don't cry. He's not mean. Stop crying. He's not bad. He didn't mean to hurt you. He doesn't know any better. Boys play rough sometimes. You're not hurt. You'll be all right."

Those words are not paraphrases. I might not have the order exact after four years, but I remember the words very clearly. And I remember thinking: Well. My kid's just been caught in a headlock and all their energy is being spent explaining to her that it's *not a big deal.* That's interesting.

What I said was, "You know, I don't think it's her job to worry about why he did it. She's not all right, she's pretty upset right now and we're going home." He probably was coaxed into another meaningless apology but it really didn't matter at that point, we were done. And at home I made a point of telling my daughter that he WAS being bad and it WAS wrong, and that's why we weren't playing with him any more.

I think the reason I was able to have this epiphany was that by this time, I'd already had some eye-opening encounters involving my older girl. She is not a hugger, wasn't even cuddly as a baby. Maybe it's Asperger Syndrome/sensory defensiveness. Maybe she just doesn't like the damn hugs. She's a loving kid without hugging, but grownups took her distaste for hugs VERY personally. Her kindergarten teacher actually complained to me about it. Apparently it was the woman's habit to hug each child at dismissal time, and my older daughter would recoil and say, "Please don't hug me."

I was pleased she articulated her feelings so well -- hey, the speech-language therapy paid off! But to her teacher, she was being unacceptably standoffish -- strange, even. It was something that needed looking into. I asked, "But isn't it impolite to hug somebody without their permission?" And I pointed out that it was going to be pretty weird to square this with the "Don't let anyone touch you without your permission" lecture, which is also mandated for kindergartners. See, I said, she's AS, and she's very logical about this stuff. To her, permission is permission. It doesn't get waived just because it's you.

We sell little girls this bill of goods ALL THE TIME. *It's your job to be huggable.* And worse: *You're not really hurt.* *What happened didn't really matter.* *Your job is to be nice, forgive, play nice.*

And of course, triplicate that message if it comes from a person of high authority or social standing.

Then, I guess when they hit puberty, we expect them to develop assertiveness, aggression and a huge sense of personal boundaries, apparently overnight. Otherwise they're whores.

No wonder that poor kid [who wrote the anonymous letter to the editor] didn't know what to do except suffer. No wonder that when she does speak out, she can barely find the words. It's how we train them.



Thank you, Elizabeth.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 4:37 PM   8 comments links to this post


At March 30, 2008 4:51 AM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

We also train boys to be aggressive towards girls and other boys because this supposedly true masculine behaviour. Then when boys and adult males commit rape and sexual assault we wonder why they enact such behaviour. As Elizabeth said the training of girls into passivity and submission begins right from the start and society reinforces this belief. It should be all children's right to refuse to be coerced into having to engage in physical contact with an adult person even if that person is known to the child.

We must challenge aggressive behaviour and not excuse it by saying 'well boys will be boys.' Aggression is not innate it is learned behaviour and as such can be changed. But patriarchy believes women and men are from different planets. How wrong and it partially explains why male sexual violence is endemic.

It is no wonder young women are not able to see male sexual aggression and/or coercion is abuse of their human rights when women have been conditioned from birth to accept their bodies do not belong to them but are for the use/abuse of males.

At March 30, 2008 5:16 AM, Blogger sophie said...

That is a beautifully clear observation - it's something I've seen over and over, tried to put words to but not so well as this.
I've seen a father slap his daughter for saying she didn't want to go home, telling her not to say 'no'. I've seen the exact 'rough play' described here, over and over - and the same responses.
I had a 'friend' who deliberately (knowing I can't stand to be touched, even because of that) would tell his children to hug me, knowing I would push them away - so hurting the children's self-esteem by the rejection, as well as annoying me. He thought it was funny.
And yet we expect these children to grow up with a clear idea of their own worth and what boundaries are?
I was still a teenager when I realised how much damage was possible from these common methods of child-handling. A fellow-student asked me to do something that I realised was totally inappropriate - but I'd already started to obey and had to physically stop myself from continuing - because obedience was the first impulse, the response I'd been trained into.
There are methods of raising children that are identical to those used to train animals (whether used consciously or unconsciously). They create a conditioned response - like Pavlov's dog - that in the future can be dangerous, and *will* be used by would-be date rapists - like the young man who thought it was okay to simply instruct me to 'lie back', since obviously conversations are supposed to happen in that position :-)

The original article you linked to was commented on by a number of people who couldn't understand the length of time for which the abuse continued.
I understand it, but haven't been able to put it into words lately. It comes back to what we're talking about here - to early training, to the expectation of being a 'nice girl', even to the writer's acknowledgement of being the 'weaker sex'. Children are not given the tools they will need to defend themselves - now and later on. Rather, the opposite.

At March 30, 2008 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anne said...

This was an awesome letter! Very insightful. I sent it to my brother and sister in law, and one of my friends.
I'm a person who has to say what she thinks or it will eat away at her, so I have to make a comment about that teacher:
What the heck is wrong with the woman? What did she want her to do, force her child to allow someone to touch her against her will?
It's so weird the things people take personally. Especially adults! What kind of adult would actually get upset that a child, who is not theirs, doesn't want to hug them? That's immature and strange.

At April 07, 2008 9:21 AM, Anonymous Denise D. Witmer said...

I love the real life examples. Boys are often taught to be agressors, hopefully this socialization will change with time.

At April 18, 2008 4:52 PM, Blogger Marj aka Thriver said...

Thanks for another excellent post for THE BLOG CARNIVAL AGAINST CHILD ABUSE, Marcella. This is full of good insights and I praise the mother of the girl for advocating for her daughter and making it clear what was right and wrong.

At April 18, 2008 5:59 PM, Blogger healandforgive said...

Thank you for sharing this interesting letter!

Kudos to this mother who not only has a firm grasp on inappropriate socialization, but has the courage to confront people sending unacceptable messages to her children.

At April 19, 2008 9:10 PM, Blogger Angel said...

This is a great post with such insight. More people need to realize that the "hug battle" isn't about the feelings of the person wanting the hug; it's about the right of the person who is being demanded to do something they don't want to do (hug someone) and their right to say "no."

At April 27, 2008 3:23 PM, Blogger Perfect said...

This is a fantastic post. I had the same epiphany a few months back with my own DD. I've been VERY aware of the messages I send to her now and #1 is to speak what is on your mind. Set your boundaries, take care of you.

Thanks for a great submission to the Carnival!


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